If you spend time working in your garage, you know just how messy things can get. You may have to deal with dirt from your cars’ tires, sawdust from working with wood, the regular dust and detritus that manages to get in there and maybe even water after heavy rain. These messes aren’t exactly conducive to a productive workspace, so something has to be done.
A regular vacuum cleaner won’t be enough to get the job done — the key to keeping your garage clean is a shop vacuum. You can even use a shop vacuum to clean the interior of your car, keeping it free of dust and crumbs, as well. Still, there are so many choices when it comes to shop vacs — how do you know which one to buy?
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best shop vacs across a variety of categories, based on customer satisfaction and expert recommendation — whatever kind of shop vac you need, you’ll be able to find something that works for you. Then, read on for more information about how shop vacs work and how to pick the one that best suits your needs.
Our pick for the best shop vac money can buy, the Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 16 Gallon Wet/Dry Vac can do it all. 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.
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.
The Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 is currently the fourth best-selling shop wet dry 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.
Ridgid is one of the top manufacturers of shop vacuums in the world, and one of its best offerings is worthy of standing side by side with the Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 — that would be the Ridgid 16 Gallon NXT Wet Dry Shop Vacuum. It’s a vacuum and a blower, and it comes with a host of attachments and accessories.
The Ridgid 16 Gallon NXT vacuum is built to last, with a 6.5 horsepower motor and heavy-duty drum construction — but if that’s not enough for you, it also comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s got a 20-foot power cord to provide a good deal of reach, as well as easy-locking attachments when you need to switch them up. Please note that the price above is for the 16-gallon vacuum itself, but it’s also available in other sizes and with specialty kits included.
Ridgid’s 16 Gallon NXT vacuum currently has 4.7 stars out of 5 on HomeDepot.com based on nearly 1,000 ratings. Additionally, 92% of customers reported that they would recommend the shop vacuum.
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.
With a shop vacuum, like with any other item, you don’t want to trade quality for price. If you are working with a limited budget, it’s important to put in the research and make sure you’re getting a bargain on a great model rather than wasting any money on a lousy one.
Thankfully, we’ve already done the research, and you can reap the benefits with the Vacmaster VBV1210 12-Gallon Wet Dry Shop Vacuum. It’s a sturdy vac with a 5-horsepower motor that can suck up wood chips or blow leaves, and it comes with an array of attachments — including multiple nozzles, allowing you to clean up all sorts of messes in all sorts of locations.
Currently, the Vacmaster VBV120 is the seventh best-selling shop wet dry vacuum and the fourth best-selling commercial wet dry vacuum on Amazon. It’s designated an Amazon’s Choice product and has 4.6 stars out of 5 based on nearly 4,000 customer ratings.
All vacuums — shop or not — should be able to handle dust. That said, there are different levels when it comes to cleaning. If you really want to get rid of as much dust as possible, you’ll have to get a machine specially designed for the dust collection job.
The Bosch VAC090A 9-Gallon Dust Extractor may cost a bit more, but it’s the ideal solution for keeping your workspace free of dust or fine dust indoors such as drywall dust. Not only is it designed to work with a high-efficiency particulate air filter, but it actually has a feature where it cleans the filter itself. Moreover, it does it every 15 seconds so you can be sure you’re always getting maximum suction power. It can also pick up liquid, and when it reaches a certain amount the suction shuts off automatically to protect the motor.
The Bosch VAC090A only has 35 ratings on Amazon, but those users have given it 4.5 stars out of 5. Satisfied users cite the suction power and the vacuum’s integration with other Bosch tools.
So far, this list has focused primarily on larger shop vacs — models that use hoses to clean and transport the mess to a tank that remains on the floor. There are also compact shop vacuums, though — models that hold just 1 or 2 gallons and can be easily held in one hand while the other uses the nozzle.
These portable shop vac models are ideal for cars or other smaller spaces with less mess to clean up, and our pick for the overall best is Milwaukee’s M18 2 Gal. 18-Volt Lithium-ion Cordless Wet Dry Vacuum. It’s battery operated, so it doesn’t need a cord — in fact, it can run for 30 minutes on a charge. That means you can bring it on car trips and clean as necessary, which is extremely convenient.
The Milwaukee M18 currently has 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with over 400 customer ratings. Satisfied users on the site praise the shop vac’s suction power, as well as the battery life.
After compact shop vacuums, the next step up (in terms of size) would be a small shop vac. While these are large enough that they typically aren’t supposed to be carried as you use them, they’re also ideal for smaller areas — like one- or two-car garages that get cleaned frequently enough that the mess doesn’t get a chance to build up too badly.
The best shop vac in this category is the Vacmaster Professional 5 Gallon, part of the intimidatingly named “Beast” series. It’s reasonably priced and portable, but can still hold up to 5 gallons of debris or liquid and features a 5.5-horsepower motor. It’s convenient to use and store, with 25-inches of reach between the power cord and the hose, and built-in storage for both. It also converts to a blower if you just need to move some leaves or mulch.
The Vacmaster Professional has an Amazon’s Choice designation, as well as 4.7 stars out of 5 on the site, with more than 3,500 customer reviews. It’s the site’s sixth best-selling shop wet dry vacuum, and it’s the third best-selling commercial wet dry vacuum.
One more step up in size, we have medium shop vacuums. These are handy for larger or messy garages, smaller building sites, or even basements and garages that see moderate flooding during storms.
In this category, our top choice once again comes from the Vacmaster line — this time, it’s the Vacmaster Pro 8 Gallon. As the name states, the vacuum has an 8-gallon tank — one that’s made of crush-proof polypropylene. It also has a HEPA filter, which means it “capture[s] & retain[s] 99.97% of all contaminants down to 0.3 micron in particle size.” As thorough as that sounds, it’s only one of four levels of filtration offered by the vacuum. Plus, it’s just as good for picking up water, offering more powerful suction than many comparable models.
The Vacmaster Pro 8 Gallon has a rating of 4.4 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with more than 600 customer ratings. It has also been given an Amazon’s Choice designation by the retailer.
Finally, there are large wet dry vacuums. These are ideal if you have a large or unusually dirty area to clean up large debris and if you don’t want to have to constantly empty your tank during the job. They’re also handy if you have a problem with flooding and need to vacuum up larger quantities of water.
While many large consumer tanks are at or around the 16-gallon mark, Craftsman actually makes a 20-gallon model that — size aside — is identical to the Craftsman CMXEVBE17596 model that ranked as our top overall pick. That means you get all the power with a 6.5-horsepower motor, all the reliability and all the nozzle attachments, along with even more space for what you pick up.
The 20-gallon powerful shop vac model’s customer ratings are amalgamated with the 16-gallon wet dry shop vac model’s, which means it’s the fourth best-selling shop wet dry vacuum on Amazon, it’s got an Amazon’s Choice tag, and it has 4.8 stars out of 5 based on nearly 5,000 customer reviews
If you’re going to be using your shop vacuum primarily for cleaning out your car, you’re going to be looking for something different than someone who needs to clean a garage. You can use a smaller vacuum, but you’ll need something cordless or with a long cord to make sure you can reach every part of your car. Finally, you’ll still need something that handles wet and dry messes, because cars experience both of those.
The answer (and the top-ranked model in our list of best car vacuums) is the Armor All AA255. With a 2-horsepower motor, 10-foot cord, a 6-foot hose and 2.5 gallons of waste storage, you can easily clean your entire car as often as you like. It’s also got a detail brush crevice tool for taking dust and other small particles off of your dashboard (or other sensitive areas). Finally, it converts to a blower if you want to get dirt off the exterior of your vehicle.
The Armor All AA255 is a top seller on Amazon — in fact, it’s number two in the overall “vacuums” category. It has an Amazon’s Choice designation and 4.5 stars out of 5 based on over 15,000 customer ratings.
If you know you’re only going to be using your shop vacuum in your house and garage for cleaning, then you’ll be fine with a corded model. However, if you want to be able to take it with you and use it wherever you are, then you’ll find that a cordless model is more convenient.
The Ryobi 18-Volt One Plus 6 Gal. Cordless Wet Dry Vacuum is a great choice for a cordless shop vac — or any shop vac, really. It’s small enough to bring places easily, but it also offers enough tank room that you won’t have to empty it incessantly when cleaning larger messes. While you will have to provide your own battery, it’s a small price to pay for true portability.
The Ryobi 18-Volt One Plus has 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon, based on over 100 ratings. Satisfied customers cite the power provided, battery life and the convenience of not having to use an extension cord as pluses.
If you have one particular area that gets dirty often, and it’s where you’ll need to do most of your cleaning, you may decide to opt for a wall-mount shop vac. While these models do limit you in terms of where you can ultimately use them, the convenience of being able to just grab the hose and switch it on without worrying about dragging a tank may win out.
When it comes to wall-mount shop vacs, the Bissell Garage Pro is the one to beat. It functions as a vacuum and a blower, comes with seven different attachments and — most importantly for a wall-mount unit — has a staggeringly long 32-foot hose. Throw in the reach extension tools, and you may actually be able to clean parts of your house with a Garage Pro mounted in your garage.
The Bissell Garage Pro has 4.7 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with over 1,600 customer reviews. It’s the site’s seventh best-selling commercial wet dry vacuum and it’s 17th in the “shop wet dry vacuum” category.
Just because a shop vacuum looks different from a regular vacuum doesn’t mean that you can’t use it to clean your home. You may actually find it’s convenient to be able to pick up wet and dry messes and vacuum all sorts of surfaces with just a single tool.
For your home, odds are you’ll want a smaller shop vac that’s easier to move around, and our choice is Ridgid’s 4-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum. It’s got the suction power Ridgid customers have come to expect with a 6-horsepower motor, and it works as a blower, too. Like the Ridgid model listed above, it has a 20-foot cord, a seven-foot hose and a lifetime warranty. It’s also light enough to bring with you to each room of your house as you clean.
The Ridgid 4-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum has 4.6 stars out of 5 on Home Depot’s website, based on over 1,000 ratings. An impressive 95% of reviewers said that they would recommend the product to someone else.
Like many motor-operated tools, shop vacuums can be quite loud when they run. Not only can that be annoying to you, but it can disturb other members of your household, preventing sleep or conversation.
Fein’s Turbo I Wet/Dry Vacuum Cleaner is the exception to that rule. It operates at 66 decibels, which is about the volume of a normal conversation. Given that sustained exposure to sounds in the 80-90 decibel range can cause hearing damage, you’ll appreciate how quiet the Fein Turbo I is. It also happens to be a great vacuum, with excellent suction and easy maneuverability.
The Fein Turbo I has 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon, with almost 500 customer ratings. Satisfied users mention the vacuum’s efficacy when cleaning up dust.
Comparison of the best shop vacs for 2021
|Best shop vac overall/Best heavy-duty shop vac||Craftsman||CMXEVBE17595||16 gallons||$102|
|Best shop vac overall runner-up||Ridgid||HD1600||16 gallons||$119|
|Best shop vac if money is no object||DeWalt||DXV16PA||16 gallons||$188|
|Best cheap shop vac||Vacmaster||VBV1210||12 gallons||$88|
|Best shop vac for dust||Bosch||VAC090A||9 gallons||$649|
|Best compact shop vac||Milwaukee Electric Tool||B078GC33D4||2 gallons||$126|
|Best small shop vac||Vacmaster||VFB511B0201||5 gallons||$90|
|Best medium shop vac/Best shop vac for water||Vacmaster||VK811PH||8 gallons||$270|
|Best big shop vac||Craftsman||CMXEVBE17596||20 gallons||$140|
|Best shop vac for cars||Vacmaster||AA255||2.5 gallons||$52|
|Best cordless shop vac||Ryobi||P770||6 gallons||$109|
|Best wall-mount shop vac||Bissell||18P03||4 gallons||$180|
|Best shop vac for home use||Ridgid||WD4080||4 gallons||$79|
|Best quiet shop vac||Fein||92035236090||5.8 gallons||$289|
What is a shop vacuum?
Shop vacuums are similar to regular home vacuum cleaners, but they’re much more powerful — they have more powerful motors and greater suction capabilities, allowing them to pick up larger pieces of debris. This is why shop vacs are ideal for picking up small pieces of wood or metal (which a regular vacuum would leave behind) or sawdust (which would clog a regular vacuum). Additionally, if a shop vacuum is specifically designated as a “wet/dry” vacuum, then it can pick up water and other spilled liquids. You can even clean carpet with a shop vac, if you do it the right way.
Choosing the right shop vac for you requires you to evaluate your needs and make decisions across different categories. For instance, shop vacs come with different tank sizes, typically ranging from 2 to 18 gallons in home models. The size you need will depend on your application — if you’re mostly using it to clean your car, a small tank will do, but if you have a dirty garage you want to clean, then a larger tank will mean you spend less time emptying it.
“Determine the capacity you need,” says Phillip Ash, founder of Pro Paint Corner. Pro Paint Corner is an informational resource for all aspects of paint work, cleaning included. “The average homeowner can still get by with the typical 6-gallon size, but if you are an avid and intense DIYer or are using it for commercial purposes, you might want a large, 16 -gallon option.”
Shop vacs also differ in terms of the power they offer, which is measured in several different ways. Airflow is measured in cubic feet per minute and suction is measured in inches of water lift — which is literally the height that the suction could lift water through a tube. Though some shop vacs tout a peak horsepower measurement, this ultimately has little effect on performance.
Finally, there are battery-operated shop vacs that are easier to maneuver than corded shop vacs — they’re especially handy if your garage isn’t wired for electricity, or when using a smaller-tanked vacuum to clean a car. While corded shop vacs can typically provide more suction for longer periods, there are large and powerful cordless models, as well — just make sure your batteries are charged when using them. There are even models that can run in corded or cordless capacities, depending on which you need at a given time.
“In my experience, corded shop vacs normally have more powerful suction than battery-operated ones,” says Ed Spicer, home expert and CEO of Pest Strategies. Pest Strategies is an online resource for information regarding infestation and pest extermination products. “In battery-operated shop vacs, the suction power comes from the battery, and batteries deplete over time, so the suction will begin to wane.”
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.
5 things to know before buying and using a shop vacuum
- Where will you be using your shop vacuum? Will it be primarily in your garage? Your car? Your home? The location will help inform the size of the shop vac you get, as well as whether or not it’s a corded shop vac or a cordless shop vac.
- Will you just be cleaning up dry messes, or wet messes as well? If you’ll be cleaning up water or other wet messes, you’ll need to get a shop vac that’s specifically suited for the task. If not, you don’t need to worry about it.
- What size tank do you need? The way you’ll be using your wet dry vacuum cleaner ultimately informs the size you’ll get. If you mainly use it to clean your car, you can get a small vacuum with a 1- or 2-gallon tank. If you’re cleaning a large garage, you should get a shop vac with a large tank.
- How do you use your shop vacuum? Make sure to familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s specific instructions prior to using your shop vac. This will ensure the vac’s continued function as well as your own safety.
- How do you keep your shop vacuum running smoothly? Make sure that you know how to maintain your shop vac — this includes jobs like cleaning and changing the filter and emptying the vacuum properly.
Written for Roadshow by Scott Fried.