Vacuum cleaners make tasks such as carpet cleaning a breeze. But without proper maintenance, they can turn into odor-emitting monsters that make your home stinky.

If you can’t seem to get rid of that smell despite scrubbing every nook and cranny, your vac is probably the culprit.

Luckily, getting rid of the smell is no rocket science. This article will explore the causes, steps to remove bad vacuum cleaner smells, and some pointers on vacuum cleaner maintenance.  

What Makes a Vacuum Cleaner Smell Horrible? 

Knowing potential sources of bad smells in a vac helps you determine the best fix now and in the future should the problem arise again. Here are some common causes of bad vacuum cleaner smells:

  • Food and Oil Spills: Vacuumed food particles and drinks rot, causing your vacuum cleaner to emit foul smells. Oil sticks to the working parts such as the floor head and the hose and can even cause clogging.  
  • Pet hair: It sucks to read this, but your pup is probably why your vac is stinky. Pet hair and dander are naturally smelly and, when regularly vacuumed, can cause your vac to emit musty smells. The stink is even worse if the pet hair had traces of Fido’s urine. 
  • Mold: If you’ve never vacuumed food spills and never in your life owned a pet, yet your vacuum cleaner smells horrible, you might be dealing with mold accumulation. Mold grows in a vac when you use it to clean a wet carpet or any other moist surface.
  • Burnt belt: Every vac features a rubber belt whose rotation facilitates vacuum rotation. Pet hair and debris may damage the brush without proper cleaning and maintenance, conversely damaging the rubber belt. This results in a smokey or choking burnt smell.  Note, besides dirt, a vacuum’s belt may also burn due to overstretching or because it is caught on the brush. 

How to Fix a Smelly Vacuum Cleaner 

Man fixing a vacuum cleaner
You can prevent the machine from smelling bad simply by keeping it clean, and if you want to release a fresh scent each time you vacuum, you can do so with minimal effort or expense.

Now that you know probable causes, here are some steps you can take to remove bad vacuum cleaner odors:

1. Change the Dirtbag or Empty the Canister

Vacuum cleaner dirtbags and dust canisters hold most of the vacuumed dirt. If you only change the dirtbag or empty the canister once it’s full, the debris begin to decompose, causing your vac to emit foul odors. So, if it’s been a while since you replaced the dirtbag or emptied the dust canister and your vacuum cleaner smells horrible, now would be the time to do it.  

And to prevent the problem from re-occurring, try to empty it regularly. This is especially critical for bagged vacs since most dirtbags feature pores that can become clogged by dirt over time, causing your vac to emit bad smells. 

Try always to buy original dirtbags or manufacturer-recommended options as these often feature quality construction, and in some instances, might have extra filtration layers to prevent such smells. 

If your vacuum is bagless, wash the canister thoroughly using a mild detergent and water solution to neutralize established odors. Ensure you leave it to dry before you reattach it to avoid moisture-related problems such as mold. 

2. Check the Filters 

Your vac’s filter does the hard job of trapping dust, dirt, and even the tiniest dirt particles to prevent motor damage. As a result, they get dirty quite fast, and if nothing is done, it can cause your vacuum to smell horrible. So if you’ve emptied the vacuum cleaner and it still smells, check the filter. If dirty, consult your manual to determine if it’s washable. If not, replace it with new ones, and if washable, thoroughly clean it using a mild detergent solution. Ensure you consult your manual again while at it to avoid doing anything that might damage it. 

3. Check the Brush Rolls

Brush rolls often come into direct contact with dust, dirt, and other debris whenever you clean. Over time, they may accumulate this debris, resulting in a smelly and inefficient vacuum cleaner. If none of the tricks on removing bad vacuum cleaner smells worked, flip your vacuum and check the brush rolls. 

Use a seam ripper or a pair of scissors to remove anything stuck or wrapped around them. Spray water and vinegar/baking soda solution or a disinfectant to eliminate odors, and remove the clog. While at it, check the other attachments too, and if they seem dirty or clogged, clean them thoroughly in warm water and mild detergent solution. 

4. Inspect Your Vacuum for Blockage

So, the dust canister/dirtbag has been emptied, filters cleaned, and brush inspected, but you still can’t seem to shake that musty smell off your vac? Don’t despair yet, as your vacuum is probably just clogged. Sometimes vacuumed food spills, pet hair, and other debris might get trapped in the intake valves, causing blockages and a bad smell.

In other instances, small food particles might get stuck and build up within the hose, and over time decay resulting in foul smells. Without proper maintenance, the build-up might even render your vac inefficient. 

So, before you trash your vac in frustration, check to see if there is any blockage. The simplest way to check the intake valves for blockage is by testing the suction, but alternatively, you may remove the vacuum brush and use a flashlight to check for blockage. If the source of the blockage is the hose, clean it in these three simple steps:

  • Detach it first 
  • Pour a liter of hot water through the hose tube into a sink to loosen the build-up. 
  • Create a cleaning solution by mixing two tablespoons of vinegar (or baking soda) and a mild cleaning detergent and dip your hose into it. Move it around, too, ensuring all parts are covered. 
  • Rinse it under running water and wait until it’s completely dry before putting it back 

How to Prevent Bad Vacuum Cleaner Odors

A person cleaning the carpet with a vacuum
To better remove and stop a foul smell, understanding where it comes from is critical.

The tricks above should help you get rid of the horrible vacuum cleaner smell it has been emitting. But why wait for your vac to smell when you can prevent the odors in the first place? Here’s how you do it: 

Using Baking Soda 

Baking soda is a popular item in most households thanks to its excellent cleaning and smell-absorbing properties. Use it to deodorize your vacuum by creating a warm water and baking soda solution, then wipe down your vac’s different parts. Also, make baking soda part of your cleaning routine by sprinkling a little over your carpet half an hour before you vacuum. It’ll absorb existing and new smells and will also neutralize any odors inside the vac. 

 Try Cinnamon

Like baking soda, cinnamon is an excellent odor absorber. Plus, it smells even nicer. To prevent vacuum cleaner smells and enjoy the pleasant cinnamon aroma, sprinkle some in your vac’s dust canister, or dirtbag. You can also sprinkle some on your carpet prior to vacuuming. 

Note, besides cinnamon, you may also use a lemon or orange peel to neutralize and prevent that horrible vacuum cleaner smell. Just drop one in the filter cavity. 

Essential Oils 

Like cinnamon and citrus peels, essential oils not only neutralize bad odors, they also leave a pleasant smell. The best part? There are plenty of scents to choose from ranging from lavender, lemongrass to thyme. To use essential oils for this purpose, add a few drops in a 20-ounce spray bottle (add as many as you want, it’s your house) top it up with water, and gently spray the dust canister or the dirtbag every time you empty or change it. 

Vacuum Cleaner Maintenance Tips 

Vacuum cleaner maintenance is the key to preventing problems such as horrible smells and maintaining the efficiency of your vac. Here are some handy tips to help you with maintenance:

Check for Blockage

Make it a habit to check your vacuum cleaner’s hose, exhaust ports, filter and other internal parts for blockage. Catching obstructions early will prevent bad odors and potential vac damage. 

Clean it Regularly 

Most vacuum cleaner problems are caused by dirt. For instance, a clogged filter comes about because it hasn’t been cleaned or replaced for a while. In that light, clean your vac regularly. Disassemble it monthly, and use a damp cloth and a mild detergent solution to wipe down the attachments. Clean the filters, and check the roller brush to remove anything that might be stuck. Ensure all cleaning is done while the unit is unplugged. 

Ensure Dry Storage

Moisture on a vacuum cleaner causes mold to grow, resulting in musty smells and belt damage. Always keep your vac in a dry place to prevent such problems. 

Smelly Vacuum Cleaner? Fret Not

Dealing with a smelly vacuum cleaner? Fret not because you’re not alone. As shown above, it is a common problem that can easily be fixed using items you have at home. The only exception here is if the vacuum belt is burnt, in which case we advise seeking a belt replacement from a professional. Maximize the vacuum cleaner maintenance tips above to keep such smells at bay and ensure peak performance.