How to Clean a Shop Vac Filter

How to clean a shop vac filter

My father gave me a piece of wisdom that opened my eyes to a fact. He said, “It’s fairly ironic to clean an object designed to help you clean. However, after you’ve cleaned that comb or toothbrush, it performs better than before.”

With that thought in mind, when was the last time you checked that shop vac filter and cleaned it?

As you use your shop vacuum to clean up a surface, the filters inside absorb dirt, dust, and other particles.

A buildup of these unwanted elements can lead to inefficiency, and that’s why regular filter cleaning is vital for it to perform its best every time.

In this article, I’m going to take you through a series of steps on how to clean a shop vac filter.

The Needed Materials and Tools

  • Trash bin or large container to store the dirt (preferably with a lid to protect from dust).
  • Two removable caps that will hold each end of the filter (you can DIY wooden caps using MDF).
  • Giant nail or rod with a head for holding the filter and two caps during the cleaning process.
  • A plastic lid with a hand-hole to protect yourself from dust clouds.
  • A hose for the air compressor
  • An air compressor (even a can of compressed air can work)
  • Safety Glasses
  • N95 mask or P100 respirator (to protect lungs from dust particles)

The Shop-Vac Filter Cleaning Process

Please note that the steps here do not involve washing the filter with water and will work best for standard cartridge filters with a cylindrical shape.

Since these filters use paper elements, washing them with water can destroy it. So check with the manufacturer if you can wash it if that is your preferred method.

It is also applicable to HEPA filters that have the same cylindrical shape, but that would depend on the brand, so always check the manual if it is washable or not.

Disclaimer: I may earn a commission when you purchase an item through the links below, but at no additional costs to you.

Step 1: Unplug the Power Cord

The first step is unplugging your shop vac’s power cord. While cleaning this filter is crucial, we don’t want you to get into any accidents (like electrocution) that may cause injuries.

Therefore, remember to unplug the power cord before doing anything else.

Step 2: Disassemble Your Shop-Vac to Remove the Filter

The best thing about shop vacs is that they’re not complicated machines. You can disassemble them easily to access the inner parts, where the filter is located.

If you’re not sure about the process to dismantle your machine, refer to the shop vac’s manual.

Remember to be gentle; you don’t want to break parts that may cost you to replace. Remove the filter carefully and place it in a big enough container.

Step 3: Tap the Filter Against the Bottom of the Trash Can

It’s always preferable to clean your filter outdoors. Especially if it has gone a long time without cleaning, the process may produce a lot of dust that may land on other items if you do it indoors.

Also, put on safety glasses to prevent dirt and debris particles from getting into your eyes. Wear a mask as protection from dust clouds that will form as you tap the filter in the container.

With the filter inside, cover the trash receptacle with the hand-holed plastic lid. Even if you’re conducting this process outdoors, you may not want debris particles to spread all over the place.

You want them in one place for easy disposal. The lid helps contain any unwanted particles inside the trash can, and the hole on the cover allows you to hold the filter while still in the vessel.

Tap the filter on the can’s sides and bottom until a significant amount of particles drop off from its folds. Repeat this action several times while turning it round and round. Do this until most of the particles that clog the filter’s crannies and nooks fall off.

The unwanted debris will settle at the bottom of the can. Dump the particles and tap the trash can to remove any dust that might be clinging onto the sides.

Step 4: Cover Both Ends of the Filter Using the Removable Caps

If your filter does not have permanent caps at its two ends, the two removable caps will do the trick. The purpose of the cap is the protect the inner parts of the filter from the debris that come off the outer part.

These caps should have a hole that will allow the giant nail to pass through the filter from one end to the other.

A better alternative would be using a rod with a protruding head as it is smoother and safer to use since the other end isn’t pointed.


The head of the nail or rod helps secure the filter and caps in place for the next step.

Step 5: Blow the Filter Using an Air Compressor or Compressor Can

With your filter closed at both ends with the cap, and a giant nail passing from one end to another, you can perform this step.

Connect your air compressor equipment to the hose and hold the filter using the nail or rod.

To prevent it from falling off, let the nail head side be at the bottom and hold the filter from the other side.

The giant nail (or rod) holds the filter in place and also allows it to spin as air blows into the grooves. This high-speed air helps to remove any remaining dirt particles that did not come off during tapping.

To achieve even better results, spin it moderately to allow the compressed air to get into the folds’ hidden layers.

Keep in mind that this action causes a dust cloud. Therefore, stand upwind to avoid blowing the dust directly onto your face. Better yet, wear a mask to protect your lungs.

If you notice stubborn dirt particles inside the grooves, use a stick (with a blunt edge) to rake them out and blow air again to remove them altogether.

Step 6: Reinstall the Filter

Once you’re satisfied with steps one to five, reinstall the filter. You can now expect that your machine will perform better than before, especially if dirt was the main cause of inefficiency.

Don’t wait for months or years before cleaning the filter again. Do it regularly, and your shop vac will thank you by performing efficiently.

As you’ve seen, cleaning a shop-vac isn’t complicated and doesn’t take a lot of time. If you find trouble following the above steps, watch this video and learn.

How to Clean Other Types of Shop Vac Filters?

Not all shop vacs use the same cylindrical filter, so this section will focus on how to wash the other types. Realize that these filters should be hand-washed, don’t use a machine. Also, avoid using detergents – tap water will be sufficient for the task.

  1. Foam sleeve: These filters are found in wet/dry shop vacs to filter out damp particles. Shake it in an up and downward motion to dislodge debris if that doesn’t work rinse from the inside, going out it under running water for a few minutes. Leave the filter to dry before reattaching it to the vacuum. Attaching a wet filter may cause mold and mildew to form.
  2. Reusable dry filters: The best way to clean this type of filter is to wash it under running water to remove trapped dirt. Ensure that the filter is dry prior to attaching it to the vacuum.
  3. HEPA Filter: The steps to cleaning a HEPA filter is the same as the steps outlined above, but one difference is you can rinse the outer part with running water. Please make sure that it completely dries before placing it back in the shop vac. Some merchants recommend using a filter flosser to make the rinsing part more efficient, but it costs extra money, so it’s up to you if you want to incur that extra expense.

How Often Should You Change a Shop Vac Filter?

There are times when changing a shop vac filter is the most appropriate decision. During these situations, cleaning can’t restore the machine’s optimal performance, and a new filter is required. How can you know you need to replace this element? Here are signs you should look out for:

  • The suction power of the shop vacuum is still low even after cleaning the filter.
  • The appliance leaves a trail of dust behind you after you’ve cleaned a surface.
  • There is “blowing smoke” from the vacuum.

The rule of the thumb is paying attention to your shop vac’s suction. If the performance doesn’t improve even after a thorough clean, it’s time to change the filter.

Can You Use a Shop Vac Without a Filter?

It’s not advisable to use your shop vac without a filter. Doing so makes debris enter the motor and impeller of the vacuum, causing damage and shortening the appliance’s life.

Additionally, even if you can use a shop vac without a filter, the machine will blow fine dust back into the air, something that defeats the purpose of using a vacuum.

In simple words, a shop-vac can work without a filter, but it won’t as well as it should. You are likely to make the place messier than it was.

How Do You Keep a Shop Vac Filter from Clogging?

shop vac filter close up

Shop-vac filters that clog every now and then can be a minor inconvenience when it comes to the time that it takes from disassembly to cleaning.

For people who use their shop vacuums to clean fine stuff like sawdust, it can be a nightmare as debris like this quickly clogs up the filter.

One way of prolonging the intervals of filter cleanups is by using a pre-separator.

A pre-separator directs most of the dirt and debris into another location, ensuring they don’t reach where they’re not wanted. The lesser the contaminants in the filters, the fewer the chances of clogging, and the better the suction power.

There are several types available:

1. A washable cloth bag that covers the whole filter and adds a layer to protect fine particles from clogging it at a rapid pace.

2. A cyclone dust collector that collects a percentage of the debris before it reaches the shop vacuum. There are industrial-grade versions of this that have more capacity, like the Onieda Deluxe Dust Deputy Kit. The latter option is more expensive but could be worth it if you put your shopvac through a lot of abuse.

3. DIY pre-separator using a bucket and hoses if you’re a Do-It-Yourselfer who likes to build stuff. Check this video to learn how to make one yourself.

About the author: Garrick, the visionary behind Cordless Vacuum Guide, brings over a decade of hands-on expertise in cordless vacuum testing to his insightful reviews showcased on this platform. Beyond his passion for empowering consumers with informed choices, he cherishes precious moments with his family, exploring global cuisines and exploring different horizons with his beloved wife and son. Follow him on Youtube, Tiktok, Facebook, and Instagram.