The best shop vacuums will set any spills straight, whether it’s sawdust, smashed glass or spilled milk. With a little extra gusto than the best vacuums for home, shop vacuums are built to spruce up offices, shops and building work too, thanks to their lengthy hoses and supersized tanks. On top of that, the best wet-dry vacuums can be used to lick up liquid messes, whether that’s from plumbing woes or spills on the shop floor.
If the best shop vacuums weren’t on your radar previously, that’s probably down to their top spot in commercial and industrial settings. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their uses around the home too. While the longer cables are a dream at reaching troublesome corners around warehouses or other businesses, they’ll also make tidying up your driveway or garage less of a chore. That’s why the best wet-dry vacuums have longer cables than a traditional vacuum, with cord lengths reaching as far as 20 feet or so to really tackle your problem patches. Plus, you’ll find that some can handle two chores at once, as they can be contorted into a handheld blower to blast away dirt, dust, and leaves.
While cord length and horsepower are some of the things you’ll look out for, the best shop vacuums also have a generous gallon size to stash away debris and liquids. Naturally, this comes with its limitations, as a larger gallon will weigh more, meaning you’ll need to put your muscles to work. Features like 360-degree wheels will make maneuvering easier, but if you’re looking for a vacuum that’s lighter to help with zipping up small spills, one of the best handheld vacuums might be a better fit, Otherwise, some budget shop vacuums such as the Stanley wet dry vac are on the lighter side, under 10 lbs.
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?
As they’re so heavy-duty, you might be mistaken in thinking that one of the best shop vacuums will set you back too much to be a viable purchase. Surprisingly, however, shop vacuums are pretty cheap to pick up, with prices usually ranging from $40 to $100. In a home setting, they’ll be a secondary purchase to a normal hoover, saved for more unmanageable situations, which is why it’s great that they won’t cost too much to factor in alongside another model.
You can grab a popular shop vacuum model from retailers such as Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, with the average price around $80. Our top pick when it comes to shop vacuums is the Vacmaster VBV1210, which will set you back $87, a reasonable price for a tool that can scoop up all types of waste.
Shop vacuum design: What to look out for
If you want your shop vacuum to be ultimately useful, then choose a model with a lengthy hose in order to get wherever you need it around the house. Be sure to also look out for vacuums equipped with different extension tools to get into all the crevices you might need to use the vacuum for. Having an extra-large tank allows for you to also hoover for longer without needing to empty the machine.
Some top-rated shop vacuums have tanks as big as 14 gallons, allowing you to deal with serious messes in one cleaning session. 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
Aside from their main purpose, which is taking care of substantial messes, you can get even more from your shop vacuum depending on which type of attachments are also on offer. Many shop vacuums have simple extension wands for hard-to-reach areas, with others having multiple wands for getting even further into where mess might be lurking.
As with a regular vacuum cleaner, crevice tools are also available for corners for cracks that the full nozzle of your device can’t get into, as well as special wide tools for bigger areas. Of course, one of the defining features of shop vacuums is their ability to deal with wet messes, which will be helped along by squeegees and concentration nozzles.