Choosing The Best Shop Vac 2018
Whether you have an expensive Dyson or an old Hoover, a vacuum cleaner can make your life easy around the house. Sometimes the job at hand may be a bit too tough, however, which is where a shop vac comes in handy.
Our best shop vac guide is going to give you a crash course on what to look. Things like accessories and filters are just a few areas we’ll cover, and we’ve also included some of the top options whether you need a Wet/Dry vac or one that’s quieter than most.
Considerations before buying
Unlike their taller brothers, shop vacs are known for their brute force. They can also blow air, so they are a 2-in-1 tool of sorts and one you’ll be happy you own once you see what it can do.
While shop vacs aren’t as expensive as a Paslode nailer or the best cordless drill, you still need to look before you leap and consider these areas…
Before you think about what’s in the box or the capacity of the storage tank, you’ll want to think about horsepower.
At the top end, the best shop vac will have a motor rated at around 6.5 Peak HP. Simply known as PHP, this is a term used to gauge how powerful the motors are in the shop vac world. It’s the total output of the motor which includes inertia.
If you want to dig a little deeper, there are other ways to check a shop vacs prowess as well.
The AP is the Air Power rating, and something you might be able to uncover on pricier models. This tells you how good the vacuum is at picking up heavy objects. While that may sound strange if you’ve never owned a shop vac, they are designed to handle screws, bolts and other heavy debris.
Another area would be sealed pressure. This won’t be as important if you are looking for the best shop vac for dust collection or don’t plan on dealing with the wet stuff very often.
The SP rating is key when dealing with liquids as it tells you how much suction pressure a machine has. If your vacuum doesn’t have a good seal, it loses suction so look for a high rating in this department if you want the best Wet/Dry Vac.
The hose is another key element and overlooked more often than not. That would be a big mistake as a shoddy hose can cause a great shop vac to underperform.
Hoses in this class are generally 2 1/2,” but the thickness varies across the board. If you get a hose that is too thick, it can be unwieldy and hard to manage. If it’s too thin, it can kink and cut off suction in seconds.
The length of the hose usually doesn’t go beyond 6-feet or so although there are a few exceptions. Just remember, you can always replace the hose or use an extension if you run into troubles down the line or like a vacuum but not the hose.
Shop Vac cords
We would love to tell you that there is a standard length for shop vac cords, but they are all over the place. Some models will have 15-foot cords while others may clock in at under 10-feet. While an extension cord will give you more reach, the best shop vacuum will give you plenty to work with out of the box.
If your shop vac does have a long cord, check to see if it gives you an easy way to store it when it is not in use. Most quality machines have a handle wrap or a set of hooks.
The quality of the cord is key as well. Flimsy cords are prone to develop weak spots, and we have all been guilty of “dragging” a tool by the cord.
The best shop vac doesn’t have to have a 15-gallon drum, especially if you’re buying it to use in the car or around the house.
This is where you need to keep your needs in mind as bigger may not be better. Larger tanks mean larger machines, and shop vacs are already awkward to store compared to a regular upright. For general household use, anything between 6 to 10 gallons should suffice.
It’s safe to say shop vacuums are not complicated machines. They have a collection tank, a top with a motor, and a hose. They also have wheels, but that’s about it so maintenance will be minimal in most cases.
That doesn’t mean you don’t need to pay attention to the build quality, however, especially if you are in the market for an industrial model.
Pay attention to how thick the plastic drum is and check out those wheels as well. Caster wheels are great, but only if they work well and don’t snap off within a month. Some models may have metal tanks which are more durable. They don’t greatly increase the weight but can be noisier.
Every vacuum on our list comes with a standard filter. In fact, some of the top rated shop vacs come with two. The cartridge style filters are what you’ll want for general use while foam or other specialty filters are used with liquids.
You can pick up extra filters for your shop vac or one to suit the task at hand.
Are you working with drywall or other materials that put off fine dust? Then look for a fine particulate or HEPA filter. Choosing the right filter for the job is half the battle, and you’ll also want to keep the costs of replacements in mind.
Attachments are another item you will find in the box of every shop vacuum. Extension wands are the most common by a longshot, and crevice or carpet tools are sometimes included as well.
What’s not as common are flexible elbows that allow you to get hard to reach places. That includes gutters, which are easy to deal with if your shop vac has a blower feature.
At one time, blowers were a rarity in the shop vac world, but today you’ll find that almost every vac has a blowing function. This is ideal if you need to tidy up your backyard or tackle 12-foot gutters packed full of wet leaves. A 6HP motor will make quick work of that.
When it comes to blowers, there are two options to consider. You can choose a chop vacuum that blows with the flip of a switch or one that actually transforms. The latter is handy if you want a full-fledged leaf blower as you’ll only be tethered by the cord.
If you have ever been to a car wash with a vacuum station, you have experienced a form of shop vac. Those beasts can be noisy, and so can a regular shop vacuum.
This is an area that won’t matter to some but will be of the utmost importance to others. If you work in an area where silence is golden, you don’t want a vacuum cleaner that rattles the roof. Thankfully, the quietest shop vac is not an illusion as many manufacturers have utilized tech to quite things down. We have even included a few of those models below.
We always want our products to come with great warranties, even if we forget to fill out those little cards that come in the box. Most electrical products come with one, including shop vacuums.
You probably won’t find a shop vac with a 10-year guarantee, but it’s not uncommon to find them with warranties ranging from 3 to 5 years. Longer is obviously better, and you may be surprised to find many shop vac ratings leave this important fact out.
Shop Vac Buying Guide
Before we give you our top options, we’re going to go over a few areas for beginners briefly. As mentioned, a shop vacuum doesn’t require much maintenance, but there are a few things you still need to keep in mind.
How to clean a shop vac filter
Unless you swim through piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, you will want to learn how to clean a shop vac filter. It may be messy at times, but it will save you a considerable amount of money in the long run.
If you have a foam sleeve or filter built for water, you can generally just rinse those out under the tap. As for cartridge filers, they can be beaten out – a technique we covered at length in our guide on how to clean a shop vac filter.
You will know it’s time to clean your shop vacuum filter as you can actually “feel” the difference in suction if you don’t notice it. You may also see clouds of dust for around the exhaust if it becomes too clogged up.
How to use a shop vac
While plenty of shop vac reviews tell you how amazing a particular product is, that doesn’t help if you don’t know how to use one.
The good news is, we covered that in our guide on how to use a shop vac properly and it’s just as easy as you’d think. We won’t go into all the details, but if you are capable of flipping a switch and moving a hose, you will have no trouble using this particular type of tool.
Shop vac uses
If you are familiar with shop vacs, you may already know they can also act as blowers. That’s handy for moving leaves about, and they have far more sucking power than a regular vacuum.
Did you know you can also use it to feed wire through tight spots?
That’s only one of the tricks at your disposal once you master the shop vac. Cleaning out fireplaces, blowing up pool toys and defrosting freezers are just a few ways to use a shop vac. It’s a tool that will certainly surprise you with its versatility.
Shop Vac Reviews
If you’re still hanging with us, now it’s time for the good stuff.
Our experts have perused the web, picked through product manuals and beat the bushes to find the top shop vacs around. Below you’ll find options for the best overall model along with machines that are built to be portable and vacuums that are quieter than most.
Best Shop Vac Overall
Orange and Black have always been a popular combination in the tool world, but a relatively new player in the game is bringing them to the forefront again. That would be RIDGID, and the VAC1200 is our choice for the best shop vac.
At only 5 Peak HP, this vacuum is not the most powerful shop vac, and it’s far from the cheapest.
Wonder what makes it special? That has to do with the build quality and the overall design, performance and the fact it transforms into a min leaf blower.
Power and Performance
While you can find more powerful blowers, this one is optimized to provide peak performance whether you’re vacuuming up a puddle of goop or cleaning out your floorboards.
The collection tank is thick and in the “pro” class so you can take this one to the job site without fear. When you aren’t sucking up dust, dirt and other forms of debris you can switch to blower mode in a matter of seconds.
You can detach the motor from the RIDGID VAC1200 and toss on an extension when you need to blow leaves or give a machine a good dust off. We don’t have an exact number on the weight of said blower but trust us when we say it’s light enough for anyone to use.
We already told you how sturdy the tank is on the VAC1200, and it’s a good size at 12 gallons. That’s more than most folks will ever need for home use and ideal for contractors.
Working with liquid?
You’ll be thrilled with the large drain port which allows you to quickly empty the drum without breaking a sweat. 12-gallons of liquid can be heavy, so a great plug is always a plus. We love the cord length on this vacuum as well. At 20-feet, it’s unlikely you’ll need an extension cord once you factor in the hose and extensions.
As for that hose, it’s 8-foot and locks into place, something that’s handy if you tend to tug on hoses and cords.
It won’t pull loose and leave you with a mess and is considerably sturdier other hoses. The dual flex hose also won’t crimp up, and is very flexible and easy to use.
Filter and Accessories
We hesitate to call accessories a negative on this model, but you aren’t going to get as many as you will on other models. There are two extension wands, a blower nozzle, and a utility nozzle – that’s it. Given the price, we would have like to have seen a few more attachments.
There is only one filter included with the RIDGID VAC1200 as well. It’s a Qwik Lock paper filter, but other models are available if you need one for liquid or drywall dust.
This shop vac is your best option if you need a machine that can handle tough tasks around the hose or on the job. It’s fairly portable and very durable. The detachable blower is also a huge bonus and a feature we would like to see on more models.
On the downside, it’s not cheap, and we do feel there should be a bit more in the box given the price point. The warranty more than makes up for that shortcoming however as you get a full lifetime warranty against defects and workmanship.
While technically in our second spot, the Craftsman 9-17761 shop vac is only a hair behind our top choice. It’s bigger and is another wet/dry vac geared towards the professionals or consumers that have a lot of messes to deal with around their household.
Everything about this vacuum is large and in charge. It has a 6 HP motor that’s rated at 170 Blowing MPH and sports a massive 16-gallon drum. While not exactly svelte, it’s not heavy and rolls easily on flat surfaces. The wheels get some additional protection, but it’s not one you’ll want to drag through rocks.
This machine has a 7-foot dual flex hose and a 20-foot power cord, so there’s plenty of reach. There are also plenty of attachments in the box with two wands, a crevice tool, utility nozzle and web nozzle.
The Craftsman 9-17761 cannot transform into a blower but does have a high-speed exhaust port. It comes with one filter, so you will want to pick up additional ones or a specialty filter if you’re dealing with water.
Craftsman has produced a solid shop vac in the 9-17761, but it’s not without its faults. The biggest one would be the warranty in our eyes as you will only get one year. Considering cheaper models come with longer warranties, it’s a disappointment.
Click here to read user reviews on Amazon.
Budget Pick: Shop-Vac 5986000
Rounding out our choices for the top overall shop vac is something for consumers on a tight budget. The Shop-Vac 5986000 won’t strain your bank account and is an option for the best portable shop vac as well due to its overall size.
Shop-Vac wanted to keep things simple and affordable with the 5986000, and they certainly succeeded. It is a 5-gallon vac with a 4.5 Peak HP motor complete with a blower port if you want to throw a few leaves around.
The highlight of this model would be the stainless steel drum and the tool storage system. We love the rack while that collection tank looks good and is functional to boot. While tip overs shouldn’t be a problem with a good set of wheels, the Shop-Vac 5986000 has a full circumference dolly to keep it upright.
Other features to note for the shop vac include a secure latch system for the tank, a top handle, and three extension poles. That gives this little vacuum a bit more reach, and that’s a good thing as the hose is only 7-foot long. It’s also less than 2-inches in diameter and not quite as thick as we’d like.
It may not be large or overly powerful, but the Shop-Vac 5986000 is a fine option if you need something for your home or small shop. The price point makes it an attractive option, and while small, it still has plenty of pop.
You can aslo check our review for Shop-vac 9633400.
Best Wet Dry Vac
Not all shop vacuums can deal with liquids. Some are just made to pick up dirt and dust in your shop. If you need one that can handle water and other liquids, you’ll want a Wet/Dry shop vac.
Top Pick: Vacmaster VQ607SFD
Looking for something with more capacity than our budget choice? Vacmaster may have the solution for you in the VQ607SFD which is rated at 6 gallons and still keeps things light and affordable.
This is another vacuum with a stainless steel drum, which is ideal for liquids and looks pretty darned good to boot. It has onboard storage for your accessories and sports a 7-foot hose that’s flexible and more durable than it looks.
Do you plan to work outdoors?
If so, you will like the weather resistant nature of the Vacmaster VQ607SFD. The drum helps in this regard, but the power switch is sealed, and the wheels provide you with plenty of clearance. You can suck up water while working in it, so poor weather won’t keep you off the job.
You won’t get many accessories with the VQ607FD, but it does come with the usual. The value comes with the filters as you’ll get a bag, cartridge and foam filter out of the box. It is an amazing option for light-duty use, but not something you’ll want if you are a pro.
You can also check our review for the Vacmaster VBV1210.
Runner-up: Craftsman 12004
If you prefer plastic to steel, the Craftsman 12004 is well worth a look. This is another 6-gallon machine in the Wet/Dry class, and one with some features we think you’ll appreciate.
This one could almost qualify as the best portable shop vacuums. Even at 6-gallons, it doesn’t leave a large footprint. We also like the clearance on the 12004 even if the caster wheels could have been a bit sturdier.
Tech specs for this model include a 3 Peak HP motor, a 10-foot power cord and a series of handy attachments. It can quickly convert to a blower when you need to tackle a yard full of leaves as well. It may not be the best-looking vacuum on our list, but it certainly gets the job done.
While minor, this vacuum also comes with a couple of “hooks” that fit on the side to keep your hose wrapped when not in use. If you’re interested in the Craftsman 12004, you can read more about it in our full review of the Craftsman 12004.
Click here to read user reviews on Amazon.
Best Shop Vac for Dust Collection
Every shop vac on our list can be used for dust collection, but some do it better than others. With that in mind, here are two that stand out from the pack.
Top Pick: DeWalt DWV012
When something is dubbed a “dust extractor” you tend to pay attention. The DeWalt DWV012 is no ordinary tool, and it may be the last vacuum you buy if dust collection is important to you.
As you can see by the design, this shop vac is not for general use. It’s large with a 10-gallon drum and sports a 15-amp motor rated at 140 CFM. It’s also a HEPA vacuum, so it is built to deal with fine particulates – not nails or water.
One of the unique features on the DeWalt DWV012 is the built-in filter cleaner. This system sends a pulse every 30 seconds to ensure the filter stays clear. It’s not something you’ll find on other machines, and neither is variable suction control.
At over 30 pounds, this vacuum is not going to be for everyone. The price tag may rule it out for some as well considering you can buy four budget models for the price of one DWV012. That said, if you need full HEPA filtration in the shop, look no further as you may have found your best option.
Runner-up: Ridgid WD1450
It’s hard to compare our runner-up to our top choice. Both are built for the pros, but the DeWalt obviously takes the cake with its HEPA filtration system. The Ridgid WD1450 is no slouch, however, and one to consider if you need a solid all-around unit.
We already covered this vacuum at length, so we won’t dig too deep this time around. Instead, we are going to focus on the fine points which included a 6 Peak HP motor and a massive 14-gallon drum. It’s a Wet/Dry vac, so liquids, nails, and dirt will be no match for this one.
The WD1450 also has a cord longer than other models in this range at 20 feet. It wraps around the handle for ease of use, and we think you’ll be thrilled with the large port on this one as well. There aren’t many accessories with this model, but you will dig the way they are stored which makes dumping the tub a breeze.
In a nutshell, it’s a great shop vacuum you can use on the home or job site, and it certainly won’t break the bank. It also has an outstanding warranty, so it’s a tool that will likely outlast your others.
Best Portable Shop Vac
All the best shop vacs have a few things in common, and one of those would be wheels. Every vacuum on our list has a set, but some are more portable than others due to their size or a unique set of features.
Top Pick: DeWalt DCV581H
Sometimes, big things come in very small packages. While shop vacs aren’t known for their diminutive nature, the DeWalt DCV581H bucks that trend and is an option for the best cordless shop vac.
The DeWalt DCV581H is a convertible shop vac in more than one sense. It’s small enough that you can carry it around like a household canister vac, but considerably more powerful. Needless to say, it works as a leaf blower as well.
A 5-foot hose is integrated into the machine and wraps around the back when not in use. It runs on the company’s 18 and 20V batteries, or you can use the power cord if you prefer unlimited juice.
Another perk would be the filtration system on this machine. While it can’t hold as much as a normal shop vac, it comes with a HEPA filter rated at 99.97% efficiency. That’s impressive and so overall design as the company covered everything with this compact little unit.
The one downside of the DeWalt DCV581H is also its main advantage. It’s portable, but it won’t hold much debris compared to a regular model. The vac is available as a bare tool, with a 20V battery or as a kit.
Runner-up: Milwaukee 0880-20
Whereas DeWalt’s shop vacuum had a streamlined design, this one looks more like a lunchbox. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re a fan of Milwaukee’s lineup of power tools.
The Milwaukee 0880-20 is a cordless shop vac that functions as a blower and can handle liquids with ease. The blower port provides plenty of power, and the filter is of the HEPA variety. Dust and fine particulates are no match for this vacuum.
One cool feature of this model would be the top. Underneath the lid, you’ll find a few accessories along with the power switch and the battery. A holder handles an extension on the side while the front unbuckles when it’s time to dump.
The Milwaukee 08820-20 is arguably the best small shop vac if you are willing to work within the company’s tool system. If you already own a few of their cordless tools, this would be an amazing addition to your arsenal and won’t take up much space in your shop or toolbox.
Most Powerful Shop Vac
Sometimes you need special filters to deal with particles, and others times you simply need power. If you’re in the market for brute force, you will appreciate what these vacuums bring to the table.
Top Pick: Workshop WS1600SS
While 6.5 Peak HP is nothing to scoff at, it is common with pro model shop vacs. WORKSHOP’s WS1600SS vacuum sets itself apart from the crowd by its overall prowess which makes it our pick for the most powerful shop vac.
The WS1600SS has a 16-gallon stainless steel collection tank. Just let that sink in for a minute. That’s considerably larger than other “pro” models, and it’s a Wet/Dry vacuum as well. It’s not what we would consider heavy, but you will appreciate that cart on the job site.
Large rear wheels allow you to traverse any type of terrain and the locking hose is flexible but very durable. As for that motor, the company claims it’s capable of sucking up a gallon of water per second. At that rate, you’re going to be thankful or the large drainage port.
The only negative to the WORKSHOP WS1600SS would be the price. That will rule it out for some, but if you’re a contractor, it’s a machine you’ll seriously want to consider. It comes with a nice array of accessories as well and an outstanding 5-year limited warranty.
Runner-up: Craftsman XSP
When perusing shop vacuum reviews, one brand pops up more than most. That would be Craftsman, and the XPS 16 shop vacuum is another solid choice if you’re looking for a powerful shop vac. It’s also considerably cheaper than our top choice.
You may not get a handle or two big back wheels, but the Craftsman XSP also has a 6.5 Peak HP motor. It can suck up dust or water and has a blower function as well. The drum is also 16-gallons, so you’re going to have plenty of room for debris with this one.
This machine has a 20-foot cord and a sturdy 7-foot hose that’s 2 1/2” in diameter. The drain port is above average, but we can’t say the same of the caster wheels. We feel those could be a bit sturdier and we’re not big fans of the way the accessories attach to the wheels. Awkward is the first word to come to mind.
We can’t attest the power of this one compared to the WORKSHOP WS1600SS, but the main difference lies in the build quality and design. It’s not cheaply made by any means; it’s just not as solid as we’d like considering its size and that powerful motor. The Craftsman XPS is a good choice for homeowners and contractors that need a vacuum with a large drum.
Quietest Shop Vac
Looking for a shop vacuum that won’t wake the baby? Unfortunately, you’re out of luck, but we have found a few models that are far quieter than your typical shop vacuum.
Top Pick: Fein Turbo II
The Fein Turbo II has the distinction of taking two honors from us. It’s the most futuristic looking machine on our list, and it’s also the most expensive. That’s because it’s a specialty model, and we think you’ll be thrilled by what it can do.
Have you ever seen a tool that can start itself? Well, this one has an auto-start system and features by-pass cooling. The latter allows you vacuum to outlive other models by keeping dirty air away from the motor.
You don’t get named the quietest vacuum for no reason. The Fein Turbo’s noise level is only 66dB which makes it ideal for businesses where noise and messes are a concern. That would include places with water as it has a static water lift of 98.4” and air flow rate of 151 CFM.
There are really no drawbacks to this one in regards to the build quality, power or functionality. As mentioned, it carries a steep price tag, so it’s geared more towards businesses that require a special type of vacuum and not necessarily homeowners.
Runner-up: Ridgid WD1851
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Rounding things out is a machine that may look a bit familiar. It’s the Ridgid WD1851, which resembles many of the company’s other models, but has one feature those others lack. This one is quieter, and it’s got a nice 3-stage filter as well.
A solid cart with big back wheels will help you get across rocky ground or flat surfaces with ease. You’ll get plenty of reach from the Ridgid WD1851 thanks to a 20-foot cord and a 7-foot dual-flex locking hose. Throw in a couple of extension wands, and you’re well over 30 feet.
At 16 gallons, this vacuum can hold plenty of sawdust, nails or other types of debris. Water won’t be an issue as long as you switch out the filter and they’ve included a wide affray of accessories in the box. It comes with a nozzle for your car, a crevice tool, diffuser, utility nozzle, wet nozzle and two types of filters.
While we like the Ridgid WD1851, it’s going to be a matter of choice for some consumers. It’s a durable machine with plenty of power, and it is quieter than other models with the same size motor. It’s lacking in a few areas, however, and it comparable in price to some of our other choices with a wider set of features.
It may not be quite as handy as a cordless drill, but a good shop vac is a piece of equipment we highly recommend.
As you can see from our options, there is truly a price point for everyone. There are also plenty of machines built for consumers with special needs whether it’s 4-inches of water or working in areas that require finesse.