There are some spills that only the best shop vacuums can tackle. These wet-dry vacuums can pick up water, dust, wood shavings and other debris thanks to their large tanks and powerful suction. Shop vacuums are a world apart from the best vacuum cleaners for home, because they’re loud and incredibly powerful. Many of the models in our guide require you to wear ear covers when cleaning, making them more suited to building sites and workshops than home use. That said, because these wet-dry vacuums can suck up large volumes of liquid, they can be used to remove water from small-scale flooding and other spills.
All the best shop vacuums come from brands like Shop-Vac, Rigid, Vacmaster, Stanley, DeWalt, and PowerSmith, and they don’t cost as much as you’d expect to pay for a deep cleaning vacuum cleaner. We tested these wet-dry vacuum cleaners for their ability to suck up mulch, water, and even nails, taking note of how effectively they picked up debris, and how easy they were to use.
Another useful facet of these shop vacuums is their portability. Because they’re designed for use in large spaces, they come with casters that can be easily pulled while carrying heavy loads of water and other debris. They also have long cords and numerous attachments to make it easy to switch from one type of debris to another. Some are also handheld, which makes them perfect for cleaning cars and RVs. Keep on reading for the best shop vacuums.
1. Vacmaster VBV1210: Best shop vacuum overall
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. 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.
Read our Vacmaster VBV1210 review
2. Ridgid WD1450: Most powerful shop vacuum
The Ridgid WD1450 zoomed through our testing and was the most impressive when it came to cleaning up messes, whether fine materials, larger debris, or water. 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.
Read our Ridgid WD1450 review
3. Craftsman CMXEVBE17590: Best wet dry shop vacuum
The Craftsman CMXEVBE17590 is a medium-sized shop vacuum which packs an impressive amount of horsepower for its affordable price. It can hold nine gallons of liquid and has an oversized drain for convenient emptying. At 15 pounds it’s not the lightest shop vacuum we reviewed, but it does have casters for easy transportation.
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. That being said, you don’t get a blower extension to make the most of this feature, but there are a great selection of attachments to help you reach crevices and tackle a great range of tasks.. The Craftsman CMXEVBE17590 is an affordable shop vacuum that can clean up messes better than many of the higher-priced machines on the market.
Read our Craftsman CMXEVBE17590 review
4. Stanley SL18129: Best budget shop vacuum
The Stanley SL18129 is a great shop vacuum for those on a budget, but in our tests it was one of the loudest shop vacs we reviewed. We loved how lightweight the Stanley SL18129 was in our tests at eight pounds, and it was great at vacuuming liquid fast thanks to its four-horsepower motor. In our tests, it sucked up a gallon of water in under five seconds. However, it doesn’t have a drain port, so it will need to be tipped after each use, which could become cumbersome.
At five feet, the hose of the Stanley SL18129 is one of the shorter ones out there. Its power cord is ten feet long though, so you can still access most spaces with ease. We also thought this could be a great car vacuum because of its lightweight design, although it’s not powerful enough for heavy, bulkier debris.
Read our Stanley SL18129 review
5. DeWalt DCV581H: Best portable shop vacuum
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.
Read our DeWalt DCV581H review
6. ArmorAll AA255: Best shop vacuum for cars
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.
The ArmorAll AA255 is an affordable option for those seeking a more portable shop vacuum. 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.
Read our ArmorAll AA255 review
7. PowerSmith PAVC101: Best dust shop vacuum
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. This shop vac isn’t suitable for wet use, because it’s designed with ash and other dry features in mind, but it did a great job of picking up screws, which makes it suitable for larger debris.
Read our PowerSmith PAVC101 review
8. Shop-Vac 9653610: Most versatile shop vacuum
The Shop-Vac 9653610 is the most versatile shop vacuum we tested. While it’s a jack of all trades, it’s a master of none. This vacuum is reasonably affordable, reasonably powerful, reasonably lightweight, and works well for both wet and dry use.
We were impressed by how this shop vac performed in our water tests. It picked up water at a great speed, but its ability to clear large messes and flooding is limited by its smaller six gallon tank. With this shop vacuum you get a lot of attachments. There’s a variety of extension wands and a floor nozzle, crevice tool and gulper nozzle.
Read our Shop-Vac 9653610 review
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.
"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.
What to look out for when buying a shop vacuum
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 two 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 two 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 the best 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 vacuum design: What to look out for
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 two gallons.
Shop vacuum filters: What do you need?
This is one of the most common questions among people looking to purchase a shop vac. 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 to look out for
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.