50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Play With the Vacuum Cleaner

Task:  Explore the properties of moving air (and maybe sucker the kids into cleaning up a little).


Vacuum cleaner science


  • Wide-mouth jar (needs to be just slightly bigger than the end of your vacuum cleaner hose)
  • Strips of paper
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Clean Filter/Bag (the author notes that it’s a good idea to start with a clean bag or filter when experimenting with the vacuum)

Possible Hazards:

  • Annoying noise
  • Hickey (I was just playing with the vacuum cleaner – I swear!)
  • Lose an eye (*shudders* and reminds kids to keep the hose away from each other’s eyes)

How It All Went Down:

How many times do you catch yourself yelling at the kids that (insert useful household tool here) is not a toy?  The Swiffer, the feather duster, the fly swatter, the vacuum … they’re all much more fun as swords and sibling torture devices than for the boring work they were actually intended to do.  But what if we stepped back for just a second and looked at some of our household tools and appliances in a different way, and maybe appreciated them for the cool inventions that they are?  It might take some serious convincing on your part for the kids to believe you’re actually going to let them play with the vacuum, but the results will be well worth it.  And who knows?  Maybe they’ll be having so much fun they’ll explore its carpet cleaning abilities as well.

We started with “The Siren Jar.”  When moving air is constrained to small tubes or spaces, it starts to do some cool things.  Since air currents aren’t usually visible, this is a neat way to demonstrate how moving air currents can affect  sound.  Remove the lid from a jar.  Turn the vacuum on and insert the hose into the jar.  Slowly bring the hose out until it’s just even with the top of the jar.  Play around with the position of the hose and notice the differences in sound.

“The Buzz Ribbon” is another cool way to show how air waves can change the volume of a sound.  Cut a strip of paper that is about 1/2 the width of the vacuum cleaner hose and up to 12 inches long.  Turn the vacuum on.  Hold one end of the paper strip and let the vacuum begin to suck the other end of the strip into the hose.  Hang on tightly to the strip and gradually let it in the hose until it begins to buzz.  Pay attention to where the sound is the quietest and where it is the loudest.

Bonus points to this experiment, since it emulates the sound of a fart (always a hit in this house).

Here are a few other fun ways to play with your vacuum that we can’t wait to try:

How to Turn Your Vacuum Cleaner into a Bazooka

Feeling Pressured

Make Your Own Giant Inflatables

How Vacuum Cleaners Work (if your kids have more questions)

You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).