What’s that SMELL?! Why your vacuum stinks and what to do about it…

A lot of different types of unusual aromas can emit from your vacuum cleaner…. 
 Some should draw concern; others (albeit unpleasant) are not a big deal.  This article will help you decipher what that smell is telling you, whether it’s a major concern, as well as some tips for how to remedy the situation!

Top 4 Smell Categories:

1) Doggy
2) Stale, Dusty, Rotten
3) Burnt Rubber
4) Burning/chemical

The source of this odor is obvious, but not all dog smells are equal. Certain breeds (especially water-dogs) have a shaggier, oiler coat that harbors that distinctive smell. The oil clings to the inside of the vacuum’s brushroller and  ducting/hoses and forms a sticky paste inside the cyclone chambers of bagless vacuums….eeew!  Some “hair” dogs do not produce so much oil, and thus stink less. Cats do not have fur odor at all (as long as you’re not silly enough to suck up cat littler!)

CONCERNS:  Your vacuum is not particularly “harmed” much by the doggy slime and smell, but your house won’t seem clean if it stinks worse than when you started. Also, that smell may cause folks to trash the machine prematurely, which is wasteful and expensive.

SOLUTIONS: Use a bagged vacuum. Disposable bags not only hold infinitely more fur than a dirt cup (less exposure to allergens for you) but it allows one less large and/or impossible to reach surface for dog-grease to coat! Still, change the bag no less than once per month; they are very inexpensive.  Lastly, get your vac regularly serviced by us, and/or opt for our special steam & deodorizing service every year or so.

This condition is similar to that of the doggy smell. Much of the dust your vacuum picks up is comprised of biological matter like skin flakes and food particles….’nuff said. That matter is concentrated and then heated by the vac’s exhaust air passing through, intensifying the odor. The more often your disposable bag or filter is changed or the dirt bin emptied and cleaned, the less old particles there will be left behind to decompose and smell. We find that most people do not maintain their vacuums correctly or as often as required. The result is that funky smell, excessive clogging and particle residue.


How’s your Belt holding up?

CONCERNS:  Again, it’s hard to clean with a vacuum that’s dirty and smells weird. What’s worse is that the aforementioned debris left behind can work its way into the vac’s motor and electronics causing excessive motor strain and eventual premature demise.

SOLUTIONS: See “Doggy” solutions above – the same treatments can remedy these unpleasant odors.

The classic, acrid stench of burnt rubber (and sometimes an accompanying cloud of smoke) is, 99% of the time, caused by the breaking of your vacuum’s drive belt. Most machines on the market still use an old-fashioned flat, stretchy, rubber belt to transfer spinning power from the suction motor to the brushroller. That brush is what spins rapidly to whisk debris up from your carpets. But if something gets caught (like a sock, dog toy, paperclip, etc.) and abruptly stops the brush the motor shaft keeps spinning, rubbing away and burning through the belt! We’ve all done it, and it can be quite a scene! Belts can die a slower death, producing a less-pronounced smell, if the brushroller is slowly seizing over time. Hair, string and dust get bound up in the brushroller’s end caps and bearings making it increasingly difficult for the brush to spin freely. The more resistance, the more the belt heats, slips and eventually burns up.

CONCERNS:  The burnt rubber chunks thrown out of the bottom of the vac can make a sticky black mess on your rugs! Accidents and seizing from lack of maintenance can your brushroller to lock up, snap or warp!

SOLUTIONS: Be careful where you aim – avoid sucking up larger objects and items into your cleanerhead that will jam the brush. Regularly check and clean your brushroller. If your vactakes a rubber stretch-type belt, replace it at least every 6-12 months (or sooner if you have an accident.) Get your machine serviced by us every year…we’ll clean out and grease your brush bearings and replace the belt to that your vac runs optimally at all times!


This is the most common sign of a potentially catastrophic situation.  When the vacuum’s motor begins to short out, you’ll notice a terrible, burning, acrid, ozone or chemical-like odor. It’s awful!! There is usually a loud, bizarre sound that accompanies this smell as well. Lack of maintenance, sucking up excessive fine dust (like fireplace ash, sheetrock dust or carpet fresh) or sucking up water can cause this problem.

CONCERNS:  It’s rare, but a motor that’s shorting out can melt down, spark and possibly run risk of fire. So if you smell this distinctive odor, shut off your vacuum immediately! The suction motor is the heart of the machine. But even though it is usually the most expensive part in a vacuum, it is still far less expensive than buying a new machine!

SOLUTIONS:  Shut off your vacuum immediately and bring in to our shop for inspection (inspections are free!) Usually the motor can be replaced, as well as the exhaust filter – it’ll get a new lease on life! If it looks not to be cost-effective or there is too much else wrong, we’ll steer you right! It never hurts to ask and try keeping a vacuum out of the landfill!

When your vacuum is clean and running correctly, by all means, you can add a sprinkle of fragrance pellets, a dryer sheet or cotton ball with essential oils to diffuse a pleasant fragrance. But it’s a waste if you’re just covering up odors that shouldn’t be there in the first place. When your home’s air is clean and neutral, it’s fun to use a plant-based, aroma-therapeutic cleaner (like Mrs Meyer’s or Caldrea) to mop and wipe down your floors and counters. Using a smooth-running, high-filtration bagged vacuum lets you rest assured that your indoor air is clean, pure and you’ve only added healthy aromas (instead of spreading dust, allergens and caustic petro-byproducts.)

Who knew that your vacuum’s smell could tell so much about its health and performance?! Moral of the story….Pay attention to your vacuum, be diligent with your at-home maintenance and bring it in for service at Queen Vacuum annually. Protect your investment and ensure that your home is truly getting (and smelling) CLEAN every time you go to vacuum.