Best Shop Vacs: Clean Up Quickly and Easily
Clean up messes around your home and garage with these professional shop vacs
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BY Norah Tarichia / LAST UPDATED ON October 7, 2019
If you own an auto shop or spend a lot of time working in the garage, you need to ensure that your workspace is well maintained. You can use a high-performance shop vac to suck up all the dust, dirt, and other small particles that can make your working environment uncomfortable. Check out a few options below.
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Benefits of Shop Vacs
- Powerful clean. Shop vacs tend to have a more powerful suction than a household vacuum cleaner. This makes them better at cleaning larger messes and debris. You’ll be able to clean more effectively.
- Easier maneuvering. Unlike an upright vacuum cleaner, most shop vacs are essentially a bucket on wheels with a hose. The wheels tend to be on casters, which makes rolling them 360 degrees possible.
- Versatile cleaning. If you try to vacuum a wet mess with a standard vacuum, you’ll ruin it. A shop vac is more versatile in the messes it can clean because it can effectively handle both wet and dry messes.
Types of Shop Vacs
These are small wet/dry vacs that are meant to be handheld or portable. They will have a capacity of 2 to 6 gallons. The motor will be relatively small, at 1 to 4.5 horsepower. The nice thing is that you have an option of corded or cordless. These smaller units are ideal for cleaning up messes around the house, car, or boat.
You’ll find that the smaller motors on these units create less sound. This is important if you’re looking for a vacuum that has a quieter operation. These vacuums are ideal for someone looking to clean up small messes.
These shop vacs are a step up in size and will have a 6- to 14-gallon capacity. To power them, the motor will be slightly larger at 5 to 6 horsepower. Most of them will also have a blower conversion option.
If you do projects around the house or in your garage, then this is an appropriately-sized shop vac for your cleaning activities. They will handle most dust, debris, and even a wet basement cleanup.
You can use these vacuums both indoors and outdoors. The downside is that their larger size makes them less portable, so you’ll have a bit more difficulty bringing this vacuum around with you. However, the majority of shop vacs in this category have castor wheels to make moving them easier.
If you have some seriously large wet or dry messes that you need to clean, then you’ll want to consider a large wet/dry vacuum. They have the most storage capacity, at 14 to 18 gallons. They also have the most powerful motors, at 6 or more horsepower.
These machines can handle everything from a small dust pile to heavy-duty commercial use. This makes them ideal for someone who plans to use their shop vac on a daily basis or for work purposes. You may find them to be too large and loud for use in your home or car.
Founded in 1927, the Craftsman brand began as a trademarked brand of Sears. Over the years, the Craftsman name has become synonymous with quality and reliability. Its tools are branded in red and sold around the world. Consider the Craftsman 16 gallon shop vac with a 6.5 motor for a wet/dry vac capable of cleaning most messes.
Founded in 1924 in Pennsylvania, DeWalt manufactures and sells tools. It has grown to be known worldwide for its manufacturing and woodworking tools. The company has seven manufacturing facilities located throughout the United States. The DeWalt 16 gallon shop vac is large enough to handle the demand of even the messiest of projects.
Founded in Connecticut in 1843, this company produces industrial and household tools, hardware, and security products. It sells its products worldwide and is one of the most well-known manufacturers in the industry. Check out the Stanley wet/dry vac and its 4-horsepower engine and 8-gallon tank.
Shop Vac Pricing
- Under $75: These are typically small and portable shop vacs that have less powerful motors. They may also lack some of the fancier features and additional tools.
- $75 to $125: Shop vacs in this price range fall in the medium-sized range for gallon capacity and motor horsepower. You’ll also find they have some nice features like castor wheels, an extended hose length, or a high-end HEPA filter.
- $125 and up: These are the largest or high-quality shop vacs. You’ll find they are the ones with the largest gallon capacity and commercial-quality motors. They also come with extra features and tools to make them the most versatile on the market.
When comparing shop vacs, consider the overall size of the vacuum unit. Smaller units are easier to move around. Some are small enough to be handheld and portable. Other units are larger and are too heavy to lift. These units will be on casters to help you move them around.
A larger unit will have more capacity and power. This makes them better for consistent use and the cleaning of larger messes. So while it will be harder to move a larger unit around, you’ll also get several benefits that make the larger unit better.
You can buy a shop vac with a capacity of 2 to 18 gallons. This capacity is the wet or dry mess that the vacuum can hold before you’ll need to empty it. A larger capacity can clean an increased number of smaller messes or larger single messes between cleanings.
When a shop vac has a larger capacity, the whole unit is larger because it needs to house the larger tank. Larger-capacity units have features to make them easier to use. This includes things like built-in spouts or drains. This will make emptying the larger tank easier and cleaner.
The power is the size of the motor and the suction power of the shop vac. The larger the motor, the larger the debris it can suck up. If you’re only cleaning light dust and dander, then you don’t need a very powerful shop vac. If you’re cleaning a lot of water or wood chips and shavings, then you’ll need a larger and more powerful motor.
- Sound Level. The general rule is that the larger the motor is, the louder the shop vac will be. You should keep this in mind if you plan to use your wet/dry vac in your house or neighborhood garage. Consider the type of motor that’s in the shop vac, and if there is any insulation to dampen the sound.
- Filter. The filter in your shop vac will trap dust, dirt, and debris. This will prevent contaminants from re-entering your environment. The higher-quality the filter is, the better it will clean the air, and the easier you’ll breathe. Check to see if you’ll need to buy new filters or if you can wash and clean the filter.
- Tools. Some shop vacs will come with additional tools to make cleaning easier. This could include brushes, nozzles, extenders, or hoses. The more tools you have, the easier it will be to clean a wider variety of messes. Think about how you plan to use your shop vac to ensure it has the tools you need to effectively clean.
Best Shop Vac Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Remove all small objects from the floor before you start vacuuming. They may block the blower and cause the vacuum to malfunction.
- Keep an eye on the collection bag/canister, and remember to empty it on a regular basis. It may tear if you use it when it’s full.
- If you notice a stain on the mat or surface you’re cleaning, consider treating it with a spot cleaner. Vacuums cannot get rid of the stains.
- Consider doing a deep clean occasionally after vacuuming. It will help you keep the garage surface or your car cleaner for longer.
- Read the manufacturer's recommendations on the correct setting you should adopt for cleaning different surfaces. A hardwood surface may require a different setting from a shaggy rug.
Q: Can a shop vac be used to clean up a vehicle?
A: Yes. You can use it to clean dirt from your floor mats, seat covers, and the truck bed. Most shop vacs can also get rid of pet fur and tiny hair stuck on your seats. A standard shop vac can also fit in a recreational vehicle and be used for clean up.
Q: Can I use a shop vac without the collection bag?
A: Without the collection bag, you may have a hard time draining the fine dust from your vacuum. You may struggle to keep the dust particles from flying around your trash can. Also, all the fine dirt may blow back into the room the next time you switch on the vacuum. If your shop vac doesn't have a collection bag, consider purchasing a reusable cartridge filter that will pick up most of the fine dust.
Q: Can liquids damage a shop vac?
A: It depends on the type of shop vac you have. Some shop vacuums have wet/dry performance, which means that they can be used to clean both solids and liquids from the floor without damaging the electrical system. It, however, may not be suitable for cleaning large pools of water.
We chose the Vacmaster Professional Wet/Dry Vac as our top pick because it can suck up both solids and liquids in seconds. It’s also easy to use, and you can easily detach the hose when you want to move or drain it. It’s one of the best shop vacuums on the market.
The Porter-Cable 5 Gallon Wet Dry Vacuum is also a cheap, but quality, shop vac that you could consider.