Let’s face it, cleaning up after a long day of joyfully making a mess is not something anyone wants to do. Whether you are redecorating the living room, building a doll house in your garage or practicing your blacksmith skills for the next episode of some reality TV show, it is more fun to make a mess than to clean it up.
This article takes a deep look at wet-dry vacuums, or as you probably call them, shop vacs (or even dust extractors). We examine why you need one, how to shop for the perfect model and then give you the 10 best models for specific situations. Read on to find your next industrial vacuum.
Best Shop Vacuums For Wet and Dry Conditions
- 1 Best Shop Vacuums For Wet and Dry Conditions
- 2 Benefits of Using a Shop Vacuum
- 3 Key Features of Shop Vacuums
- 4 10 Best Shop Vacuums
- 5 Proper Care and Maintenance of Wet-Dry Vacs
- 6 How do I Know What Capacity I need in a Shop Vac?
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
- 8 In Conclusion
Which shop vacuum is best for you?
- DeWalt Wet or Dry – Best Battery Powered Vacuum
- Shop-Vac 5989300 – Best Wet Vacuum
- Shop-Vac Micro – Best Interior Wet-Dry Vac
- Stanley 6 Gallon Wet Dry Vacuum – Best Garage Vacuum
- Vacmaster VQ607SFD – Best All Around Shop Vacuum
- CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17596 20 Gallon 6.5 Peak HP – Best Heavy Duty Shop Vacuum
Benefits of Using a Shop Vacuum
Shop vacuums have a long history of being a savior in many situations. More than just a vacuum, these canister Goliaths have been there to help clean up messes, blow leaves, clear drains and many other things. How can they benefit you?
- Quickly clean up large debris, including metal, glass and wood.
- Effortlessly collects wet messes.
- Input and exhaust ports for sucking or blowing.
- High power for even the most stubborn debris.
- Cuts clean up time in half (in most cases).
- Low maintenance.
- Multiple add-ons or tool options to extend abilities.
- Rugged, durable and long lasting.
- High efficiency filtration for fine particle collection.
Key Features of Shop Vacuums
What is it that you should look for in a shop vacuum before you buy? Below I outline some of the more important deciding factors for your purchase. Make sure you know why you are getting your vacuum and where it has the biggest impact in your situation.
When it comes to supplying power to your vacuum, you have two choices: battery power or electrical plug. If you will be near the work area, such as in your garage, inside your home or in the shop, an electrical plug will be the best option.
However, if you need to be mobile, take your vacuum on the road or are working in a construction zone that doesn’t have power, a battery powered model may be best for you.
Not all shop vacuums are created equal. Some have a smaller stature, are lighter and can hold less debris, but they are also more portable. While most vacuums come on a good base of wheels, some may require more.
If you go for commercial grade or high capacity vacuums, you may also want to invest in a vacuum cart, or trolley.
Likewise, if you have a small unit, one that comes with a shoulder strap or easy-carry handle might be a better idea, even if it costs slightly more.
Type of Mess Clean Up
The biggest draw, aside from their immense capacity, is that wet-dry vacs can clean up a pile of wood shavings and then turn around and get that spill your assistant made from knocking over the water cooler .
Knowing what types of messes you tend to make more (wet or dry) will help you pinn down the best model for your needs. However, you don’t need to be too picky, as any shop vacuum can clean up both.
Large Debris or Fine Particles
Unless the upright vacuum in your hall closet has an industrial HEPA filter, you really don’t want to use it for fine particle collection. The exhaust on these household vacuums will take the finer particles and blow them right back out.
Instead, a shop vacuum with a HEPA filter and dust bag will keep all the contaminants trapped inside.
If you want to pick up nails, staples, wood splinters and other larger debris, don’t get in trouble with your wife. Use the shop vacuum for those messes, too.
One of the biggest decisions you will need to make is what capacity the vacuum should be. Further below I will outline how to tell what size shop vac you need. For now, the general rule should be to determine the types of messes, how often you need to clean and how far you have to go to empty the canister.Choose a capacity that will help you by making less trips, holding enough debris to finish in one go and will remain light enough to carry to the dumpster.
The vacuums aren’t known for their low decibel ratings. For the most part they are going to be loud. If you plan to use these indoors you will want to look for models designed for indoor use. Many will come with an exhaust muffler, or have a shielded motor.
However, you will sacrifice some power for a trade off. If you need more power, expect to have a louder vacuum.
Price and Warranty
Finally, the price will be another deciding factor. You should always aim to stay within your budget (unless you actually like sleeping alone on the couch). Sometimes the ideal model is just out of reach.
In these instances it may be wiser to wait a little longer and purchase the better model when you can afford it . If not, you may end up with a vacuum you don’t enjoy or isn’t just right, regretting your purchase and spending even more money later on.
Before you pull our your debit card, make sure you know about the warranty as well. Understand not only how long it covers the vacuum for, but also what it takes on your part to make a claim.
Be sure you can follow these rules before paying for a machine you won’t be able to make a claim on if that need arises.
10 Best Shop Vacuums
Without further ado or fanfare, here are the 10 best shop vacuums for every day cleaning as well as wet or dry messes in and around the house. Each one reviewed, compared and evaluated for its best use.
DeWalt is a name synonymous with DIY home improvement, so it is no wonder they also have one of the best wet or dry vacuums for your garage. The best part is that this corded vacuum can also run on batteries.
The best battery powered shop vac works in the field, when you can’t get to a power outlet, or when you need to finish the job and don’t want (or need) to charge the battery. It is also one of the over 180 tools from DeWalt that run on their 20V batteries.
With a 2 gallon capacity, it will handle almost any clean up you can throw at it, and you only have a single filter to worry about. No more messing with a filter for dry clean up and another for wet clean up. This HEPA rated filter will capture all particles down to 3 microns, effectively removing any in-home allergen causing agent.
There are tool kits available for this vacuum, including hose extensions, crevice tools and brushes, but none of them come with the machine and all are a separate purchase. There are kits, however, that give you all of the tools for one purchase price.
The 5-foot hose isn’t the longest in the game, but it is crush proof, rugged and functional. You do get a flat suction head tool which helps pick up items you don’t want collected (nails, socks, etc.) and is great for cleaning the carpet and upholstery in your car or truck.
It does have a 2-year warranty that is honored by DeWalt or the retailer you make your purchase through.
|Best Battery Powered Vacuum|
|Tank Capacity||2 gallon|
|Peak HP||2 HP|
|Power Source||20v battery or corded|
|Number of Accessories||1 tool|
|Warranty||90-day full refund, 1-year warranty|
When you are looking for a shop vacuum, you may as well take a good look at the company that gave the vacuums their name. Shop-Vac is the leader in wet-dry vacuums and has been since 1965.
While the brand is the face (or name) of the vacuum type, they are also one of the best. Their products defined a series and they know how to make vacuums that last. This stainless steel drum model is not only beautiful to look at, it is also rugged and long-lasting.
So much so, that Shop-Vac backs it with a 3-year warranty and guarantees its performance. It is highly unlikely you will ever need to make a warranty claim, but if you do, the company is right there to ensure your satisfaction.
This particular model comes with 11 tools, including the wet and dry filters plus a filter bag for dust and particle collection.
The biggest draw here is the liquid collection ability. Straight hose or flex hose, you can easily mop up all the water on the floor. It even comes with two water-based nozzles. The gulper will quickly suck up any liquid on the floor in a no-clog manner.
When it comes time to empty the canister, you can tip it, like the days of old, but even with the stainless steel, it doesn’t get too heavy.
You can, of course, use 1, 2, or all 3 extension hoses along with the flex hose to clean far away spaces, hard to reach spots or even overhead. While it is the best at cleaning up wet spills, dry debris, large debris and even blowing leaves are no issue either. Stick with the name that started it all and you can’t go wrong.
|Best Wet Vacuum|
|Tank Capacity||5 gallon|
|Peak HP||4.5 HP|
|Number of Accessories||11 tools and filters|
3. Vacmaster Professional
Vacmaster is back on the list with the Beast series Professional. This vacuum truly is a beast and will make short work of your job site. Whether you need to collect all the nails and brads dropped through the day, or that gallon of liquid in the corner, this vacuum will get it all.
Designed with a commercial use in mind, this is a highly durable and efficient machine. The size keeps it from being the best option for a true industrial capacity wet-dry vacuum, but in most residential and DIY construction settings it is more than you will need.
There are 9 total tools, which include the HEPA rated find particle filter, dry filter and wet filter with filter bag . The extensions and tool tips will get into all the areas you need and a few you didn’t think it could.
Because it has a high-powered 5.5 HP motor, it does produce a lot of noise. However, Vacmaster thought of that, too and included a noise muffler plug for the exhaust port. This drops the decibels drastically and you can even use it inside an occupied space if needed.
One of the best factors, though, is that it comes backed with a 5-year limited warranty . More impressive is that it covers the defects and craftsmanship, of course, but also the motor, hoses, tools and even the wheels. It does not, however, cover the filters.
|Best Small Commercial Vacuum|
|Tank Capacity||5 gallon|
|Peak HP||5.5 HP|
|Number of Accessories||9 tools and filters|
If you have a shop vacuum for the garage, why not have one for the everyday messes inside your home, too? The Shop-Vac Micro is a 1-gallon capacity wet-dry vac that packs a lot of power in a little package.
It may not be suitable for cleaning your entire home, but it will be there when you need it, with enough tools for any mess and it even has a collapsible handle for easy storage.
One of the best features here is that the vacuum itself mounts on the wall, and it comes with a wall-mounted tool holder . You will always know where your tools and hoses are, and the entire package is out of the way when not in use.
It is ideal for kitchen spills, cleaning off the counter, or even taking to the shop for those little table-top messes that occur.
Whatever you need it for, this micro vacuum will get the job done. The standard Shop-Vac 3-year warranty that covers the motor and manufacture defects . When you want the power of a shop vacuum in your home, this is the best interior wet-dry vacuum you can find.
|Best Interior Wet-Dry Vac|
|Tank Capacity||1 gallon|
|Peak HP||1 HP|
|Number of Accessories||7 tools|
If you work a lot in your garage, you need a shop vacuum that can keep up. Stanley is another name that is synonymous with DIY heroes and their products are used at home and on job sites around the world.
The 6-gallon monster produces a lot of suction power and has the storage capacity to handle it. Whether you are cleaning up all the saw dust from the day’s building, or collecting the bits of dry wall from the carpet, this vacuum will be there.
If you happen to have a large shop area, or need more capacity, there is a 12-gallon, 6 HP model available, too. Each one comes with 3 filters and 7 other tools, including the 6-foot hose.
Along with the 10-foot power cord, you can extend over 16 feet to clean any area that needs attention. The Stanley 6 gallon is rated for light commercial use, though it is better suited for a more DIY work space.
When full, the tank can get a little heavy, so you may want to empty long before it gets full. However, the space is there should you need it. The easy-rolling caster wheels keep the machine near you at all times, without worry of tugging too hard or tipping the vacuum over.
With a 1-year warranty , you may be a little leery. You don’t need to be though. If anything is going to go wrong with the unit (from what the warranty covers), it’s going to happen within the first year.
|Best Garage Vacuum|
|Peak HP||4 HP|
|Number of Accessories||10 tools and filters|
Vacmaster returns to the list once more. This time with the best all around shop vacuum available . With a high cost to value ratio, this stainless steel model is a beast inside, outside or around your home.
What you will find is that this unit can’t be destroyed. You could probably light it on fire and toss it off a cliff, only to find it at the bottom of the ravine suck up dirt while laying on its side (please don’t test this).
This is an ultra rugged vacuum and a powerhouse that will collect anything and everything. If you need it inside to clean up that gallon of milk that fell from the fridge, or in the shop to gather the remnants of that board you destroyed, no problem.
While it doesn’t have the most powerful motor on the market, the 3 HP is enough to create over 200 CFM air flow.
The tools are where this thing wins the day, though. Not only will it clean your entire shop, you can use the multi-purpose cleaning head and take it inside. There you can clean hard floor surfaces and even carpet.
If maintained and cared for, it could be the last vacuum you ever buy. Offered with a 2-year warranty , you won’t have to worry about anything for quite a while. Just make sure you change the filters when needed and keep it clean. This Vacmaster will serve you well.
|Best All Around Shop Vacuum|
|Tank Capacity||6 gallon|
|Peak HP||3 HP|
|Number of Accessories||11 tools and filters|
Since Shop-Vac already controls the garage, it seems they are making a move to take over the inside of your home as well. I have no problem with this. The All-Around EZ model is small enough to stay portable and strong enough to tackle any mess you can make.
While the entire unit is impressive in its own right, the biggest feature is the ability to hang it on the wall. Both the vacuum and the tools each come with a wall-mount bracket. It stores easily, everything in its place and ready for action.
The round brush is ideal for furniture or even cleaning the upholstery in your car. You can use the gulper tool for cleaning up wet messes in the house or laundry room. If you are extra nice, your wife may let you take it out to the garage for a quick clean up of dust and debris when needed.
Dry messes, hard flooring, carpet and in the shop, this little guy can go anywhere. It weighs less than 10 pounds with all the tools and you can take it almost anywhere. The only thing missing is wheels.
No wheels does make it a little harder to pull around behind you, but with the easy-carry handle it is easily overlooked.
The standard Shop-Vac 3 year warranty covers the entire vacuum, motor and extensions . If there is ever anything wrong with the vacuum, a simple phone call will have you sorted in no time.
|Best Household Vacuum|
|Tank Capacity||2.5 gallon|
|Peak HP||2.5 HP|
|Number of Accessories||10 tools and filters|
When you need the absolute best at the job site, look no further than the Craftsman wet-dry vacuum. This huge 20-gallon capacity monster will clean up anything and everything and have enough room left over for more.
The specialty here is dry debris including metal, glass, wood and drywall . However, it is also quite adept at wet clean up as well. To be honest, you’d be hard pressed to find something this vacuum cannot pick up.
The 7-foot hose is plenty long enough to reach every corner of your shop or the work site. The only downfall is that it doesn’t run on batteries. With this much power, though, you won’t notice. Unless you work at new construction sites without power, the Craftsman wet-dry has your back.
If you decide you are cleaning up a lot of liquids, you may want help with portability. You are in luck. This model also comes with a cart to help you transport it when full. There is a bundle available, but the cart is also sold separately.
There is also a large drain port in the front of the machine low and angled for complete draining of the tank. The only bad news here is that the filter is only standard and not HEPA rated.
The 3-year warranty has you covered as well. Craftsman is eager to maintain customer relations and will go out of their way to fix any issues you may experience.
|Best Heavy Duty Vacuum|
|Tank Capacity||20 gallon|
|Peak HP||6.5 HP|
|Number of Accessories||10 tools and filters|
9. ArmorAll AA255
The ArmorAll wet-dry is designed for dealing with cars and trucks . It comes with enough tools and a long power cord to get the job done. If you need more, there are a lot of other everyday uses it can handle as well.
For detailing the car, the 10-foot power cord and 6-foot cleaning hose gives you plenty of leash to get all the way in the back seat or trunk. It offers you 2 horsepower and has a generous 2.5 gallon capacity tank.
While it won’t do very well cleaning up a construction site, you can also use it in the home for small spills in the kitchen or cleaning up after a little remodel so you don’t get big debris stuck in your upright vacuum.
With the AA255 you will receive the 6-foot hose and 7 other tools. These include a cloth filter (reusable), foam filter (for wet spills), utility head, crevice tool, upholstery brush, car nozzle and blower nozzle.
The 10-foot cord supplies the power and the entire machine is light enough to tote around wherever you need it. The cord and hose wraps keep the longer items stored out of the way and there is a spot on the top case for each tool so you never misplace a thing.
The 2-year warranty covers the motor, hoses and attachments from defects and craftsmanship , but will not cover the filters.
|Best For Automotive Detailing|
|Tank Capacity||2.5 gallon|
|Peak HP||2 HP|
|Number of Accessories||8 tools and filter|
10. Vacmaster VBV1210
For a true powerhouse that works anywhere you need it, the Vacmaster 2-in-1 is going to blow you away, literally. With a powerful 5 HP motor, the suction is incredible, and it converts to a 210 MPH blower to clear your porch, patio and sidewalk in record time.
This is exciting. We all know that most shop vacuums have an input and exhaust port that you can connect the hose to for suction or blowing. The Vacmaster, though, actually lifts off of the collection canister so you can use the blower motor as a leaf blower, extend your reach or anything else you can imagine you need it for.
The tools and attachments all fit both sides as well. So you can use the straight hose for leaf blower, or the flex hose to clean off hard to reach places.
It also comes with an amazing assortment of tools, including the filters, there are 11 tools in all. Included in that 11 piece set are two host extenders and a noise muffler. While this unit is a bit loud, the muffler makes it much quieter without sacrificing power.
When you decide to clean up wet messes, there is a large, low-positioned drain plug which allows quick and efficient emptying without the need to lift or carry the unit.
The 2-year warranty will cover the entire unit against manufacturer defects or craftsmanship . Contacting customer service is fairly simple, too. They are quite helpful and responsive.
|Best 2-in-1 Vacuum|
|Tank Capacity||12 gallons|
|Peak HP||5 HP|
|Number of Accessories||11 tools and filter|
|Hose Length||7 feet|
Proper Care and Maintenance of Wet-Dry Vacs
Just because most wet-dry vacs are made for industrial performance, doesn’t mean they are care-free. You should have a regular cleaning and maintenance regimen to ensure you and the machine are safe, and that the vacuum is in tip-top working order.
- Empty the canister or bags before they get full.
- Clean and replace the filter on a regular basis.
- Periodically check the hose and attachments for damage, wear and replace as needed.
- Check the cord and plug for kinks, damage or broken prongs.
- Clean the entire vacuum regularly, especially after wet clean up. The plastic can hold odors.
- Store in a cool, dry place out of the direct sun when not in use.
How do I Know What Capacity I need in a Shop Vac?
As stated earlier, knowing what capacity you need is a crucial step in choosing the right dust extractor for you, specifically. Most people want to simply pick the largest capacity drum they can afford.
However, with just a little planning and forethought you can get a more affordable vacuum and one that you will actually enjoy using. Use the following chart to help you find the right size.
|1 – 2 Gallon||>5 Gallon||6 – 10 Gallon||20+ Gallon|
|Metal, Nails, Etc||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Heavy, Daily Use||No||No||No||Yes|
Frequently Asked Questions
The most common questions about shop vacuums are answered here. If you have other questions or need more information, please use the comment section below.
Q. How can I prevent or eliminate shop vacuum odors?
- Shop vacuums are made from plastic and polyethylene which can trap and store odors for long periods of time. Much like plastic food containers in the microwave, odors will stain the plastic and stay there almost indefinitely.
To prevent this, using bags or liners will keep dry debris from scratching the plastic giving wet messes a place to get into. When you do clean up wet spills, emptying and cleaning the canister needs to be done as soon as possible.
If the canister already has odors, soaking in bleach water overnight and rinsing clean with warm water and a mild detergent will help remove any odor from bacteria or mold and help remove bad smells.
Q. Do I need a filter for large debris collection?
- The filters are designed for use at all times and are rugged enough to filter larger debris. Since you will also be collecting finer dust and debris it is wise to keep the filter in place. Make sure you clean and inspect the filter regularly and replace as needed.
Q. Are corded shop vacuums more powerful than battery powered vacs?
- For most cases a corded vacuum will have a larger power draw and can produce more motor speed, air flow and suction. Battery powered vacuums aren’t weak, but side by side comparisons will almost always result in the corded vacuum having more power.
Q. Why do I need bags for a wet-dry vacuum?
- Collection bags will help contain the dust and fine debris or particles that you collect along with the larger pieces. They also work as a can liner to help prevent damage to the inside of the canister. Note that bags should not be used when cleaning up wet messes, unless the bag is specifically designed (plastic lined) for wet collection.
Choosing the right wet-dry vacuum should be a simple task. However, there are a lot of brands, styles and features to wade through. With careful planning and a little thought before buying, you can be sure you select the ideal vacuum for your needs.
If you want to get used to the shop vac experience and want a smaller option to start out with, the DeWalt Wet or Dry is a great option. Perfect for detailing automobiles, it is also great for indoor and shop messes, wet or dry.