When Not to Suck: 12 Messes You Should Never Vacuum Up

by Chris Martin on June 24, 2014

Today’s technological advances in home appliances and gadgets can greatly simplify the life of a homeowner. But there’s one important caveat: these machines and devices are only effective when they are used for their intended purposes. Otherwise, they can actually create problems instead of solving them.

For instance, it’s not a wise practice to wash clothing inside a dishwasher. It’s even more troublesome if you attempt to dry shoes or apparel in an oven, even on a low heat setting. And treating your garbage disposal like an all-purpose trash can may likely result in negative consequences.

Messes you should never vacuum up
Use it well or lose it for good.

The same principle applies with your home vacuum cleaner. While it can be a handy tool for sucking up particulates that make your floors unsightly, this appliance should not be utilized for every type of spill or pile that sits on your floors.

Here are seven messes which should never be cleaned up using a vacuum cleaner.

  1. Fresh food. Certainly, some food items like uncooked rice, sugar, and spices can be vacuumed up without any problem. But foods which are even the least bit “wet”, like baked beans, jello, mayonnaise, ground beef, or vegetables, should not be cleaned with a vacuum. The moisture in these foods can damage the motor. Their remnants can also remain in the hoses and cause a foul odor over time.
  2. Liquids. Unless your vacuum is specifically designed to suck up liquid material (like a wet-dry vac), these spills should be wiped up instead. Otherwise, the vacuum’s motor is susceptible to rust and the hoses can become a habitat for mildew.
  3. Loose hardware. It’s tempting to vacuum up paperclips, bobby pins, nuts, bolts, screws, or staples. But the sharp edges of these objects can easily get caught in the motor or tear up vacuum hoses.
  4. Plant debris. If you have a house plant that sheds leaves, stems, or small twigs, sweep them up instead of vacuuming. They tend to cause clogs in the hoses of many vacuum cleaners.
  5. Toys. It may sound like a bright idea to vacuum up small toys into a bag and then take them out when you’re finished, but it’s not. The brush rollers can easily become damaged by these hard objects.
  6. Dirty clothes. Think you can use a vacuum wand to pluck laundry from the floor? If a sock or pair of underwear gets sucked into the hose and clogs it, you won’t try that trick ever again.
  7. Cosmetics. Lipstick, eye shadow, and mascara can smear and then melt into the interior of the vacuum, which can gum up the entire works. It can also stick to the brush roller and re-transfer itself onto other surfaces when you vacuum later.
Messes you should never vacuum up
It’s not pretty when it’s all gunked up inside your vacuum.

And here are five substances which can be vacuumed up in (very) small quantities, but should be swept up if they make up substantial messes:

  1. Shredded paper. Using a vacuum to tidy up around the base of a shredder is fine. Sucking all of the paper shreds into a vacuum bag will strain the motor and/or lead to clogs.
  2. Broken glass or ceramic. Use a vacuum for tiny bits of glass that are hard to see in a carpet or on a floor. If the pieces are bigger than a pencil’s eraser, sweep them up; their sharp sides can cause significant damage to the interior of a vacuum.
  3. Coffee grounds. Again, a few “individual” grounds are fine for a vacuum. But a pile of gooey grounds is thick enough to clog hoses (or even get sprayed into the air via the vacuum’s exhaust).
  4. Sheetrock dust. Spot cleaning a small area or two may be okay. But don’t vacuum up a whole room of sheetrock dust, because the particles can clog the pores of the vacuum bag and/or the filter, which could potentially short out the motor.
  5. Baking soda or similar powders. As with sheetrock dust, a small amount won’t hurt the vacuum. Spilling a whole box or container of these substances can place a vacuum cleaner at risk of clogging or even motor failure.
Messes you should never vacuum up
It looks harmless, but your vacuum cleaner would disagree.

If you want to increase the longevity of your vacuum cleaner, be sure to check the belts and hoses regularly, empty the bag as directed, and never use it to suck up messes that could damage it. When used properly, a vacuum can last for many years and clean thousands of square feet of rugs, carpets, and floors.

Written by Chris Martin

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