How To Unclog And Clean A Central Vacuum System [A Complete Guide]

Central vacuum systems are more convenient and efficient than traditional vacuum cleaners. However, that doesn't mean that they are without particular challenges. If you're wondering what the protocol is for unclogging and cleaning your central vacuum system, we've done the research to bring you the answer. 

The first step in unclogging your central vacuum is determining where the clog is located. Once you have done this, you can remove the clog by creating pressure build-up, trying reverse suction, using a plumber's snake, or calling a professional repairman if all else fails.

To clean your vacuum, start by emptying the canister of dirt and debris into your trashcan. Then, run a cleaning sheet explicitly made for central vacuum systems through each inlet and, lastly, replace or wash your dirty filter. 

Next, we'll look at each unclogging and cleaning method in-depth and answer some common questions and concerns that you may have about your built-in vacuum system. Keep reading to find out how to optimize your cleaning experience.

A central vacuum brush and hose on a hard wood floor inside a home, How To Unclog And Clean A Central Vacuum System [A Complete Guide]

What Do I Need To Know About Unclogging and Cleaning A Central Vacuum?

Let's look at step-by-step instructions for unclogging and cleaning your central vacuum system.


Find the source of the clog

Start with the inlet that's closest to your vacuum's canister. If there's poor suction with the vacuum's hose, this is likely the source of the clog. If everything is fine here, keep moving from inlet to inlet until you find the one that seems problematic. 

Create pressure build-up with your hand

Press your palm tightly against the end of the hose, creating a tight seal. Hold your hand there for a few seconds and release. Continue doing this for approximately ten minutes to see if the clog releases. 

Try using reverse suction

You'll need another vacuum for this method, preferably a Shop-Vac. Turn off your central vacuum system and place the Shop-Vac's hose into the inlet, ensuring a tight seal between the hose and inlet. You may need to wrap your hands or a towel around the hose's base. Switch on the Shop-Vac and let it run for a few minutes. In most cases, this method is successful.

Use a plumber's snake

If the clog persists, thread a plumber's snake through each inlet until you come in contact with the clog and dislodge it. 

Call the professionals

If all other methods fail, it's wise to enlist the help of a professional repairman. They can determine if a more serious problem exists, like in the pipes or the vacuum's canister. 


Empty the canister's contents

Dump the dirt and debris from the canister into the trash, even if it's not full. If your vacuum uses a bag, check to see if it needs replacing. 

Use a cleaning cloth made for central vacuums

Certain manufactures make cloths that will effortlessly clean your vacuum's pipes. While the vacuum is running, place a sheet in an inlet. Retrieve the cloth from the canister and repeat for each vacuum vent in your home.  

Replace the filter

If your canister uses disposable filters, check to see if you need a new one and replace it. Reusable filters can be washed in warm, soapy water and left to air-dry. 

How Do I Know My Central Vacuum Is Clogged?

Close up of plugging central vacuum cleaner hose in to wall inlet socket

Like all vacuum cleaners, the primary indication of a clog in a central vacuum system is poor suction. If your vacuum doesn't pick up dirt like it used to, chances are you have a clog somewhere. 

Use the methods discussed above to remove the clog and to clean your vacuum system. If you still have low suction afterward, you may have a bad motor that will need to be replaced as soon as possible. 

How Do You Get A Sock Out Of A Central Vacuum?

Bright socks on a yellow background

It can be a bit worrisome to accidentally suction a large item like a sock in your central vacuum. If the sock is located in the hose, try bending a metal coat hanger to form a hook. Gently push the hook down the hose until you can grab the sock and pull it out through the hose opening.

A mop handle can also work to dislodge a stubborn sock. Let the handle drop down through the hose; hopefully, the sock will be freed, and you can continue vacuuming with no problem. 

How Do You Clean A Clogged Vacuum Hose?

Parts of the central vacuum system

Luckily, cleaning a clogged vacuum hose more straightforward than cleaning a clogged inlet. Detach the hose from the vacuum and look through it to see if you can see any visible obstructions. You may be able to pull it out with your fingers or with a bent wire or plumber's snake. Also, you can try dropping a heavy object through the hose to dislodge the clog. 

Can You Wash A Central Vacuum Filter?

Open door of a central unit of a modern technology central vacuum

Some central vacuum systems come with permanent filters that can be washed, while others come with disposable filters. Permanent filters can be removed and washed with warm, soapy water; any mild soap will do. Allow the filter to air-dry thoroughly before replacing it. 

Some central vacuum systems come with permanent filters that are machine-washable for ultimate convenience. 

Click here to see this central vacuum system with a machine-washable filter on Amazon.

How Often Should You Clean Your Central Vacuum?

Blue-collar cleaning the vacuum cleaner


Canisters should be emptied every three to six months, depending on how often you use your vacuum. If you regularly use your vacuum, it's a good idea to check on your canister once a month to see if it needs emptying. One rule of thumb is that you should clean your canister once it's three-quarters of the way full, or if you start to notice poor performance from your vacuum, as a full canister can cause low suction. 


Change your disposable filters every six months to one year. If you frequently vacuum high traffic areas, you might need to change it every four months. Give permanent filters a good washing or trash the disposable filter if you notice any heavy stains or foul odors, regardless of how long it's been. 

How Do I Deodorize My Central Vacuum?

Bucket with cleaning supplies isolated on white background

There are several options for deodorizing your central vacuum system. These include:

Hose and Pipe Maintenance Sheets

These are the same sheets that you use to help unclog your vacuum also deodorizes your system. 

Click here to see these vacuum sheets on Amazon.

Activated Charcoal Granules

Charcoal absorbs odor and is long-lasting.

Click here to see these charcoal granules on Amazon.

Mild Cleaning Spray

Use a mild cleaning spray to wipe the interior and exterior of your vacuum canister to get rid of odors.

Click here to see this mild cleaning solution on Amazon.

How Do You Clean A Smelly Vacuum Hose?

Beautiful bamboo hardwood floor and wool rug with a central vacuum cleaner attached to the wall

The most practical and cost-effective way to clean a smelly vacuum hose is baking soda. Use a mixture of baking soda and warm water and pour through the detached hose; it's a good idea to do this in a bathtub to avoid a mess. You can use a long bottle brush or flexible drain brush to clean the hose ends.

Vinegar is a natural sanitizer and can be used after cleansing your hose to eliminate bacteria and further eradicate odors.

Wrapping Up

Unclogging and cleaning your central vacuum system may seem like a daunting task, but with our helpful guide, you'll be able to have a vacuum that runs and smells like new in no time! We hope that you've enjoyed reading, and please be sure to check out the following links for more home decor tips and know-how. 

Is Carpet Deodorizer Safe for Pets? (These 5 Are!) 

How Long Do Bissell Vacuums Last?

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