Any of the best shop vacuums make it easy to suck up large messes such as dust, wood shavings, and even water (hence the alternative name of “wet-dry vacuum”). This makes them perfect for professional use in shops, or on building sites. These powerful vacuums can handle nails, mulch, and water, and we’ve rounded up our favorites in this handy guide to make it easy for you to find the best shop vacuum for your specific needs, be that large or small debris, or even light flooding.
Deals with everything thrown at it
The Vacmaster VBV1210 comes with a 12-gallon tank. With something this big, you can clean up plenty of messy materials and water. This versatile device can be easily converted to a handheld blower with 210 mph blowing power, so you can clear away leaves, dirt, and other messes from your driveway, garage, and other areas. The Vacmaster comes with a cartridge filter to clean dry debris and a foam filter for cleaning up wet messes. You also get a drain port on the bottom of the tank, so you can simply pull that to remove fluids you’ve collected.
Perfect for wet and dry use
The Craftsman CMXEVBE17590 is a medium-sized shop vacuum that packs an impressive amount of horsepower. It holds nine gallons of liquid and has an oversized drain for convenient emptying. You get two extension wands with this shop vacuum that can lengthen the 10-foot hose to a generous 17 feet, which gives you considerable reach while cleaning without needing to move the machine. The filters are easy to clean and replace, and you can also use this shop vacuum as a blower. It comes with a great selection of attachments to help you reach crevices and tackle a great range of tasks.
For ash and smaller particles
The PowerSmith PAVC101 is not a wet dry shop vacuum. It’s designed for ash, making it perfect for fireplaces and other fine particles such as sawdust. Its metal canister is also designed to handle warm ash better than a traditional polypropylene vacuum. This shop vacuum has a short hose but a 16-foot power cord, which makes it really portable. The cloth filter needs regular replacement but it does a great job of containing fine particles and dust. While this shop vac isn’t suitable for wet use, it does a great job of picking up screws and larger debris
Clean without a power socket
The DeWalt DCV581H is cordless, compact and quiet – three things you almost never get with a shop vacuum. It is portable with its rechargeable battery, but it can also be plugged into the wall. It can help you tidy up without the clunky tanks and noise of the bigger models. Since it’s compact it is easy to take to different places.
The DCV581H doubles as a blower.
Portable for cleaning away from home
Shop vacuums are great for car use because they can make quick work of clearing professional vehicles. The ArmorAll AA255 is a capable shop vac despite its small size, with attachments including a floor nozzle, crevice tool, concentration tool, and car nozzle for plenty of different uses. It has a ten-foot cord and six-foot hose, which gives it the length needed for cleaning cars outdoors. It weighs eight pounds, so it’s easy to carry around, but this does mean its smaller 2.5-gallon capacity will require far more regular emptying.
The best shop vacuums: Expert advice
We have been researching and testing shop vacuums since 2012 and have devoted hundreds of hours to reviewing and testing different products to find the very best shop vacuum. We looked for a range of cleaning capabilities in the products we examined and made a concerted effort to find shop vacuums that could handle the different kinds of messes you may encounter at home, ranging from drywall dust scattered around on a floor to a flooded basement.
Among other things, we studied manufacturer websites and sought out expert opinions for advice on finding the best product. Paul Mayer is a Minnesota-based woodworker and tool reviewer that you can see in action on the Tool Metrix channel on YouTube. He has owned a lot of shop vacs over the years and now uses a large dust collector more than any shop vac. He still uses a shop vac for anything left after he sweeps up the floors, though. He recommends doing specific research.
"Know what you need to use it for and read reviews, looking for exactly your use case. If someone is happy with it but is using it for a different task, then it won't necessarily work for what you want," said Mayer. "Example: It doesn't matter if it will pick up a bowling ball. If you are wanting it to extract dust from a cabinetmaker's table saw then you will be disappointed."
Mayer said his favorite shop vac is super quiet and has a built-in filter cleaning mechanism that works well. Those were common themes in many of the articles and reviews we read – concerns about the filter getting clogged and the extreme volume of some machines.