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Rug / Carpet Vacuum Cleaning Tips & FAQs
The secret to fabulous-looking carpets? It's simple — have a "no-shoes-in-the-
house rule" and vacuum frequently.
Here, Good Housekeeping Institute's home care director, Carolyn Forté, offers
advice on how to keep your vacuum and carpets in great shape.
1. What's the difference between a canister and an upright vacuum?
A canister vacuum is generally more versatile. Like uprights, canisters handle
carpets, but they're also great at cleaning bare floors, vacuuming stairs and sucking
up dirt from corners.
2. Which is better — a vacuum with a bag or a bagless vacuum?
Neither is better. The Good Housekeeping Institute tests show that both clean
equally well. Which you buy depends on personal preference. Bagless cleaners
save you the trouble of having to buy extra bags, but they can be messy to empty,
and the filters and dust containers must be kept clean. While vacuums with bags
keep dust and dirt contained, they are tricky to retrieve an earring or small object
that gets sucked up accidentally.
3. Do more amps mean better cleaning?
If you're tempted to buy a model with the highest amps, horsepower or watts, you
might want to think again. These numbers are simply measurements of the electrical
current used by the motor. A vacuum cleaner's performance depends on airflow, the
amount of suction it produces, and other factors including the overall design and
4. What are all the attachments for?
When you're vacuuming pile carpets and rugs, you should use the motorized power
nozzle. But when you're cleaning bare floors and walls, it's best to use the wall/floor
brush. To get dust out of drawers, heating and air-conditioning vents, and from
under larger appliances, try the crevice tool. For mattresses, upholstered fabrics,
curtains and car interiors, use the upholstery attachment. And to remove dust from
blinds, lampshades and moldings, use the dusting brush.
5. How often should I vacuum?
In an ideal world, an area that has heavy traffic should be vacuumed every day. But
once or twice a week is more realistic with today's busy lifestyles and certainly
enough for areas that aren't often used. For best results, slowly move the vacuum
over the carpet several times, going back and forth and side to side in parallel rows.
6. How many times does a vacuum need to be run over a carpet to get it clean?
Generally, you should use as many as seven strokes for high-traffic areas; three or
four for lighter ones. If you're fanatical about dirt, consider buying a vacuum with a
dirt sensor, which tells you when an area is clean.
7. How often should my vacuum-cleaner bag be changed?
If your bag is filled to the indicator line, it's time to change it. Even though some
vacuums have "check bag" indicator lights, it's best to check the bag yourself and
change it when it's no more than three-quarters full. If you have a pet or you
vacuum up fireplace ashes, you may have to change the bag more often. To be on
the safe side, check the dirt level in the bag before each use.
8. How often should I change the filter on my vacuum?
You don't have to change the filter as often as the bag. If the filter shows signs of
wear, or is excessively dirty or torn, it's time to replace it. HEPA filters — ones that
remove most dirt particles — should be changed after six months or after the sixth
bag change. The owner's manual will tell you where the filter is located and will have
recommendations for your particular model.
9. At what height should my nozzle adjustment be set?
The level you set your nozzle at depends on the height of your carpet. For example,
you would use the lowest setting for a low-pile carpet and a higher one for plush
carpet. You'll only need to push your vacuum with a moderate amount of effort when
you've selected the appropriate level.
10. When do I know it's time to replace the belt on my vacuum?
If you think your vacuum isn't cleaning as well as it used to or the brush roll has
stopped turning, it may be time to change your belt. First, shut off your vacuum and
unplug its cord. It's not difficult to replace the belt as long as you have a screwdriver
and a replacement belt. For instructions for your specific vacuum, refer to your
owner's manual or call the manufacturer's service center.
11. What should I do if my vacuum cleaner isn't picking up dirt?
First, give it a full inspection. To do so, turn the machine off and unplug it. Then,
check to see if the belt is worn or broken, or if the roller-brush won't move. Also,
look for a full bag or any blockage that might be affecting the power of the machine.
Sometimes, new carpet can be a problem because it sheds more fiber and has a
tendency to fill bags quickly and clog the air stream. If everything checks out and
your machine still isn't working properly, bring it to a repair shop.
12. How do I vacuum an Oriental rug?
Since Oriental rugs can be very fragile, you may have to use extra care when
vacuuming them. Still, to keep them in peak condition, they should be cleaned often.
If you're using an upright vacuum cleaner, it's best to turn off the agitator brush (if
possible). When approaching the fringe, tip up the front slightly and push it
completely off the carpet. This cleans the fringe without catching it in the rotating
agitator brush. With a canister vacuum, use the bare floor brush for gentler cleaning
of the carpet, and use an upholstery attachment for the fringe. Also, don't forget to
periodically turn the rug over so you can vacuum its underside.
13. Is it bad for my carpet or vacuum to use powder fresheners?
Provided you have a good vacuum, powders shouldn't be a problem. For the best
pick-up, start with a clean bag. Since these powders can clog the bag, you'll
probably have to change the bag afterward.