Height settings, attachment selection, and — yes — speed all play a role in vacuuming efficiency. “Slow” vacuuming, as it’s called on social media, is only the latest craze, with many insisting it’s the best way to vacuum. But why is that?

Here’s the TL;DR:

Slow vacuuming is the best way to vacuum because the brushroll can agitate the carpet fibers more effectively. It generates more suction and — therefore — better debris pickup and is less aggressive on more delicate fibers. When slow vacuuming, spend ~20–30 seconds per 2–3 square feet of carpet.

Keep reading to learn about slow vacuuming, its benefits, and how to do it correctly. We’ll also discuss how your vacuuming speed impacts a cleaning session. 

What Is Slow Vacuuming?

Slow vacuuming is a TikTok trend (and real-life cleaning tip!) that involves vacuuming floors in slow motion. The theory is that slowing down the pace will agitate the fibers better, maintain better suction on hard floors, and lift and suck up more debris.

The ideal vacuum for this method is an upright vacuum with a brushroll. That’s because the bristles dig deep into carpet fibers to pull out embedded dirt and dust.

A single arm’s-length pass may take just a few seconds with normal vacuuming, while slow vacuuming may bump that up to 4–6+ seconds.

Slow vacuuming typically means spending 15–20 seconds per square foot — or 20–30 seconds for every 2–3 sq. ft. That’s about one second per inch. 

This estimate includes both forward and backward passes. In other words, for every square foot, you’ll go about 7 ½–10 seconds forward and then about the same time back.

Slower Vacuuming Means Better Dust + Debris Pickup

The biggest benefit of slow vacuuming is that there’s more suction applied to each floor section. This allows the machine more opportunity to pick up loose debris. When vacuuming quickly, you may miss deeply embedded dirt and ultra-fine dust — leaving your floors and rugs less clean.

You also have to consider how vacuums work.

Vacuums rely on air flow to carry dirt and debris from the floor, through its components, and into the bag or bin. When you vacuum slowly, the vacuum delivers more consistent and focused airflow over the floor.

Slow vacuuming also gives the brushroll or beater bar more contact with each fiber. The more time the bristles have to agitate the carpet, the deeper they can penetrate and the more trapped debris they can loosen. Vacuuming fast misses much of this debris and can send it flying elsewhere!

Compared to standard vacuuming, a slower pace will result in a more thorough cleaning. Because less residual dirt is left behind to stir up and redistribute, your carpets may stay cleaner for longer. You should not have to vacuum as frequently. 

Adding overlapping passes into the mix may also remove up to 85% of allergens and dust. 

The Major Downside: Time

Vacuuming slowly will pick up more debris with each pass, and because it’s more efficient at removing deep-set debris, you may not have to vacuum as often.

However, dedicating ~1 second per square inch of floor is a huge time constraint in larger spaces. Vacuuming an entire 800-or-so sq. ft. apartment at this speed will take *checks notes* 2 hours and 13 minutes on the low end.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends just 0.35 hours per day on interior cleaning. 

On top of requiring more time, slow vacuuming:

  • May require your vacuum to be up and running for longer, which can strain the motor during longer sessions
  • Can quickly become monotonous… unless you’re a “freak” like me and get deep satisfaction from seeing the dust pile up in the dirt tank
  • Means loud noises for longer periods, which can become a problem if you live in an apartment or live with those who have noise sensitivity
  • Can be physically demanding, requiring you to be on your feet and using your upper body to push and pull the vacuum for long periods

If you don’t have hours to spare (or the patience to spend 30 minutes vacuuming your bedroom), limit your slow vacuuming to mess-prone areas. Or squeeze in an occasional slow-vacuuming session every month.

Testing Slow Vacuuming: Does It Work?

I wanted to see how slow vacuuming compares to standard vacuuming — specifically regarding debris pickup and time. So, naturally, I did a few experiments.

For each, I weighed the dirt tank before each session and then again after vacuuming to determine how much debris was sucked up. All experiments took place on the same type of carpet and used the same height setting.

Here are the different tests I conducted and the results:

The Hallway Test

First was the Hallway Test (dun, dun, dun). The goal was to vacuum the entire hallway with both slow and normal vacuuming to see how much dirt it’d pick up. 

The day before the first test, I slow-vacuumed the entire hallway to essentially “reset” its days’ worth of dirt. The next day, I did the slow vacuuming test, followed by the normal vacuuming test the day after that. For context, this hallway has 42 ¾ sq. ft. of carpet

Did slow vacuuming make a difference? Well, here are the results:

Usually, when I vacuum this stretch, the bulk of what it sucks up is hair — both human and cat — with some dust bunnies mixed in. Slow vacuuming gave me a slightly different blend. It was slightly fuzzier and grittier, and it looked like I may have picked up sand or old baking soda from who knows how long ago. 

The data shows that slow vacuuming picked up more total debris in the same amount of space, but at a cost: time. In fact, it took me 4.26 times longer to pick up only twice as much debris, which isn’t exactly a huge payoff.

Spending almost 12 minutes vacuuming 40+ sq. ft. of carpet — all to pick up 6 grams of dust — was painfully slow.

However, it’d likely be more worthwhile if I vacuumed every 2–3 days or even weekly rather than daily (cat mom problems). I can see this coming in handy for heavily soiled carpet, such as the carpet around the litter box or by the front door.

Though it wasn’t wildly efficient per minute, vacuuming slowly maximized the debris picked up per square foot, making it the winner of this test.

The Baking Soda Test

This one might get folks a little riled up. For the Baking Soda Test, I marked out ~1 sq. ft. of carpet and then slow-vacuumed inside it to remove any dirt within it.

Then, I purposely sprinkled 25 grams of baking soda on the patch and — brace yourself — gently rubbed it in with a soft brush. Since slow vacuuming digs deeper into the fibers, theoretically, it should pick up more of this now-embedded baking soda. Many also argue that some baking soda gets “lost” under the carpet fibers, so this test may confirm that.

I first used the slow vacuuming method to see how much it picked up. I then did the same experiment again at a normal vacuuming speed to determine how the two methods compared.

Here are the results. For some added razzle-dazzle, I added the percentage of the baking soda it picked up.

Admittedly, there was a SNAFU during both tests; the brushroll got stuck on the tape at the start. If we ignore that, slow vacuuming “missed” only 2 grams of baking soda, while a normal pace fell 6 grams short.

This is a significant difference, but it speaks to the major benefit of slow-motion vacuuming. Going slowly lets the bristles dig deep into the carpet fibers to remove dirt and dust. The faster pace session collected most of it but likely didn’t get the deeper set particles.

And yes, some baking soda was left behind, but it’s possible that a second go-over with slow vacuuming would’ve fixed that!

The winner in the coveted (AKA: I just made it up) Baking Soda Test is slow vacuuming and by a significant margin.

The Timed Test

The final test was the Timed Test. I set a timer for three minutes to see how much debris each method sucked up within that period. I also wanted to see how much space I could cover for both.

Now, this experiment was far from perfect, as each test involved different areas of the dining room and, thus, possibly varying levels of debris. But it might provide some insight into whether slow vacuuming actually sucks up more dirt than regular vacuuming despite covering less area.

Anyway, here are the results:

To quote Owen Wilson, “Wow.” 

Vacuuming at a “normal” speed was much more efficient in one sense: I cleaned over half the room in the time it took to clean less than a quarter of it going slowly. And as you saw in the Hallway Test, normal vacuuming was better for debris collected per minute.

However, slow vacuuming wins in every other category. It picked up 7.4 times more debris per square foot and 2.33 more per minute than slow vacuuming did.

Now, for kicks, let’s assume that slow vacuuming picks up 100% of debris (it doesn’t) and that the entire dining room has the same amount per foot (again, no).

With normal-paced vacuuming, I covered 40.5 sq. ft. of carpet. So, if I slowly vacuumed that same area, it should pick up 21 grams, indicating that normal vacuuming only picked up ~14% of what was in the carpet. That’s a considerable difference.

Though it covered much less area in the allotted time, slow vacuuming is the winner by a landslide. It picked up more than twice as much debris in a smaller space within the same timeframe.

How To Slow Vacuum the Right Way

Now that you know why (and how) slow vacuuming works, let’s discuss how to do it correctly.

Remove Obstacles That May Get In the Way

First, remove any small objects — like shoes or toys — that can obstruct the vacuum’s path. Doing this now will also prevent you from sucking up things with your vacuum that you shouldn’t

Move lightweight furniture like chairs and small tables out of the way. If there’s large furniture, like dinner tables or sofas, you’ll vacuum around them (or under them with an attachment).

Choose the Right Vacuum Setting

If your vacuum has an adjustable height setting, choose one suitable for the floor type. A higher setting is best for carpets because the brushes reach deeper into the fibers. Meanwhile, a lower setting is best for hard or tile floors. 

vacuum height setting knob
Vacuum height setting knob with five settings

Set it too high, and the brushroll won’t properly agitate the carpet fibers, especially for low-pile carpets. If it’s too low, the vacuum will be difficult to push, and the brushroll may stop spinning, which can strain the motor.

Some vacuums also come with adjustable power settings. If yours has this, choose a setting that’s powerful enough to pick up dirt but not so powerful that it’s hard to push the vacuum.

Begin at the Far Corner of the Room

You’ll want to start vacuuming in the corner furthest from the door and then vacuum your way out of the room. This will prevent you from walking over — and dirtying up — the area you’ve already cleaned. 

Move It Slow + Steady With Overlapping Passes

Start by pushing the vacuum forward slowly at a consistent pace. Then, slightly overlap the previous path as you pull the vacuum back toward you. This will help you pick up debris that the edge of the vacuum didn’t get the first time. 

Spend 20–30 Seconds Per 2–3 Sq. Ft.

Remember: the key word here is “slow.” That means allotting 20–30 seconds of vacuuming for every 2–3 sq. ft. It’s a lot slower than you think, so you may need to count in your head the first few times until you master the pace. 

Keep in mind that this time frame combines the forward and backward motion. For every square foot, you’ll go about 10 seconds forward to loosen the debris and then another 10 seconds backward to pick it up.

Change Your Direction Every Few Strokes

After completing a few forward/backward passes, switch direction. This will lift the carpet fibers from various angles to loosen trapped debris. But it can also prevent the fibers from flattening in one direction. 

Changing directions will take longer, but the cleaning will be much more thorough. If you don’t have extra time, skip this step. 

Use Attachments for Corners + Edges

With the main floor area now clean, you can work your way to the corners and edges — places regular vacuuming tends to miss. These areas are narrow, but they can collect a lot of invisible dust.

Use your vacuum’s crevice tool to clean tight corners and along baseboards. Switch to the brush attachment when cleaning around furniture legs or on upholstery.

Final Thoughts

Though slow vacuuming is the “right” way to vacuum, it’s also how vacuum manufacturers intended. However, most of us underestimate how long it takes to vacuum each floor section. 

Slow vacuuming will consume more time. But you may also need to clean less often, and it can pick up debris that you didn’t even know was there!