How to Clean a Shop Vac Filter

Shop vacs can remove debris from any type of surface, and they are known for their ability to pick up things a traditional vacuum cleaner cannot. They are simple to use and very versatile with little need for maintenance aside from one area – the filters.

A shop vac can have one or more filters, and while some need to be replaced, most can be cleaned. How you go about that depends on the type of filter residing inside or outside of your vacuum.

With that in mind, we are going to walk you through the process of how to clean shop vac filters and tell you how you will know when it is time to make a change.

When should you clean your shop vac filter

Filters on vacuums become clogged over time, especially when you’re sucking up dirt, dust or other fine particles. Thicker debris doesn’t tend to clog up filters although it can jam up the machine.

If you start to notice your vacuum cleaner is losing suction, check your filter.

When the hose isn’t jammed and you lose power, it is usually an issue with the filter. If you see the shop vac “blowing smoke” that is a sign its time for a cleaning as well.

Whenever your filter becomes clogged air can push dust from the exhaust in a cloud, so you’ll know it’s time to replace or clean your filter. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist; you just have to pay attention.

Types of Shop Vac Filters

Most shop vac filters are quite simple and consist of pleated paper wrapped around a ring. Those pleats or ridges work to trap dust and fine particles but can become dirty rather quickly.

These types of filters are usually inexpensive to replace, and you can clean them more often than not. That said, your cleaning options are limited depending on the quality of the filter itself.

There are also foam filters and bags although we won’t be covering the latter today. Foam will hold up longer than paper but is typically used as a pre-filter or part of a HEPA system in shop vacs.

You can check out guides for

Steps on how to clean the filter

How to clean a dry filter

Does your filter look a little dirty or is it caked in gunk?

If it’s the latter, you may need to use some elbow grease. Otherwise, a simple tap may do the trick. If you take a dirty filter outdoors and smack it, you will see the dust fly. It may require a firm tap or two, but filters full of dust can be cleaned using the dry method.

Obviously, this is something you’ll want to do outdoors, but you can put a bag around the filter and beat it out over a can when working indoors to keep the dust down.

When dealing with a ridged filter, you can take toothpicks or small dowels and carefully rake out the grooves. A can of compressed air is also an option, and a great way to clean out those hard to reach places on your shop vac.

How to clean a wet filter

Cleaning up a filter that’s washable is just as simple as a dry filter. It all starts with loosening or beating out the dust and dirt, then removing any debris.

From there, you just need to head to the sink and give it a good wash. Refer to your manual if you plan to use any cleaning agents or if the filter has come in contact with something water can’t remove. Once you are satisfied with the results, let your filter completely dry before using it again.


Shop vac filters are an integral part of your vacuum and keeping them clean is key if you want optimum performance. By nature, this style of vacuum is built to handle things that would break a regular vacuum in seconds, so it is only natural they get dirtier than most.

Now that you know how to clean shop vac filters, we have one more tip to share. If your filter ever becomes damaged or the paper starts to look frayed, go ahead and pick up a new one and do not waste your time cleaning a filter that is on its last legs.

If you wanna know more about most popular shop vacs on the market you can check our review for Ridgid or Vacmaster vacs.


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