13 Things You Should Never, Ever Vacuum

Updated: Jul. 18, 2023

Getting out the vacuum may seem like a quick solution for any spill, but some things just aren’t meant to go in this machine. These are the messes that should be cleaned with a broom instead.

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Used Coffee Grounds

All coffee drinkers know the struggles of cleaning out the ol’ coffee maker, unless you’ve given into the coffee-pods craze. Wet coffee grounds are a pain to clean, but don’t make that a job for your vacuum. They can clog pipes, ruin the motor, and spurn mildew growth inside the machine.

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Wet Foods

Some kitchen spills can be cleaned with a vacuum, like sugar and salt. Others, like fresh produce, baked beans, and potato salad, cannot. They can clog the vacuum just based on their size and damage the motor because of their moisture. What’s worse, the foods could spoil inside your vacuum and start to smell. You don’t want to be stuck cleaning up that mess.

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Plant Debris

Dead leaves and flowers that fall off houseplants could easily clog your machine. Pick them up by hand instead. Check out these complete project plans for building your own backyard compost barrel.

P.S. If you struggle with getting dirt off your floors, this Eyevac stationary vacuum will be a game-changer.

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Fireplace Ash

Sucking up fireplace ash with a vacuum is basically the opposite of cleaning. The particles are so fine that they could get blown out the back of the machine and right into the air. Good Housekeeping suggests covering them with wet coffee grounds before sweeping them up so you don’t inhale any potentially harmful dust.

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Construction Dust

Home renovations are a big undertaking, but don’t try to breeze through the cleanup with a vacuum. Like fireplace ash, construction debris is made up of fine particles that can burn out the motor or get released back into the air. Sweep it all up to keep your vacuum—and yourself—safe. We’ll show you how to use your shop vac for dust collection.

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Coins and Small Toys

These are things you probably wouldn’t vacuum up on purpose. That’s why it’s extra important for you to check your floors before your hit that power button, especially if you have young kids. Small objects that get sucked up could break into pieces, cut the bag, or wreck the vacuum’s motor—or do all three.

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Vacuuming up liquids is dangerous, plain and simple. You could be electrocuted. At the very least, the machine will undergo certain damage. Investing in a wet/dry vacuum designed to handle these problems is one solution, but there are plenty of other ways to clean spilled liquid: a mop, almost any Swiffer product, paper towels, regular towels, washcloths—you get the idea. In the event you do break your vacuum, we’ll show you how to repair it yourself.

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Electrical Cords

It may not seem like a big deal to quickly vacuum over a cord so you can get that hard-to-reach corner, but it is. The vacuum can break apart the cord’s exterior and eventually expose the dangerous wires inside. Cords for vacuums themselves are usually more heavy duty, but they can suffer the same damage.

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Eyeshadow, bronzer, foundation, blush, even broken bits of lipstick—none of these things should ever go in your vacuum. They could melt inside the machine and cause serious damage. Here’s something else homeowners need to be mindful of: Never put these things down the garbage disposal.

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When your family’s shoes bring outside dirt and soil inside your clean home, you may be tempted to get out the vacuum. Bad idea. You could stain your carpet and cause the particles to get embedded even deeper into the material. Wet soil could also cause problems for the motor. Make sure you avoid these cleaning mistakes that actually make your home dirtier.

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Clumps of Hair

As someone with long, thick locks that shed constantly, I can honestly say vacuuming large amounts of hair just isn’t worth it. It clogs up the machine, and you’ll need to fish it all out just to make the vacuum work properly again. Gross. Save yourself time and extra effort by sweeping it up or, if it’s on a rug or carpet, just use your hands. Check out these 11 unexpected ways you never thought to use your vacuum cleaner. Another place hair doesn’t belong: down the toilet!

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Shredded Paper

Vacuuming up heaps of shredded paper is just as bad as heaps of hair, leading to a clogged machine and a screwed-up motor. A broom is the best solution to this mess, unless the shredded paper is on a carpet, in which case you may just need to use your hands. Good luck.

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Large Pieces of Glass

Cleaning up broken glass is always a precarious situation, we get it. But copping out by doing the job with a vacuum can ruin the inside of your machine. Then you won’t be able to vacuum anything. Throw away big pieces by hand (wear thick gloves if you’re afraid of getting cut) or just sweep it all up. Don’t miss these 16 genius cleaning tips from professional house cleaners.