7 budget-friendly hacks for keeping your vacuum cleaner smelling fresh

Aspiron Cordless Vacuum Cleaner being tested
(Image credit: Future)

If you own a vacuum cleaner, you are likely all too familiar with the woes of an unpleasant odor radiating from the dust canister. This tends to be a common occurrence when the vacuum cleaner has been frequently used over several months, and you'll only notice it when the vacuum is in use.

There is often a simple reason why your vacuum smells. It could be because the filter is clogged and needs unblocking, or you've vacuumed a wet surface and not dried the vacuum parts. Either way, you'll want to freshen up and deodorize your vacuum cleaner unless you want to spread a less-than-fresh pong around the home.

Here are some cheap and cheerful hacks to help you keep your vacuum cleaner smelling fresh. We've enlisted the help of some experts and called upon our own experience for good measure.

How to keep your vacuum cleaner smelling fresh

1. Empty the dust canisiter

Image shows the Shark Vertex Bagless Corded Canister Vacuum.

Image shows the Shark Vertex Bagless Corded Canister Vacuum (Image credit: Helen McCue.)

This may seem like an obvious hack, but as soon as you notice a smell, you should stop vacuuming to see where the smell is coming from. You may have just vacuumed up some stale food (think moldy cheese), or you may have just started a vacuum cleaning and had forgotten to empty the canister, which was previously full of pet hair.

Starting with a clean and empty dust canister will not only banish debris to the trash but also make it ready for a complete refill, allowing you to vacuum uninterrupted.

2. Deodorise with baking soda

"Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and is often used to clean and create a fresh scent around the home as part of people’s cleaning routines," says David Chapman, flooring expert and founder of Ultimate Mats.

"Just a small amount of baking soda can help neutralize any bad smells coming from your vacuum cleaner. Simply sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda onto your floor and then vacuum it up. Alternatively, sprinkle some baking soda directly into your dust bag/bin." Shop ARM & HAMMER Baking Soda, 2.7lb bag, at Amazon.

David Chapman headshot
David Chapman

David Chapman, owner of Custom Logo Mat Company, Ultimate Mats, is an expert in home cleaning, dust prevention, and workplace injury prevention. David began his career in the mat industry, working as a manufacturer’s rep alongside his son, providing anti-fatigue mats to manufacturing plants. While working as a rep, David spotted a real gap in the market for providing businesses with high-quality mats at reasonable prices. 

In 2005, David and his son set up their family business, Ultimate Mats. A year later, his daughter also joined the family business. For almost 20 years, Ultimate Mats has provided the highest-quality anti-fatigue mats, entry mats, and custom logo mats, all made with the finest materials available. It has partnered with the top mat manufacturers and suppliers in the US. 

3. Freshen up with essential oils

David also shares another hack: "Place a few drops of essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus, or lemon onto some cotton balls and place them inside your vacuum cleaner [canister]. This will create a fresh, natural scent around the home as you clean.

"Check your vacuum cleaner’s compatibility in the instruction manual to ensure the oils will not cause damage. It’s also recommended to patch test an area of your flooring in your home, ensuring that the oils [like this set of essential oils for $9.95 on Amazon] will not cause damage to the material on your floor."

4. Charcoal the canister

This may seem odd, but Justin White, a contractor, garage remodel/installation expert, and VP of Marketing at Overhead Doors, swears by it. 

"Activated charcoal is renowned for eliminating foul scents. Before, I've tossed a few charcoal briquettes or bags of charcoal pellets into the vacuum casing for some highly effective odor absorption."

You will just need to be prepared for the inside of the canister to blacken and ensure plenty of air is circulating around it to avoid any blockages.

Image of kitchen appliance expert Justin White
Justin White

Justin White is a contractor, garage remodel/installation expert, and VP of Marketing at Overhead Doors. He specializes in commercial and residential garage door sales, installations, and 24-hour repair services, but his expertise also extends to DIY and home maintenance.

5. Soak the brushbar in vinegar

hair wrapped around the brushbar

Image shows the Henry Quick with some hair wrap (Image credit: Future / Jennifer Oksien)

Having a bunch of hair tried around a brush bar will not only prevent suction, but it can also trap sticky, smelly debris. Jade Piper, Operations Manager for BetterCleans (https://bettercleans.com/), says:

"Mix equal parts of warm water and white vinegar in a bowl. The warm water helps loosen dirt, and the vinegar is like a natural cleaner. Pop your brush roll into the water and vinegar mix. Leave it there for about 15-30 minutes. 

"After the soak, grab an old toothbrush and give your brush roll a gentle scrub, especially on any stubborn gunk. Rinse, air dry, and once the filter and dustbin are ready, reassemble the vacuum and give it a test run to ensure everything's in working order."

Alternatively, grab a pair of scissors and snip away any strands in a tangle to ensure that the brushbar rolls freely and that enough air is getting to the canister to suction up (and retain) debris.

Jade Piper

Jade is BetterCleans' Operations Manager. With a proven track record in the industry, she skillfully oversees all operations, ensuring top-notch service delivery to clients. Jade's passion for creating tidy and welcoming spaces extends beyond her professional life, making her a true advocate for a clean and happy home environment.

6. Use a tumble dryer sheet

If you have one of the best dryers, then it's likely that you'll already have our next hack solution available. David Chapman highlights: "Scented fabric conditioner sheets for tumble dryers are a great way to add a fresh scent to your vacuum cleaner. Simply place a sheet [like these Lenor Tumble Dryer Sheets, $9.44 on Amazon] in the dust collection compartment of your vacuum cleaner as you would with a tumble dryer. 

"Whenever the vacuum cleaner is used, this will activate the sheet’s fresh scent. Alternatively, some scent boosters will also do a great job of making your vacuum cleaner smell fresh."

7. Rinse the hose with bubbles

If your canister or upright vacuum cleaner has a removable hose, it would be worth taking it apart and rinsing it with some washing-up liquid. This will firstly check that there are no blockages but will also help release any sticky, smelly, or old odors that may have been lingering around. Just ensure the hose is completely dry before reattaching it to the vacuum cleaner.

Jennifer Oksien
TTR Editor

Jennifer Oksien, Editor of Top Ten Reviews, writes about home and kitchen products. Based in the UK, she enjoys renovating her home, trying out new appliances, and savoring a cup of tea. With a background in journalism and marketing, she balances work with gardening, baking, and streaming her favorite series.