To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

How to empty a vacuum cleaner: Eliminate dust and dirt with our easy-to-follow advice

dirty bag of vacuum cleaner open on wooden floor

A vacuum cleaner full of dust can’t clean efficiently – here’s everything you need to know about emptying yours without making a mess

If your vacuum cleaner is losing suction, or has suddenly become noisy, then it could be in need of emptying. An overly full canister or vacuum cleaner bag can impact performance, with your cleaner failing to pick up debris via the head, nozzle or wand, and it can even cause overheating and damage to the appliance itself.

Whether you have a high-capacity upright vacuum, a cordless stick cleaner or a traditional bagged Henry Hoover, your vacuum will need to be emptied manually – unless you’ve snapped up a Ecovacs Deebot N8+ robot vacuum that empties its own bin.

But do you need to empty your vacuum’s canister after every clean? And can you reuse vacuum bags once they’ve been emptied? Read on for our handy guide to emptying your vacuum cleaner without causing a dust explosion.

READ NEXT: Best cordless vacuums

How often should you empty a vacuum cleaner?

While some people like to empty their vacuum cleaner before or after each use, this really isn’t necessary. Some people find the idea of dust and grime sitting in their canister or bag to be unhygienic; but it’s trapped there and, unless you’ve vacuumed up something truly nasty, it’s fine to leave it there. Besides, replacing vacuum bags unnecessarily is expensive and can be environmentally unfriendly.

Vacuum cleaners require emptying when the bag or dust canister is around 75% full, though if you’re often cleaning up pet hair then you may well find that your vacuum needs to be emptied after each use. Many vacuum cleaners, such as the high-performing Dyson range, feature a transparent dust canister, so it’s easy to see when it needs to be emptied.

READ NEXT: Best robot vacuums

How to empty a bagged vacuum cleaner: Step-by-step

1. Disconnect the vacuum cleaner from any power source and take the vacuum cleaner outside if possible.

2. Open the body of the vacuum according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

3. Use a slightly damp microfibre cloth to cover the hole where the bag attaches to the vacuum to prevent any dust escaping and carefully remove the bag.

4. Disposable bags can be put directly in the bin. If your vacuum cleaner bag is reusable then place the bag low in the bin and use a kneading motion from the bottom to release the dust. Reusable bags will still become clogged over time, so be sure to replace, wipe clean or wash as per manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Wipe the empty plastic chamber of the vacuum cleaner with a disposable antibacterial wipe, or use a damp soapy microfibre cloth to remove any remaining dust

6. Once dry, replace the bag in the chamber and close the body ready for next use.

READ NEXT: Best Shark vacuums

How to empty a bagless vacuum cleaner: Step-by-step

1. Disconnect the vacuum cleaner from any power source.

2. Remove the dust cylinder from the body of the vacuum cleaner. You may like to take the cylinder outside; otherwise, place the cylinder low into the bin or into a bag and release any clips to empty the dust.

3. Use gloves to release any trapped hair or residual dust in the cylinder.

4. Wipe the empty cylinder free of dust using an antibacterial wipe or warm soapy microfibre cloth. If there’s any particularly stubborn dirt remaining you can wash out the plastic cylinder under the tap.

5. Replace cylinder into the body of the vacuum cleaner once dry and ready to use.

Should I clean the filter?

Yes. The filter also needs to be cleaned and/or replaced from time to time to ensure best performance. It isn’t necessary to clean the filter each time you empty the vacuum cleaner, but you can remove the filter and clear it of any trapped hair and tap it – outside – to remove most of the dust every week or two. You should also perform a full clean of the filter at least every three months by tapping excess dust off and then replacing paper filters or washing foam filters in warm soapy water. Leave in a warm place until completely dry before using.

READ NEXT: Best vacuum cleaners


The best vacuum cleaners you can buy in 2024

If you’ve done everything you can to maintain your vacuum cleaner and it continues to underperform, it may be time to shop for a new appliance. The new breed of vacuum cleaners range from all-singing, all-dancing multifunctional appliances that mop, steam and more, to pet-hair specific vacuums and those designed for hardwood floors. Check out these top vacuum cleaners picked out by our team of expert testers:

1. Dyson V15 Detect Absolute: Best vacuum cleaner overall

Price when reviewed: £700 | Check price at John Lewis
dyson v15 detect absolute in purple on a cream wallpaper backgroundDyson has done it again with the Dyson V15 Detect Absolute, a cordless stick vacuum cleaner that trumps every other model on the market. Though it looks remarkably similar to its predecessor, the V11, Dyson has improved and built on its solid base, boosting the power and adding new features.

The V15 Detect Absolute gets its name from one of its primary new features: a laser on the slim fluffy motorised head that’s designed for cleaning your hard floors. It lights up even tiny dust particles on your floor, so you know where you’ve been and where you still need to clean. Plus, its high torque and smaller motorised heads now have anti-tangle technology, to stop the roller brushes collecting hair and needing regular cleaning.

These new features don’t come cheap: the V15 Detect Absolute is one of the most expensive vacuum cleaners money can buy. However, if you can afford it, there’s no doubt that you’re getting the best cordless vacuum in the business.

Read our full Dyson V15 Detect Absolute review

Key specs – Dimensions: 250 x 252 x 1,264mm (WDH); Weight: 3kg; Bin capacity: 0.76l; Vacuum type: Cordless stick; Bagless: Yes; Vacuum power: 660W

Check price at John Lewis

2. Henry Hoover: Best budget vacuum

Price when reviewed: £180 | Check price at John Lewis
henry hoover in living room backgroundHenry is something of a British institution, but while he looks like little more than a cheap plastic bin on wheels, his hoovering talents are a force to be reckoned with. The most recent model, the HVR160, has halved the power rating of previous generations – from 1,200 to 620W – but suction is still more than respectable. Effective dust-gathering is matched with pleasingly quiet performance, and the huge 9-litre bin capacity dwarfs that of other vacuum cleaners in this lineup.

The super-lengthy 26.8m mains cable can become a bit of a tangle if you’re not careful, but it’s a boon if you’re one of those people who hates plugging in and unplugging your vacuum every few minutes. Henry’s biggest appeal is value for money, though: replacement bags and filters are relatively cheap, and the overall performance is fantastic for a vacuum that costs as little as this. The best budget vacuum cleaner by far.

Read our full Henry Hoover HVR200 review

Key specs – Dimensions: 340 x 360 x 370mm (WDH); Weight: 8kg; Bin capacity: 9l; Vacuum Type: Cylinder; Bagless: Optional; Vacuum power: 620W

Check price at John Lewis

3. Shark ICZ300UKT: Best cordless-upright hybrid

Price when reviewed: £279 | Check price at Amazon
shark icz300ukt vacuum in blue on a cream wallpaper backgroundThe Shark ICZ300UKT is the perfect cordless vacuum for a whole house clean. Its battery runs for 60 minutes, which should be plenty of time to clean a modest home. However, if you need more time, the battery is easy to remove and recharge, and you can add a second battery to double your vacuuming time for around £100.

Its versatile DuoClean floor head works wonders on both carpet and hard floor, with both a soft roller and a regular brush roller in the main unit. Shark’s Anti Hair Wrap tech keeps hair from becoming tangled around the rollers, and the vacuum arrives with a great selection of tools and attachments to cover all the key vacuuming jobs.

Read our full Shark ICZ300UKT review

Key specs – Dimensions: 260 x 250 x 1,080mm (WDH); Weight: 6.2kg; Bin capacity: 0.6l; Vacuum type: Cordless upright; Bagless: Yes; Vacuum power: 450W

Read more

In-Depth