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Why Does My Vacuum Cleaner Smell Bad? – 4 Possible Reasons & Solutions Explained

by  Lawrence -  Last updated on June 30, 2021

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For many of us, vacuuming is the go-to cleaning habit. It’s simple, low-effort and a very effective way of making the home look a whole lot cleaner in very little time. These days, with so many cordless vacuum options, you can run all of the house with them.

Or with a robot vacuum, you can even set it to do the house while you are at work. But sometimes taking it all over the home can lead to problems. What happens when your vacuum starts to smell? And how do you get rid of the smell?

That’s what we’ll be taking a look at through this article. We’ll go through the main reasons why your vacuum might smell, which should help you with preventing this occurrence too. Then we’ll also give you some top tips for how to deal with the vacuum if it does start to smell. So you should once again be able to run the vacuum all over the home without fear of dragging a smell all over it too.

4 Possible Reasons Why Your Vacuum is Smelling Bad

1. The Dust Bag

We’ve decided to start with the most obvious reason, that any of you may already have thought of- the dust bag. While you run around vacuuming up your life, so that your home looks spick and span, ready for the arrival of the in-laws, you use your vacuum to suck up all the dirt and dust that has been spilled, accumulated and trampled into the floor.

This dirt and dust then reaches the dust bag. If you don’t regularly empty your dust bag, all that dirt, dust, debris and general floor nastiness will just sit there in your vacuum. So rather than it all being cleaned away, it is just sitting in the vacuum in the corner of the room.

How do you prevent it?

The answer to this one is pretty simple. You should make sure that you regularly empty your vacuum’s dust bag.

If your vacuum has a large dust bag, that doesn’t mean that you should just leave it until it gets full. The benefit is that it can go all over the home without having to be emptied half-way through, but you should still aim to empty it regularly.

If it is an easy-to-release dust canister, you should empty it each time. If it is a dust bag that needs to be replaced, you shouldn’t leave it beyond 75% full.

What’s the solution?

The easiest answer for the smell coming from the dust bag is simply to empty or replace it. However, you should also make sure that every now and again you give the compartment of the dust bag a really thorough clean.

Make sure you leave it to air dry after that too, to prevent any water damage to the electrics and to stop any mould from developing in there. Another solution is to scatter some baking soda in the compartment or dust canister too. This will help to soak up any bad smells or particles in the air.

2. Mould

It might sound unlikely that mould could grow in a vacuum- isn’t a vacuum meant to be clean? But the problem is that mould often grows in a warm, moist area, which is exactly what a vacuum cleaner provides.

This could grow from the inside of the vacuum being damp, or it could be caused by the particles you’ve been cleaning up.

If you vacuum a wet carpet, for instance, although the carpet might look a lot better, many of the damp particles can move up into the vacuum and then fester, gradually becoming some stinky mould.

How do you prevent it?

Well the first step to prevent mould growing in your vacuum is to avoid vacuuming up any damp patches. It might seem like an easy solution, but it can cause problems further down the line.

If there is a damp patch that contains dirt, wait until it is dried before you vacuum it clean. Similarly, when you clean your vacuum cleaner, make sure it is dry before you put it back together.

What’s the solution?

If you find mould, deal with it immediately. It’s not going anywhere, it’s only going to grow. The good news is that mould is usually easy enough to clean up, especially on a plastic surface. Give the surfaces a good wipe down with a cleaning agent, then leave it to dry before putting it back together.

It might be worth adding some essential oils to your cloth for its final wash too, just to leave a new, more aromatic scent behind. If you don’t have any essential oils then white vinegar or baking soda could also be used to help get rid of the smell.

3. Burnt vacuum belt

One problem that you may not have considered is whether or not the belt of the vacuum has burnt. The vacuum belt rotates, allowing the brush to roll. However, this belt is made of rubber.

So when bits of hair or debris get caught, they can cause friction on the belt, thus burning it. This usually causes quite a recognisable and pungent smell, similar to that of burnt plastic. Don’t worry though, it is easily preventable.

How do you prevent it?

In order to prevent the vacuum belt from burning, the part that you really need to take care of is the brush head. The vacuum brushes come up against a lot of dirt, debris and hair (more on that in the next section).

Needless to say, not all of this debris manages to make it through to the dust bag. The bristles of the vacuum brush can end up covered in debris and should be cleaned regularly. Make sure that you clean the brush heads so that the dirt doesn’t travel through to the vacuum belt.

What’s the solution?

The best thing to do to stop the vacuum belt from burning is to make sure that it is clear of any debris. Give it a wipe down to ensure that nothing is caught on it. Then give the brush head a clean too, so that it can’t send any more debris to the vacuum belt. This should be sufficient to stop the smell of burning.

4. Pets

If you have a cat, dog, or any other furry pet that you let roam around your home, the chances are that you’ll also have pet hair strewn all over the home too. Hair gets everywhere, it sticks to surfaces and becomes a central feature on every carpet.

Vacuuming is the very simple and obvious solution for cleaning it all up, leaving your home looking good as new. The problem is that pets are animals that do tend to smell. This means that their hair and dander carries their animal odor.

When you vacuum it up, it carries that smell from the carpets into the vacuum itself. Then there is the additional problem caused by pet urine. You might be thinking that wouldn’t be a problem, either because your pet is fully house-trained or because you would never vacuum up urine.

However, their urine can often stick to their hairs. So when they shed, some of those hairs can have a urine odor. Again, when you vacuum them up, this pet urine smell can end up sitting in the vacuum.

How do you prevent it?

You can’t prevent your pets from being animals, so this is a problem that is likely to continually occur. However, you can make sure that you are extra vigilant about cleaning the brush head, emptying the dust bag, and cleaning the vacuum in general. This will at least prevent the odor from sitting in the vacuum for too long.

What’s the solution?

After you have cleaned your vacuum, the best way to deal with the animal odor is to combat it with nicer smells or baking powder. If you sprinkle some baking powder into the dust bag, dust bag compartment, and on the brush head, it should soak up the smell. You can then give a squirt of essential oils, or even a teaspoon of cinnamon (it is antibacterial and smells good). This should be enough to help mask the scent.

Other Solutions

The other parts of the vacuum that you can look to for carrying a smell are the filters and the hose. As with the other parts, cleaning them is the best way forward. The vacuum filter is the bit that traps the allergens and dirt particles, but they can easily get dirty and clogged.

You’ll need to check whether you have filters that should be cleaned or replaced, and then make sure that you regularly do the appropriate one. Cold water is usually sufficient to clean the filter, but remember to leave it to air dry.

In terms of the hose, it is one of the first points of contact with the dirt and dust that you are vacuuming, so it makes sense that this could carry quite the smell. Make sure that you remove any larger debris, then wash it with hot water, soap and detergent.

If there is a smell then you can also try adding some baking soda or vinegar to the mix. Once it is clean, leave it to air dry before re-assembling.


So, whether your vacuum smells because of mould, pet hair, or an accumulation of dirt, you should now be able to fix the problem and then prevent it from happening again.

In general, the best thing to do is to make sure that you keep your vacuum clean, wash and empty it regularly, and remember that what you are vacuuming up isn’t disappearing, it’s being moved into the vacuum itself. That should be enough to stop your vacuum from smelling again.

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