Vacuum cleaners are used throughout the home to remove debris and dirt, so what happens when the very device used to clean becomes dirty itself and grows mold?
In this article, we will be covering why vacuum cleaners grow mold, why types of mold they grow (and whether they are dangerous) how to prevent mold growth and how to clean your vacuum if you do find mold.
We will also be covering several other important aspects of mold growth in vacuums, so keep reading.
Why does your vacuum have mold?
By its very nature, the inside of a vacuum is incredibly dirty. After all, its sole purpose is to pick up organic matter from floors.
Unfortunately, in many cases, we give mold exactly what it needs in order to not only begin to grow but in fact, flourish. Mold needs a certain environment in order to grow, these are:
- A dark environment
- A source of moisture
- Nutrients to feed on
- An ambient temperature between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit (15-26 Celsius)
In most homes, vacuum cleaners are stored out of the way in a cupboard that receives no natural sunlight, so this would provide a dark environment for mold to grow in. However, for some vacuums, even if the vacuum is stored in direct sunlight, the dirt and debris are encased in either the plastic of the hose, the mechanisms of the machine, or within the storage bag, blocking direct sunlight again.
The source of nutrients mold can feed off comes from the organic matter collected whilst vacuuming. This can be from plant life, leftover foods, and dead skin cells from humans and pets.
It’s usually well known that you should not try to vacuum anything that is wet with a standard vacuum cleaner, as this is not what they are designed for, and it can damage the electrical circuits and it can be dangerous to do so.
Even so, accidents happen, and moisture can find its way into the inner workings of the vacuum if moist debris is collected (such as recently dropped food) or if the vacuum is stored in an environment that regularly reaches higher than 55% humidity. This supplies all the moisture mold needs to live.
Finally, mold thrives in temperatures between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. The average American home has an ambient temperature of 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit, which provides the perfect temperature range for mold.
Which parts of the vacuum are most likely to harbor mold?
There are several areas of a vacuum that are most likely to harbor mold. These include the hose attachment, the collection bag (if not emptied regularly), and the inner workings of the machine itself. Mold will very rarely be found on the exterior, as it is more often exposed to natural sunlight, the UV rays of which kill mold and its spores.
Hose attachments are easy to remove, however, it is not a part of the vacuum that many would consider frequently cleaning. The bag does usually get emptied after each clean, but if it is left with debris in it until the next cleaning session, this can be enough time for mold to develop if the conditions described above are present.
The inner workings of the machine are the trickiest places to both detect and remove mold from, as they are often inaccessible, and may require a professional to assess and clean without damage.
What types of mold grow in vacuum cleaners?
The most common strains of mold you would expect to find in a vacuum, are Cladosporium, Penicillium, and Aspergillus. These strains come in different color variations and textures, but most commonly, will be white, black, or green and have a powdery or velvety texture to them.
These molds are common throughout most areas of a house, such as the black spots that can appear on a bathroom ceiling, white mold formations found on food left in the refrigerator for too long, and green and brown varieties that are commonly found on dead plant matter.
Are the molds found in vacuums dangerous?
Simply because the molds listed above are common, does not mean that they are harmless. It’s true that many forms of mold cause little to no health issues to most humans, but there are several strains that have the ability to produce mycotoxins which can cause headaches, nausea, and breathing difficulties in those sensitive to them.
For people with suppressed immune systems and allergies, the body’s response to these mycotoxins can lead to asthma attacks and allergic reactions that can require hospital visitation.
How to prevent mold growth in a vacuum cleaner
The most effective ways to prevent mold from growing inside a vacuum cleaner are to make sure it is exposed to as little moisture as possible and to ensure it is properly cleaned every few months.
This means being vigilant when cleaning to not pick up pieces of moist food, not vacuum over any wet patches (including carpets), and keeping it stored in a location with a humidity level lower than 55%. Even if mold has nutrients and an ambient temperature to its liking, without a source of moisture it cannot grow.
It’s not easy to know what humidity level your home is at all times unless you have a little assistance, so below are a few links to the Amazon store where you can pick up a hygrometer. These devices are no bigger than a bedside alarm clock, are very affordable, and will tell you the ambient humidity of the room it is placed in. For the most accurate result, you should place two or three of these in different rooms of the property to get an overall humidity reading. Clicking on the links below will take you to the Amazon store.
Another option, if you are using a more modern vacuum, is to store it in direct sunlight. Many of the newer models have detachable dust containers that are often transparent. By exposing the dust collected inside the container to direct sunlight, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are able to kill any mold spores that may have been picked up.
You should also make sure that you regularly empty the cylinder or bag in case there is any moist debris or any liquid was accidentally picked up whilst cleaning.
How to clean mold out of a vacuum
For a standard vacuum, you will need only a few items to clean it thoroughly:
- Rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide
- Cotton swabs
- Paper towels or a dry cloth
- A mask
- Rubber gloves
Step 1. Before you begin, make sure you are wearing protective equipment such as a breathing mask and rubber gloves. This is to prevent inhaling any mold spores that may be present.
Step 2. Remove any components that easily detach, such as the hose and any attachments.
Step 3. Fill the spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and spray a few squirts down the length of the hose. Also spray the attachments, ensuring that both the inside and outside receive the spray and leave them to dry.
As a side note, if possible, spray your attachments and the hose outside to reduce the likelihood of inhaling any hydrogen peroxide fumes.
Step 4. Remove and discard the collection bag and remove any hairs or fibers caught in the rollers if the vacuum does not have anti-hair technology.
Step 5. Using another cotton swab, apply more hydrogen peroxide and thoroughly clean the bottom of the vacuum. This is the area that comes into contact with the most dirt and will be touching surfaces in your home, so it needs to be as clean as possible.
Step 6. If your vacuum comes with filters, remove them and wash them with warm water, using detergent in some cases can deteriorate the fabric, so if you are unsure, check with the manufacturer.
Step 7. Leave every component to dry for several hours before reconnecting to the vacuum cleaner. This may sound like overkill, but remember, any moisture trapped within a vacuum is likely to create mold, so making sure it is fully dry is an important step.
How to clean mold out of a Dyson vacuum
There are a few slight differences when cleaning out some of the newer models of vacuum cleaners, including the Dyson models.
Step 1. Remove the canister and empty it into the garbage. Clean the empty canister with a cotton swap or microfibre cloth with a little distilled white vinegar. The vinegar is powerful enough to kill mold spores and will not produce any fumes. Leave the dust canister open and allow it to completely dry.
Step 2. Remove any filters and wash them in cold water for several minutes until they are completely clean. If possible, dry the filters in direct sunlight. This will not only speed up the drying process, but if there are any mold spores still in the fibers of the filter, the sun’s UV rays will also kill them.
Step 3. If the model of vacuum you own does not have anti-hair wrap technology, you will need to remove any hair from the brush.
Clean this area with cotton swabs and either distilled vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
*Always remember to wear gloves and a mask when using hydrogen peroxide products.
Step 4. If possible, detach the hose and using a spray bottle, spray either distilled vinegar or hydrogen peroxide inside the hose and allow it to dry for several hours. Any smell of vinegar will dissipate within a few days.
Step 5. Reattach all components once you are certain they are all completely dry to prevent mold growth.
How often to clean your vacuum cleaner to prevent mold buildup
Completing a deep clean of your vacuum cleaner with the methods mentioned above is not necessary each time you use it.
However, you should be aiming to complete a thorough cleaning of it once every 3-4 months. Filters should also be cleaned at least once every 3 months to ensure they function as they should and allow your vacuum to perform at its optimal level.
Can vacuums spread mold?
If a vacuum cleaner that already has mold within it is used to clean a home or property, it can indeed spread this mold to other areas.
If mold has had long enough to mature, it will begin to release minute spores. When the mold is touched or if a strong gust of air blows against it, these spores are released into the surrounding area where they can settle and create new mold clusters.
This is why if you notice a musty odor when you begin using your vacuum, you should switch it off and investigate the cause. If it is a result of mold, it should be thoroughly cleaned before being used again.
In this article, you will have learned why vacuum cleaners become moldy in the first place, what types of mold form, and if they can be dangerous, as well as how to prevent it from occurring again and how to properly clean both new and older models of vacuums should you find mold has begun to grow in them.