Best Shop Vacs & Wet/Dry Vacuums

When you need something beyond what a home vacuum can offer, the best shop vacuum is what you need.

Shop vacs, often referred to as wet/dry vacuums let you clean larger areas. In addition, they’re more rugged. More importantly, they can handle wet spills and liquids.

This means you can do your regular dry vacuuming with the benefit of taking care of water and other fluid messes.

Below, we list the best products to consider when you’re in the market for a shop vacuum or wet/dry vacuum.

 

Our Picks: Top Choices for Shop Vacs and Wet/Dry Vacuums

 

What is a Shop Vac?

Shop vacuums are a useful appliance to have in your household. They offer stronger suction compared to regular vacuums. And, have bigger dirt storage capacity. This allows you to clean more efficiently in less time.

Before going any further, it’s also worth noting that Shop Vac is a brand of shop vacuums and wet/dry vacuums. Shop vacuums, as their name suggests, are designed for cleaning stores and establishments. As such, they are better are cleaning bigger areas.

Often, shop vacs are referred to as wet/dry vacuums. The two are similar. But, not exactly identical.

  • To be specific, wet/dry vacuums are a subset of shop vacuums. Although you’ll see a number of manufacturers make smaller wet/dry vacuums for home use.
  • So in essence, a shop vacuum can be a dry vacuum or a wet/dry vacuum. The former is designed to pick up dry particles only. The latter, has the ability to handle both dry and wet objects.

As you’d guess, wet/dry vacuums are very useful. They can vacuum up dirt particles, dust mites, pet dander and more from your carpeting and upholstery. Plus, if need be, you can vacuum up liquid. This is why wet/dry vacuums are commonly found in garages, tool sheds and other work or construction areas.

Not Your Regular Home Vacuum

Unlike the regular upright or canister vacuum, these cleaning appliances look like buckets or small barrels. Attached to these rolling buckets is a large hose. This allows them to pick up bigger objects and fluids.

Once designed for industrial use, they now come in compact models. You’ll see shop and wet/dry vacuums that have as little as 2 gallon capacities. Of course, the bigger units are still available. Many run between 5 and 10 gallons. While there are still bigger ones for large cleaning jobs.

Shop vacuums also don’t have as many filters. They do have one for the motor though. Additionally, all the dirt and liquid are dumped right inside the bucket. You may add a bag if you wish. This makes cleaning better.

The bigger hose and lack of a bag allows these device to pick up fluids and bigger objects (including sharp ones). It also eliminates clogging.

Uses of Shop Vacuums

Shop vacs have a multitude of uses.

For example, draining your above ground swimming pool is easy with a sump pump, until you get down to the last inch of water and algae. A shop vac comes in very handy to vacuum out the remaining water and debris so you can clean your liner, refill your pool, and have fun in the sun over the summer.

A wet/dry vacuum functions similar to your old-style canister vacuum cleaner. And, they were once only manufactured for use in commercial properties.

Over the years, producers of shop vacs have begun creating compact versions that are used in homes across the county.

In the Home

And the reason people love having a shop vac in their home?

Your child spills his cereal and milk all over your floor. All you need to do is grab your wet/dry vacuum cleaner and within seconds, the spill is cleaned up. A regular vacuum cleaner could not pick up the milk and wet cereal because its components could be adversely effected by the liquid. But, a shop vac is constructed to be able to handle it.

In Your Garage, Workshop or Basement

Probably the most useful application of shop vacs and wet/dry vacuums are in work areas. These include your tool shed, workshop, basement or garage.

It is able to clean up dust, dirt and large objects. Plus, if you spill water or other fluids, it will take care of the mess.

 

Wet Dry Vacuums

We’ve touched upon wet/dry vacuums a bit above. Essentially, these cleaning appliances can handle both dry objects like dirt and dust. And, in addition, suck up wet messes including water and other liquids.

How Wet/Dry Vacuums Work

In this section, we delve deeper into how wet/dry vacuums and how they work.

Understanding Wet/Dry Vacuums

The internal electrical components of the wet and dry vacuum cleaner are well-insulated. The dirt collection receptacle is contained separately from its vital mechanisms. This makes your vacuum safe to use with liquids. This eliminates the danger of electrocution or damage to the machine.

You do have to clean the shop vac’s filters periodically. This is especially true after cleaning up large amounts of liquid, i.e. gunky swimming pool water. Besides that, it does not require much maintenance.

As with other vacuums, you may also have to purchase some new filters once in a while.

Basic Design

The design of your wet and dry vacuum cleaner is actually quite simple. Instead of using the usual vacuum cleaner bag, the shop vac uses a two-bucket system. This separates the liquids from the solids into two different chambers.

  • With the intake portion of the vacuum, dirt is sucked up.
  • It then travels along a tube with the debris and liquids.
  • The air flow then reduces over the bucket. This allows the speed to decrease. It also loosens the grip produced by the air so the water, milk or other liquids, along with dirt and debris.
  • This lets all the dirt and fluids fall into the buckets inside your wet/dry vac.

Using this process, all the dirt and liquid is held inside the bucket. Hence, creating way less dirt that blows out back into your house or surrounding air.

Features

  • In addition to suction, most of your wet/dry vacuum cleaners have a blower function. This means they can push air out at a rapid pace. As such, you can use your shop vac as a leaf blower. You can also use it to fill up bicycle tires or your awesome floaty for the swimming pool.
  • Like any other vacuum cleaner, shop vacuums come with several attachments. This allows you to use it for completing tasks such as vacuuming out your vehicle, buffing and cleaning your hardwood floors or linoleum. It can also help to remove grout from the floors tiles in your bathroom.

These vacuums can be used for an array of household chores or as an industrial must-have in businesses or factories. But, like all things they have their drawbacks.

  • It is a pain to have to clean out your shop vac after using it to clean up messy spills.
  • And, if you are sucking up a large quantity of water, the vacuum gets heavy. This makes it hard to carry to dump the water out.
  • There is a plug that you can release to drain the water. But, if there is a lot of debris mixed in with the liquid, you will have to physically dump the canister portion of your wet-dry vacuum cleaner.

When it comes down to it, the pros out-weigh the cons of a wet/dry vacuum cleaner and owning one can help you with a multitude of tasks around your home or business.

 

Pros and Cons of a Shop Vacuum: Wet/Dry Vacuums vs. Regular Vacuums

Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of shop vacuums. Plus, we compare them to your regular home vacuum cleaners.

Pros

  • They pack a lot of suction power. They offer more suction compared to home vacuums.
  • They can pick up large objects as well as liquids. These are things regular vacuums can’t do.
  • Shop vacs are capable of cleaning large areas more efficiently.
  • These appliances come with huge dirt capacity. This lets you clean entire areas without dumping the dirt container’s contents.
  • They’re actually lightweight, even if they look heavy.
  • Regular vacuum attachments can fit into your shop vacuum’s hose.
  • Much cheaper than your standard upright or canister vacuum. Three gallon units cost about $40. Six gallon machines around $60. And large 14 gallon devices go at $130. That’s a lot less than your standard upright vacuum.
  • They’re great for vacuuming hard surfaces.

Cons

  • They’re not pretty to look at.
  • They don’t have a lot of extra features.
  • They don’t have many attachments.
  • They can push out a lot of dust. This is because they don’t have as good a filtration system as regular vacuums. But, if you clean them out regularly, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • If you suffer from allergies and asthma, they’re not for you. They don’t have good dust filtration or HEPA filters.
  • Shop vacuums aren’t suited for cleaning carpets. You’re much better off with an upright or canister vacuum for rugs and carpets.
  • They are loud and noisy.
  • Their size and shape makes them harder to maneuver.

 

Choosing a Shop Vac or Wet/Dry Vacuum: Buying Guide

1. What and Where Do You Plan to Use It?

Much of your decision making and the features you choose will depend on what you plan on using your shop vacuum for.

  • One of the first questions is: Do need a wet/dry vacuum?

If you want to do wet and dry pick up, you’ll need one of these. Keep in mind not all shop vacuums are equipped for wet cleaning. If you need to vacuum liquids, make sure to choose a wet/dry vacuum.

  • Next question: Where will you be cleaning?

Shop vacuum cleaners are great for garage, tool shops, and basements. They’ll suck up screws, large debris and even sharp objects.

They also work very well for cleaning hard floors and flat surfaces.

But, they’re not ideal for carpets and rugs. If you want to get a thorough clean on these surfaces, you’re better off with an upright vacuum that has a brush roll.

2. Size

In general, shop vacs are designed to be large. That’s because they were meant to clean up industrial messes. As such, you’ll see a lot of them that are between 5 gallons to over 15 gallons in capacity.

This also means they’re large physically. This will be a factor if you don’t have a lot of space to store it in.

The good news is, today there are compact, portable models. These come with smaller 1 to 2 gallon capacities. They’re easy to carry. And, don’t take up a lot of space.

If you’re going with wet/dry vacuums, keep in mind that when they’re filled with water, they can get very heavy. This makes them difficult to push around. And more difficult to unload the contents.

3. Performance

Most manufacturers will give you the motor’s horsepower. This figure does give you a basic idea of how strong the motor is. Unfortunately, a high HP doesn’t always translate to high suction. More so, it doesn’t mean the product offers high performance.

In addition to peak horsepower, which tells you the highest output of the motor, there are a few other figures to consider.

  • Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM): This is the unit for how much air flow the vacuum has at its largest opening. As such, the stronger the CFM, or airflow, the better it can pick up debris. CFM is more applicable to small, finer objects that are light in weight. These include dust, sand and wood chips.
  • Air-watts (AW): This is also referred to as Air Power by some manufacturers. Air watts is the resulting power from the amount of airflow (in CFM) the vacuum produces. In simple terms, air watts is more applicable when you need to pull in larger objects. This includes nuts, bolts or small heavier objects.
  • Sealed Pressure (SP): Sealed Pressure is also called Water Lift. This refers to suction pressure. As such, it tells you how well it can suck up water and other liquids. The figure is measures in inches of water. Basically, it tells you how many inches it can lift a unit of water up a tube.

4. Noise

One of the issues with shop vacuums, including wet/dry vacuums is they make a lot of noise. This often isn’t an issue because they’re meant to be used in shops or workspaces.

But, if you plan on using them inside the home, you’ll want to get one with a noise diffuser. Not all models come with one. Noise diffusers reduce the volume levels produced during operation.

5. Hose Length and Width

Because these types of vacuums aren’t the most maneuverable, you’ll want to get one with a long hose. The longer the hose, the more you’ll be able to move around.

Do note that a longer hose also means you’ll want it to have better suction. This is because air flow loses power the farther it has to travel through the tube.

In addition to length, the hose’s width or size may affect your decision process. The size of the opening allows you to pick up larger objects.

Here’s a breakdown of sizes to give you an idea.

  • For small debris: get a hose that’s 1.25 inches to 1.5 inches wide.
  • For medium size debris pickup: pick one with 1.5 inch to 2.5 inch opening.
  • For larger objects: choose a hose that 2.5 inches wide.

Picking the right size prevents debris from getting stuck in the middle of the hose, which is frustrating to take out.

6. Filters

The right filter will help prevent dust from escaping back out the vacuum. Which type of filter you get will depending what you’ll be cleaning.

If you’re mostly cleaning fluids and large objects, it isn’t going to be much of an issue. But, if you vacuum a lot of dust or clean your workshop with it, a good filter is key.

Many models come with cartridge filters which are easy to replace. Other available types include cloth, foam sleeve and wet/dry filters.

7. Plastic or Stainless Steel Tanks

These are the two most popular styles.

  • Plastic is lighter. Plus, it doesn’t dent.
  • Stainless steel are more durable. And, they’re easier to clean. They also don’t retain some odors.

8. Attachments

Attachments aren’t the norm for shop vacuums. This is especially true for the bigger units. Some smaller models that are made for home and car cleaning do.

Some of these attachments include a crevice tool, extension wand, car and floor tools.

9. Do You Want a Blower Feature?

This is a good option if you have a yard and need to blower to take care of the leaves. Many products come with this options. They come with a detachable blower port. This allows you to plug the hose to use as a blower.

So, you get two tools in one device.

 

Best Shop Vac and Wet/Dry Vacuum Reviews



Shop-Vac 5986000 5-Gallon 4.5 Peak HP Stainless Steel Wet Dry Vacuum

This is a good all-around choice for homeowners who want to be able to clean their shops, garage, cars and workshops. It has enough capacity for small to medium size cleaning jobs. And, it’s affordable.

The Shop-Vac 5986000 comes with 5 gallons of capacity and runs on a motor with 4.5 peak HP. This gives it the ability to pick up bigger particles as well as liquids. You get 320 air watts of suction power which gives it considerably more power than the standard home vacuum.

We like that its tank is stainless steel. And, they’ve made it easy to clean. You can also connect the hose to the rear of the tank to use it as a blower.

The device comes with a 7 foot long hose that has a 1.25 inch diameter. This makes it easy to clean up both wet and dry messes on your garage or basement floor.

Overall, this is a great tool to have for your shop. It offers good size that can handle small to medium size wet and dry messes. It is also easy to move from one area of the shop or home to another thanks to the caster wheels.

Armor All 2.5 Gallon, 2 Peak HP, Utility Wet/Dry Vacuum, AA255

If all you want in a wet/dry vacuum is to clean your car and do small jobs, this may be a better fit. It’s the cheapest in our best shop vac reviews. This makes it a popular option if you need something for small jobs.

This compact shop vac is perfect for smaller spaces like your garage or workshop. It does a good job in picking up solids and liquids.

The device has a 2.5 gallon capacity. And, it runs on 2 peak horsepower. This is much less than the other products in our reviews, which is also why it doesn’t perform as well with larger messes. It does a sufficient job. But if you need to clean big messes often and pick up large particles, you’ll be better off with a higher capacity unit.

That said, we like that it is lightweight and has various attachments. This makes it ideal for car cleaning. It also works well for accessory cleaning around the shop.

Among the useful attachments are the crevice tool, car nozzle, blower adapter and utility nozzle. The automatic shut off also helps a lot in preventing overflow when the tank is nearly full.

The Armor All AA255 is easy to carry around and you get the benefit of a 10 foot long power cord. The vacuum also has a 6 foot long hose for added reach.

Overall, this is a great choice for smaller spaces. It does well on small cleaning jobs, be it liquids or solids. You get a lot of tools that help you keep your car and workshop tidy.

Vacmaster 12 Gallon, 5 Peak HP, Wet/Dry Vacuum with Detachable Blower, VBV1210

This is among our favorites when it comes with wet/dry shop vacs. The unit is bigger than the two we’ve reviewed so far. Its size makes it perfect for all-around work, whether around your home or in your shop.

Like those above, this is a 2 in 1 tool. You get both a vacuum and a blower. What’s unique about it is you can quickly switch between the two tools. Even better, the leaf blower is detachable from the shop vac and as easily placed back. This lets you quickly change between the 2 tools.

We like that the Vacmaster VBV1210 is solid and durable. It’s also a workhorse. These features make it perfect if you need to do regular cleaning in your yard, garage, workshop or shop.

It comes with good sized 12 gallon tank that’s made with tough polypropylene construction. You also get heavy duty casters to make rolling the unit between areas convenient.

This wet/dry vacuum is equipped with a 5 peak HP motor and uses 7 foot long hose. A 12 foot power cord lets you extend coverage as well. In case you need more, there are a couple of extension wand attachments included if you need to increase reach.

Overall, this is a good sized reliable shop vac that cleans up both big jobs and small messes. This lets you use in the shop or garage as well as inside the home. The size lets you clean up a lot of water and debris without making several passes. The downside, as with anything sizable, is the space it takes up and storage.

Shop-Vac 5986100 8-Gallon 5.5 Peak HP Stainless Steel Wet Dry Vacuum

In between the small and larger wet/dry vacuums is this Shop-Vac. It comes with an 8 gallon tank capacity.

Its size gives you a mix of not being too big to store away in the shed or cabinet. Yet, sizable enough to collect a lot of debris and liquid messes.

As with Shop-Vac models, the unit comes with a solid stainless steel tank. You also get an easy to move device that resembles a rolling trash can. The ease of mobility is thanks in part to its design and balance, along with the casters.

Along with the 8 gallon tank, it comes with a 5.5 peak HP motor. The motor is complemented by a 7 foot long hose that has a 1.25 inch diameter. Together, they allow you to clean up wet spills as well as large particles. The 345 air watt suction offers excellent performance.

The Shop-Vac 5986100 also comes with extra tools in case you need them. These include 3 extension wands, a gulper, crevice tool and wet dry nozzle among others.

Overall, this offers a great middle ground to the huge 12 or 14 gallon shop vacs, and the smaller products. You get the best of both worlds by making size and storage more manageable. Yet, are able to clean up big jobs and small messes.

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