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How to Fix a Vacuum Cleaner

When properly maintained, a vacuum cleaner can last around 12 years or more. By learning to maintain and fix your vacuum, not only can you save money, you can extend the life of your appliance. Below you will find common problems and solutions to fixing your vacuum cleaner.

Common vacuum cleaner problems

Five common problems can cause a vacuum to quit sucking. Each one of these things is something you can fix yourself if you know what to look for.

  • The most common problem causing a vacuum not to pick up dirt is, the setting is too high. Most vacuums have a height setting, that adjustable to the height of your carpet. If the setting is too high, the beater bar and vacuum suction hose will not be close enough to the floor to pick up the dirt.  Most vacuum dials have three to five height settings. The lowest setting is for bare floors, tile, or linoleum. The next setting is for short carpet, and you just keep dialing up the settings the thicker your carpet gets.
  • The vacuum bag or canister is full. Because vacuum bags are not made with clear material, it is easy to overlook when they get full. Change the bag and the vacuum should resume proper suction. Collection canisters are typically clear so that you can view the level of dirt your vacuum has picked up. Even still, sometimes we get in a hurry and forget to check and dump it when it gets full. If the vacuum still does not seem to pick up dirt, try the following steps.
  • Sometimes dirt and debris get trapped in the vacuum hoses, which can prevent airflow. This commonly occurs after running a vacuum with a full bag, or collection canister. By removing the collection canister or bag, you will reveal the opening to the vacuum hose. Sometimes the clog is right at the hose opening. If this is the case, you may be able to free the clog with your fingers, or by grabbing it with a pair of tweezers, or needle-nose pliers. If the clog is in the middle of the vacuum cleaner hose, you may need to remove the hose itself. Once you remove the hose, you can use a long, thin object like a wire hanger, or stick to remove the clog.
  • If the vacuum still is not working at this point, your vacuum may be losing air somehow. Vacuums rely on their air-tight system to produce the suction needed to clean your floor. To troubleshoot this problem, start simple. Make sure you vacuum cleaner hose is secured tightly. Sometimes they slip off or are not correctly attached. Once the hose is secured tight, carefully replace your vacuum bag or canister. If you have a bag type vacuum, make sure the bag is securely fastened over the hose. If you have the canister type vacuum, make sure it is locked into place and secured with the clamps. On older, or well-used vacuums, the hose ends can become loose, or damaged. If this is the case, use a little duct tape to help secure it tightly. Duct tape can also be used if you find a hole in your vacuum cleaner bag, or if the bag doesn’t fit snuggly over the vacuum hose.
  • Check to see if your beater bar is clogged. The beater bar is the brush roller on the bottom of your vacuum cleaner. It is common for pet hair, yarns, thread, and other stuff to get wound-up in the beater bar. To unravel the wound-up mess, use scissors, or a knife. Start at one end of the beater bar, and start snipping all the way across, until it is free. Then, you should be able to pull the mess out with your fingers. You may want to place a trash bag under the vacuum before cleaning the beater bar, because it can get a little messy.

Troubleshooting more technical vacuum cleaner problems

If the vacuum has other problems causing it not to work, you are probably thinking of calling a repair service. But, there are still measure you can take to fix the vacuum yourself. Below is a list of more technical vacuum problems.

Power switch issues. It is common for a power switch to wear out after repeated use. Below is four steps to follow to check or replace a vacuum power switch.

  • Unplug the vacuum, and remove the power switch cover. The switch may be located on the vacuum handle or the back of the vacuum cleaner floor base. Once the cover has been removed, the back side of the switch will be exposed.
  • Inspect the wires for damage, and to make sure they are securely attached to the switch.
  • Hold a multi or continuity tester over the switch to see if the electrical circuit closes when the switch is on and opens when the switch is off.
  • If the tester is registering an electric circuit problem, you will need to replace your vacuum switch. To remove the old vacuum switch, remove the rivets, or screws, and pull out the wires. Replace the vacuum switch with a compatible switch of the same type.

Worn out beater bar.  Over time beater bars can become worn out, or damaged.

Steps to replacing a beater bar;

  1. Lay the vacuum down, to expose the bottom of the central vacuum system.
  2. Remove the clamps, and the vacuum belt to release the beater bar.
  3. Inspect the beater bar to see what part is broken, or worn out. Look at the brush, flange, end caps, and beater bar casing.
  4. If it all seems worn out, a new beater bar is needed.

Checking the drive belt. While you have the belt off, to inspect the beater bar; check the belt for damage. To replace the drive belt, slide one side on the vacuum motor, and the other side of the beater bar.

Motor problems. If you suspect a problem with the vacuum motor, start by using a continuity tester to make sure the motor is getting the proper amount of friction. Then, turn beater bar by hand, to see if the motor maintains continuity.  If the motor does not keep the same amount of continuity, the motor wiring (bushings) need to be replaced. This may require the help of a vacuum Expert.

Gathering supplies

Before beginning to fix your vacuum, you should have these tools ready.

  • Multi-tester, or continuity meter
  • Phillips #2 screwdriver
  • Torx screwdriver
  • Utility scissors
  • Soldering wire, and soldering station
  • Trash bags, and duct tape

Make sure to write down the make, and model number of your vacuum, if you find it is necessary to buy replacement parts. Having this information handy will help you find what you need when you get to the vacuum repair store.

How a vacuum works

Your vacuum works with the same suction methods as when you are drinking through a straw. The low-pressure suction is at the bottom of the vacuum cleaner hose, and it builds as air is pulled through to the top of the hose. If you use a clear straw when drinking, you can see the air/liquid separation at the bottom of the straw. This is the low air pressure forcing air to pull the liquid up through the straw. If the vacuum had a clear suction hose, you could see a separation between air and dirt.

Vacuum cleaner motors have fans with angled blades. These blades are what draws air through the vacuum hose, and back out the exhaust system. Because dirt and debris are heavier than air, they are pulled through the second port; then they are dropped into the vacuum bag or canister. 

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