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

Why does my vacuum cleaner smell?

mechanic holding nose in workshop while opening vacuum cleaner

Our top tips for figuring out why your vacuum cleaner smells and how to eliminate those unpleasant odours for good

Have you ever prepared to embark on a spring clean only to find your vacuum cleaner smells musty and horrible? Or perhaps you’ve noticed something that smells suspiciously like burning emanating from your appliance halfway through hoovering? A stinky vacuum cleaner can be an indicator of a number of problems – any one of which would need to be addressed before continuing your deep clean.

Thankfully, most odours are easily dealt with, so you shouldn’t have to spend your hard-earned cash on a new vacuum cleaner just yet. But, with so many different parts to a vacuum – be it a robot, a Shark or a cordless stick – it can be tricky to know where to start or how to tackle the problem.

If you find your vacuum cleaner is on the whiffy side, read our helpful troubleshooting guide – we will help you identify the cause of any awful aromas and have your vacuum cleaner smelling sweet again in no time.

Why does my vacuum cleaner smell?

Your vacuum cleaner is a hardworking appliance that collects pet hair, dirt, dust and debris by design, so it’s no wonder that it may smell a bit unpleasant from time to time. As the contents of your carpet collect in its cylinder, filter, hose, and any of its brushes or attachments, bacteria can start to breed and ferment, and will really reek over time. But though smells are common, do not be tempted to ignore them. Haylee Bourne, Head of Product Management at VAX, says, “Vacuuming smells are key indicators that all is not as it should be.”

How do I find the source of the smell?

If, at first, it’s not easily apparent where the stench is coming from, then consider what your vacuum smells like:

  • Musty, mouldy types of smells are generally the result of bacteria in the dust that’s collected in your vacuum.
  • Burning smells, on the other hand, usually indicate something overheating in the appliance. If this is the case, stop using your appliance, disconnect it from any power source and leave it to cool before moving on to the steps below.

READ NEXT: Best vacuum cleaners for pet hair

How do I get rid of smells from my vacuum cleaner?

To get your vacuum cleaner smelling fresh again there are a few things you can do:

Empty your vacuum cleaner – We have a longer guide on how to empty your vacuum cleaner that you can read for more detail but, essentially, you should empty the dust canister or bag and check that all of the parts are free from obstruction. Remove the filter and give it a tap – best to do this outside or low down in the bin – to shake loose any excess dust. Brushes should be checked for hair or any other debris that may be tangled – this, in particular, can cause the tell-tale burning smell – and cut through any trapped material carefully with scissors. If this becomes a frequent problem, you might consider purchasing an appliance with anti-wrap technology like the Shark Anti Hair Wrap with PowerFins.

Clean your vacuum cleaner – Read our handy explainer on how to clean your vacuum cleaner (coming tomorrow) if you need detailed advice. Once your appliance has been emptied, you can give the inside dust chamber a clean with an antibacterial wipe, or wash the entire canister with warm soapy water if it is particularly soiled. You can also wash removable parts, such as nozzles and the filter (assuming the filter is washable), in this way too. Leave all parts to air dry thoroughly – for at least as long as 24 hours in the case of the filter – before reassembling, according to instructions.

Replace disposable parts – Check whether your filter or any vacuum bags are reusable as some are not and the vacuum cleaner’s performance will be negatively affected if you continue to use them beyond their intended lifespan. Change filters and bags as applicable.

READ NEXT: Best handheld vacuum cleaners

How can I prevent my vacuum cleaner from smelling unpleasant again?

All vacuum cleaners require some maintenance – a dirty vacuum cleaner can’t clean, after all – so ensure you empty and clean your appliance periodically. We recommend emptying the canister once it reaches 75% full, and cleaning your vacuum every month or so, depending on how often you use it.

Joshua Warren, a floorcare expert at, says, “To keep your vacuum cleaner smelling fresh, or if you have a particularly pungent odour from your vacuum canister, pop some essential oils onto cotton wool balls and put them into the dust canister to remove any unwanted smells. These will need to be replaced every time you empty the dust.”

open vacuum cleaner clean inside on wood floor - why does my vacuum cleaner smell?

You could also consider using scented bags to neutralise any smells, especially if you have pets. We also like the fragranced cartridges used in the Gtech Multi MK2 K9.

The addition of a self-cleaning robot vacuum – like the Proscenic M8 Pro, an affordable self-emptying vacuum and mop in one – can help keep on top of things so that your standard vacuum has an easier job, though don’t forget that they will still need some occasional maintenance as well.

Aside from that, there are a few things you should bear in mind, and avoid, if possible:

  • Storing your vacuum cleaner in humid environments can encourage the growth of bacteria. Find somewhere dry, and preferably cool, to store it.
  • Don’t vacuum up any material that is obviously smelly. Things like pet litter and food waste, as well as anything damp, should be disposed of directly into the bin using a dustpan and brush or disposable floor wipes.
  • Don’t use bicarbonate of soda as a quick fix – sprinkling bicarb on your carpets to absorb smells, or using it directly in the dust canister, is a surefire way to clog your appliance, leading to potentially expensive repairs.

Read more