Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Life in a Vacuum - Range DIY Time

Unless you live in a hut with a dirt floor, or have nothing but hardware or tile floors, you're likely to own a vacuum cleaner.  It's one of those appliances that seem to sit in the corner until they don't work, then get thrown out and another purchased.

Every one has different standards of what they are comfortable with, cleanliness wise.  I am perfectly fine coming home to a Triumph TR6 carburetor disassembled on my dining room table as long as the bathtub sparkles.  Some folks aren't happy unless one can perform brain surgery on their floors while others are perfectly happy not getting out a bottle of Windex and the paper towels until the bacteria in the kitchen is big enough to enter a tractor pull.
But as much as I like to keep a clean house, I also like to do so economically, even making up some of my own cleaning solutions. (Note to readers:  Do NOT clean your toilet bowl with Diet Coke and Mentos.)

So I noticed how expensive vacuum cleaners had gotten.  Then after going through a couple in about as many years at the crash pad, I did two things.

I ignored the urge to buy another cheap one.  This is one appliance where paying a little extra is worth it. Mine gets a pretty good workout between dog hair and that Christmas party where someone made a glitter bomb.

I then learned how to to do basic upkeep and read the owner's manual.
If it  doesn't turn on:

First make sure the outlet it's plugged into isn't controlled by a switch on the wall (now don't you feel stupid?)

Next, check the connection and make sure it hasn't blown a fuse.  When that happens, no one is happy. Fuses are like safety valves, if a circuit overloads then its fuse or circuit breaker triggers and the electricity is automatically cut off.  Resetting a blown circuit breaker is easy (though I learned you need to think about WHY it blew first, especially when at 40,000 feet) while that blown fuse needs to be replaced.  That in itself is an easy fix, and ladies, if you can do this without help, your man WILL be impressed.
(1) To turn off the power to the house at the fuse box, pull out the main fuse block, which looks like a rectangular block with a handle. It is usually located at the top of the panel. Tug hard and straight out on the handle. Use caution; the metal parts may be hot. (Your power company may well have an online tutorial for this, which I'd highly recommend.)
(2) Screw out the blown fuse in a counterclockwise direction (it's it the cartridge type, pull straight out)
(2) Replace the blown fuse with a new one of the same capacity.
(4) Replace the main disconnect panel to return power to the residence.

Isn't he impressed?  Now don't do this while simultaneously entering a wet T shirt contest.  He may be doubly impressed but you may end up with a perm where you really didn't want one.  Electricity and water do NOT mix so be careful of standing water in your basement or laundry room if there's a breaker box there.
The power source is good, but still no power?

Check the electrical cord.  If it's frayed and not connecting properly, re-splice the wires together and patch the splice with lots of electrical tape. (Please unplug it first unless you want your new nickname to be "sparky). This is a temporary repair only, but it will work.

If the motor has simply conked out, there's not much you can do but take it into a repair place or replace.

It just doesn't suck properly.

You've all done it. Vacuumed over that tiny little corner of paper, again and again, and it just stays there on the floor. With a sigh, you bend over and pick it up, only to throw it down and try and vacuum it up again.

Yes you have.
If your vacuum isn't picking up properly, there are a few simple things you can do before pitching it.

If it's old it just might need some minor adjustments.

First check the bag.

Make sure you have the right type for your vacuum.  Not just any bag will do.
Then see how full it is.  You know the "honey not now, I'm in a meat coma" after dinner at Fogo De Chao?  Well, overstuffed bags (or clogged filters) don't operate very energetically either.  Operating with a full bag also reduces the life of the vacuum.  Replace the bag when it's 1/3 to 2/3 full.

 If you have household pets, also buy a small flea collar and cut it into small pieces (wearing gloves) and put one into the bag (sealing the remainder in an air tight baggie) the night before you replace it.  That will kill any fleas before you remove it and put it in your trash (some recommend leaving a bit of one in there all the time but I'd rather not have the insecticide fumes in the house with all the air that moves through it).
The Flea RV, in Park

Check that the hose doesn't have any holes in it. Holes in your target are good, your vacuum, not so much. Aren't you glad you bought that electrical tape.  Tape should be just a temporary fix until you can replace. Don't drape the disconnected hose up over a nail to store it, this is often the cause of the damage.

If it is the type that has a tube, make sure there's nothing clogging it (Barkley!  I found Mr. Squeaky!)
Though little kids love to go for a ride astride a canister type vacuum while you pull it, it's best to say no (look, the bacon truck!).  If someone older than a little kid suggests such an activity, tell her she's read Fifty Shades of Grey too much and change the subject. Such vacuums aren't designed for that kind of weight, and you'll soon find yourself with a very expensive hose replacement.

The round spinning brush under the vacuum cleaner (basically an agitator) should spin freely.  If  it doesn't, there might be hair or small debris wrapped around it, keeping it from rotating and doing its job.  Use a small pair of scissors to cut through the build up, gently pulling it free. If it's finer hair or a piece of string, remove with a seam ripper (available in hobby stores or where sewing supplies are found).  If it's your better half's favorite bore snake, hide the remains quickly and distract them with a pie.
If the rubber belt attached to is is broken, you can replace that by removing the bottom place assembly with a screwdriver. Belts will need to be replaced every 6 months to 1 year, depending on how much it's used. Compare your belt to a new one to check its quality. It should be tight, without worn spots, cracks or unevenness.  (Do NOT go there)

I didn't think they still MADE shag carpeting? 

Some vacuums with agitators and brushes need to be adjusted for the height off of the carpet.  Too close and there won't be adequate suction to really pick up anything. Too high and they merely wave at the dirt.

And finally - 
It's not a vacuum cleaner.  It's a Dalek and when you removed that bottom plate and stuck a pair of  needle nose pliers up its ass, you pretty much sealed your fate. 


  1. LOL! Good post and full of practical advice! Me? I have a Roomba and a cleaning lady =) I have to avoid the single guy thing. Realtors see such stuff as the range is spotless and the bathroom is an EPA Superfund site!

  2. Our Bissell has survived several years of kids & multiple large dogs in the home. What bugs me about it, is that the motor is no longer quiet. Wish I knew the fix for that...

  3. Dennis

    LOL, that was to funny!! Bridget you have done it again; though my heart surgeon might not like you, if I had one. You though forgot one thing if the vacuum does not pick it up; try, try again. Now that the hose is clogged pull the hose off and say I knew it came a part, though I wonder how to put it back together. :)

  4. Scherie's Filter Queen looks like a Dalek!
    She's had it 30+ years.
    It's almost paid for :)

  5. Monkeywrangler, I'll bet crap has gotten past the filter and has attached to the turbine blades.
    Clean those for quieter air flow?

  6. I bought a Dyson a few years back, for which there was much gratitude express via my spouse (I'm not as dumb as I look, thank Heaven). It's relatively easy to disassemble & clean, for which I'm grateful.

    If you're using a Dalek to clean, be advised that dirt (and occupants) will be EXTERMINATED!

  7. Monkeywrangler - Unplug, then take some side cutters to the power cord. That will make it quiet. :-)

  8. LOL. I have gotten up close and personal with many a rollers over the years. I seem to go through vacuums more than any other machine; and each new one bought seems worse than the last one. Not to mention more plastic and less metal.

    Looking inside hoses and bottom plates always is an adventure of OMG What IS that??? heh.

  9. When we lived in the Seattle area, picked up a Rainbow cheap at a yard sale. Did a superior job keeping the flea population down in a multi pet household if we vacuumed twice a week.

    Moved away in 1997 and left it with a friend. She is still using it.

  10. Great words of wit and wisdom Brigid!

    I'm holding off on buying a new vacuum cleaner until John Deere makes one with four-wheel drive and a turbo charger... at least with John Deere I could get parts for it...

    Dann in Ohio

  11. Get my vacs at the Goodwill, you can't kill those suckers...
    When my MIL passed away her Rainbow Vac was the one thing that all three daughters fought for.

  12. Long story, but a friend discovered that well built, very tight houses and up-sized whole-house vacuum systems don't play well together. Symptom was vacuum stopped working after 5 minutes. Solution was "open a window slightly while vacuuming" - the system vented outside and depressurized the house; once vacuums stop moving air they stop vacuuming. Tipoff was the barometer on the wall said "eye of hurricane".....

  13. Brigid,
    If I told my engineer friends that I read a blog about vacuum cleaners by a girl scientist,they would think I was crazy,but you can make any topic interesting and lively.I look forward to reading every day,no matter the subject.Thanks

  14. I source mine the same way as Brighid -- at thrift stores. You just have to be good at evaluating used equipment. Note that in vacuums, as in anything, half the battle is overcoming excitement at having found a bargain, and making sure it really is a bargain.

    I figure I can be the last user of about two or three dozen of those for the price of a new high-quality vacuum, though I might not be able to hold out forever against pressure to get a Dyson. Besides the price,* I am not so sure about this whole bagless fad. I thought the vacuum bag was a great invention, because I don't have to touch or inhale or redistribute all the things that were so nasty I didn't even want them in the carpet.

    The backup is an inherited Kirby in the garage. Fortunately both my wife and I like and understand Kirby vacuums, including the Ruger Mark II-like procedure for changing their belts and attachments. It had been bought by a well off, gadget enjoying bachelor uncle whose high rise apartment didn't need much vacuuming anyway, and as she got on in years, Mom had trouble using it because of its weight, so I bought her one of the plasticky Eight Big Amps models and swapped even, to everyone's satisfaction.

    * I admire the ingenuity of their Air Multiplier, for instance, but at that price, I don't want air multiplication -- I want air calculus!)


  15. As for changing household fuses: I personally wouldn't pull the main in order to change the usual USAmerican screw-in branch-circuit fuse unless there were some specific reason to do so. Aside from the inconvenience of plunging the whole house into darkness, you can get a big flash when you put it back and therefore suddenly throw the entire load back online.

    Which reminds me: before changing a fuse, unload the circuit by unplugging or switching off any known specific large loads on it. Besides avoiding a small-scale version of the problem mentioned above, plugging things back in one by one gives you some clues about whether there is a specific faulty appliance or just one thing too many for that circuit.

    Many of us have circuit breakers instead of fuses, of course. Remember that they're really three-position devices: On, intentionally Off, and Tripped. The difference between Off and Tripped can be subtle, and some kinds have to be moved to Off before they can go back to On.

    Finally, remember that Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor (GFCI) outlets, which have proliferated since the mid 80s and are widely found in kitchens, bathrooms, and garages, can themselves trip due not only to ground faults but also sometimes overloads -- and they protect outlets downstream on that circuit. If there is a mysterious kink in the electricity hose, and the fuses or breakers seem okay, the possibility of a tripped GFCI is something to consider. Technically speaking you're supposed to exercise their Test (intentional trip) and Reset buttons once in awhile anyway.

  16. Hmmm, that Dalek looks like fun. Kin to R2D2 I suspect.

  17. Murphy still thinks our vacuum is a Dalek that's out to ex-term-in-ate him, so he tries to kill it first whenever he sees it, even if it's not in use.

  18. And if you are vacuuming new carpet, check the bag after a few rooms, repeating frequently. Otherwise you start getting that Eau de Combustion smell from the horribly overloaded motor. Happened to a friend of a friend's brother-in-law's cousin by marriage. Really. It wasn't me.

  19. Had a vacuum once...... it went whoosh...... I said ow..... then went whisk.
    Drives me up the wall.... leftover screws and belts..... now lets see.... where is the parts diagram.
    Put in a new bag once..... carpet pieces disappeared.

  20. You didn't add my favorite, trying to vacuum up primers that landed in a rug... only did that ONCE!

  21. Keeds - If I was on the road a lot and a friend was dog sitting I had a lady come in and clean. That's the way to go if you're gone a lot, but with smaller space now, I can manage.

    Rev Paul - I have an Orick for the crash pad, and likely another one with the house Hoover dies. It's great.

    Murphy's Law - I might pay good money to watch that little interchange.

    Adabsurdum - I just put what the power company recommended. I'm not going to get into detailed better methods that could land a beginner in trouble here, but you have the right idea there.

    billf - well thank you! Off topic, but we did the cobbler in little tiny ramekins (with sugar :-) VERY good)

    Nosmo King - eye of the hurricane. Priceless! Thanks for stopping :-)

    Brighid and Well Seasoned Fool - now you got me interested in a Rainbow, can't say I've ever seen one.

    naturegirl - I was pretty disappointed in the last Hoover, quality really degraded since the one my Mom owned.

  22. I have one of the last decent Hoover vacuums, circa 2001. After the Neptune fiasco effectively bankrupted Maytag (parent company), the Hoover nameplate was sold off to the Taiwanese parent company of Dirt Devil.

  23. Have I ever mentioned that we apparently do not have fleas here in oh so sunny Southern Utah? I think it may actually be true since so far neither Angus or Chrisi ever had an outbreak while living here. I guess all that dry hot air is actually good for something after all!

  24. Roscoe - that explains the plummeting of the quality. My Mom's hoover could have conquered a small country.

    Six - lucky you. It's not bad here, the ticks are nothing like we had down at the farm I lived on.

    Old NFO - Primers? Yikes!!!

  25. If you have managed to remove the bottom plate on a Dalek it's on its back anyway so you might have time to get away before it recovers.


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