A shop vac is an essential tool for quickly and efficiently cleaning up messes in your home, garage, workshop, or car. These specialized vacuum canisters are equipped to suction up dry and wet debris, giving you double-duty cleaning power.
Available as a portable, cordless canister for small messes or in a larger, heavy-duty size, shop vacs are sized according to their capacity in gallons. Other factors to consider when shopping for a wet/dry vac include the airpower or CFM, included attachments, and tank material. All of these factors affect the usability and durability of a model. Keep in mind that shop vac often refers to a specific brand of wet/dry vacuum or to this category of vacuums in general.
Suck up dirt, dust, debris, muddy messes, and more with the help of these top shop vacs on the market.
Types of Wet/Dry Vacuums
The ability to clean up both wet and dry messes with the same vacuum eliminates the need to lug two different types of vacuums around. In small homes and workshops, storage space may be limited, so multipurpose cleaning tools will often leave more open floor space. In the wet/dry category of vacuums, three types stand out: shop vacuums, vacuum mops, and handheld models.
A mainstay in the DIY industry, shop vacuums have high-powered motors and heavy-duty suction power to suck up all manner of dirt and small construction debris. They feature bucket-style canisters that hold a large amount of debris, up to 14 gallons or more. These models come with a long flexible hose and a couple of different attachments for vacuuming when standing or for sucking up debris from tight spaces.
Many shop vacs also clean up liquid messes, earning the label “wet/dry” shop vacs. These powerful vacuums can help reduce the amount of water in a flooded carpet or help drain out a clogged sump pump basket. A wet/dry shop vacuum also can be used for a variety of cleaning tasks, including cleaning gutters.
A handy newcomer to the home-cleaning arsenal, vacuum mops combine traditional vacuuming ability with floor-washing ability. They resemble conventional household vacuums but may contain both a dust collector bin and a dirty-water collection bin. Depending on the model, users can often switch between vacuuming and floor-washing at the touch of a button.
Depending on the brand and quality, vacuum mops may come with additional features, such as rotating brushes, floor lights, and easy-dump collection bins. Some also come with a reservoir for holding floor-cleaning solution.
For quick cleanup jobs, a handheld wet/dry vac can be very helpful. These compact little cleaners come in a variety of styles.
- Shop style: Made to resemble larger shop vacs, these miniature vacuums feature the same canister-type collection system but on a much smaller scale. They include flexible hoses and sometimes a couple of attachments. They also come with a handle for carrying them along while vacuuming up wet or dry messes.
- Indoor style: Often cordless, these handheld vacuums feature a motor base that snaps onto a vacuum funnel that can be used to pick up pet hair from a sofa or carpeted stairs in a jiff.
- Tool style: Major power tool manufacturers will often make small handheld dry or wet/dry vacuums that accommodate the same lithium-ion batteries required to run their larger cordless tools. For those who use one brand of power tool regularly, it’s a simple task to switch a battery from, say, a cordless drill to a handheld shop vac to clean up a small mess quickly.
What to Consider When Buying a Shop Vac
The best wet/dry vac is equipped to help you clean a kitchen spill and the sawdust from a DIY project in your basement. There are many different types of wet/dry vacs on the market. One size does not fit all when it comes to the choice of a wet/dry vac. When shopping for a wet/dry vac, take into consideration how you will use it before you decide upon one.
- Size and weight: Wet/dry vacs are available in a range of sizes and weights. The smallest models are lightweight and compact, but a larger model may be what you need for the workshop or basement.
- Noise level: The noise level of an operating wet/dry vac can be as loud as a working dishwasher. That may not be much of a concern if you need one for the warehouse, but the noise level can affect your decision if it is for the kitchen. It helps to know that the best shop vacs for home use operate at less than 70 decibels.
- Corded vs cordless: Rechargeable battery-powered cordless wet-dry vacs are an option if portability is important for indoor and outdoor cleanups. The capacity of these types of wet/dry vacs is low, usually 3 to 5 gallons.
- Attachments and extra features: Wet/dry vacs commonly have space for storage of shop vacuum attachments and useable features. On-board or built-in tool storage holds the nozzles and cleaning accessories along the side of the vacuum. Hoses and nozzles with large, wide passageways greatly reduces the potential for clogs and blockages.
- Safety features: There are wet/dry vacs with safety features to ensure safe operation around children and pets. Many models of the best wet/dry vacs have retractable safety cords to lessen the risk of tripping or stepping on it. Emergency shutoff options can cut the power supply to the wet/dry vac. Others are equipped with wheel locks to keep the shop vac in place during use.
- Wall mounted: A wall-mounted shop vac is the best cordless shop vac option for limited space, such as a garage workshop.
Our Top Picks:
We love the Ridgid HD1600 for a number of reasons. First, it has enough power and airflow to take care of just about any cleanup job you can imagine—in the shop or on the job site. The 16-gallon container also holds quite a bit of material before you have to empty it. You can go bagless with this vac. However, for less mess, use a dust bag or liner, and you’ll have almost continuous use with little downtime. Just charge it to the job.
We also love the NXT feature whereby the top of the Ridgid HD1600 comes off to let you use the motor as a 6.5HP 161 CFM blower. At a price point of less than $120, it saves you more than $50 from the Red/Black Ridgid models with nearly identical features and specs. Add on a 20-foot cord, HEPA filter compatibility, and the locking hose and accessories, and this is our best rated shop vac overall.
If you want portability with power, check out the Vacmaster Beast 5-gallon shop vac. Its 5.5 HP motor pulls 102 CFM and 82.6″ of water lift to outpace most of the competition in this smaller capacity class. The 7-foot hose has a diameter of 1-7/8″ to match the smaller class and the 18-foot long cord gives you ample room to move around while you work.
This second-best small Shop-Vac Hawkeye 5870200 offers plenty of power without the storage of a larger wet/dry vacuum. It delivered 50 inches of water lift while providing 90 CFM of suction. We also loved the included accessories, from the claw nozzle to the crevice adapter—plus how they store right on the vac.
A similar model, the Shop-Vac 5910400 shaves another gallon off while managing 78 CFM and an impressive 70 inches of water lift. For smaller cleanup, it’s hard to beat the portability of this wet/dry shop vac.
When vacuuming out trucks or vehicles with rubber mats we typically prefer a larger vac with a long hose. For small vehicles with carpeted floors, however, the Milwaukee 0882-20 works remarkably well. The reason comes down to its extreme portability. You can easily move it from the trunk to the driver’s seat—and then put it up when you’re done.
Milwaukee also managed to eke out 40 CFM of suction from this cordless handheld shop vac—enough for basic cleanup. While the canister holds just 36 ounces—72% less volume than the Milwaukee M18 2-gallon wet/dry vacuum—it’s enough to tackle your periodic car vacuuming.
Another reason we think this is the best shop vac for a car or truck has to do with its convertibility. For example, if you want a quick stick vac, just slap on the two included extension wands and the floor tool. You can easily vacuum your car—and then sweep up up a couple of small rooms before the battery runs out.
This Craftsman wet dry shop vac is a heavy-duty model, which means It’s powerful enough to pick up all your messes. It also has a blower feature for getting rid of leaves and lawn junk, and that extra power goes a long way in reverse, as well.
It features a 6.5-horsepower motor and comes with three nozzles — a utility nozzle, a nozzle for the car and a nozzle for wet messes. Speaking of which, the tank is also easy to empty when filled with water or other liquids, as it’s got an extra-large drain.
The Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 is currently the fourth best-selling wet dry shop vacuum on Amazon, with thousands of satisfied customers. It’s currently designated with an Amazon’s Choice tag — reserved for products recommended by the site — and it has 4.8 stars out of 5 based on nearly 5,000 customer reviews.
The DeWalt DXV16PA 16 Gallon Poly Wet Dry Vacuum is more expensive than some of the shop vac models on this list, but if you buy it, you’ll soon find that you get what you pay for. Just for starters, it comes with a ton of accessories, including three filter bags, a silencing muffler and a host of nozzle attachments. It also has wheels and an attachable transport handle, making it easy to move no matter how full it is.
None of that matters if the vacuum itself isn’t great, but thankfully this one is. Like other models on this list, it also operates as both a vacuum and a blower and has the power necessary to do a great job on either task. Finally, the 20-foot power cord ensures you can reach every part of a standard garage (or house).
The DeWalt DXV16PA currently has 4.7 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with over 600 customer ratings. Satisfied users cite the power of the model, the flexibility of the hose and the handiness of the accessories as pluses.
An all-purpose shop vac is an indispensable tool for a wide variety of household tasks and light-duty garage clean-up. This 12-gallon model with a 5HP motor offers enough capacity and suction to handle dry or wet messes but is easy to maneuver, thanks to the lightweight polypropylene tank and casters. For liquid clean-up, keep in mind that capacity will be more limited. An internal float will shut off suction once the canister reaches full capacity at 8.5 gallons.
Some shop vacs can be rather noisy, but this Vacmaster includes an exhaust cover that keeps noise levels to 71 decibels. It has a CFM rating of 133, which comes in handy if you use the detachable blower to clear leaves and small debris from your space quickly. The blower outputs air at speeds up to 210 MPH.
With durability, power, impressive storage collection capacity, and several attachments, the WORKSHOP Wet Dry Vacuum is for big-time cleanups. It boasts a large, 6.5-horsepower motor and a copolymer drum that resists the potential cracking of the standard plastic drum found in many wet/dry vacs.
This model has a built-in auto-shutoff float that senses when the liquid level in the drum gets too high and shuts off the vacuum to prevent overflow accidents. In addition to a blower connection, a drain spout, and a 7-foot hose, the attachments list runs long and includes all of the following: a wet nozzle, a utility nozzle, a car nozzle, and two extension wands.
Sometimes, when a tool claims to have a certain amount of power, it ends up disappointing. The WORKSHOP shop vac tied for the most powerful model in our test, and it did not disappoint. This vacuum cleaned up both dirt and muddy water the fastest of all the vacuums in our test. We also liked that this model has a lot of onboard storage spots, allowing for more attachment organization than most other models. Also, draining out the muddy water was a cinch, thanks to the built-in drain plug.
The Armor All Utility Wet/Dry Vacuum is especially good for using inside a car as it’s been designed to pick up both wet and dry debris. This model even comes with the right type of accessories needed for cars and motorcycles.
One of the top features is the vacuum can be converted so it can blow, which is fantastic for removing dust and debris from your vehicle as well as drying your car grills and wheels. Designed for cleaning both wet and dry spillages, this handy shop vac can really do it all. As a bonus, this powerful vacuum is quiet too, thanks to the built-in air and noise diffuser. It’s a powerful little machine with a 2 horsepower motor that automatically shuts off when it detects that the tank is full.
Additionally, the vac features a 10-foot cord, 6-foot hose and vehicle-specific tools, including a deluxe car nozzle, blower nozzle and detail brush. However, for some, the suction may not be strong enough to pick up ground-in, stubborn dirt and debris.
Here’s a shop vac that looks as good as it functions. The Shop-Vac Stainless Steel Wet/Dry Vacuum boasts a sleek and shiny stainless steel exterior, which makes it stand out visually and enhances its durability for the long term. Forget about a plastic housing that can crack or wear; this machine is built to last. This shop vac provides great horsepower (4.5 peak horsepower) and a nice range of features.
It’s made with heavy-duty cleaning in mind, and it’s as great for the garage as it is for the car as it features a handy range of accessories that can be neatly stored on the vacuum body.
One of the main selling points of this product is the fact that it has a full circumference dolly, which makes the vacuum easier to maneuver. However, there are a few disadvantages you might experience. Setting up the shop vac can be a challenge; it requires some assembly, and all of the components may not fit together perfectly. Additionally, the top of the vacuum doesn’t seal, which can be messy for cleanup.
The last Shop Vac we are going to look at is the Makita XCV11Z Portable Wet/Dry Vacuum. This vacuum is notable because it is cordless, has a decent-sized storage capacity for its weight, and is highly versatile for a variety of household purposes and needs.
The Makita XCV11Z is powered using an 18V LXT lithium-ion battery, which allows it to have a powerful brushless motor that delivers 57 CFM and 27 inches of water lift suction. However, it’s horsepower is a bit lacking. This battery allows the model to run for a complete hour, and the model comes with an LED battery indicator that shows the charge level for convenience.
Additionally, the Makita XCV11Z comes with highly functional filters. It includes a HEPA filter that captures 99.97% of particles at 3 microns and larger. More so, the filter cleaning system maintains optimum suction efficiency and a longer filter life.
How to use a shop vacuum
In a lot of ways, using a shop vacuum is like using a regular vacuum — you point the nozzle at the mess, flip the switch and it does the work. However, in addition to the similarities, there are also differences unique to shop vacs, and it’s important to know them before getting started.
Like most regular vacuums, shop vacuums operate using filters. These filters are critical for use, as they catch the debris you vacuum up. This prevents it from clogging the shop vac, taxing the motor, or being released via the vacuum’s exhaust ports.
“You need to use a filter with a shop vac, because otherwise all the debris will blow right back into the room with you,” says Spicer. “Depending on the particle level of what you are vacuuming you may need to get a fine or medium filter. Another thing to note, if you have a wet/dry vac, then you need to remove the filter before vacuuming liquids, as the liquids can damage the filter.”
Additionally, if you use a bag in your shop vac while vacuuming dry waste, that must also be taken out before vacuuming up liquids. It’s recommended that you clean your vacuum’s filter at least every three months and that you change the filter altogether at least once a year.
Finally, there’s a specific way to empty shop vacs. If you’re vacuuming dry material and using a bag inside the tank, all you need to do is take out the bag and toss it all away. If you’re not using a bag, it will be harder to empty dry debris — you’ll have to dump the contents into a trash can and probably clean the inside of your tank afterward. If you’re emptying water or other liquid, you won’t be using a bag. If your tank has a drain port you can empty it that way — otherwise, you’ll need to tip it over to pour the liquid out.
Is a shop vac the same as a wet/dry vac?
The terms are often used interchangeably, but some shop vacs might not feature wet-suction capabilities.
What power source do shop vacs use?
Shop vacs use electricity to run. Most come with a cord that you plug into an outlet, but some have a rechargeable battery. Shop vacs with cords have an unlimited supply of electricity, but they require extension cords for more reach. Shop vacs with batteries are more portable, but they require frequent recharges.
Is a shop vac more powerful than a regular vacuum?
That depends on both the quality of the regular vacuum and the quality of the shop vac. In general, however, a shop vac is more powerful than a household vacuum.
Can I vacuum water with a shop vac?
Many shop vacs (not all) also are wet/dry vacuums, and users can suck up water as well as dry messes.
How do I choose a wet/dry vac?
Figure out what type of messes you need to vacuum. Then, select a wet/dry vac with the power and capacity to easily tackle those messes.