How To Clean Shop Vac Filters

By Bruce RiversLast update: 2024-07-11

Given the abuse experienced by most shop vacs on a daily basis, they undergo pretty tough challenges by facing nasty liquids, grime, dirt, and neglect every day.

When you read the word “neglect,” it was in reference to the filters. Allowing the old filter to get clogged with dust and dirt is negligence and injustice to the shop vac.

If the shop vac’s suction begins to diminish or lacks similar output for other tasks, the reason can usually be a clogged filter. At times, this clogging happens due to poor cleaning and maintenance of the shop vac.

Although the most simple and easy solution would be to replace it, you can choose to clean the filter numerous times before throwing it into the trash.

This article will give you step-by-step details on how to clean shop vac filters for proper maintenance after any dirty work.

Source: Woodworkerhelp

Benefits of Cleaning Shop Vac Filter

There are three prominent benefits of cleaning shop vac filters for the user’s health.

1. Better Air Quality

If not maintained, the shop vac filter will get filled with particulates and allergens. No matter how or when they get accumulated, they can result in adverse health impacts. Thus, cleaning the shop vac filter routinely can keep their levels low and prevent lung irritation.

2. Lower Levels of Dust Mites, Mold, and Fungus

Like dust mites, fungus and mold can cause severe allergens, which can be harmful to individuals with asthma and allergy. Here, cleaning the shop vac filter will ensure optimal performance of the machine to keep the rugs clean from these molds and fungus.

When to Clean Shop Vac Filters?

You can clean the shop vac filters whenever you finish dirty work and want to restore the machine’s optimal performance. There are several moments when replacing the wet-dry vacuum filter would seem to be a more appropriate decision. If cleaning can’t help you restore the vacuum’s performance, it will need a new filter.

Check the signs that tell when you need to change the filter, then clean it:

  • The shop vac’s suction power shows low power despite cleaning the filter.

  • Witnessing a “blowing smoke” from the shop vac,

  • A row of dust is left behind by the appliance even after cleaning its surface.

Bottom line: You should always clean the shop vac filters after completing any dirty work. However, you must pay attention to the vacuum’s suction after cleaning. If there’s no improvement in its performance, you may need to change the filter.

Types of Shop-Vac Filters

There are multiple types of wet/dry vacuum filters commonly found in today’s market. These filters are:

1. Cartridge Filter

Cartridge filter is typically made up of synthetic products and foam. It is well-known for its ability to trace and captivate 3.0 micrometers of dust particles. However, you have to replace this disposable filter promptly, so the shop vac performs well. Some of the featured cartridge filters are:

  • HEPA filter

  • ULPA filter

2. HEPA Filter

HEPA is abbreviated for High-Efficiency Particulate Air. Nowadays, shop vac models that come with HEPA filters ensure using less dirt and dust particles when cleaning and vacuuming.

3. ULPA Filter

ULPA is abbreviated for Ultra Low Penetration Air. ULPA is similar to the HEPA filter, but they tend to be more efficient than the HEPA filters. When it comes to contaminants of 0.1 micrometers in size and larger, ULPA alleviates 99.999% of it.

3. Cloth Filters

This type of filter is also known as a reusable filter. They are used for cleaning large-sized dust and dirt particles. These filters are widely used in heavy-size shop vac models for industrial purposes. These filters are washable too.

4. Foam Filter

Foam filters are widely used with the shop vac as a secondary filter. These filters detach the dust and air particles before it gets exhausted. You can reuse these filters several times after washing them.

5. Filter Bag

When it comes to the removal of fine debris, you’ll need something of high efficiency with your shop vac. Here, the HEPA collection bag or the filter bag can be of great help to entrap fine dust.

6. Foam Sleeve

If you want to do wet pick-up with your shop vac, you’ll need the best filter - the foam sleeve. It will help you stop debris, which can be present in the water from getting sucked into the vacuum’s motor.

How to Clean Shop Vac Filter - Step by Step

Required Tools To Clean Shop Vac Filter

  • A large container or a trash bin

  • Big nail or a rod with a head

  • A hose

  • Safety glasses

  • Two removable caps

  • A plastic lid with a hand-hole

  • An air compressor

  • P100 respirator or N95 mask

Step-By-Step Guide To Clean a Shop Vac Filter

It’s imperative to know that the steps here won’t discuss anything involving the use of water to wash the filter. Standard cartridge filters and HEPA filters with cylindrical shapes use paper elements that can get destroyed if they come in contact with water. So, it’s best to check the manual to determine whether the filter is washable or not.

So, below are the steps to determine how to clean the wet dry vac filter of your shop vac. Check them all.

#Step 1: Unplug the Shop Vac’s Power Cord

Firstly, you’ll have to unplug the power cord of your shop vac. Although cleaning the filter is essential, it’s best to avoid any accidents such as electrocution resulting in an injury.

#Step 2: Dismantle the Shop-Vac for Removing the Filter

One good thing about shop vac is that they’re uncomplex machines. It’s easy to dismantle and access the inner parts (filter) of the shop vac machine. However, if you still face any sort of issue while disassembling the machine, you can refer to the shop vac’s manual.

It’s crucial to be gentle and careful while removing the filter. Then, place it in a big-size container.

#Step 3: Tap the Shop-Vac Filter Against the Trash Can’s Bottom

It’s always advisable to clean the shop vac filter outdoors. Moreover, use a pair of safety glasses and wear a mask to protect yourself from dust and debris that may form while tapping the filter in the container.

Keep the filter inside and use the hand-holed plastic lid to cover the trash receptacle. You must ensure keeping the debris particles in one place for disposing of them efficiently. You can keep the unwanted particles within the trash can by using the lid. The cover hole enables you to hold the filter.

Then, tap the shop vac filter on the trash can’s bottom and sides until you see a significant amount of particles come out of its folds. Continue to do this action multiple times while going round and round. Keep doing it until you find almost all the particles that clog the nooks and crannies of the filter fall off.

Finally, you’ll see that the unwanted particles settle at the can’s bottom. Then, dump all these particles.

#Step 4: Use the Removable Caps to Cover Both Ends of the Filter

If there are no permanent caps at the two ends of your filter, you can use two removable caps instead. These caps must come with a hole that will enable the big nail to pass from one end of the filter to another. If you want to go with an alternative solution, you can use a rod with a peaky head.

That’s because they’re much safer and smoother to use as the other end is not pointed. Moreover, the head of the rod or nail ensures that the caps and filter are secure in place for the next step.

#Step 5: Use a Compressor Can or Air Compressor to Blow the Filter

You have to connect the hose with your air compressor equipment and use the nail or rod to hold the filter. If you want to prevent it from falling, hold the filter from another side while letting the nail head side be at the bottom.

The big rod or nail holds the shop vac filter in place while enabling it to spin whenever the air blows into the grooves. This blow of high-speed air will allow you to get rid of any remaining debris or dirt particles that did not get removed during tapping.

You can let the compressed air enter the hidden layers of the folds by spinning it moderately to achieve better results.

However, remember that the action can result in a dust cloud. To avoid blowing the dust directly on your face, stand upwind. Also, use a stick to eliminate any stubborn dust particles inside the grooves and blow air again to remove them permanently.

#Step 6: Reassemble the Filter

You can reinstall the filter if you’re done with all the steps above. Now, you can expect your shop vac to perform more efficiently, especially if dirt accumulation is the problem.

How to Install Shop Vac Filter After Cleaning

To install a shop vac filter after cleaning, you’ll have to dry it first. If you install a wet filter into the shop vac and then use it, the dirt will instantly clog the filter.

Moreover, putting back the wet filter and not using the shop vac will result in mold and mildew formation.

So, keep the wet shop vac filter in the sun to let it dry for a few hours. To do it quickly, you can blow the water out of the pleats by using the air chuck. Finally, place the dry filter inside the shop vac and reassemble it. If you are unsure how it’s done, you can follow the shop vac’s manual.

Tips to Maintain Wet Dry Vac Filter

#Tip 1: Slap the Handle of the Unit

When the shop vac filter is in use, you’ll find particles gathering on its surface. Materials often form on filters that widen the surface area by adding a series of folds. These material build-ups clog the crannies and nooks and limit the suction while lowering the shop vac motor’s lifespan.

Here, you can simply slap the unit’s handle after ensuring that it’s turned off. This will help you displace and remove some amount of debris before it gets compact.

#Tip 2: Maintain the Air Vents

Several shop vac models come with extra air vents to ensure the proper cooling down of the motor. You must clean these vents to ensure that they’re free from dust, dirt, and debris.

#Tip 3: Avoid Storing the Filter with Water Still in Tank

If you store the wet dry vac filter with some water still in the tank, you’ll promote the growth of mildew and mold, which is not suitable for the machine. Here, you must:

  • Wipe the filter with a dry cloth just like you clean every other part

  • Allow the filter to air dry for some time

  • Speed up the process by using a blower, air mover, or a fan

  • You can possibly run the vac for a few minutes to help pull air via the hose


From this comprehensive guide with detailed steps to clean shop vac filters, you should never face any guilt in the future regarding your shop vac filter maintenance. However, you must follow a maintenance routine for cleaning your shop vac filter. Also, keep checking to see whether it needs any replacement or not. So from now on, clean the filter and enjoy the best performance with your shop vac.

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