9 things you should never vacuum but probably do

Woman vacuum cleaning floor
Woman vacuum cleaning floor (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to tackling our household messes, having one of the best vacuum cleaners is our go-to tool to quickly handle the job. But, while these powerful machines make lightwork of those back-breaking chores, there are certain things you should never vacuum at all. 

If you do, you could end up damaging your machine, or worse, cause a potential hazard. And the last thing you want is to spend money on repairs or even a replacement vac or robot vacuum cleaner.

In fact, you’ve probably vacuumed up at least one of these things! So before you grab your trusted vacuum cleaner to handle your cleaning jobs, avoid these nine things you should never vacuum but probably do.

1. Soil debris 

A mix of succulents on a table from a birds eye view, with one pot filled with soil

A mix of succulents on a table from a birds eye view, with one pot filled with soil (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Whether you have messy spills from repotting a plant, or have soil or dirt brought into the home from shoes, never use your vacuum to clean this up.  

This is because the texture of soil and plant debris can easily clog a vacuum, and damp or wet soil could potentially damage the motor. What’s more, you could embed the dirt and soil particles further into your carpet, causing stubborn stains.  

It's always best to simply use a broom to sweep dirt or soil up, and wipe down with a damp cloth.  

You might also want to know the best way to clean carpets with or without a carpet cleaner.  

2. Fireplace ash 

Fireplace ashes

Fireplace ashes (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Ashes can get messy at the best of times, however, these should never be vacuumed up. The particles are so fine that they would only get blown out of the machine, and back into the air that you’re breathing — totally defeating the purpose of cleaning! Also, the dust from emptying your canister would mean you’ll probably have to invest in one of the best air purifiers

Instead, experts recommend that you use a fireplace shovel to carefully scoop any ashes into a metal dustbin. This should prevent ash flying all over the room, and save you a lot of hassle. 

3. Construction debris 

Man hanging wallpaper on wall

Man hanging wallpaper on wall (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’ve just finished a home renovation, never vacuum up fine particles such as drywall dust, sanding, dried plaster, and other construction debris in large amounts. Again, these can impact on the operation of your vacuum cleaner, potentially causing the motor to burn out.

Similar to fireplace ash, those fine particles can also end up being released back into the air, making it unpleasant to breathe in. Always sweep up any construction debris with a large dustpan and brush, before carefully emptying into a sealed trash can. 

4. Shredded paper 

Man shredding paper

Man shredding paper (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Whether you’re decluttering and shredding documents, or working on arts and craft projects, never vacuum up piles of shredded paper.  

Large clumps can clog up your machine, and potentially damage/burn out your motor. In this case, it’s far better to simply gather up the paper with your hands, or use a broom to quickly sweep it up. 

5. Broken glass 

Broken glass on floor

Broken glass on floor (Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’ve all accidentally broken a glass at some point. And when there are tiny pieces on the floor that we can’t see, it may be tempting to bring out the vacuum cleaner to deal with it. However, this is the worst thing you could do! 

The sharp pieces could damage or even puncture a vacuum's internal mechanism. When cleaning broken glass, always reach for a broom to sweep into a dustpan before carefully emptying into the trash bin.  

6. Wet messes 

Spilt cereal

Spilt cereal (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Another thing we tend to vacuum up are spilled or damp messes. Whether it’s bits of spilt cereal on the floor, fresh foods, coffee grounds or even clumps of backyard leaves inside the home, never use a vacuum cleaner for sucking up wet messes.

Firstly, liquid and electricity don't mix, and secondly, wet messes or spillages can clog the vacuum based on their size and cause damage to the motor. What’s more, if anything moist lingers in the bag or canister, it could cause mold in the long-run. 

It’s always quicker to tackle wet messes with a traditional mop and bucket, or a good carpet cleaner. 

7.  Anything sticky 

Glue tubes on cardboard

Glue tubes on cardboard (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Similarly, sticky messes can be a real nuisance to clean up. Common things like household glue, adhesive tack, or even honey or other foods will clog up your vacuum cleaner and stick to every vacuum part, including the brush roller. 

Not only will this affect your vacuum cleaner’s ability to work properly, but will probably leave a far worse mess on your floor to clean up. Always use a mop and bucket to clean up sticky messes, or a damp microfibre cloth for smaller areas. Or prevent this by putting glue on a piece of old cardboard or protective surface.

8. Clumps of hair 

A woman removes dog hair after molting a dog with a dustpan and broom at home

A woman removes dog hair after molting a dog with a dustpan and broom at home (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Although the best vacuum cleaners are designed for sucking up strands of hair, it’s not so great at picking up large piles of hair at once. Clumps of hair from furry pets (or a haircut!), can easily clog the vacuum, while long strands can become tangled around the beater bar.

And while there are powerful vacuum cleaners such as the Dyson designed with an anti-tangle brush, it’s still far safer to grab the dustpan and broom to sweep piles of hair instead.

If you have pets however, you might want to invest in one of the best robot vacuums for pet hair too. 

9. Legos and small toys 

Pile of Lego bricks

Pile of Lego bricks (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Anyone with small children or visiting kids’ have probably encountered the dreaded Legos all over the floor. Trouble is, once any small toys or objects get sucked up by your powerful vacuum cleaner, it could easily damage your mechanism. Not to mention make that painful, rattling sound once they’re being sucked up! 

The same applies for coins lying around on the floor. Again, these could cause blockages, or scratches on the motor. Always pick up Legos, toys or coins by hand, or even better, get the children to join in for a “fun” task!

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Cynthia Lawrence
Content Editor, Homes

As the Homes Content Editor, Cynthia Lawrence covers all things homes, interior decorating, and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 

Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.

With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!