Think about the last time you did any sort of DIY project in your garage. Did you make a mess? Was there dust, nails or other debris scattered across the floor by the time you were done? While you probably could sweep most of it up, the best shop vac would have made the task much easier.
Shop vacs are essentially wet/dry vacuums designed to function in workshop environments or some outdoor settings. They’re useful for cleaning up woodworking dust, DIY debris and small amounts of water, and many people use them in their garages, sheds or cars to keep things nice and tidy. Shop vacs are really one of the most useful tools you can keep in your garage.
But, before you dive in and buy one of the best shop vacs, there are a few things you need to know. Keep reading to learn about the difference between shop vacs and dust extractors as well as the five main factors to take into consideration when shopping for your wet/dry vacuum.
Shop Vacs vs. Dust Extractors
When shopping for a shop vac, you’ll likely see two types of devices. The first is a dust extractor. These devices use a wide opening and lower suction power to collect the dust from your workspace. The dust is then sent through a two-stage process that separates the small chunks from the big chunks. These are usually stationary devices that may or may not attach directly to your power tools.
On the other hand, shop vacs are mostly portable and use high suction through a narrower hose. Because they are more powerful, they can pick up both dust as well as larger debris. They also function in both wet and dry environments. However, a shop vac only passes the dirt through one stage, meaning that the motor can become clogged up if it’s constantly used to pick up dust.
For the remainder of this article, we will discuss shop vacs. But, if you want to collect a lot of dust from a woodworking environment, for example, you may want to consider purchasing a dust extractor instead.
What to Look for in a Shop Vac
For first-time buyers and those that haven’t needed to purchase a shop vac for many years, this process can be quite intimidating. However, there are really five main factors to consider before making your big purchase.
- Portability: Shop vacs run the gamut from being stationary, wall-attached units to highly portable vacuums with small drums. Some are corded, while others are cordless. Consider your needs before choosing the best one for you.
- Airflow (CFM): Measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM), this is the amount of air traveling through the nozzle. A higher CFM means the shop vac can pick up more material per minute, and therefore complete the task at hand faster.
- Suction Power (Water Lift): The higher the number for water lift, the heavier an item the shop vac can pick up. If you need something to collect screws, heavy debris or ice, you need a shop vac with a moderate to high water lift value.
- Capacity: The capacity of shop vacs on our list ranges from 2.5 gallons to 20 gallons. Choose a bigger capacity if you have a lot of debris or water to pick up or if you don’t want to have to empty the drum very often.
- Accessories: Some shop vacs only come with the vacuum, while others will include dozens of accessories, from squeegees to extra hoses. You may want to consider what accessories you need before shopping for your shop vac.
We’ve rounded up the best shop vacs and wet/dry vacuums available online. Take a look at our nine top picks below.
1. CRAFTSMAN Heavy-Duty Shop Vacuum
The CRAFTSMAN Heavy-Duty Shop Vacuum is an impressive device that is ready to deal with all garage, shop and job site projects. It’s available in either 16 or 20-gallon sizes and comes supplied with a comprehensive range of accessories to ensure you always have the tool you need. These include both a wet and a dry nozzle, two extension wands, a car nozzle, a standard filter, a locking hose and a dust collection bag. Convenience-wise, the design incorporates handy storage in the lid, a carrying handle and durable caster wheels. In addition, the oversized on/off switch and easy-access drain make using your shop vac even easier.
2. Armor All Wet/Dry Utility Shop Vacuum
BEST SHOP VAC FOR CARS
The Armor All Wet/Dry Utility Shop Vacuum’s compact, 2.5-gallon size makes it a great choice for smaller jobs around the home. Whether cleaning out a car or small crawl space under the stairs, the device’s powerful suction and blowing get the job done. The vacuum also comes with a 10-foot power cord on-device storage plus a range of handy accessories, including a reusable cloth filter, a crevice tool, a detail brush and a deluxe car nozzle. Additionally, the body is made from durable polypropylene for greater durability, while its integrated hose storage adds greater convenience and prevents accidental loss.
3. Vacmaster Professional Wet/Dry Vac
BEST SMALL SHOP VAC
Not every shop needs a huge vacuum. This is particularly true if your garage is small and storage space is tight. If that’s the case, consider the Vacmaster Professional Wet/Dry Vac. This five-gallon device will give you all the capabilities of a normal shop vac but in a much smaller package. It still boasts a powerful 5.5 horsepower motor and integrated hose storage, like many of the bigger models on our list. Plus, this shop vac is available as a standalone device or with an optional accessory package.
4. RIDGID Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
With nearly a five-star rating after thousands of reviews, the RIDGID 16 Gal. Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum is a popular device with a reputation to fulfill. While the large capacity and powerful motor are enough to sell this shop vac alone, we also love the large range of accessories that come with the device. In addition to the standing vacuum, you’ll also receive a filter, a hose and several attachments, including a blower wand which allows you to transform the vacuum into a blower.
5. Sun Joe Wet/Dry Vacuum Kit
Sometimes the jobs for which you need a shop vac aren’t within reach of an electrical outlet. If this is often the case for you, you need the Sun Joe 5.2 Gal. Stainless Steel Wet/Dry Vacuum Kit. This shop vac actually runs off a 24-Volt iON+ battery that’s charged using the included 4.0 Ah Battery Plus Charger. It has a run time of approximately 30 minutes and maintains powerful suction even though it doesn’t need to be plugged in. Plus, the stainless steel drum is slightly more attractive than many of the plastic models on our list.
6. DeWALT Poly Wet/Dry Vac
BEST FOR BIG PROJECTS
With its powerful 5.5 peak horsepower motor and ability to act as a vacuum and blower, the DeWALT Poly Wet/Dry Vac is a comprehensive answer to cleaning at work or at home. It includes a 12-gallon capacity tank atop four ultra-durable, rubberized caster wheels, giving the device a convenient level of portability. This combines with the 20-foot power cord to ensure you have plenty of reach to get to your cleanup site. Meanwhile, a handy cord wrap and large, removable pocket, which attaches to the vac’s backside, provide all the storage space you need to keep your device neat and tidy, whether it’s in use or not. Lastly, the large, built-in tank drain makes emptying and maintaining the device simple.
7. Milwaukee M18 FUEL Cordless 3-in-1 Backpack Vacuum
Not all shop vacs are bulky drums on wheels. The Milwaukee M18 FUEL Cordless 3-in-1 Backpack Vacuum breaks that mold. It’s a fully wearable wet/dry vacuum with two times more suction when compared to other backpack vacuums. Plus, it runs off a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, so there’s no need to worry about a cord tripping you up. Accessories include a HEPA filter, a flexible hose, a telescoping extension wand, a floor tool, a crevice tool and a dust extraction adapter, all of which can be stored directly on the vacuum itself.
8. Prolux Professional Wall-Mounted Wet/Dry Vacuum
For people who frequently use their shop vac in their garage or directly nearby, a wall-mounted option might be the best answer. These devices often take up less space than traditional shop vacs while offering varied functions and more sucking power. The Prolux Professional Wall-Mounted Wet/Dry Vacuum is one of the best options available thanks to its range of accessories, from handheld shampooer to the two 18-inch extension wands, and its 1500-watt, 12 amp suction capabilities.
9. BOSCH Dust Extractor with HEPA Filter
Above we told you why you may want to choose a shop vac over a dust extractor, but if you have your heart set on the latter, definitely go with the BOSCH 9 Gallon Dust Extractor. This is one of the only devices on our list with a HEPA filter to help keep your air as clean as possible, capturing 99.7% of particles when used properly. It also boasts automatic filter cleaning to clear this part of the device every 15 seconds when in use. Finally, one of the best features of this extractor is the power broker dial, which can adjust the suction force to the task at hand.
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