How to Unclog Your Central Vacuum.

The one thing you want in your house to completely suck, is your vacuum.  Have a clogged central vacuum that doesn’t suck?  Here’s how to fix it.

Skip right to the tutorial.


When I first moved into my house many years ago I was pretty upset it didn’t have a central vacuum.  But since it also didn’t have a laundry room, a dishwasher,  air conditioning, or a miniature stage with velvet curtains and performing mice wearing teensy, tiny top hats,  I wasn’t really surprised.  Disappointed, yes.  Surprised, no.

I was however surprised to find out when I first wrote this post 7 or so years ago that not everyone knows what a central vacuum is.  They seem to be much more popular in Canada than in the United States.  In Canada for instance, Costco has a selection of 13 central vacuum systems for you to choose from.  In the United States, Costco has a selection of 2.

What is a Central Vacuum?

A Central Vacuum (otherwise known as Central Vac.) is vacuum system that runs by a series of tubes throughout your house. The tubes are hidden behind the walls, with the actual vacuum canister being housed in either the garage, basement or utility room. Access to the vacuum is achieved through ports around the house.  Just plug in the hose and GO.  You empty the canister whenever it gets full. Depending on the size of your house and canister that could be as infrequently as once a year.

Most people have them professionally installed but it’s also something you can DIY.

One day, not long after I bought my home, after a particularly hard day of fixing up the house and searching for talented mice, I laid my weary head down on the spare room bed to take a nap.  Which in itself is highly unusual for me.  Now I see, it was kind of divine intervention by the large appliance God in the sky.

You see, I dreamed, (and it was one of those reallyyyyy realistic dreams where you swear it’s actually happening) … that my house had central vac.  It was hidden behind the bed in the spare room.  In my dream.

When I woke up, I took a peek behind the bed in my spare room.  No central vac.  Not even a performing mouse.  Just a wall.

So, the next day I went up to Costco, bought myself a central vac kit, brought it home and installed it.  It’s really not as hard as you think.

In Canada I’d recommend Costco for buying your kit. If you’re in the States I’d also recommend Costco or Amazon if you want a larger selection.

Just don’t forget that in addition to the Central Vacuum unit you ALSO have to buy an installation kit which is all the pipes and inlets you need to instal the system.

That central vacuum I installed worked for 11 years with NO problem.   Suck, suck, suck. Then one day it didn’t. It sucked a little, but it didn’t have enough pressure to even gobble up a bit of cat fluff.

If you too have a central vac that sucks but not nearly enough you have a few options.  Low suction on your central vac. can be one of a few things. It could be as simple as needing to clean your filter or empty  out the canister.  If that doesn’t do the trick chances are you have a blockage.

Here’s what you do to fix your blockage.  First have a big hot cup of coffee and a popcorn sized bowl of prunes.  No … wait.  Wrong blockage.

How to Unclog a Central Vacuum


1.  Determine where your hose is blocked.  If you get low suction at all of your outlets, it means your blockage is either in the hose or more likely, between the first outlet and your canister.   If you only have low suction on one outlet, the blockage is between that one and the one that’s working fine.

My blockage was between my first outlet and the canister so any of the outlets past that didn’t work either.

The solution is simple and almost guaranteed to work.  The only problem is … you need a second vacuum.  Something powerful like a shop vac. or a one of those little car vacuums.  Which is what I used.

2.  To unclog your central vac., just stick the hose from your portable vacuum into the offending central vac. outlet and let ‘er suck.


The hose should just fit right in the outlet and create good suction.  If not just wrap a towel or your hands around it to create a good seal.


For me, a big hunk of cat hair came up right away.  I pulled it away with my fingers.  Then I gave it another suck.


This time, I got cat hair and a little bit of Christmas.  It was quite exciting and fulfilling.



I pulled that out too and figured I was done, but decided to give her one extra suck.  And this happened …



It may have been the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me.

And yes.  That is an After Eight wrapper.

Also in that pile were some twist ties, pine needles, little bits of bark, unidentifiable gross stuff and a sequin.


With about 5 minutes of work (including dragging the car vacuum out of the shed) I  got the vacuum fixed, free of charge and immediately.  Had I called someone my best guess is it would have cost between $100 and $150 to have someone come out and diagnose the problem and fix it.  This way, I got the thrill of seeing the actual blockage and I didn’t have to listen to some repairman pretend like this was a way bigger job than it was.

The absolute BEST part of all of this was I had enough cat hair to knit those little mice some suits, plus the sequin was perfect for their Liberace tribute.

All in all.  The day I unclogged my central vacuum sucked.  And I couldn’t have been happier about it.

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←



  1. Marti says:

    Thanks for the car vac story. Now I get why “The Prince” wasn’t any more ticked off that time you woke him from dead sleep 3-4 times to treat his itty-bitty boo-boo: he’s grown accustomed to you.

    • Karen says:

      I’m presently doing something rather … insane to the house. By some people’s standards anyway. My mother asked what the fella thought of it. In fact she gasped when I told her what I was doing and THEN said “What does the fella think?”. She hasn’t quite figured out that the fella doesn’t care what I do. He kind of expects it. ~ k!

  2. Jenn says:

    Karen, I’m not surprised in the slightest that you fixed your own central vac. What surprised me – nay, rocked my little world – is the fact that installing a central vac can be a DIY proejct. It had never, ever occurred to me. Seriously, NEVER.

    • Karen says:

      Jenn – It depends on how big your house is and how poor your are. 🙂 For me it was really pretty easy. It took 2 days, but that’s because I only had a crappy cordless drill at the time and I had to keep waiting for it to recharge. ~ k!

  3. kate says:

    okay, i’ve been lurking for some time and now that you’ve shown me your central vac vomit, I must ask: ever cleaned a filter on a newer dishwasher?
    i can’t find any email address, but would love to discuss this with you. I’m frustrated after two “repair” ha! men have been out and a couple of “filter cleaners” (f*ck you) later, and it is still not working right. I know what the problem is, it’s the hard water that’s depositing chunks of god knows what and makes all the water around here come out in a sputter if you don’t clean out the filters. the problem is, can’t figure this one out! help!


    • Karen says:

      Hi Kate – I’m not sure I can help as I’ve never had that particular problem, but you can email me at (my “Contact” button is the little envelope on the upper right corner of the site) I wish I could see the filter and whether you have access to it. Is it the filter or the hoses for instance? If it’s the filter and it’s possible to remove it fairly easily the solution might be as simple as soaking it in CLR once a week. ~ karen!

    • Laura Bee says:

      Hi, sometimes the little holes in the arms that spin around get clogged. Tweezers worked for me. I think that’s where the water comes out, isn’t it?

  4. Caroline says:

    I had never even heard of a central vacuum before. Huh!! What will they think of next!

  5. Traci says:

    I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know what a central vac is….especially after reading this article and it’s pretty clear I could use one (2 dogs, 2 cat, and 2 kids). Vacuuming the smallest carpeted area in my house requires 5 or 6 trips to dump the cannister! I’m continually surprised that my animals even HAVE fur left on their bodies!

  6. I can’t wait for the mice suits 🙂 cute! For some reason I get pleasure from seeing what comes out of a clog, it’s almost like I feel cleaner? Any thoughts?
    What did you make with sequins?
    P.S. I’ve got my daughter hooked on your blog!

  7. Gayla T says:

    NO No NO nonono! You can NOT have a central vac system and dancing mice in the same house! The mice would see that hole as an on stage entrance for stage left which would become off stage right when turned on. You think you had a yucky blockage now. You have no clue what that would be like. Hats, feet, noses and butts all squished into one huge lump and the show would be lights out and little Elvis has left the building. Think girl, think. Same goes with chickens. I don’t think you should put one in the hen house either. Of course you would probably only lose one before the thing would be clogged beyond help. Just saying……….

  8. Annie says:


  9. Valerie says:

    *Hand up*

    I’m with ya, girl. There is such an odd pleasure to be had from the unclogging of drains and vacuum tubes – so damn satisfying!

  10. Karol says:

    At first glance of your “vomit” pic, I thought I saw a face in the bottom piece of gunk. The bottom tip looks like a nose with a closed eye just above it (to the right) so the whole pile resembles a decomposing body. Eww, and good job!

  11. Karen, you should post a warning on this! I nearly vomited up my breakfast! Innocently sat down with my cuppa (it’s a holiday here in lieu of Paddy’s Day) but eek!
    Anyway, I’ve recovered now, thanks. I don’t have central vacuum, am AMAZED that you installed your own- WOW!
    Your fella has a fantastic car vacuum, and I can’t believe you hauled that gunk onto that beautiful frame to photograph it for us! You deffo deserve #1 in those awards next time for doing that!

    Re Kate, I think washing soda crystals might solve your problem, just run the d/w with them in it.

  12. Susan says:

    Ha! My suggestion was CLR! That baby needs to be bathed and soaked in CLR!
    Funny about your central vac! I too unclogged my shop vac…exciting weekend we lead, eh? Everybody else goes to some expensive sunny island, burn their skin, drink wonderful umbrella laden drinks, get stuck in some god forsaken hot, humid airport because the airline is trying to go on strike and we stay home and suck! Hmmmm…. BTW knit a couple if those sweaters for my mice …they may need them for where they are going… And it ain’t a hot sunny island!:-)

  13. Denise says:

    I’m guessing you didn’t intend it, but I had to wonder whether you later framed the vacuum vomit as art … none of the earlier posts pointed it out, but it made me smile … you being a do-it-yourselfer and all. 😉

  14. Hey Karen, Happy Monday. I don’t have a Central Vac but I’m sorta glad you had the clog so we could read your funny story on how to unclog. (love the birdseed anecdote!) Have a good week.

  15. Nicole2 says:

    Great piece of art! It expresses the drama of domestic life perfectly. And the contrast between the dirt and the upscale gilded frame is pure genius as it demonstrates the gap between the classes.

  16. marilyn says:

    an after eight wrapper too the by karen i will come bearing gifts from triilium ridge soon..

  17. Laura Bee says:

    I cleaned out my canister vac last week. The power head was an unholy mess of dust bunny corpses. And you are so right, it is exciting & thrilling in a very sick & twisted way.

  18. Damn! Wish I had known or thought of this when my non-central vac got jammed with fiscus leaves. Hmmm. Actually it is entirely possible the old one is in the garage. Even with a massive clean out and purge it might still be there way up high in hopes that the leaves would dry enough to get past the part of the hose that got stepped on and squished. Hey, you don’t have a fix for squished vac hoses do you? And no, thanks to beater bars, there is no way to just get another hose – at least not for a price that is insanely close to a new vac without the hassle of replacing.
    Oh yeah, and the fiscus has a new home with a neighbour now.

  19. Kim says:

    You crack me up! Framing your vac vomit. Thank you now I can start my day

  20. Barbie says:

    After Eights….my absolute favorite mints….

    I had no idea Costco sold Central vacs! really? I do have a rather large house, but I have ALWAYS wanted a central vac…my hubbys reason for not installing one when we built the house was just what happened to you….but now that I see it is totally fixable maybe I have a leg to stand on in getting him to get onboard with one!!

  21. michelle says:

    and here i thought i was the only one who had a vomiting central vac like that! yay! ~m

  22. Sally says:

    I just spit coffee all over my keyboard! I LOVE that you photographed your vac vomit framed in gold! Seriously, if you’re not crowned Queen of the diy blogdom next year I’m going to start a riot.

  23. Mickey says:

    Can’t wait to find out what this rather insane
    thing that you’re doing to your house is.

  24. Tina says:

    I’m with Sally! Queen of it all !! I mean there is no one else in blogdom with your wit, sarcasm, talent…… I mean who else but you would gild frame your blockage!!

  25. I completely love that you showed us all of that disgusting stuff laid out on a beautiful frame. You’re a class act all the way.

  26. Jake says:

    Please, please tell us you didn’t really frame and hang that vomit pic. Can’t wait to see the dancing mice.

  27. AmieM says:

    I love that you framed the offending hair balls!

  28. Elaine says:

    Your fuzzy blockage looked like an owl pellet. You know, the kind that thrilled us all to bits when we were young and out walking like young Davey Crocketts? The coughed-up fur and bones of previous owl-meals kept us occupied for ages.
    Never found an After Eight wrapper, though. The birds are classier than that.

  29. Pats says:

    This is why I enjoy unclogging my bathroom sink. I use one of those Zip-It thingies to pull up the disgusting black goo. How it gets black, I will never understand. It’s sooo much fun to pull all that yechy stuff out!

  30. Kate S. says:

    My husband has always found my obsession with cleaning the vacuum a bit perverse and befuddling. After this post, at least he’ll know for certain I’m not alone in the world.

  31. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Solved your problem and created a new form of art..sounds like a good day to me..

  32. Lori says:

    Okay, you are hilarious. The “SUCK IT” written on the picture had me roaring.

    Thanks, you’re the best.

  33. Surani says:

    You should do a tutorial on how to install a central vac!!!! Puh-leeeze!

  34. Rosecampion says:

    I’m just curious, what are the advantages of a central vacuum vs. a regular old canister/upright vac? I’ve never been dissatisfied with my Dyson and it’s never clogged on me either in the eight or so years I’ve had it. Is it just that you don’t have to drag the vacuum to each room or does it suck better than a regular vac?

    • Karen says:

      Rose – Better suction, more convenient, wayyyy easier to do stairs, 2 bars, one for hardwood, one for carpets and a lot lighter. It’s a lot more convenient to just carry the hose upstairs, as opposed to an entire vacuum. Finally, you only have to empty out the huge cannister once or twice a year. I cannot sing the praises of Central Vac. enough. I love it. You can even install an outlet in your kitchen along your baseboard so that when you sweep your kitchen floor you just sweep it towards the special outlet, which sucks everything away. ~ karen!

      • Rosecampion says:

        I would probably consider one if we had a house. We own a condo though, so no place for the big canister to go plus I’m not sure if I’m allowed to put stuff inside the walls. In any case, our condo is small enough and the Dyson cord is long enough that I plug into an outlet in the living room and can then vacuum the whole place.

  35. Sue W. says:

    I’d love to know more about installing a central vac. I have one fluffy dog, two fluffy cats, and one less-fluffy cat, and, well, I’m kind of fluffy too (naturally curly, anyhow…)

    Oh, and loved hearing about the mini shop vac seed starter! I can so relate! We solved that sort of “snafu”, sort of, we have a pair of them. Yep, his & hers… “snuffler” and “snufflette”. Supposed to help with those issues. In theory one is always used dry and the other one is for wet, but, well…

  36. Stacy says:

    I’m going to risk sounding really dumb right now….but….WHAT?!? is a central vac? Because what I think it is, is kinda getting me really excited. Could it be that…? No, I will wait for a proper explanation before I go running off to the Home Depot. PLEASE tell me more and please let it be amazing!

    • Karen says:

      Stacy – Apparently you’re not the only one! I had no idea not every knew what a central vac. was. It’s a a vacuum. As you may have guessed. It’s a large metal cannister that you have installed in your basement or garage. You then run clear pipes throughout the house (inside the walls, through closets, etc. so they aren’t seen). And on each floor you cut a hole in the wall, put an outlet and shazam! You have instant access to vacuuming all over. All you need is the hose, which I keep wound on the back of a door on my main floor. And THAT is central vac. ~ karen

  37. Shauna says:

    We don’t actually use a vacuum cleaner in our house (all wood floors), but that’s mostly because I hated our old one. Central vac seemed sooooo much harder than a DIY project! How do you have it go through the walls? It sounds like major ‘plumbing’ type construction. I’m fascinated by this. I’m going to go google this right now! I wish you had been doing posts back when you installed it yourself then we’d have it to use as our own personal instruction sheet. I have an old house, meaning plaster walls. Would that make a difference do you think?

    • Karen says:

      Shauna – My house was built in 1840 and I managed. Plaster and lathe all the way. There’s always a way around a problem. ~ karen

  38. Shauna says:

    Well that’s pretty cool. I just looked up some instructions and think it really wouldn’t work too well in our house – no basement or ‘utility room’ for the power outlet thingamabob. It’s okay, my husband does the floors anyway;)

  39. Pat says:

    Upon replacing the motor in our central vac, my husband discovered at the parts place these big, giant vacuum cleaner bags to put inside the canister. No more dumping the scary contents of a full canister into a garbage bag. Why the guy who installed it didn`t tell us that such a wonder existed, I`ll never know. Unsnap the bottom, pluck off the bag, place the bag in the garbage, slip next bag in the canister, snap canister to top and carry on! And I won`t miss seeing the contents of the bag!!

  40. Stacy says:

    WOW! How have I not heard of this magical thing before?!? Do you know how many stand-alone vacuums I have gone through in the past 2 years???? That would be 5. I should have saved myself the trouble and flushed all that money down the toilet, lol.
    This is extremely exciting! We are renting until next summer and THEN I shall have myself one of these fancy central vacs. What a time saver!

  41. Jasmine says:

    What I would like to know is-what else happened in your dream? If the central vac thing came true, then what else might be around the corner? Last night I dreamed about Julia Roberts??? I dunno, seemed okay at the time…

  42. Bols says:

    This is brilliant – I am going to try it immediately. Indeed, this house has a central vac which I always hated. There is only one outlet and I hated schlepping the hose that coiled like an anaconda all around the house. The central vac’s suction (not the greatest from the day I moved in) suddenly deteriorated after about 3.5 years and I got a Dyson (I have 2 greyhounds who shed all year round). I am going to see if the Dyson will suck anything out of the central vac.

    • Karen says:

      Bois – I *love* greyhounds. LOVE them. If I were add another animal into the mix it would either be a standard poodle or a rescue Greyhound. We’ve heard you can’t really let them off leash, which is a concern. SUCH nice dogs. ~ karen

  43. Bols says:

    Well, this totally did not work.
    Maybe I will try feeding my central vac some of those prunes … 🙂

  44. Bols says:

    Hi Karen,

    thanks. Yeah, after having greyhounds for 20 years I am bit biased but what can you do. 🙂
    I love them madly. And it’s true, off leash is a no-no unless in a fenced in doggie park. But walking is good for me, too, especially since I am on my arse 9 hours a day at work.

    • Karen says:

      🙁 We’d just like to let the dog go at the cottage w/out fear they’d never come back. Chickens and frogs and cats and fish are probably enough anyway. ~ karen

  45. Joe says:

    Thank you for the very entertaining story. I am not even sure how I ended up here but I did enjoy your humor. Yes Central vacuum can be aDIY project. I have installed 2 in each of my homes. The first in a 2000 square foot ranch house and the second in a 3 level 4000 square foot house. Harder, for sure on the larger house but what a savings. I had a bid of 5000.00 for the big house which ended up costing me about 600 with everything included. How do people clean without Central Vacuum? Joe

  46. tina seashore says:

    i’m having conflicting reactions to this post: ew. cool. ew. cool.

    with as many hairy beings that reside in my house, it makes me wonder what the intake vents on my central ac/heat look like. probably just ew.

  47. karen says:

    Holy cow – is that a tampon in there????

  48. Paula says:

    I too love my central vac. Mine is a different brand than yours but we discovered a screen like thing on the inside that sometimes needs brushed off. On ours you take the bottom off like when you empty it and brush up inside there. We use a toliet bowl brush. Your arm will get very dusty but it makes that baby really suck haha. Love your blog and I can’t believe you came it third. Next year…

  49. Sandy says:

    Tried your technique to unstop the hose, when a lingerie bag was sucked up. Didn’t work. Ended up going to the vac store for them to fix it but they couldn’t unstick it. Had to buy a new hose. Ended up trying to use a snake plumbing attachment meant for an elec drill. Worked like a charm!! Thought I’d pass it along, since no one really wants to be hosed by a vac store…

    • Karen says:

      LOL! ~ karen

      • Emil says:

        Thanks for the original post. The method worked perfectly. I accidentally pulled a dust cloth into the hose. Used my shop vac—within 30 seconds I heard a small thump and a change in the noise. Pulled out the shop vac and with needle nose pliers, I extracted the rag. Initially I had other plans.

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