Common Vacuum Issues – and what you can do to solve them

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Emptying the dirt collection bin on a Dyson DC43 Vacuum

My vacuum isn’t picking up!

Your vacuum’s job is to pick up dirt, dust and debris – so when it stops doing that, it’s often panic time! But with a basic understanding of how your vacuum works and what to look for when it doesn’t , you can often have your vacuum up and running in no time. And that means no trips to the repair department, no waiting, and best of all, no repair bill.

Often when your machine is not picking up it is due to loss of suction. If your vacuum cleaner turns on but won’t pick up on carpet or bare floors, something is impeding suction. You may need to change the vacuum bag, unclog the hose, replace/clean the filters, replace the hose, change the belt, or repair the motor.

Changing the Bag/Emptying the Dirt Collection Bin

If your machine uses vacuum bags, check the ‘full bag’ indicator to see if a full bag is the cause of your machine not picking up. If it doesn’t have an indicator, open the door to where the bag sits and visually check if it’s full. A full bag restricts airflow and results in decreased suction. Also make sure the bag is installed properly so it is tightly sealed to the inlet hose.  

If you have a bagless vacuum ensure the dirt in the collection bin has not reached the maximum line. When the dirt exceed the maximum line the suction and performance starts to decline due to restriction of airflow. Following the directions of your vacuum empty the collection bin and remove fine dust from the bin with a cloth.

Unclogging the Hose

Sometimes the loss of suction is not just a restriction of airflow but an obstruction. If you have picked up an object that got stuck in the hose and didn’t make it to the bag, that has probably caused a chain reaction and resulted in a large buildup of debris.

To trace the source of the clog, turn the machine on and disconnect the hose from the power head for canisters, or disconnect the attachment hose for uprights.  If the motor begins to sound quieter and you have suction, then the clog will be where the power head attaches. You should be able to break up and dump out the clog easily from this section.

If you still don’t have any suction, disconnect the hose from the machine. Inspect either end of the hose to see if the obstruction is visible and accessible. If it isn’t, raise one end of the hose up and drop a marble or other down and see if it comes out.  If it doesn’t, the clog is somewhere in the middle of the hose. Often a broom handle is sufficient to dislodge the buildup and restore proper function to your machine.

If the clog is not in the main hose, it is probably right at the mouth of the vacuum bag and can be removed easily. In the event of a very stubborn clog, bring it into your local service dealer and they would be able to unclog the unit.

Socks, bits of paper, paper clips, and pet toys, are the main culprits of clogs in vacuums cleaners. Remember: remove clog causing objects from under furniture and floors before cleaning.

Cleaning and Replacing Filters

Every vacuum on the market uses filters. Filters remove dust and fine particles from the air passing through the machine before it is finally put back into the environment. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long before the filters become dirty or plugged, restricting the amount of air that can flow through them.

Check your machine’s manual to see if your filters are washable; if not, make sure to replace them every 12-18 months.  Your local dealer can find you the right filter based on the make and model of your machine.

In the short term, not cleaning or replacing filters results in a significant loss in suction, but in the long term it can cause damage to the motor and prematurely burn it out. Replacing or cleaning filters as needed is a simple way to ensure your vacuum’s optimal performance and prevent problems down the road.

Inspecting Hoses

If the bag is not full, the hoses are clear and the filters new, there may be a crack or hole in the hose. Even a small crack can leak enough air to significantly reduce suction and cause your machine to under-perform.  Inspect the hose(s) carefully, section by section, and if there are any cracks or holes the hose should be replaced.

Remember, for maximum performance, airflow through the vacuum cleaner must be unimpeded and leaks must be eliminated.

If you have remedied all of the above factors and your machine is still not working right, the problem could be mechanical. It is time to check your agitator and motor.

Troubleshooting Agitator Problems

If your vacuum picks up on bare floors but not carpet, the first place to check is the agitator in the power head. The agitator is the cylinder (made of wood, plastic, or aluminum) with embedded rows of bristles that spin at high speeds to loosen dirt from carpets so the suction can pick it up.

The agitator is powered by either the suction motor (uprights) or a dedicated motor (canisters with power heads) by way of a rubber belt. If your agitator doesn’t spin when the machine is running, the belt could be stretched or broken.  Here’s how to find out:

  • Making sure your vacuum is unplugged, turn the power head over and attempt to spin the agitator by hand. If the agitator spins freely without resistance, the belt is broken and needs to be replaced. (If you notice a burning odour, it is probably the smell of the belt burning, not the vacuum motor burning out!)
  • If the agitator spins with some resistance by hand, turn the power head back over like you’re going to vacuum and turn the machine back on. If you apply a little downward pressure to the power head and you hear the brush roll stop spinning, the belt is stretched and needs to be replaced*.

Replacing the belt:

Check for releases or screws to open the power head.  The belt typically runs from the agitator to a small pin near the back.  Bring your make and model number to your local dealer to purchase a new belt.

When installing the belt it is usually best to place the belt on the agitator and the motor pin and stretch the belt until the brush sits in place (typically a belt stretches an inch or two).  Spin the agitator a few times to make sure that the belt is not pinched and replace the cover.

*Belts need to be replaced every 12-18 months, so make this part of your regular vacuum cleaner maintenance routine.

But what if the agitator is stuck; it won’t spin by hand or when the machine is running!

Hair and carpet fibers often sneak into the bearings at each end of the agitator.  As the brush spins it heats up and melts the hair causing it to fuse everything together, or at the very least jam the bearings, seizing the agitator.  Unfortunately the only way to solve this is to replace the agitator itself. Again, your local dealer can order one in if you bring in your make and model number.

It’s not the Belt or Bearings

Some machines have a geared belt drive, if the agitator spins with some resistance but won’t turn on, make sure there isn’t a reset switch that needs to be pushed.  If there isn’t and the agitator still refuses to turn on, bring the unit into your local service center to check the connections and motors to make sure that the unit doesn’t have a bigger issue.

Motor Troubles

If the motor on your machine is damaged or broken, it is time to call the professionals. Take your machine into a local dealer and have one of their repair technicians inspect it.

Usually if the vacuum is making a high pitched, or squealing sound, while running or right after the power is turned off it can mean your motor is starting to fail. As well, if a burning electrical smell is emitted from the machine, if there are sparks, or if there is smoke, the motor is damaged and the vacuum should be turned off immediately and brought to a repair center.

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