Vacuum Cleaner Smells Bad – Causes and Solutions

A vacuum cleaner is one of the most faithful cleaning tools in our arsenals. But do you ever find your vacuum cleaner smells bad? It shouldn’t be a massive surprise considering what you use it for.

Like all cleaning tools, your vacuum cleaner needs maintenance to keep it smelling fresh and doing its job properly.

In this article, we’ll cover why your vacuum cleaner smells and what you can do about it.


What Makes Your Vacuum Cleaner Smell Bad?

vacuum cleaner

The exact cause of a vacuum cleaner smell can vary and is influenced by whether it’s a bag or bagless model.

Below is a brief list of the main causes of vacuum cleaner smells. It’s possible to remedy them all yourself, but some of the more difficult problems might require professional help.

Dusty smell

Burnt or hot dust is a very distinctive smell. There’s no other way to describe it than, well, dusty.

It’s a fairly obvious smell to come from the tool you use to clean up dust around the home and is luckily one of the easiest to fix.

Mouldy smell

A mouldy smell can be fairly common in a vacuum cleaner that’s been used to clean wet areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms.

Although normal vacuum cleaners aren’t meant to suck up water, they can handle a bit of moisture.

If this happens, the moisture will sit in the vacuum’s collection system and may lead to mould growth.

Similarly, mould can grow if you store your vacuum cleaner in a humid environment.


Animal smells

remove pet hair with vacuum

If you use your vacuum cleaner and have pets, it should come as no surprise that it might give off an animal smell when in use.

The warmth of the motor can heat up the odour-causing molecules, converting them into gas, which you then smell.

Pet dander (skin cells), hair, and urine can all lead to a smelly vacuum cleaner.


Burnt smell

A burnt smell can be a slightly more worrying issue. Generally, it’s caused by the drive belt working too hard.

The drive belt connects the motor to the fan and brush components to make them spin. It’s made from rubber, so if it heats up too much, it can give off a burning smell.


How to Stop Your Vacuum Cleaner Smelling Bad

The four causes above are the most common reasons why your vacuum cleaner smells. Of course, hoovering up smelly debris (spilt coffee, for example) will lead to other smells.

Luckily, it’s fairly easy to solve these issues by following the tips below.

1. Clean your vacuum cleaner

Changing vacuum cleaner bag

The first and most obvious step is to clean your vacuum cleaner. Some models will break down into more pieces than others, which can work in your favour when it comes to cleaning.

Similarly, bagless models should have more removable components in the debris collection system than a bag model like a Henry.

You’ll want to disassemble your vacuum cleaner and wash all the parts that deal with dust collection. Obviously, you’ll want to keep the motor and electrical parts away from water.

Everything else should be washed in hot, soapy water – washing up liquid will do a good job on this. If necessary, leave parts to soak to shift caked-on dust.

For bagless models, you’ll want to clean the dust collection chamber and the filter, and any other detachable parts. Ideally, aim to clean the telescopic tube, heads, and accessory tools, too.


2. Replace the filter

HEPA vacuum filter

If your vacuum cleaner has a replaceable filter, make sure you buy a new one every year or so.

Most filters can be washed to keep them clean, but should still be replaced every now and then. This is especially true for HEPA or allergen filters.


3. Use bicarbonate of soda

Cleaning a vacuum cleaner is helpful, but can be a long-winded job. A quicker solution is to use some bicarbonate of soda.

While this obviously won’t clean your vacuum cleaner, it’s a useful alternative for neutralising odours.

You can either sprinkle some bicarb directly into the collection system, or sprinkle some on the floor and suck it up with the vacuum cleaner.

Leave it for a few hours and then empty the collection system and you should find the smell has disappeared.


4. Ensure the vacuum cleaner is dry

The only way to avoid a mouldy vacuum cleaner is to ensure it’s dry before storage. If you’ve used it to clean a wet floor, take it apart and let it dry out before putting it away.

Similarly, make sure your storage area isn’t too humid to prevent mould from growing on it.

 It can also help to make sure the floor is as dry as possible before using your vacuum cleaner.

If you’re cleaning up a spill, such as a broken glass or bottle, mop the area first to absorb enough liquid.


5. Replace the drive belt

Broken Carpet Cleaner Drive Belt

Finally, there’s the issue of a burnt smell coming from your vacuum cleaner. As mentioned, this is (usually) the drive belt, so it requires a bit more work than simple cleaning.

However, replacing the drive belt in a vacuum cleaner isn’t a particularly difficult job.

Every model is different, so there’s little point in giving instructions here. Some general pointers are:

  • Upright vacuum cleaners will have a drive belt connected to the brushes. This is easy to access because it usually means taking off the bottom casing.
  • Compact models typically won’t have a roller brush belt. As such, they can be harder to change but it depends on how easy the casing is to remove.

Replacing a drive belt is cheaper than buying a new vacuum cleaner. Even if you need to take it to a professional, it should be the less expensive option.

Plus, not only will it get rid of the burning smell, it’ll also make your vacuum cleaner work better!


Final Thoughts

Hopefully, these tips should help if your vacuum cleaner smells bad. It usually comes down to it needing a clean, which is pretty easy to do.

However, burning smells can be a sign of larger issues, so you might want to take it to a professional if you notice these.