7 things you should never vacuum up - for a healthy device that will last

Here are all the things you definitely shouldn't be vacuuming up, according to the experts

White utility room with washing machine
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Whether it's a chore you love or hate, vacuuming is essential for keeping a clean and healthy home. But it's important to know about the things you should never vacuum, so that your device can keep ticking away without issue. 

Aside from causing internal damage to your device, vacuuming up the wrong things can also pose a safety risk. Knowing what things you should never vacuum can help you avoid both of these issues, so that when you purchase one of the best vacuum cleaners, it's a lifelong investment instead of a temporary one.

'Vacuums are versatile household cleaning devices, but just like any other appliance, there are things that shouldn’t go in them,' says Lily Cameron, Cleaning Supervisor, Fantastic Services. 'These items can cause clogs and sometimes even lead to electrical failures.'

We've asked the experts to share what things you should never vacuum, so that you can continue this essential household chore without any hiccups.

7 things you should never vacuum

Whether you're using one of the best vacuum cleaners for pet hair or a grab-and-go handheld device, you need to know about the things you should never vacuum. Here's what the experts had to say. 

Headshot of Lily Cameron
Lily Cameron

Lily Cameron has been a domestic cleaning expert and supervisor at Fantastic Services - a UK-based based cleaning company, for over 10 years. From polishing every nook and corner to managing the cleaning teams with finesse, her dedication to perfection has always left clients fully satisfied.

1. Water and other liquids

Carpet being lifted to vacuum

(Image credit: MyJobQuote)

'Vacuum cleaners aren’t designed to handle liquids,' says Lily. 'Attempting to vacuum liquid spills can damage their motor and electrical components, posing a safety risk. Instead, clean up spills using absorbent materials, such as towels or paper, by blotting the spill gently to absorb as much of the liquid as possible.' 

To avoid damaging your vacuum, don't run it over anything wet. You can learn how to remove stains from carpets brought on by spillages with other effective methods.

2. Flammable or combustible materials

Any flammable items are a big no no when it comes to vacuuming. These pose a serious safety risk and should be avoided at all costs.

'Avoid vacuuming up anything that is flammable or combustible, such as gasoline, lighter fluid, or fireworks, as these materials can ignite and cause a fire or explosion,' warns Sarah Dempsey, Cleaning Expert, MyJobQuote.

You might not have many fireworks lying round the house, but there are plenty of household items that are flammable in nature. Batteries, nail polish, roller lint and cooking oil are all things you should never vacuum.

3. Sticky substances

Coffee being vacuumed up from rug

(Image credit: Henry)

Just like you shouldn't hoover over anything that's wet, sticky substances should be avoided too, as these could clog up your vacuum's roller brush and make it a nightmare to use afterwards. 

'Sticky types of messes aren’t safe to vacuum, because they can stick to the brush roll, hose, or interior and cause a clog,' Lily says. 'Even if they make it inside the vacuum safely, sticky particles can develop mould and later spread mould spores or unpleasant smells every time you vacuum.'

So don't be tempted to hoover over grease or adhesive residue after you've used tape on the floor. Try cleaning with white vinegar instead.

4. Glass

Breaking a glass is never fun, and your instinct may be to grab your vacuum if it's broken into lots of little pieces. This isn't advisable though, as the sharpness of the glass risks damaging your device.

'Sharp glass pieces, or any other type of sharp objects, can damage your vacuum’s hose, bag, or interior,' says Lily from Fantastic Services. 'Instead, sweep up the broken glass and use a damp paper towel to pick up any small pieces that remain.'

5. Small objects (or large debris)

White cordless vacuum cleaning under armchair

(Image credit: MyJobQuote)

Small objects like coins, toy parts, jewellery, rocks or screws are all things you should never vacuum. Vacuums are designed to handle small to medium sized debris, and anything larger has the potential to damage the internal components.

Pick any small objects up before you start hoovering. If you vacuum something up by accident, you'll probably hear a concerning noise, so turn the vacuum off immediately and remove it from the inside before continuing.

6. Fine dust and powders

You might be surprised to hear that you actually shouldn't vacuum up fine dust and powders. If you spill some flour on the floor or there's some sawdust leftover from your latest DIY home repair job, the experts recommend reaching for a dustpan and brush over your vacuum.

'Vacuuming fine dust or powders, such as flour, ashes, or plaster dust, can clog the filters and damage the motor of a vacuum cleaner,' Lily says. 'If it’s necessary, consider using a specialised vacuum cleaner designed for handling fine dust, equipped with the appropriate filters.'

7. Mould or mildew

Vacuum cleaning white floor

(Image credit: MyJobQuote)

'Vacuuming mould or mildew can release spores into the air, which can be harmful to your health', says cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey. 'Instead, use a cleaner designed for mould and mildew removal.'

Mould and mildew is unfortunately something we all probably need to deal with at one point or another, but using a vacuum on the affected area isn't wise. You can learn how to get mould and mildew out of outdoor fabric and other places with more effective cleaning methods.


Is it OK to vacuum hair?

Vacuuming excessive amounts of hair can cause problems for your vacuum, and you may have had to manually remove large clumps of hair from your vacuum's roller brush before. Hair can be vacuumed, but you'll need to check the roller brush regularly to ensure it's not being clogged up.

'One of the main issues with hair is that it can cause clogs in the brush roll, beater bar, or vacuum tubing, which reduce the device’s suction power and affect its overall performance,' explains Lily from Fantastic Services. 'To prevent this, it's important to regularly check and clean these parts. Use a pair of scissors or a seam ripper to carefully cut and remove any tangled hair from the brush roll or beater bar.'

Many modern vacuums are designed with anti-hair wrap technology, so it doesn't get entangled, such as the Hoover HL5 Vacuum Cleaner, currently £199 at Hoover. Empowered by ANTI-TWIST™, this vacuum has an integrated comb which prevents hair from wrapping around the brushbar. Vacuuming hair therefore won't affect the device's performance.

Is it OK to vacuum everyday?

'If you have a high-traffic household with kids, pets, or frequent visitors, daily vacuuming can help to keep the floors clean and free from dirt, debris, and allergens,' Lily says. 'And if you or someone in your household suffers from allergies or respiratory issues, frequent vacuuming is important to reduce allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander, and pollen.'

Vacuuming everyday is therefore OK and can be quite beneficial. It isn't always necessary though, and you may find that vacuuming a couple of times per week is enough for your household. Carpet tends to need vacuuming more often than hard floors, as dust and debris can often get trapped between the fibres.

'If you are using your vacuum every day, it’s important to regularly change your dustbag / empty the waste container and clean / replace any filters the appliance has', says Sophie Lane, Product Training Manager, Miele GB

And now that you know the things you should never vacuum, your vacuum should stay in tip-top condition for years to come!

Katie Sims

Katie Sims has been writing for Ideal Homes since spring 2022. She qualified from her Master’s in Media and Journalism in 2021 and has been writing freelance since. She has worked on Ideal Home’s ecommerce team where she researched the best home products on the market, and on the news team, researching the latest trends for feature pieces.