The great thing about a vacuum is that it’s so versatile. Want to get the daily detritus of life out of your carpets? Your vacuum is perfect for that, obviously. It’s also great for getting crumbs out of the crevices of your couch, sucking dust off the slats of your blinds and quickly cleaning coffee grounds off the kitchen floor.
A good vacuum is more than just a carpet cleaner. It can also take over the duties of your broom and dustrag. With the right attachments, your vacuum can be the primary tool you use to clean your home—but only if you know how to use it correctly.
Know how to adjust your vacuum’s pile height
Let’s start with the most basic aspect of vacuuming: running it across a rug or carpet. We’ve all done it (or watched someone else do it, ya’ lazy bums), but not all of us have taken the extra step of checking our vacuum’s pile height before turning it on.
See, carpets and rugs have what are called “piles,” which technically refers to the fibres and fabrics they’re made out of. You can think of it as “all the stuff that is piled on top of your carpet backing” if you want.
The important thing to know is that some carpets have higher piles than others. You’ve experienced the feeling of stepping into a plush, soft carpet versus walking across a bargain-bin rug, right? Sometimes your carpet pile is so high you can literally wiggle your toes around in it—and in that case, you need to adjust your vacuum’s pile height to accommodate the length of your carpet’s fibres.
I can’t tell you how to adjust your vacuum’s pile height, because I don’t know what kind of vacuum you have. Look for a knob or a switch that makes the front end of your vacuum—the part that you run across the carpet—go up or down. (It’ll be subtle, so look carefully.)
Essentially, if you have your vacuum set to “high pile height” on a low pile carpet, the suction mechanism won’t be close enough to grab the dirt that’s embedded in the base of those fibres. On the other hand, if you try to push a “low pile height” vacuum through a high pile carpet, it’s going to take a lot of extra work. It could damage the carpet, plus it’s definitely going to make you hate vacuuming.
And nobody should hate vacuuming!
Vacuum in straight lines (whenever you can)
I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on this, but if you want to vacuum a carpet thoroughly, run your vacuum over it in straight lines, back and forth, one after the other, until you’ve covered every inch of it. You’re much more likely to miss a spot if you just push it back and forth haphazardly.
I also know that most of us don’t really do this because furniture gets in the way and we don’t want to move all of it every time we vacuum. Just vacuum in straight lines as much as you can, and do your best to accommodate the furniture. Use a vacuum attachment to get the dirt out from underneath our couches and chairs.
Which brings me to:
Know your vacuum attachments
A typical vacuum comes with at least four basic attachments: a crevice tool (designed to get into tight spots), an upholstery tool (designed to clean your couches and chairs), a dusting brush (bet you can’t guess what that one is for) and an extension wand (kind of like a crevice tool, but designed to reach ceiling fans and the tops of windows).
These attachments can help you get things really clean with relatively little effort. Run the upholstery tool over your couch cushions, then use the crevice tool to get all the crumbs and dog hair that fell between them, then pop on the extension wand to suck up any dust bunnies that are hiding underneath the couch. Use the dusting brush to dust the tiny crevices in your coffee table legs. (Use the dusting brush to dust your entire home, if you want to.)
Don’t toss your vacuum attachments in the closet and forget they’re there. Use them. Get to know them. You’ll quickly learn to love them.
Some vacuums can tackle floors that aren’t carpeted
I don’t know if you grew up in a house where you were only allowed to vacuum the carpets and had to sweep the non-carpeted floors with a brush, but let me tell you that things have changed. If you have a vacuum with a hardwood floor attachment, you can use it for pretty much any floor that isn’t carpeted (wood, linoleum, tile, etc.).
The reason you can’t run a standard vacuum over hardwood, by the way, has to do with the little rotating fibres it uses to suck dirt out of your carpet. Those fibres can damage your non-carpeted floors over time—so unless your vacuum has a special attachment for other types of flooring or an option to turn off the roll brush entirely, you might want to keep sweeping and Swiffing in the traditional way.
Robot vacuums are meant to supplement, not take over
Here’s one last piece of advice: I know that we all love our adorable little robot vacuums—they are excellent at keeping the pet hair under control, for example—but a robot vac is only going to get you so far. Your Roomba is not agile enough to suck Doritos crumbs out of the crevices of your gaming chair. It can’t climb your window blinds (yet) and it can’t get the crud off the top of your ceiling fan.
So let your robot do its work, thank it afterwards, and then use a real vacuum to do the jobs that only a human (with a real vacuum) can do.