How to Use a Kirby Vacuum

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Kirby vacuums are sturdy, versatile and expensive. They have been sold door to door since the 1920s by salesmen who demonstrate the machines. Although some interior changes have been made and materials altered, the operating design of the Kirby has changed little over the years, so instructions vary little from model to model. Having all of its attachments sit in the closet while you use the upright vacuum is a waste of its potential---and your money.

Things You'll Need

  • Kirby vacuum
  • Kirby attachments
Use a Kirby Vacuum
Use a Kirby Vacuum

Step 1

Take a short tour of your Kirby. Its basic design hasn't changed since the company was started. One of the additions is the "gear shift" under the on-off toe pad. Be sure to push the orange lever down to engage the drive when the motor starts. Once you stop the motor, tap the gray lever so you can roll the machine from place to place.

The orange tab engages the drive when the motor starts.
The orange tab engages the drive when the motor starts.

Step 2

Understand that the level on the left side of the motor housing raises and lowers the head of the vacuum to clean the thickest carpet to bare floors efficiently. Wait until starting the motor to set this level then tap it one click at a time to lower the head. The sound of the motor will change pitch indicating that the brushes have begun beating the carpet. Avoid lowering the head more than necessary---too much friction will wear the belt. Always raise the head before putting the vacuum away.

Tap to raise or lower the "business end" of the vacuum.
Tap to raise or lower the "business end" of the vacuum.

Step 3

Know that the heart of the Kirby may be its cast-aluminum motor, but its usefulness lies in Jim Kirby's design, which allows the machine to transform from an upright vacuum to a base for a set of cleaning tools--from a floor wand or corner tool to a stair or upholstery vacuum. With the level in the highest position, flip the "hood" and lift the strap across the front of the Kirby logo. Crank the handle counter-clockwise until the red arrows match up, pulling the belt away from the drive shaft. Pull the lever (it looks like an old-fashioned window sash lock) that holds the head on the body of the vacuum. Every attachment, from the vent for the inflation attachment to the pan for the shampooer-buffer attachment, will attach by pivoting onto the bar underneath the drive shaft and being pinned by this lever. Those attachments with belts to drive brushes will have a crank to lower the belt for use and raise it for removal.

Disengage the belt before dropping the brush head.
Disengage the belt before dropping the brush head.

Step 4

Use the upright vacuum for general cleaning but use the attachments for the hose and extension for carpet edges and corners, upholstery and mattresses, under beds and furniture. There is even an attachment that can be used to comb the dog and pull out all that hair that sheds all over everything. Take some time to learn how to attach the rug and floor cleaning tank and pan. The cap to measure the Kirby detergent sits in the top of the tub and the little hose that connects it to the front pan carries the suds to the pan that sprays it under and pulls the dirty results up on top. A new feature is the on-off switch on the tub that keeps suds from spraying while the machine is picking up.

The Kirby shampoo system leaves carpets clean and nearly dry.
The Kirby shampoo system leaves carpets clean and nearly dry.

Step 5

Always replace bags that are full with model-specific Kirby bags. They twist on easily but may be a bit hard to twist off. Change bags when the dirt reaches the line---overfilling bags will definitely impair the machine's efficiency and may back dirt up into the motor.

Always replace bags when full.
Always replace bags when full.

Tips & Warnings

  • Raise or lower the head as carpet height changes from room to room and always raise the head all the way when changing attachments or storing the machine.
  • The circular hand grip on the neck just above the motor housing on newer models is an improvement that makes it easier to work on stairs and carry the unit from place to place.
  • Prices on Kirby bags varies widely from retailer to retailer and they're not available everywhere. Shop around for the best price before you need more bags.
  • If you've bought your Kirby the usual way---from a door to door retailer, find at least one alternate supplier to "your" Kirby dealer for bags and parts. The machine will probably outlive their business.
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