I Stuck My Vacuum Cleaner in the Dishwasher — Here’s What Happened

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

According to most user manuals, vacuums need to be cleaned every three months, which includes rinsing out the inside of the canisters with soap and water and washing the filters. If I were the type of person who reads user manuals, I would have known this — but I am not.

No, I only read manuals when something goes terribly wrong and I have no idea how to fix it. Like when my husband tells me that the rancid vacuum smell I’ve been complaining about could be from the time (months ago) when he accidentally sucked up butter while trying to get to the sprinkles that had spilled all over the counter. I was pretty sure I’d need a magic wand to take care of that situation, but I was willing to look over the manual to see if it had any helpful tips on how to do a deep cleanse.

Remember the part above about reading the manual blah-blah-blah? Well, once I actually read mine, it said not to put the vacuum in the dishwasher (yours probably says that too), so I’m not suggesting you do this. But because I did, and it worked fabulously, I wanted to share my experience with you.

So here it goes.

What You Need

  • A dishwasher with a removable top rack
  • The ability to adjust the water temperature on your dishwasher

Cleaning the Vacuum Canister

Here’s a closeup of the canister after I’d emptied it:

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

What is all that, you may be wondering (besides rancid dust-butter)? I used to make carpet freshener by mixing baking soda and essential oils and would sprinkle it all over the rugs in our house. I now know this was a very bad idea. The baking soda has clogged all the filters and created massive, owl pellet like clumps in the hose. In addition to all that, I have a toddler, a hairy husband, wool rugs, and a dog that sheds like nobody’s business, which means I essentially live in a dust bowl.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

So I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube to see just how far down the rabbit hole I could go when it comes to deep-cleaning canisters. I saw quite a few tutorials where people were hosing them down with soap and water. Some of the comments left were from people who were very concerned about rust, and standing water that would lead to growing mold. But I also read accounts of people who had similar vacuums for years and regularly cleaned them in their sinks with no problem at all. So I decided to try the dishwasher, but I didn’t use it in the exact same way I use it to wash dishes.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

I started by first removing the top rack so I could properly place the canister at an angle, leaving both the top and bottom lids open so the water could find its way inside.

Then, I adjusted the water to “cool.” We have a portable dishwasher that hooks up directly to the sink faucet, so it was easy to control the water temp by simply turning on the cold water and leaving the hot water off.

I added a dishwashing tablet, pressed the “Start” button, and let the dishwasher go for about three minutes before cancelling the cycle so I could open it up and check things out. After just three minutes, the canister was almost entirely clean.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

There was still some gunk left on the top side near the white lid, so I decided to flip it over and let it run for another three minutes until it was nearly perfect.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

I was so impressed at the job the dishwasher had done that I didn’t realize the plastic was filmy until after I had shot the final photo. To the credit of the detergent I used, six minutes isn’t nearly enough time to work it’s magic. Next time I try this method I’ll probably forgo the cleansing pod and just add a cup of vinegar and some lemon juice. I was worried if I tried it with vinegar this time, all the baking soda that had built up might react and I’d have a volcano type situation.

After letting it sit out and air-dry overnight I closed up the lid, and all the seals were perfectly tight — just as before.

Cleaning the Vacuum Filters

You may have noticed in the photo above that the filters didn’t go in the dishwasher with the canister. I thought about it (even though the manual said not to!) but then decided the canister was so gross that it might actually make the filters dirtier. To get them clean, I ran both the foam and the felt filters under warm water and added just a tiny drop of dish soap to each, wringing them out until the water ran clean. Then I set them both on a towel and let them dry in the sun. This is what the foam filter looked like before:

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

And this is the after:

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

And this is the felt filter before:

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

And after:

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Cleaning the Rotating Brush

Cleaning this is really easy — just use a seam ripper to disconnect any hair or threads that are stuck around the bar. I’ve been cleaning this regularly so the “before” wasn’t bad enough to make the “after” photo that impressive.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Cleaning the Vacuum Hose

I also thought about putting the hose in the dishwasher, but then I came across this amazing video on YouTube that essentially turns your vacuum hose into a giant erupting volcano funnel and I couldn’t sleep until I’d tried it myself. I’m so so glad I did, because I had no idea there was so much disgusting gunk hiding in there! Warning: the photos below are nasty!

Here are the ends of the hose before.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Here’s what the sink looked like after the first eruption:

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

I used about 3/4 of a box of baking soda and an entire quart of vinegar to clean out the hose. The stuff just kept coming out. I probably did eight to 10 pours, then finished by running a constant stream of water through each end of the hose until the water ran clear.

This was, by far, the grossest and most satisfying part of the cleaning process. There was so much nastiness in the drain catch that I had to document it for you. To prepare you for what you’re about to see, here’s a shot of the toothbrush I used on the attachment piece.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Ready for it? Here goes, here is a giant handful of sludge that was inside the hose of my vacuum.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

And here is the hose after:

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

This is why you need to clean your vacuum regularly. This is why I set a recurring three-month reminder in my phone to “clean the vacuum.” This is why I will no longer use my delicious-smelling baking soda + essential oil carpet cleaner. This is why I’ve asked my husband to never, ever vacuum up butter again.

A clean machine makes everything easier on the motor, and a happy motor equals a longer life for your vacuum, and a longer life for your vacuum means less dirt on your floors and more money in your pocket. So however you want, just be sure to clean your machine regularly. And if you should decide to use the dishwasher when you do, be sure to clean it out afterwards.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: I Stuck My Vacuum Cleaner In The Dishwasher & This Is What Happened