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How To Clean Up Pine Needles Without Sacrificing Your Vacuum or Your Sanity

Illustration for article titled How To Clean Up Pine Needles Without Sacrificing Your Vacuum or Your Sanity
Photo: Michael Fenton (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Jolie, what kind of vacuum cleaner should I use for pine needles?

There are basically three options for pine needle pick-up — regular vacuums, shop vacs; or rubber brooms. Sidebar before we do this thing: Jumbo and long-handled lint rollers are great for picking pine needles up off of furniture or tree skirts.

If you already have a vacuum, whether it’s a bagged, canister or stick-style model, you can definitely use it to clean up pine needles, though they can stick together and form blockages in traditional vacuums if you try to clean up too many at once. So! Be aware of that, especially if you have a pricey Miele or Dyson vacuum that you’ll be pissed about having to repair or clean. And I know it’s tempting, but don’t use a robot vac for pine needle cleanup. It’s not worth it.


There are some steps you should take before using a regular vacuum for pine needles, that will help to protect the machine and make the process as effective as possible. The first is to empty the bag or canister before vacuuming pine needles. That may seem counterintuitive, but the reason for it is that pine needles are bulky, and so starting with an empty vacuum will allow the machine to perform better. Then, after vacuuming, go ahead and empty the bag or canister again, so that the sticky needles don’t leech onto the interior of the vacuum, taking up space and leaving a distinct Christmas-y scent behind.

The other thing that’s important when using a standard vacuum for pine needles is to switch to the hose attachment, if possible. Hose attachments allow the needles to travel directly into the bag or canister without obstruction, while using the standard brush attachment will result in needles getting stuck in the bristles.

But let’s say you don’t want to risk mucking up your regular vacuum, or you don’t have one to be mucked up. No problem, because the ideal vacuum to use for this job is a Shop Vac. (Shop Vac is a brand name but it’s like Kleenex in that it’s the commonly used term to describe the entire category of what are more properly called wet/dry vacs.) I’m really wild for these things, and I live in a perpetual state of sadness because I don’t live in a home large enough to justify owning one, so instead I’ve taken to pressuring my betrothed friends to add a Shop Vac to their wedding registries.

ANYway. A Shop Vac is really the ideal machine for pine needle pick-up and they also have the benefit of being easy on the wallet — the 2.5 gallon Shop Vac will only run you about $35, while larger capacity models cost in the $50-$70 range, depending on the attachment kits that come along with them. Also, many of the smaller Shop Vacs are wall-mountable, so if you, like me, are short on storage space but really, really, really want one of these beauts, that may help you to justify the purchase.


I really wish I didn’t know that, to be honest.

Maybe you’ve read all of this and you’re like, “Well, I have a really nice regular vacuum that I’m afraid to muck up with tree droppings, but I don’t want to give up the money or space needed to invest in a Shop Vac, I guess I’m screwed, ho hum.” Well great news! You’re not screwed. You just need to get yourself a rubber broom. The benefit that rubber brooms have over the more traditional rush-style brooms (these guys) is that sticky pine needles won’t, um, stick to them.


Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person

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