Yes, There’s a Right Way to Vacuum—Here’s How

Vacuuming is a chore we love to hate. But if you're putting in the work, make sure you're doing it properly.

Vacuuming: Love it or hate it, it’s something we all have to do. Whether you’re just learning how to clean or you’re a seasoned pro with a tried-and-true cleaning schedule, vacuuming is one of the most important tasks you do to keep your house clean. In fact, vacuuming is so good at removing dirt and dust that you really should be pulling your vacuum cleaner out more often, using it to clean your blinds, your baseboards and all the other places you’re not vacuuming but should be.

So, yes, vacuuming is essential. But are you vacuuming the right way? We’ve all seen commercials and television shows where someone moves the vacuum back and forth in random, short strokes. We asked pro cleaners: Is this correct, or is it one of the cleaning mistakes that are making your home dirtier?

You may be surprised by their answers. We’ve got the scoop below. But first, let’s find out why vacuuming is so important.

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What is the purpose of vacuuming?

Let’s be real: Carpets are gross. They have millions of tiny, porous fibers that act like sponges, grabbing dirt, mold spores, allergens and pollen. Air quality and mold expert Michael Rubino, author and founder of HomeCleanse, says any activity, from you walking across the carpet to your kids playing on it, stirs up these embedded pollutants and makes them airborne—and on a collision course with anything in their path.

Vacuuming gets down into the nooks and crannies of carpet fibers, removing these irritants before they wreak havoc. It’s not just carpets that get dirty, though. Cleaning floors is a breeze with a vacuum—it’s easier than sweeping and stirs up less dust.

And that dust is the problem, especially if you have allergies. That’s why both Rubino and Molly Maid president Marla Mock say it’s worth it to get a vacuum with a HEPA filter. HEPA vacuums are a little more expensive than regular ones, but Mock says they capture more dust and can drastically reduce symptoms of hay fever or allergy-induced asthma.

Are you supposed to go back and forth when vacuuming?

That depends on what you mean by “back and forth.” The speedy zigzags that come to mind when you think of vacuuming are not the most effective—you may be missing areas, even if the cool pattern on the carpet suggests you got everything!

You should be making multiple passes over the carpet, though. “It’s important to vacuum several times over each area as you go,” Mock says, “since one pass rarely picks up all dirt and debris on your floor.”

Here’s a clean-house secret: The difference between a properly vacuumed floor and one that’s still dirty is how you go about making those multiple passes.

What is the right way to vacuum?

The most important thing is to tackle vacuuming methodically, according to Katie Dills, senior vice president of The Cleaning Authority. Go in straight lines, following a patterned process: “It’s best to move in slow and methodical rows as you push forward,” Dills says. “After each movement forward, slowly pull the vacuum backward to catch anything that may not have been picked up from the initial pass.”

After making two passes in one row, move to the next row and overlap the previous one, much like mowing the lawn. This will ensure no dirt, dust or debris gets left behind.

To make sure your entire room is clean, not just your floor, Mock says to reach for those attachments! Dirt and dust love to settle on stairs, furniture and anything else with tight spaces or corners. Grab a cordless vacuum to tackle hard-to-reach areas.

Now that you’ve got the technique down, remember this pro cleaning tip from Dills and Mock: Always work your way toward the door. Starting at the back of the room means you won’t track your dirty feet all over your newly vacuumed floor.

Other vacuuming tips everyone should know

Vacuuming the right way is only one thing to know about getting your rooms their cleanest. Don’t forget these other expert tips:

  • Start with a clean vacuum. Empty the canister often, and don’t neglect the brushes, filters and belts. Overlooking care and cleaning of the appliance is a surefire way to shorten the life of your vacuum cleaner.
  • Don’t vacuum around clutter. Plant leaves, coins and toys are things you shouldn’t vacuum, so pick up the room before vacuuming to avoid damaging your vacuum.
  • Dust first. If you’re making a cleaning to-do list, put dusting near the top, before you vacuum. That way, dust and dirt that fall to the floor will get sucked up when you vacuum.
  • Choose the right vacuum. The right tool makes all the difference, so be sure you’re using the best vacuum for your needs. If you have wood floors instead of carpet, pick a vacuum made for hardwood floors. If you have four-legged friends, go with a vacuum made to pick up pet hair.
  • Don’t rush. Vacuuming should be a methodical process. If you wildly zoom around, you’re not going to get good results.


Ally Childress
Ally Childress writes for work and fun, covering topics from technology and trends to cleaning and gardening. She's a licensed electrician with a degree in English, but you can usually find her outside digging in the dirt or taking her dogs to the lake.