Reusable Vacuum Bag Saves You Money


Vacuum dust bags are annoying. They’re expensive, one time use, and if you have an older vacuum cleaner, good luck finding replacements! [Karl] got fed up so he decided to make his own reusable dirt bag instead.

He’s using an old t-shirt as the new bag material but notes that you can use any other sufficiently drafty material as well — as long as it stops the dust but lets air through, you’re good! To seal the bag he’s using a piece of rubbery vinyl with a hole cut in it to seal against the intake pipe. This is sewn to the t-shirt with a piece of cardboard sandwiching the fabric. From there it’s just a matter of adding a zipper or Velcro, and you’re done!

He’s been using this filter for over a year and hasn’t had any problems with it yet — you can even wash it! While you’re at it, why not make a wet-spill attachment for your vacuum cleaner too?


36 thoughts on “Reusable Vacuum Bag Saves You Money

  1. I would just empty the bag and not bother washing it so long as there was still good suction. Once the filter fabric gets loaded up with some dirt/dust fines, it does a better job at catching dust. I remember a large dust filter I used to work on and the cloth tubes took a little while to “season” and would pass some fines when new.

    1. Do you think there’s much use in “refreshing” used bags by emptying them out, then giving them a suck from the vacuum, on the inside? To suck all the trapped dirt out. Seems possible, though they’re usually designed not to be tampered with.

  2. Maybe now Karl can use that extra money to buy a better potato…

    It’s a good idea, but I would really wonder at just how much dust was being blown back into the environment. Maybe if he oiled the cloth it might catch more?

    It would likely be better just to get one of those filter cannister uprights; I see them all the time by the side of the road on bulk-trash pickup day (you can find them cheap also at thrift stores). Most of the time, the only thing wrong with them is a bad switch or a broken belt.

  3. It seems to me that flannel cloth with a high threads per inch count would be close enough to match the bag material i have seen in the old stuff. When it comes to vacuums any disposable item sucks. That includes filters, the latest rage in planned waste of resources. Bagless, sounds like a good idea? Filters are even more custom than a bag, lets see a hack for them.
    It would be simple to make a external “bag” with a 5 gallon mud bucket and collect much less dirt in the little vac or none at all with a filter in the bucket.

    1. Hm yup, would a bucket of water do as a “filter”? Just suck air / dust up as usual, then send it down a pipe to the bottom of a bucket. Should keep most of the dirt in, would need care to deal with all the bubbles.

      The proper cyclonic ones, which I think only Dyson can do properly until their patents expire, seem to separate the dust from the air with some ingenious method where the dust falls out. Needs no bags or filters.

  4. “as long as it stops the dust but lets air through”, yeah good luck with that. The ones wee use have a built in HEPA filter (we have cats’n’shit). T-shirts weave is too big to not let dust through.

  5. We had an Electrolux when I was a kid which used a cloth bag. Emptying one will make you understand why disposable bags became popular. I’ve emptied paper bags in a pinch, but they were pretty badly clogged by fine dust.

    Felt or flannel is a much more suitable material for a filter bag. It would be wise though to use a piece of a paper filter to protect the unit from any dust which gets through the cloth. The motor bearings do not like fine dust and will respond accordingly.

    I suspect the engineering tradeoffs between fan power and bag size & material are pretty tight so that substitutions are difficult without adverse results.

    1. We still use those at work and at several homes, easy to empty and get back to work. They are over a half century old. Suck up a screw or think you did, just pop the end off and have a look. The newer Electrolux (70’s) went to some of the first throwaway bags.
      In a hack worthy of a post I re-shaped the round bag rim from the old style into the rectangular shaped rim of the disposable type. I built up the rim with two layers of inner-tube rubber and reuse that cardboard top with the rubber sphincter in the middle. This rim holds an older cloth bag. Thus the newer Electrolux with wheels and retractable cord can be emptied indoors in a trash basket or bigger bin. Then you go outside and invert the bag and whip it to get full suction back. The trick is watching which way the wind is blowing, or going away and running back while flapping the bag.

  6. Most vacuum cleaners i have seen have a filter between the bag and the blower, or between the blower and the outlet. However these are probably just to take care of any dust that leaks out in the bag compartment when bags are shifted, they would clog pretty fast if you used a piece of medium weave cotton cloth as in the article.

      1. My wife owns a butter churn, yet somehow she sees the wisdom of buying butter at the store. Just because you “can” doesn’t mean you ‘should”. Wisdom is knowing when to throw in the towel and buy a new tool.

    1. The cheap bagless vacuums are not truly “cyclonic”, they actually rely on the filter in the canister and a so-called “HEPA” filter on the outlet. They just angle the inlet so that the dust spins around the canister and fools people into thinking that they are using cyclonic separation. They do a very poor job of capturing very fine particles. We have one and we have to empty it every time we use it, so we have now gone back to the old bagged cleaner.

      1. Anyway, cyclonic separators are unable to separate the smallest particles (the ones you will breathe in to the bottom of your lungs). T-shirts and fabric can only catch the big particles (the one you see like hair, food crumbs and lint) and will just blow out small skin debris, mites, spores and such. Bacteria and viruses are orders of magnitude smaller than that and will anyhow be blown out, even by the best of vacuums.

        Basically the bag catches the “big” particles and the filter catches the last, small ones. Lots of companies make washable HEPA filters now, so you don’t have to throw them away.

      2. I have a Eurika mini Boss with a washable HEPA filter that I found at a thrift store. I threw out the HEPA filter because it was worn out and coming apart. I put a coffee filter in its place and wrapped it around so it stays when I close the container. Works fine. Coffee filters are dirt cheap and I just replace them when I empty the thing.

      3. I have a Eurika mini Boss with a washable HEPA filter that I found at a thrift store. I threw out the HEPA filter because it was worn out and coming apart. I put a coffee filter in its place and wrapped it around so it stays when I close the container. Works fine. Coffee filters are dirt cheap and I just replace them when I empty the thing.

  7. Plumbing your own central vac system is fairly easy, and takes about an afternoon or two. A central power unit can be had for about the same price as a canister system, and the power head, hose, pipe and fittings are about the same amount. A fixed central canister solves the problem of filtration by pumping the exhaust outside. If you locate it well, you eliminate most of the noise, too – I mounted mine in my attached garage. They are far more powerful than any portable canister or upright. I only have to empty the canister about twice a year, even with two dogs. And mine has been extremely durable: my old canisters lasted about six years each, but my central system has been working well for about fifteen years. It’s been a real bargain.

    1. @Blinky, to ease your mind, the problem with vacuum cleaner dirt is most likely not “germs”. While viruses, spores, mildew, and mold can last a long time, actual bacteria tend to perish after a day or so without moisture. The surprising problem with a vacuum cleaner bag is contaminants in the dust, which is a combination of everything you’ve ever sprayed or used in your house, and everything you’ve tracked in on the bottoms of your shoes: fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides. I recently read (sorry, no citation) that the typical vacuum cleaner bag would be classified as hazardous waste if it were produced in a commercial setting.

      Again, I recommend the central vac solution. I located my power canister in my garage, right next to the place where I park my garbage can. I just remove the tank, empty it into a paper sack, then drop the sack into the can. The dirt stays outside. If you’re squeamish about the potential cloud of mold spores (as you probably should be), wear long sleeves, gloves, and a face mask, and don’t hang around in the dust cloud. My tank has enough capacity that I only have to empty it once or twice a year.

  8. Yeah, I’m all for saving a buck, but this sounds like an effective means of “weaponizing” fine particulate matter. Once when I was young and stupid(er) I thought I’d save the heat from the clothes dryer by putting stockings over the vent and venting it into the basement. Not only did the basement induce coughing, but it became quite damp. It was warm, however.

  9. I was looking to get the Shark APEX DuoClean with Zero-M Self-Cleaning to be able to clean my carpet and porcelain floors(wood looking planks). I know their is no perfect vacuum that will do perfect for both but from the reviews it looked like this model would be the best for both. To solve my problem I was looking maybe getting the best vacuum for carpet and then getting a mop vacuum for floors. Could you recommend some models that would work for me.

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