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Best shop vacuums: Find the best vacuum cleaner for your store

best shop vacuum

The best shop vacuums need to be tough and able to clean messes that you'd never have to deal with at home. 

That's why we spent more than 40 hours putting shop vacuums through a variety of tests until we crowned the Vacmaster VBV1210 as the best shop vac available to buy right now. 

It manages to handle both dry and wet messes. It also cleans up debris and fluids in little time, and has a powerful motor so you can tackle any spills or debris. You don't need to regularly empty this shop vacuum because it comes with a large tank and eight helpful accessories, so you can make short work of cleaning up your workshop, basement, car or any other dirty or wet area. 

This is our list of the best shop vacuums. 

1. Vacmaster VBV1210: Best overall 

Vacmaster VBV1210: best shop vacuum overall

Vacmaster VBV1210

A great shop vacuum that deals with everything you can throw at it

Tank size: 12 gallons | Horesepower: 5hp | Cord length: 12ft | Weight: 24.5lbs | Warranty: 2 year limited

You can remove the motor and use it as a blower.
This shop vac runs quietly.
It has a big 12-gallon tank.
You might have to buy an extra filter for cleaning dust.
The wheels don’t snap into place.
It is a bit hard to maneuver.

The Vacmaster VBV1210 comes with a 12-gallon tank, which is the second largest of the shop vacs we tested. With something this big, you can clean up plenty of messy materials and water.

This device sucked up 2 gallons of water in 3.9 seconds during our testing, which is excellent. One drawback of a tank this size is that the shop vacuum itself is heavy at 17 pounds so it’s harder to move around than smaller machines. It is portable, nonetheless, and moves on four 360-degree casters. These don’t snap into place, which is no problem when you’re rolling the machine to clean up messes, but if you lift it up, the casters can fall off.

This versatile device can be easily converted to a handheld blower with blowing power of 210 mph, so you can clear away plenty of leaves, dirt and other messes from your driveway, garage and other areas. The Vacmaster also is equipped with a thick hose that is 2.5 inches in diameter and 7 feet long. You can move the machine around by the hose without worrying about the hose coming off, and this hose is big enough to suck up big 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 instead of hoisting it up to pour liquids out. This shop vacuum comes with a cartridge filter to clean dry debris and a foam filter for cleaning up wet messes. The manufacturer also offers other filters, and this machine works well on fine dust, but the manufacturer recommends that you buy a special dust filter.

2. Craftsman 12004: Best cheap shop vac

Craftsman 12004

Craftsman 12004

The Craftsman 12004 is perfect if you don't have huge messes to clear up

Tank size: 6 gallons | Horesepower: 3hp | Cord length: 10ft | Weight: 12.8lbs | Warranty: 1 year limited

Long hose lets you reach 17 feet.
It is easy to move at only 12.81 pounds.
This is an inexpensive unit.
Its tank holds only 6 gallons.
It has a 3-horsepower motor.

The Craftsman 12004 doesn’t have extraordinary horsepower, but this medium-sized shop vacuum did a fine job in our testing when it came to cleaning up different messes and clearing away water.

In our dry materials testing, it sucked up every screw and 93 percent of the mulch we had spread on carpeting with only one pass, and with the water testing, the suction speed was a respectable 2.81 gallons per second. It has a 3-horsepower motor, which is not super strong, but the motor did the job during our tests. The tank holds only 6 gallons, so you’ll need to empty it often if you have a big wet mess to clear away. You don’t get a drain port, which is a drawback. However, this machine weighs just 12.81 pounds, so it is easy to move, maneuver and store.

You get two extension wands with this shop vacuum that can lengthen the 7-foot hose to a generous 17 feet, which gives you considerable reach while cleaning without needing to move the machine. This vac comes with a cartridge filter for dusty particles and cleaning jobs and a foam sleeve filter to vacuum up watery messes. The filters are easy to clean and replace, and they stayed fairly clean during our testing. The Craftsman 12004 is an affordable shop vacuum that can clean up messes better than many of the higher-priced machines on the market.

3. Ridgid WD 1450: Best multipurpose vac

Ridgid WD 1450 best shop vac multipurpose

Ridgid WD 1450

A massive tank and powerful motor make this a shop vac designed for big messes

Tank size: 14 gallons | Horesepower: 6hp | Cord length: 20ft | Weight: 25lbs | Warranty: Lifetime limited

14-gallon tank, the biggest of the vacs we tested.
You get a 6-horsepower motor, the strongest of any we tested.
This unit outdid competing shop vacuums in our cleaning tests.
The 7-foot hose length is average.
It is heavy at 25 pounds.
It doesn't come with a nozzle to clean car upholstery.

The Ridgid WD1450 zoomed through our testing and earned the highest scores when it came to cleaning up messes, whether fine materials, larger debris or water.

It quickly sucked up a mixture of mulch and screws from carpeting with just one pass, and its wet vacuum function sucked in 2 gallons of water in only 3.8 seconds, which was the fastest water removal of any shop vacuum we tested. This unit comes with a 14-gallon tank that is the biggest of all the shop vacs we tested, and it worked well. The Ridgid WD1450 comes with different filters for dry and wet messes. If you need to clean up dry materials, you can use a cartridge filter that you can remove and clean once you’re done with the job. It is a dust filter with three layers so it does a first-rate job of capturing fine dust particles, whether it’s ashes, dust or tiny particles from something like drywall. When you need to clean up a wet mess, you can use a durable foam sleeve that sucks up materials in the water, and it remained clean in our tests.

This shop vacuum provides 360-degree wheels so it is easy to maneuver. It offers a dual-flex hose, which is one that can move in any direction and not collapse. You also can simply flip a switch and turn the hose into a blower, which adds another dimension to your cleaning capabilities with this shop vacuum. However, you don’t get any way to take the motor off to carry it around for blowing, which can hinder your blower cleaning somewhat. The power cord reaches 20 feet, which is the longest of any shop vac we tested, and it has a 7-foot hose that is average for the industry.

4. DeWalt DCV581H: Best portable shop vac

DeWalt DCV581H best shop vacuum portable

DeWalt DCV581H

If you value portability or want to clean in places without a power socket then this shop vac might be for you

Tank size: 2 gallons | Horesepower: 2hp | Cord length: 5ft but also cordless | Weight: 11lbs | Warranty: 3 year limited

The DeWalt DCV581H is quiet and compact for easy portability.
There were vacuum cleaners that had stronger suction in our tests.

The DeWalt DCV581H is cordless, compact and quiet – three things you almost never get with a shop vacuum.

It is more portable than most shop vacs with its rechargeable battery, but it can also be plugged into the wall. This DeWalt machine was not great on our suction tests; some cleaned faster with fewer passes. 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, which can be helpful for corralling messes in the shop or blowing leaves. We tested more powerful shop vacuums, but this one could still be useful if you are looking for something more portable for far-flung projects.

5. Shop-Vac 965-06-00: Longest hose

Shop-Vac 965-06-00 best shop vac longest hose

Shop-Vac 965-06-00

If you have very awkward-to-reach places then this shop vac should give you great access

Tank size: 6 gallons | Horesepower: 3hp | Cord length: 6ft | Weight: 11lbs | Warranty: 90-day

The long hose gives you access to messes in awkward places.
Excellent water suction rate
There were vacuum cleaners that did better on our large object suction tests.

The Shop-Vac 965-06-00 was not the best on our cleaning tests, but it did stand out for its long hose and diverse set of attachments.

This unit is able to reach messes that others cannot with its 10-foot hose. The hose is a little narrow, which may be one reason it wasn’t the best on our suction tests with mulch and screws. It did well on wet messes, sucking up water at 4.68 gallons per second, which is faster than average among those we tested. Aside from the hose you get three extension wands that you can configure as needed to reach different cleaning jobs. You also get a floor nozzle, crevice tool and gulper nozzle. They all store on the tank so they are within easy reach.

Why Trust Us?  

We have been researching and testing shop vacuums since 2012 and have devoted hundreds of hours to searching for and testing different products to find the best. 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.

"Although several manufacturers list the decibel level of their vacuums, how and where the measurement is taken makes a difference, as does the frequency of the sound," reads part of a shop vac review in Woodworker's Journal.

We purposely designed our tests to allow for measuring the sound on the same machine, in the same room, in the same way for uniform results. We strive for that same uniformity in all our testing.

How We Tested Shop Vacuums 

We spent more than 40 hours running the shop vacuums we chose for testing through a series of trials to see how well each performed. For our tests, we vacuumed up typical materials you'd run into in your own home or garage. We measured 2 ounces of mulch and sawdust mixed with six small screws and spread it on a piece of carpeting. After using each machine to clean up the mess, we then measured how much of the debris the shop vacuums picked up after one pass. We deliberately included bigger pieces of mulch to see how well all the shop vacuums performed when handling heavier items.

To test suction, we measured 2 gallons of water, poured it into a bathtub with the drain stopper in and then vacuumed up the water, taking note of how long it took for each vacuum to complete the task. We found the best vacuums were up to three times faster than those on the lower end of our product lineup. After the vacuuming tests were done, we conducted somewhat subjective testing by examining how clean each filter appeared to be. We also conducted several general movement tests, such as moving the vacuums around by the hose or over an obstacle, to get a sense of how easy it was to maneuver each vacuum.

How Much Does a Shop Vacuum Cleaner Cost?

Shop vacs do not vary too widely in terms of price. The most popular ones on Amazon, Home Depot and Lowe's cost between $40 and $100. The average price of the most popular products on those sites is about $80. We tested a relatively wide range of products, with units costing as much as $170 and as little as $45. The higher priced products did tend to perform better, but not in every case. For example, the DeWalt DCV581H is designed as a portable shop vacuum, but because of this, it lacks the power and capacity of our best-rated shop vacs.

Shop Vac Design: What Do You Need? 

The best shop vacuums give you lengthy hoses, several different extension tools and power cords that extend up to 20 feet and can be locked in place. It's also helpful to get a shop vacuum with a big tank, and our top-notch vacuums have tanks as big as 14 gallons. However, you might not need something so large for the jobs you do and the storage space you have. In that case, you can get vacuums with tanks as small as 2 gallons.

Shop Vac
Filters: Does a Shop Vac Need a Filter? 

This is one of the most common questions people looking to purchase a shop vac have. It really comes down to what you are going to use it for.  If you are using the vacuum for larger objects and not fine particles, you don't necessarily need a filter. If you often vacuum fine materials like ash or sawdust, you should look for a dust filter that traps tiny particles. Without a filter in place when you vacuum up sawdust or other fine particulates, you'll most likely just end up blowing the particles out of the shop vac again, which ultimately defeats the purpose of vacuuming!

Shop vacuums come with different filters – some are cloth bags you must replace, others are cartridges you can clean and reuse.  Most models come with a pleated cartridge filter, which is easier to change and less likely to leak than a foam or cloth filter.

Shop Vac Attachments: What Jobs Do You Need Your Vacuum to Do? 

Attachments can make all the difference in deciding if a particular wet-dry vacuum is right for your needs. Most shop vacuums have extension wands for hard-to-reach areas, but some come with multiple wands for added reach. For cleaning bulky debris, brush nozzles work best, and crevice tools are good for cleaning corners or cracks. For the blower, some vacuums come with a special wide tool for covering a larger area. For wet cleanup, look for squeegees and concentration nozzles. We reiterate Paul Mayer's advice above and encourage you to evaluate how you'll primarily use your shop vac, as this is more important than the sale price in the end. 

More vacuum buying guides:

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Best car vacuums
Best budget vacuums
Best stick vacuums
Best heavy-duty vacuums
Best handheld vacuums

ProductPriceOverall RatingCapacity & PowerPriceDesignFiltersAttachmentsScrew TestMulch TestSuction SpeedCapacity (Gallons)Motor (HP)Noise DefuserBlower ConversionDrain PortPortable BlowerNoise LevelHose Diameter (inches)Hose Length (feet)Cord Length (feet)Weight (pounds)Wet & Dry PickupWheelsFilter CleanlinessWet/Dry FiltersFoam Sleeve FilterCartridge FilterFilter RetainerCloth FilterTotal Attachments Storage RackExtension WandFloor NozzleCrevice ToolConcentrator NozzleCar NozzleBlower Nozzle
Vacmaster VBV1210View Deal4.5/5544.5551001001.9125942 1/271317.448
Ridgid WD 1450View Deal4.5/553.554.53.51001001.95146902 1/27202235
Craftsman 12004View Deal4/ 7/871012.834
Stanley SL18129View Deal4/53543.53100634.6544971 1/4510826
ArmorAll AA255View Deal4/53.553.534100554.442.52951 1/46108.415
Shop-Vac 965-06-00View Deal3.5/534533.583604.6863941 1/481613.236
PowerSmith PAVC101View Deal3.5/534.53.523100604.735.22961 1/44 1/616934
DeWalt DCV581HView Deal3/533532100586.0822811 1/4559.1512
Stihl SE 613/53.51.5542.5100705.445.33931 1/481613.233