How To Clean Shop Vac Filter

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In this article, we’ll describe shop vacs and their various types of filters. Then, we’ll tell you how to clean your shop vac filter. 

What Is a Shop Vac?

A shop vac is one of the most essential tools in any woodworker or DIY enthusiast’s arsenal.

Shop Vac attached to a table saw
  • When properly maintained, the high speed motor and intense suction can suck up almost anything.
  • Many versions are capable of handling both wet and dry debris.
  • Often, the flow of air can be reversed from ‘suck’ to ‘blow’, whisking away any smallish particles in its path.
  • Not only that, shop vacs usually have 360 degree rotating wheels, so they are easy to maneuver around the workspace. 

Shop vacs are canister vacuums. Rather than collecting dust and debris into a bag, like a traditional household vacuum, the detritus is collected in what is essentially a large bucket. 

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They can not only suck up dust and dirt, but also screws and nails. They can even hoover up chunks of wood. Drywall dust, cement dust, and cold ashes are all capable of being vacuumed up by a shop vac, but they quickly clog the filter, making the motor work harder and impeding the overall performance of the machine.  

Shop vacs have a filter to avoid sawdust, dirt, and large debris from entering the motor, where clogging or caking can occur.

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When the filter becomes clogged, excess debris is blown back into the room through the exhaust port, undoing all your hard work. To keep your shop vac operating efficiently and appropriately, it is important to regularly clean and change the filter. 

Learn why you can’t use a shop vac with your table saw!

Shop Vac Filter Types

There are a few different types of filters made especially for shop vacs. Its important to know which type of filter you have before you start cleaning the shop vac.

Shop Vac being used to clean the house

Filter Bag

One type of filter is a filter bag. This type of filter mimics a traditional vacuum bag by trapping all debris inside the filter bag. They make cleaning up even easier, since you can simply remove the bag and throw it in the trash, leaving the canister bucket clean. 

Cartridge Filter

The other common type of filter used with shop vac is called a cartridge filter. These are shaped like a cylinder. They are inserted into the canister and catch fine debris such as sawdust or mortar dust, while allowing larger chunks of wood and metal pieces such as nails and screws to fall to the bottom. 

Filter cartridges are usually made of paper. The paper is folded and creased to increase surface area, and catch more debris. When these nooks and crannies become clogged, the level of suction will decrease, and your shop vac will start to work less efficiently. 

Foam Sleeves

For wet vacuuming, foam sleeves are available. These absorb the moisture while also grabbing debris. A tear-resistant bag is recommended when scooping up metal pieces, including fasteners. 

Never use a shop vac without a filter. Cleaning the filter can save you money. Rather than replacing the filter, you can simply clean it and reinsert it. 

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How to Clean Shop Vac Filters

If you’re using a bag filter, there is no need to clean it. You can simply throw it away, install a new one, and keep using your shop vac.

For a cartridge filter, follow these steps to clean your shop vacuum. This process only takes a few minutes, so there is no excuse not to take the time to perform routine maintenance. 

Shop Vac
  1. Unplug the shop vac. Make sure the shop vac is not connected to power to eliminate the risk of electrocution.
  2. Go outside. When you open the canister of your shop vac, it can release dust and debris into the air. For this reason, it’s usually best to clean your shop vac filter in the open air. You may want to wear a dust mask to avoid inhaling dust. 
  3. Slap the top of the shop vac to dislodge as much debris as possible. 
  4. Release the top motor assembly from the lower tank of the machine. Every model of shop vac is different. Follow the instructions in the manual to detach the filter from the motor. 
  5. Place the entire filter inside a large trash bag. Hold on to the rubber top. Grasping the rubber ring around the top of the filter and bang it against a hard surface, dislodging dust. 
  6. Clean out the ridges. To clean out the ridges of a pleated paper filter, a scraper tool is helpful. Avoid the temptation to use a screwdriver. Screwdrivers can puncture the paper filter, rendering it unusable. Even the bristles of a brush can break through filter paper. Preserve the life of your filter by choosing a blunt tool instead. 
  7. Blow away clogs. Use a canister of compressed air to clean a clogged shop vac filter. To avoid damaging your filter while cleaning it, be careful not to put the nozzle too close to the filter paper 
  8. Rinse the filter. Using a hose or faucet, wash dust and debris out of your shop vac filter. Use the lowest water pressure that still dislodges debris. Too much pressure can tear the paper, completely ruining the filter and requiring replacement. 
  9. Allow to dry. Ensure the filter has plenty of time to fully dry after it has been cleaned with water. Laying it in the sun is a good idea, as is putting it in front of a fan. If the filter doesn’t properly dry, mold and mildew can form. 

After cleaning the filter, you can reinsert it and continue to use the shop vac. 

Empty the canister frequently to avoid buildup in the shop vac that impedes performance. 

Clogged filters are one reason that your vacuum loses suction, but not the only reason. Even small holes can interfere with shop vac performance. If your vacuum isn’t working well, and you’ve cleaned or replaced the filter recently, check the hose. The hose should be securely connected to the canister, with no holes, kinks, or tears. 

Conclusion

Shop vacs are powerful vacuums that use suction to collect everything from cement dust to cold ashes to wood chips. Bag filters contain the debris and can simply be discarded and replaced. Filter cartridges are easy to clean. Proper maintenance of shop vac filters is quick, easy, and ensures efficient and reliable performance.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.