Dirty shop vac at building site

How to Properly Clean Your Shop Vac

A shop vac is an endlessly useful tool that can be used in any number of circumstances, including for intense and dirty DIY projects, or cleaning up after a houseful of kids. The problem is, your shop vac is likely to get very dirty doing all this hard work for you, and if you don’t clean it, you will limit its lifespan and prevent it from working as it should.

Dirty shop vac on site

Cleaning a shop vac might seem like a difficult and complicated job, but with the right knowhow, it’s no different than any other DIY cleaning job. You need to consider all parts of the vacuum cleaner, not just the inside or the filter, and you must remember to treat the filter with care if you want it to last a long time. Read on to learn how to properly clean your shop vac.

Give the Filter Some TLC

Cleaning the filter is the biggest job when it comes to cleaning your shop vac, so we’ll begin there. It is also the job that requires the most finesse, as the filter of a shop vac is quite easy to damage, being made of paper.

Clogged vacuum filter

You will know that your shop vac’s filter needs cleaning when you notice a dip in suction power. It is something that can happen quite regularly if you are using your shop vac for very dirty jobs. Many people won’t bother with trying to clean their shop vac filter, as it is easier to buy a new one, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to clean it first.

You will need:

  • Safety equipment (safety gloves, safety glasses, respirator)
  • Trash bags
  • Plastic scraper
  • Dish soap
  • Bucket of warm water
  • Garden hose
  • Air compressor and air chuck

There may be any number of substances and particles caught in your shop vac’s filter, and many of those will be released into the air when you clean it. It is therefore best to clean the filter outside, to avoid said particles from making their way through your home. And do not skip the safety gear!

Step 1: De-dust

If you don’t have a respirator or you cannot clean the filter outside, you will need to do this step by placing your hand (holding the filter) into a trash bag. Some people prefer this method, even if they are doing the job outdoors or with a respirator. Tap the filter against a wall or other hard surface to dislodge the loose dust and debris between the pleats. There should be no need to bang the filter very hard, as you will remove all the remaining dirt during the following steps.

Step 2: Dry dirt removal

There will still be some hardened dry dirt trapped between the folds of the filter after you tap it out, so you will need to get a bit more up close and personal with the filter to ensure that you have removed it all.

Bear in mind that the filter is quite fragile, and must be treated with care. Do not try to use a brush for this step, as you will damage the paper pleats. Using your plastic scraper (a putty knife will also work), gently scrape out all trapped dirt from between the pleats. Also pay attention to the area around the rubber seal, as dirt can often get trapped there, too.

Step 3: Blow out the dust

Air compressor

This is where your compressor will come in handy. Despite your hard work with the scraper, there will be some loose dust and small debris left in the filter after the last 2 steps, so don your safety glasses and set your air compressor to around 40 PSI. Using your air chuck, carefully and gently blow loose any remaining dust and dirt. Too much pressure could tear or deform the paper filter, so do not be too rough with it.

Step 4: Bath time

In spite of all your best efforts with the last few steps, you are likely to still be seeing some stains and dirty marks in the filter. That’s not the end of the world, but if you want a perfectly clean and good-as-new filter in your shop vac, then this next step will do the trick.

Grab your bucket of warm water and put some dish soap in it. Place the filter in the water and let it soak for a while – 10 minutes should be sufficient. When it has soaked long enough, pick up the filter and slosh it around in the water for a bit. You can twist it from side to side or plunge it up and down.

When you are happy that all of the dirt and stains have been removed from the filter, take it out of the soapy water and rinse it off well with clean water from your garden hose. Make sure all the soap is removed before going on to the next step.

Step 5: Dry it out

This step might seem unimportant, but it is actually essential. Placing a wet filter in a shop vac could lead to the filter going moldy, and if you use the shop vac while the filter is wet, the dirt will immediately stick to the filter and turn rock hard, becoming very difficult to remove.

Let the filter lie in the sun until it is completely dry. If you are not able to lay it in the sun, place it in a well-ventilated part of your house and allow it to dry completely, even if it means leaving it overnight. If you need to speed the process up, you could use your air chuck to gently blow some of the water droplets out of the filter. Once it is completely dry, place the filter back in your shop vac, and it is ready for use… but we recommend following the remaining tips below.

Check out this alternate method for cleaning a shop vac filter

Wipe Down the Outside

Dusty shop vac

If you’re using your shop vac in a dusty workshop or at a dirty building site, for example, there is a good chance that the exterior will be almost as dirty as the interior. Luckily this is easy to deal with. Simply wipe down the vacuum cleaner with a damp cloth. If there is more stubborn dirt buildup, brushing it off should work.

Also check the air intake and the casters for dirt buildup. If the casters get too dirty, they may not roll smoothly, which can be more than a little annoying. Use the air chuck to blow the dirt out of the casters if you can’t simply brush or wipe it away. Oiling the casters might be needed after a clean, to ensure that they roll well again.

Clear the Hose and Clean the Accessories

Vacuum cleaner hose

Make sure the shop vac’s hose is clear inside, and that there are no large chunks of debris blocking it. If there are, you should easily be able to work them towards the closest end with your hands. If not, you can use a dowel rod or broom handle to push them through.

After each use, you should clean the accessories that came with your shop vac, to ensure they are ready for when you need them again. Wipe down or wash the plastic accessories, and clean any brush attachments, removing all dirt and fibers caught in the bristles.


Your shop vac should, once again, be as good as new, and ready to take on whatever dirty work you have for it. Maintain your shop vac and extend its lifespan by completing a full clean on a regular basis – the precise regularity of this will depend on your own use of your shop vac, but starting with a monthly clean should improve your shop vac’s quality of life.


Amy Catchpole

Amy Catchpole is a lifetime farm girl who currently lives on a farm with her husband, dogs, horses, and sheep. As a farmer, she is very concerned with lasting and durable tools and products, as well as the environment and the welfare of the planet. Aside from farming and animals, Amy’s biggest passion is the English language, and she is an avid writer and editor.

The Complete Guide To Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance

How Often Should You Replace Thermal Paste and How to Do It