At HomeQuestionsAnswered, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Vacuum Filter?

Shannon Kietzman
Shannon Kietzman

A vacuum filter plays an integral part in the life of a vacuum cleaner. The purpose of the filter is to collect the dust that passes through the suction nozzle from the carpet or floor. This prevents it from being spread around the room. In addition, the vacuum motor can become overheated if the dust particles are not filtered out and make their way into the motor.

There are two primary groups of vacuum filters: surface and depth. The surface filter is the more modern of the two. It is efficient enough to prevent clogging, which allows it to preserve the airflow that passes through. It gets its name from the fact that dust particles can easily be cleaned from the filter’s surface.

A depth vacuum filter, on the other hand, is the more common type. With this type, dust particles are pulled and captured inside the filter. Unlike the surface type, the depth filter can clog quickly and prevent airflow.

A man using a vacuum cleaner.
A man using a vacuum cleaner.

A High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum filter is also available. This type prevents asthma and other problems people with allergies may experience while vacuuming. The HEPA filter is a micrometer filter equipped to suck up soot, pollen, and most dust particles. It only needs to be changed or cleaned every six to 12 months.

Regardless of the type of vacuum filter used, the basic vacuum process is the same. First, the particles picked up by the vacuum are pre-filtered. Pre-filtering, also referred to as motor filtering, is the process of the vacuum intercepting the air before it moves to the suction motor.

A vacuum cleaner.
A vacuum cleaner.

The filtration of the air as it returns to the vacuumed area is called exhaust filtering or final filtering. The vacuum bag plays an integral role in this part of the filtration process. In both the pre-filtering and the final filtering stages, the vacuum filter is utilized.

The pre-filter is generally made from foam, cloth, or paper. For a more efficient vacuum, it should be replaced every three months. The exhaust filter should be changed every three months as well, though it may be necessary to change it more often if there are children or pets in the home. If either is not changed, the vacuum will experience a loss of suction power and will not pick up dust particles properly.

Discussion Comments


@LisaLou - Yes, it can be hard to choose the vacuum that is right for you. When we moved to a house that had mostly wood and tile floor, I found the vacuum I previously had didn't work very well for those and needed to buy a new one.

This may sound like common sense, but which ever one you go with, make sure you can easily find the vacuum replacement filters you will need. I had a vacuum once that I had a very hard time finding the right replacement filters.

The size I needed was never in stock and usually had to be special ordered. This seems like a small thing, but it ended up being quite frustrating.

A vacuum doesn't do you much good if it doesn't have a good filter, and once I had to go a few weeks before I was able to get a replacement filter. The first time I used my vacuum after putting the new filter in gave it quite a workout.


There are so many different choices of vacuums out there, it is hard to know which is the best one.

We have been shopping for a new vacuum and feel overwhelmed with the information and choices. One person will say that a vacuum that doesn't have a bag is not very efficient, where another salesman will say that is the only way to go.

About the only thing I have decided on is that I don't want to mess with a canister vacuum filter. After years of dragging a canister vacuum around, I am looking forward to an upright vacuum.

It is going to take a little longer to decide on what type of vacuum filter I want to buy. There is also a big difference in price. I don't want the most expensive model there is, but also don't want a cheap one that doesn't have good suction and will wear out in a year or so.


One of the best things we ever did is have a central vacuum system installed in our house. It really cuts down on the amount of dust particles in the air from using a regular vacuum.

I remember every time I used to change the vacuum filter bags, I would want to do it outside because no matter how careful I was, it always seemed to leave a mess.

With my central vacuum, the large canister that holds the bag is in the garage. Since this is such a large container, I don't have to change it as often and I also don't have to worry about the mess of it being in the house.


@JessicaLynn – I also love my HEPA filter. Last year, I started letting my dogs sleep in the house, and I noticed that my allergies got a lot worse.

Before they moved in, I could go a couple of weeks without needing to vacuum. Now, I have to do it a couple of times every week!

I noticed that while using my old vacuum filter, I sneezed and wheezed a lot as I vacuumed. The HEPA filter makes it so much easier for me to breathe while doing this task, and it doesn't let the vacuum spit dog hair back out onto the floor.

Since a couple of my dogs have long hair, I really rely on this filter for help with my allergies. The old filter just couldn't keep up with all the shedding and frequent cleaning, but this one is a superhero!


I am really bad about forgetting to clean my vacuum filter. It seems that I'm always in a rush, and doing something like that is the last thing on my mind.

When I notice that my vacuum seems to be just spitting out dirt and leaves left and right instead of sucking them in, I know that the filter needs help. Sometimes, if I have waited too long, I can smell burning, and I promptly turn off the vacuum at that point.

I would rather wait and change my filter when I know that it needs it than to do it every three months, regardless of how dirty it is. I don't have to vacuum as often as some people, because my house stays pretty clean, so I can sometimes get away with waiting five months between filter changes.


I have a vacuum that is very easy to empty. It has a see-through body with a cloth filter, in the middle, and I can easily tell when it needs to be emptied.

I like not having vacuum bags or deep filters to deal with. Every time that the body fills up, I simply detach it and take it outside. I turn it upside-down and thump it on the ground until all that hair and dirt gets out of there.

Then, I can usually get away with just wiping the filter off. Every few months, I will actually wash it under running water. I have a replacement filter that I use until the other one dries out.


@starrynight - I have a Dyson, and I definitely like the fact that you don't have to keep buying filters and bags for it. I think it's actually saved me money over the last four years I've had it. I sometimes forget to wash it though, and then I notice my vacuum isn't working as well as it should.

Anyway, I actually had no idea until I got my Dyson that the filter actually has something to do with how well the vacuum cleaner works. I thought it was just for filtering the air coming out of the vacuum!


@JessicaLynn - I agree with you that a HEPA filter is a must. I'm even willing to spend a little bit more money on a vacuum to make sure it has a HEPA filter. Even if you don't have allergies, it's still good to get all that stuff out of the air.

I definitely also recommend getting a vacuum with a washable filter. I know Dyson vacuum filters are washable, I'm sure there are a few other brands that have washable filters too.

If you get a vacuum where you have to buy a replacement filter all the time, you end up spending way too much money. It's better to just buy a bag-less vacuum with a washable filter so you don't have to keep buying replacement stuff.


As an asthmatic with a ton of allergies, I find a HEPA vacuum cleaner filter to be essential to life. Seriously. It makes such a big difference in how I feel while I'm actually vacuuming, but I think it also makes a long term difference too because it filters the air as it comes out of the vacuum.

Before I got my vacuum with a HEPA filter I used to dread vacuuming, which I need to do all the time to keep my allergies in check. I'm allergic to dust and dust mites, so if I don't vacuum it's really overwhelming. Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter has definitely improved my quality of life.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • A man using a vacuum cleaner.
      By: Lilyana Vynogradova
      A man using a vacuum cleaner.
    • A vacuum cleaner.
      By: trekandshoot
      A vacuum cleaner.
    • The most common filter used in canister vacuum cleaners in the HEPA filter.
      By: Supertrooper
      The most common filter used in canister vacuum cleaners in the HEPA filter.