LAST UPDATED: October 7, 2019
Best Shop Vacs: Clean Up Quickly and Easily
Clean up messes around your home and garage with these professional shop vacs
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED 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. Here are a few options you could consider.
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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 2020
This shop vac from Vacmaster comes with a 5-gallon holding tank and a 5.5-HP motor. The entire unit features solid construction that helps to make this vacuum durable. There is a cord mount on the backside of the unit to keep the cord neat while in storage. A tool kit comes with this wet/dry vac that includes a hose, filter, filter retainer, foam filter, and four nozzles.
You’ll appreciate that the hose is nice and wide at 1 ⅞ inches. This means it won’t get clogged like other shop vacs with narrower hoses. The entire unit is also lightweight, which is important since it doesn’t have wheels.
Unfortunately, the suction on this shop vac is weak. The suction tube doesn’t have a secure attachment to the unit either, which can make maneuvering it while you clean a challenge. The latches that hold the unit together can also pop open during use.
This shop vac comes on four castor wheels to help you move it around your home or garage. The tank has a 5-gallon capacity, while the motor has a peak of 4 horsepower. The outside of the canister is made of stainless steel. It also comes with a large tool kit that includes a wand nozzle extender, specialty nozzles, and filter.
What’s really nice about this shop vac is that it has a three-in-one function. You can vacuum both dry or wet debris or you can convert it into a blower. The 15-foot cleaning reach means you can go further and clean more before having to readjust.
The downside of this unit is that the motor isn’t very powerful. This can make it challenging to clean up larger debris or bigger messes. This shop vac won’t live up to the demands of a professional shop.
Your messes are no match for this Craftsman shop vac. It has a 16-gallon tank and a 6.5-HP motor. This unit sits on four durable casters. It also comes with an extensive accessory pack that includes a dust collection bag, 7-foot locking hose, three nozzles, and a filter. If the 16-gallon tank isn’t large enough, there’s also a 20-gallon option.
What makes this shop vac stand out is the 2.5-inch diameter tools. This gives you plenty of width for sucking up large debris. It also has a nicely-sized and shaped handle on the top to make moving the unit around easy. When not in use, you can use the handle to keep the cord neatly organized.
The downside of this shop vac is that the handle can break. It’s also hard to find replacement air filters. The construction of the entire unit could be more durable.
The Stanley Wet Dry Vacuum is a multi-functional shop vac that can handle most messes. Featuring a five-gallon drum that’ll hold debris, dirt, liquids, and more, this shop vac delivers 4.0 horsepower to vacuum up both wet and dry messes.
It’s easy to use — just close the cover, connect the house, and plug it into a power source to get this vacuum running. It weighs 12.2 pounds, but a set of wheels on the base of this vacuum makes it easy to roll around as you clean. You can use it both indoors or outdoors.
With over 15 feet of cleaning reach thanks to a five-foot hose and 10-foot power cord, this shop vac offers flexibility and convenient, easy cleaning. It’ll run for over 300 hours continuously, giving you a long life cycle. When you’re ready to empty this vacuum, an extra-large drain port allows you to do so without any trouble.
This 6-gallon shop vac from DeWalt comes in a bright sunny yellow. It also comes with a motor that’s capable of 4 peak horsepower. There are four rubberized casters for smooth rolling and swiveling. The power cord is 10 feet long. It has a suction and blower function. The hose is 7 feet in length and 1 ⅞ inches in diameter.
There are several nice features that are included. There’s a hose strap to help the hose stay neatly tucked away. The top handle doubles as a cord wrap to keep the cord contained.
The downside of this shop vac is that the switches and latches aren’t as durable as the rest of the unit. This can cause them to break while you’re using the vacuum. It’s also difficult to find replacement bags and filters for this unit.
This shop vac offers you 5 horsepower to power this 12-gallon shop vac. It’s on four durable casters that move 360 degrees. The bottom of the holding tank has a drain spout for easy emptying. The included tools have two nozzle extenders and three differently-sized nozzle heads.
You’ll appreciate how durable this unit is. You can use it to clean up tough messes, and the motor won’t burn out. After several hours of continuous use, it will still be running like new.
The downside of this unit is that it’s quite large and cumbersome to move around. You may also begin to notice a burning smell with extended use. You’ll also need to purchase the special filter if you plan on vacuuming water as it doesn’t come with the vacuum.
This stainless steel shop vac from Stanley has a 5-gallon tank and a 4-horsepower motor. It’s a three-in-one unit that can be both a vacuum and a blower. The unit sits on a large base that’s supported by four caster wheels. There’s a large handle on the top for easier maneuverability. The accessories that come with this unit are three nozzles, a wet foam filter, two filter bags, a clamp ring, a hose, and three wand extenders.
What’s nice about this unit is its versatility. The accessories make it so you can use this vacuum both indoors and outdoors. The wheels make it easy to move it around, while the large tank means you can get more cleaning done in between emptying.
Unfortunately, this unit has a tendency to randomly stop working. The hose isn’t very durable, as it can easily get cut or ripped.
This powerful shop vac comes with an 11-amp motor and 6-gallon tank capacity. It comes with an auto-cleaning tool kit that includes seven different-shaped nozzles for getting in all of the crevices. It has a suction and blowing function to clear dirt and debris.
You’ll like the two-stage filtration that this unit has. This extra step helps to extend the life of the filter and provide better-quality expelled air. The included tool kit helps you get a ton of usability. You can even use it to inflate an air mattress.
Unfortunately, your shop vac may come without a hose. If this happens, you’ll need to buy one separately, which could be a problem since they are routinely out of stock. Once you have a hose hooked up, you may be disappointed with its suction abilities.
This portable shop vac is small with a 2-gallon capacity tank and an 18V lithium-ion brushless motor. The unit is cordless for portability. It has a HEPA filter included. The unit can run for up to 60 minutes of continuous operation before needing a charge.
You’ll appreciate how lightweight this shop vac is at 10.1 pounds. This makes it user-friendly as almost anyone can carry it by the handle on the top. It also has integrated tether hooks to make it even easier to carry around.
Unfortunately, this shop vac only has vacuuming ability, so you can’t use it as a blower. It also doesn’t have a large capacity, so you’ll need to empty it often. You may also find that the suction isn’t very strong. The biggest disappointment, though, is that it doesn’t come with the battery required for running the vacuum.
This shop vac is designed to look more like a toolbox than a vacuum. It has a 2-gallon capacity. It comes with a crevice tool, utility nozzle, HEPA filter, and a 6-foot flexible hose. To make this unit portable, it has a 9.0 battery pack that gives you 30 minutes of uninterrupted runtime.
What makes this unit stand out is its portability. It’s stackable, and everything tucks neatly away for onboard storage. There are also over a hundred additional accessories that are available for purchase that are compatible with this unit.
Unfortunately, the battery may not run for as long as the manufacturer claims. It also isn’t strong enough to pick up bigger items, so stick with dust and light dirt.
- 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.