Why does my Dyson vacuum cleaner keep stopping and starting?

As powerful as Dyson vacuum cleaners are, regularly topping our Best vacuum cleaner and Best cordless vacuum lists, they can run into the occasional problem. One of the most common, particularly with the cordless models such as the Dyson V10, is that they can often keep stopping and starting, not giving you a continuous stream of suction.
If your Dyson vacuum cleaner keeps stopping and starting (pulsating), we’ll show you how to diagnose and fix problems on all models. We’re using a cordless cleaner here, although the basic information remains the same for corded models, too.

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Power problems
First, make sure your vacuum is properly plugged in, or – in the case of a cordless vacuum – fully charged. Cordless Dysons are small and powerful, but they need to be charged regularly, particularly if using the MAX (extra-powerful) mode, where available.
A flashing light can indicate the vacuum’s battery needs charging. Although, depending on your particular model, flashing lights may also point to a blockage or other problems. Once charged, make sure you unplug the vacuum before trying to turn it on – cordless vacuums don’t tend to work while connected to a power outlet.
It’s also worth remembering that the battery life of any electronic appliance is likely to degrade over time. How fast this happens will depend on your particular model and pattern of usage. If the battery is no longer charging – or lasts only for a few minutes on the regular (not MAX) mode – you may need to replace it.
I had an older model, a Dyson DC35 from around 2012, which wouldn’t run for longer than 20 seconds no matter how much charge it had received. A new battery pack fixed the issue.
Related: Best cordless vacuum cleaners

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Checking for blockages
One of the first things to do when your Dyson vacuum cleaner keeps starting and stopping is to empty the bin. It may be full, or the machine may simply perceive it as too full to continue working. Dyson vacuum cleaners require constant airflow through them to work, and a full bin can stop this from happening.
Make sure there’s no dirt lodged in the top part of the bin. You may need to give it a knock or two, or even use a thin blunt object to get rid of all the bits. Next, it’s worth checking for blockages elsewhere within the vacuum – in the stick, or in the wand and the hose for cylinder and upright models. Make sure your machine is switched off and not plugged into a power socket.
Other blockable culprits include any of the tool attachments, particularly motorheads, which can have problems with tangled hair.

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Sometimes, it may be necessary to open up the cleaner head. On my Dyson V8 Animal – as with a few other models – this can be done simply by using a coin.
If no visible blockages present themselves, it may be worth cleaning your filters, particularly if you haven’t done so in a while.

How to find your filters
Filters prevent dust from escaping and from making its way into the motor. Since filters are designed to trap dust, it makes sense that they can also block airflow when they’re full of dust. Cleaning a filter rejuvenates your cleaner.
How often you clean your filters will depends on how often you use your vacuum. The official line from Dyson is that with normal use, filters should be cleaned every month. I live in a small flat with wooden floors and a few small rugs, so I tend to clean the filters of my V8 Animal every couple of months.
First, make sure you turn off your vacuum and disconnect it from any power supply. If you have any problems finding the filters, it’s best to refer to your vacuum’s instruction manual. If you no longer have yours to hand, most manuals are also easily available on Google.
Depending on the model, your vacuum may have one or more filters that need cleaning – including both a pre-filter and post-filter. In many Dyson models, the post-filters are HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, which help to prevent allergens from circulating in your home.
For example, my V8 Animal has both a pre-filter and post-filter, while a Dyson V7 Trigger has only a pre-filter. Meanwhile, the latest Dyson Cyclone V10 models only have one filter – and a handy light indicates when to wash it and when the filter isn’t replaced correctly.

As a general rule, Dyson’s cordless vacuums tend to have a long, narrow removable pre-filter on top of the bin. Remove this by pulling it straight up. The post-filter can be found at the back of the vacuum and can usually be removed by twisting it counter clockwise.
The corded upright and cylinder Dyson vacuum cleaners also have filters that sit above the bin or inside the “ball” part – or both.
The filters are usually purple-bluish in colour. Pre-filters are often shaped like long, soft cones with a plastic circle on top, while post-filters are usually round and encased in hard plastic.

Washing the filters
At first glance, the filters may look clean, even if you haven’t washed them for a while. However, don’t be fooled by appearances – much of the dirt and dust is likely hiding inside the filter, and it will become apparent once you begin rinsing it.
Dyson recommends washing the filters in cold water until it runs clear (without using any detergent or soap). While you should squeeze and twist the long pre-filters to dislodge any dirt inside, you can simply rinse out the post-filter, taking care not to damage the pleats inside.
After washing, the filters need approximately 24 hours to dry. While Dyson advises you not to put the filters in the tumble dryer or in the oven, anywhere slightly higher than room temperature will do nicely.

You may not need the full 24 hours, or you may need a little longer. Just make sure the filters are totally free of dampness when putting them back in the machine, or else you may be left with an unpleasant mildew smell.
If your filter looks particularly worn out or continues to smell strongly even after washing and drying, you may need a new one. When replacing the filters, make sure they’re fitted back in properly as your vacuum cleaner may struggle to operate otherwise.
Buying spare filters and swapping them around regularly during cleans can be a good technique, as your vacuum cleaner is always ready to go and you don’t have to wait for one set of filters to dry.
If after cleaning the filters and replacing them correctly your Dyson continues to start and stop, it’s wise to contact the manufacturer.
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