Bagless Vacuums, the Dirty Secret

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I admit I wanted one of those – a bagless vacuum cleaner! What an amazing idea! No thought was given to what I was going to do with the container full of dust and debris. I’ve figured out that dumping out the junk is fairly easy – although many people including myself dislike the cloud of who-knows-what that comes from dumping days’ worth of stuff sitting in the canister.  What I can’t figure out, nor find online, is how the heck to clean the filter. Everything says, “clean the filter,” but then I see, “don’t touch the filter.” How does one clean the filter of a bagless vac? I’m pretty confident I’m getting lower performance because the filter is, um, gross. (The same can be said for my hand vac but I’ll be satisfied today with knowing how to clean the filter on my less-than-a-year-old hoover.)

So, I turn to the experts. How do I clean the filter on a bagless vac?

Could Be Cleaner

How to clean the filter of a bagless vacuum

After emptying the canister, pull the cartridge filter out. Bang it carefully on the inside of your trashbin. (This will help contain some of the dust that is going to fly out). Be sure only to tap the rubber gasket portion of your filter. If you hit the paper portion, it may be damaged by the impact. This should loosen most of the debris. If you have access to an air compressor, blow any stubborn dust away once the loose debris has been removed. Using a rag or paper towel, wipe out any lingering dirt and debris from your dust cup before replacing the filter.

With care, these filters can last for quite a while, but they must be replaced on occasion. Before ordering a new filter, inspect your vacuum carefully. Occasionally, small toys, change, or string can lodge in a tube or hose, reducing the suction. Don’t forget to examine the agitator and vacuum belt while you are down there. A beater bar full of hair will certainly reduce your machine’s capability. Use a box cutter or scissors to carefully cut away tangled hair and string. Hopefully, you’ll be back to hoovering the floor in no time.

I did have a refurbished Dyson that ran well for six years, which was a good run.

*Update for Autumn of 2016* I purchased a Bissell Pet Hair Eraser in July. The filters are easier to access than the Dyson, and after almost three months of use in a home with a dog and my long hair, I have no need to clear the beater bar of hair. I cannot immediately see what the brush has done differently, but it does not collect hair, and I am thrilled with this. The dust canister is also very easy to empty without getting dust everywhere. Currently, it’s $200 cheaper than a Dyson, so it’s the clear winner for this busy household.

*Update for Fall of 2020* The Bissell lasted four years, which isn’t too bad, but I am tired of regularly replacing appliances. Over the last three years, I did some research, including an incredibly interesting AMA (ask me anything) thread on Reddit by a vacuum repair person. I knew that my Bissell would not last forever, so I began saving for a Miele, as recommended in that thread. It is not a bagless vacuum, but it IS very well made with two filters, and I do not see myself going back. We have a stick vacuum for quick sweeping cleanups for the hardwood and linoleum, and I don’t mind the dirt cup. (That’s also the chore I assign to the teenagers.)

*Update Spring 2023* The Miele is going strong, and love it. Yes, I do have to change bags, but it’s nice not to have to deal directly with the dust/pet hair any longer. The only thing I miss is the way hair didn’t wrap around Bissell’s brush. I have gotten back into the routine of dealing with long hair and a vacuum. It is what it is.

*Hey, refurbished was half the price of new.

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43 thoughts on “Bagless Vacuums, the Dirty Secret”

  1. You are so much braver that I am. I must have a bag, which proved a challenge with my last vacuum purchase.

    I stopped buying warranties on vacuums when they replaced them so fast that they’d hijack my vacuum, at service, for months, waiting for parts. (When you have a high filter allergen, multiple filter bag vacuum, the loaner’s are of no comparison!)

    Now I buy somewhat cheaper vacuums with the idea that I’ll replace it more often.

    My current love: Maytag canister.

    (I replaced my “old” (not really that old) vacuum when my carpet cleaner showed me, first hand, that it wasn’t worth the effort to use it.)

  2. I did so much research before buying my last vacuum cleaner and am still not very happy with it – grr! Now I’ve heard so many good things about Dyson, I want one, but really, after spending several hundred dollars on a vacuum just a couple of years ago, it seems hard to justify. *sigh*

    Something that works really well on cleaning hair out of the beater brush is a stitch ripper. I keep one in a vase in the living room so that I can tear up all those long hairs of mine that inevitably get entwined in the bar.

    Also, using spraying static guard on the rug before vacuuming really helps the vacuum to pick up all those pesky pet hairs that want to stay stuck to the carpet. I don’t do this every time because I’m a bit worried about what the chemicals might do to the colour of the rug over time… but when I do, it looks so much cleaner!

  3. I use an air compressor to clean off the filter in my baggless hoover. The filters are really strong, I’ve never had one rip or tear on me and I bang it around quite a bit — usually in the outdoor trash cans – never in the house. Also I’ve used a stiff cleaning brush to clean it off when I’ve been too lazy to get out the air compressor. I’ve found that I have to clean out the container as well with the compressor or the brush – it can collect quite a bit of dust that sticks to the sides and in the corners.

    My apologies to Hoover, I use hoover generically, I hoover my carpet i don’t vacuum 🙂

  4. When I empty my Dyson (with three dogs in the house, I usually end up doing this at least 3 times before I’m done), I just grab a trash bag, head outside and empty the bin into the bag. I stick the lower part of the bin into the bag and kind of wrap it around the bin to minimize the amount of dust that flies around

    Some vacuum filters are washable (the ones in my Dyson and shop-vac are) so after banging some of the dust off (outside of course), I hose it down until the water comes out clean. Then give it a few flings to get the excess water out and leave it out in the sun to dry. Around here that doesn’t take too long.

  5. I have a bagless vacuum. I loate and detest it. But I HAD to have it and I’m using it. Basically because I’m too cheap and I can think of better ways to spend $50.
    This was very helpful though, thanks!

  6. Gotta love those Dysons. Not only are they awesome pieces of design, but the founder of the company is awesome– I interviewed him once and he was SO COOL.

    • A cool CEO and good commercials does not make a great product.
      Dyson is far from the best. There are better for less than half the price but then I’ve never met their CEO and neither have invited me to dinner =: 0
      To spend $500 on a DC59 for 6 minutes of battery is a joke. So how cool is that James Dyson?

  7. I hate mine too. It just pushes the dirt to the corner of the room. I love my little hoover vacuum. I will never buy another name brand again. Hoover vacs have always worked best for me. Mine is a little bitty thing and I actually own two, one for upstairs one for down. It can do carpet or hardwood and it really cleans, plus the filter is washable. I have had this thing for two years and am on the first filter. I just wash it, but a drier sheet in front of it so I get the smell, and vacuum away.

  8. I, too, purchased a new Hoover WindTunnel bagless upgright in Jul2007. I am very disappointed with how difficult it is to clean the canister and the HEPA filter (which is a completely clogged mess now) and very much wish I had bought the same vacuum in the “bagged” version. When you think about it, it is far easier to change a bag on a bagged vacuum than it is to clean all the nasty dirt out of a bagless vacuum. We don’t have any pets, and yet the mess in the HEPA filter is simply ridiculous. I end up using my shop vac to try to clean the HEPA filter since it is quite inaccessible without doing a complete vacuum cleaner disassembly. (I have also done the complete disassembly to remove the HEPA filter and really clean it and that is quite some job.) I cannot recommend strongly enough to NOT buy a bagless vacuum. It is just far, far more work than changing a simple bag.
    Hoover made my vacuum in both the bagged and bagless version—I certainly bought the wrong choice.

    • I totally agree with you. I hate emptying my cannister and my filter creates a cloud of dust when I try to clean it. Next time I am going withva bag.

  9. I bought a bagless and was very dissapointed. I didn’t spend the money on a fancy one like the DYSON, so maybe that was my problem, but it doesn’t appear that DYSONs are universally loved anyway. Guess I stick with the $50 old school special.

  10. Hello, I am new to your site. I just wanted to add that most things that have been refurbished end up working/lasting longer. This is because any of the kinks were worked out of the machines, which are usually totally rebuilt. 🙂 great site! thanks for putting the knowledge out there 🙂

  11. A little while ago, the brush bar on my Dyson got shredded when a safety pin got sucked in and stuck. Comparing the bristles on the replacement brush to the old brush, it appears that the past several years worth of use wore down the bristles by at least a couple of millimeters.

    If your vacuum just doesn't seem to be picking stuff out of the carpet as well as you remember it used to, the bristles on the brush bar may be worn down and might need replacing.

  12. A friend bought a Dyson and encouraged me to take it home for a day. I vacuumed my couch and once I got over the shock (I thought I vacuumed it regularly) I bought one. I took to to my father's house and vacuumed his black oriental rug and the difference was unbelievable. People would ask if he had shampooed the rug and he got such a kick out of telling them about the Dyson. I do what the imabug does, I put it in a bag and shake the dust out and wash the filter. I know some people aren't impressed but I sure like it.

  13. Alright ladies, I see that the last entry was 11 weeks ago… but I am responding anyhow with the vague idea that somebody may stumble through here later on. I will swallow my pride and say that *although I use a bagless at home, I have worked cleaning houses in the past and have experience with a series of "cutting edge" Dyson's.*

    I agree with earlier posts that those paper filters are VERY strong. I used to put them through my dishwasher (top rack,short cycle) to knock any stubborn dirt out. This seemed to really REALLY improve the suction of my canister vacuum cleaner. But about 6 weeks ago I got very frustrated with the idea of driving 25 miles to the nearest store that carries my filters and took a closer look at the filter itself.

    **** It is just a simple loose-weave cloth sewn into a pocket! it isn't even sewn with any regard to looks or fit! All you need to do is take any worn-out tee shirt or gauzy piece of cotton and cut a piece as tall as you filter and long enough to make a circle around it. Then fold it in half, stitch along the bottom and up the side, and secure with to the plastic filter base with a hair tie or rubber band!!! I was shocked at how much my home-made filter improved my vacuum's performance… even compared to a brand-new filter! The manufacturer's just aren't all that likely to tell us about *FREE* alternatives to their replacements.

  14. I own a Dyson DC17 Animal Bagless Upright Cyclonic Vacuum it does the trick pretty well. My girlfriend's two long-hair cats do a good job of filling up the canister, so I usually have to empty it out at least once before I can clean the whole house, but I've found that it works remarkably well.

    Also Katie – I agree that the filters are remarkably strong. I occasionally have "let" my small nephews take care of cleaning it out and they've yet to damage it in any way. That's the real test!

  15. I own a Dyson DC17 Animal Bagless Upright Cyclonic Vacuum it does the trick pretty well. My girlfriend's two long-hair cats do a good job of filling up the canister, so I usually have to empty it out at least once before I can clean the whole house, but I've found that it works remarkably well.

    Also Katie – I agree that the filters are remarkably strong. I occasionally have "let" my small nephews take care of cleaning it out and they've yet to damage it in any way. That's the real test!

  16. Wow. And here I am with several useless vacuums that are bagless. I can't afford the Dyson but gotta admit I am ready to invest in the cling spray. I have 3 very hairy cats and the amount of fur that clings is amazing.

    Thanks for this website. It is awesome

  17. Well, I guess I'm old school but my name is Kit and I am addicted to Rainbow.
    I moved onto housekeeping with mom's old Rainbow – which had been handed down to HER by Grandma.
    It worked really well, but in turn I too got tired of filling and dumping water.
    So I got rid of it when we could finally afford a 'good' model and lo and behold..
    My dust allergies and the youngest kiddo's went into overdrive and the darn thing just pushed the dust bunnies around, I know it,lol!
    I caved and bought a brand new Rainbow three years ago, and it has been SO worth it!
    Like the older models you still change out the water.
    But the new design has a HEPA filter and if I run it as an air cleaner for a few hours before my sister comes over , she can tolerate our (as she puts it) cat infested house for an afternoon.
    (in the interests of full disclosure, I have 2 cats,lol)
    I won't go back , and if this one lasts as long and grandma's did (heck , that one was still running when *I* got rid of it) then it will outlive me.
    And no, I don't sell Rainbow – I don't want to clean *everyone's* house just mine…

  18. I wouldn’t recommend blowing off any type of paper filter with compressed air. The high pressure will force particles into the paper and reduce effective surface area of the filter. High pressure will also open up the fibers allowing larger and larger particles to pass through. Filters should be handled with care!
    Filters in bag less machines clog almost instantly reducing the suction power. The Dysons address this issue using centrifugal force to separate the larger particles and keep them out of the filter altogether. But I think the Dysons are overpriced to the extreme.
    I currently own both bag less and standard bag vacuums from the same manufacturer (Hoover) that are similar to each other. In my opinion, there is no way to empty a bag less without getting dust everywhere (try emptying in front of the window with sunlight streaming in to see what I mean). Even when emptied outside the dust gets on my clothes, in my hair etc… I always change the bags outside and immediately put them in the trash can.

  19. Just a note: The quality of vacuums isn’t what it once was. You would think after making vacuums for 100 years some of these companies would have it down to a fine science, but they don’t. Chinese parts increase profits for the manufacturer, but do very little for the consumer. As an example, one of my machines is so loud (because of a cheap import motor and beater bar), it wouldn’t be allowed to be used in an American factory without hearing protection (I wear earplugs).

  20. I got a free Hoover on my local freecycle. The previous owner said it would need a new filter. Not the case. I took it outside and hosed it off with a gentle stream of water until the water was running clear (about 3-4 minutes). Then I let it air dry in the sun for an hour. Viola – Like brand new.

  21. I have a bagless bissel, and so dose my best friend, thier like 25-35$. we never thought they would last so long, we each have had r`s for 5 years or more. We tap the filter on the tarsh can then rinse it under the fasite. and let air dry in the drain rack. Never had a problem, never even had to repace the filter in five years! Still run`s like new, who would have guessed!

  22. I've owned just about every kind of vacuum there is (showing my age here). I even owned a Rainbow Machine…. they used water and the dirt mixed into the water. What a mess!!! Anyway, I now own a Dyson canister and love it. First time I've "loved" a vacuum. The suction power is awesome and it's easy to empty and easy to keep the filter clean. I don't think I'll ever buy another brand.

  23. I have severe asthma and am allergic to dust and dustmites so its really important for me to avoid releasing a bunch of dust into the air when I empty my vacuum's canister. I use the plastic bag method– holding the bag tightly around the canister while releasing the hatch. I noticed that with my dyson the dust is sort of compressed (like dryer lint) so it just falls into the bag without becoming air borne— however a friend has a bagless 'Dirt Devil' (can't recall brand) and the dust comes out loose and ends up everywhere.

    I have a Dyson "Animal" (Dyson DC17 Animal Bagless Upright Cyclonic Vacuum)— it is awesome!! I just wanted to make clear that the filter on a dyson upright is located underneath the canister– not a part of it. A friend destroyed her dyson by following the advice of an 'expert village' video and using water to clean the turbine head part of the canister. The filter is a disk with a silcone rim located under the plastic bit that the canister sits on, just take it out every six months– soak it in plain water for 15 mins, rinse and let dry *completely*, then put it back in. 🙂

  24. “Be sure to only tap the rubber gasket portion of your filter. If you hit the paper portion it may be damaged by the impact. This should loosen most of the debris. If you have access to an air compressor, once the loose debris has been removed, blow any stubborn dust away.”

    You’re delusional, or else you’ve never used a bagless vacuum.

    I use my parents’ bagless Kenmore at their house and I now hate vacuuming more than ever, which I didn’t think was even possible. Dumping the canister is messy, but the filter is a nightmare. Tapping the rim on the garbage can might release some big chunks of dust, but if there is any pet hair, or anything else fibrous, in there at all, you’ll end up spending the next half-hour meticulously scooping dust out of the filter pleats with the handle of an old paintbrush. Tapping–heck, desperate, enraged, full-arm-swinging impact–does almost nothing.

    They have a big house and a lot of carpet. I can easily empty a canister 10 times in a weekend.

    On the up-side, I guess I know the thing is picking up a lot of dirt, but I will never, ever, own a bagless vacuum. I would pull up all my carpet and live with concrete and plywood floors before I’d spend that much time cleaning vacuum filters and breathing dirt.

  25. Tip for emptying bagless canister: Put canister into garbage bag and loosely tie the bag around the canister handle. Then through the bag, open the canister and tap canister with your hand until it is empty. Wait a minute for the dust to settle in the bottom of the trash bag and then untie and remove canister. Tie trash bag up and toss away. I then submerse ,y canister in soapy water, rinse and let air dry. Some canisters cannot be submersed, so check your models instructions first.

  26. “This should loosen most of the debris.”

    Bull roar. Banging–never mind tapping–doesn’t do anything. It will slightly loosen the already-loosest of the debris, but then you’ll spend twenty minutes digging debris out of the filter’s “gills” with a small paintbrush handle. You might have to do this once or twice per room unless you vacuum so frequently and obsessively that dust doesn’t have time to settle on your rugs.

    I inherited a bagless and I hate the machine with a red-hot passion. Sadly, a new [bagged] vacuum will not be in the budget for the forseeable future or I would get rid of this royal pain in the neck immediately. Vacuuming is bad enough: I shouldn’t have to breathe dust and wrestle with filters on top of it.

    Also, the cord on mine does not retract, and I have come to the conclusion that that, too, is an unpardonable lack-of-feature in a vacuum cleaner. I don’t have three hands to push the cleaner and manage the cord at the same time (it winds around a bracket in the back of the cleaner, but of course it goes slack and doesn’t stay wound when you’re actually sweeping).

  27. I know this comment is way late; I just came upon this site. I have read the comments of bagless vs. bagged vacuums. The reason I have a bagless is because I got tired of needing bags and not having the money to buy them. I am on a very limited budget, especially these days! I did have a Dyson once; long story as to why I no longer do (it wasn’t because I didn’t like it). I just wanted to add my 2 cents, that sometimes we buy the bagless to save money on the bags. I would like more tips on how to do a better cleaning with what we have. Thanks

  28. Has anyone thought of putting the dust cup in the dishwasher ? My husband was standing at the sink washing all the parts to the dust cup in warm water ?? What “R” you doing !! So now he wants to try the dishwasher , OK ? But if it doesn’t work , YOUR buying a new sweeper !! LOL

  29. I have a question. I was given a bagless vacuum by my mom who did not want it. Are bagless vacuums supposed to make a mess when you take out the cup to empty it? This is ridiculous. Every time I take the cup out all the dust that gets stuck up on top above the cup gets all over the vacuum cleaner and the carpet. So there I am on my hands and knees cleaning the dirt out of all the little crevices and wiping down the vacuum. I have to clean it before I vacucum and after I leave the dirt in the cup for next time.

  30. Wow, I seem to have really lucked out with my bagless vaccuum- the Shark Navigator is really easy to service. The filter I can just put in the laundry, the canister opens from the bottom with a push lever and dumps forward, so all I have to do is make sure the canister is partway in the trash, open it, close it quickly, and the trash lid will close before the dust cloud can rise above it. And the rest of the parts all come out and can rinse clean.

    • Same here for my Shark bagless vacuum! It’s very easy to empty the can and I even wash and dry it (by hand) occasionally. The filter gets rinsed out every week and allowed to air dry before re-insertion.

  31. well I have owned a dyson for about 10 years now and I love it, I thought it was time for a new one only because I now have a dog that sheds anyway we actually looked in Consumer reports for advise well I dont know where they get their information but thinking we were getting a better vacuum for a lower price was just plain wrong we ended up buying a hoover bagless windtunnel after following CR advice and I hate it, it doesnt pick up nearly as good as my dyson ever did and to empty it holy cow.every single time I try to empty this horrible machine I end up running it again to clean up my emptying mess,my advice pay more for a good machine, I’m going to look into a dyson animal, My first dyson never gave me problems and never made a mess when emptying, I honestly wish I could turn back time my gut instinct was to stick with the dyson brand

  32. I have a Bissell bagless vaccuum. I found out that the container and the plastic filter don’t have foam or paper. I just wash out the container with soapy water and let dry. Then I take the top filter part and use my hand held faucet in the kitchen. I out the faucet in the hole what snaps to the vaccuum and spray it into the filter fixture and it comes clean. Then I let it dry in the sink thoroughly before putting it away.

  33. I know this is an ancient thread, but I found it because I was wondering if anyone else is using their Shop Vac to “vacuum the vacuum” (bagless canister, in my case) periodically. Such as every time before using their vacuum to clean their house. A 4-to-5 minute ritual, taking the removal canister out and not just dumping it, but taking out the HEPA filter/foam assembly out and vacuuming that, and any other residual crud before replacing it all back in the vacuum. Typically performed in our garage…
    Hey it works! The price I pay for “going bagless”!

  34. I have a Shark bagless vacuum cleaner. It seems I could vacuum all day and it would still be pulling dust and dirt out of my carpets. A friend says vacuuming is tearing up the carpets, which are 11 years old. Is this correct? I would like to think I got these carpets clean for once.

  35. I’m using bissell and I’m very dissapointed. I actually spend the money on it, believing that it’ll help to clean up my dizzy’s hair from all over my house, But it seems I was wrong.
    Next time, I’ll have to put extra efforts in researching about one of the best vacuum cleaner, yeah, I’m gonna resell it out, I’m not interested in this headache anymore.

    I’m planning to try out shark’s product. What’s your opinion?


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