Diagnosing why a vacuum cleaner is no longer picking up dirt is easy. It’s either blocked, or the bag is full. If only all problems were that easy to solve. But vacuum cleaners are tricky. You need the right type of replacement bag. Invariably, the bag containing the type of bag that I am looking for is never hanging on the peg when I visit a store. Instead, a small sign always says: “Back in stock soon.” Fine, I think. I’ll just stand here and wait.

Not really. Instead, I return home and open up the vacuum cleaner, remove the dust-filled bag and try to empty most of the contents into another bag to free up some capacity, so to speak. I don’t know about you, but even the feeling of dust that has become a solid yet soft mass makes me gag. What if I had not vacuumed up all of this dust and hair? Would I have breathed that in, over time? I use a long knitting needle to free up the compacted dirt. I try not to look inside the bag before reinserting it inside the vacuum cleaner. Who knows what could be lurking?

There is a kind of same-but-different move when a hose is blocked. Upon removing the vacuum cleaner head, a long sausage of compacted dirt hangs there limply, taunting me. How long had I vacuumed and done nothing more than move dirt around on the floor? I retrieve a broom handle this time and set to work again.

There have been times when, unable to find the correct size of vacuum cleaner bag, I buy the closest thing and use scissors or a paring knife to make the darn thing fit. Every time I do this, I wonder why a manufacturer does not make a one-size-fits-all bag that stretches, with an elastic fitting to attach it to the vacuum cleaner hose. My DIY bags always come with a certain risk. It has happened that my custom-made bag becomes loose from the nozzle and I am happily vacuuming away while the inside of my vacuum fills up with loose dirt.


This week, a round of confusion ensued when a would-be secondhand steam cleaner from one of my friends sold to another of my friends (I have two friends) turned out to be a simple vacuum cleaner. I returned the money for the item sold and collected the unit (I like calling things units; it’s how they talk on DIY Youtube videos). I should have opened the box the first time around and doing so now, I discovered that there was no cleaner head. I was puzzled. The infernal thing had only the wand with the crevice tool attached. It would take a year to vacuum a room using only that wand. And here’s the thing: I don’t like crevices or the crevice tool. Who knows where that secondhand thing has been? Down the side of someone’s favourite chair collecting someone else’s crumbs and coins? I needed a change of scene.

I turned my attention to the office vacuum cleaner, which an employee had told me was blocked. “It doesn’t suck anything,” she said. I brought it home for the weekend. And she was right. It didn’t pick up any dirt. I opened up the unit only to discover that the washable (gag) filter had grown its own winter coat of what resembled hairy fur. (For a moment I thought a small creature had taken up residence there.)

I thought about something else as I cleaned the packed-solid filter using a knitting needle. Then I washed the entire thing, which turned out to be pearly gray and not black. I had read up on the unit online, where I was warned not to replace the filter while it was still wet inside the vacuum at the risk of electrical shock. How wet was wet, I wondered, anxious to give it a try to see if this deep (gag) cleaning had rendered the machine usable again. For once, I showed some restraint and let the filter dry overnight.

The office vacuum cleaner now sucks. Really.

There is a certain satisfaction in repairing vacuum cleaner units. You learn about toggle switches, and all the names for each part (cleaner head, wand, hose, crevice tool, etc).

I know how I would design vacuum cleaners. They would all contain retractable (another word I love) hoses, because it is so bothersome to wind the hose around those cord holders when you know you will have to undo it all the next time you need the vacuum. And second, there should be a reverse switch, so you could carry the vacuum outside, hit the toggle switch and blow everything out. And third, can’t they put a muffler on vacuum cleaners? They are all so darn loud.

Sadly, no one listens to me and my innovative suggestions.

And that sucks.