In this side-by-side product review Outside Pursuits leads you through everything you need to know in order to compare and choose the best shop vac specific needs and preferences.
We’ll take a look at the top-rated and best shop vacs for the money. Also see: How To Choose A Shop Vac later in the article. What is the best shop vac?
Quick Answer: The Top 5 Best Shop Vacs
- Best Shop Vac (Overall) – Shop-Vac 5-Gallon, 4.5 HP
- Best Small Shop Vac – DEWALT DCV581H 2 Gallon, 2 HP Rechargeable
- Best Woodworking Shop Vac – FEIN 5.8 Gallon, 1100W
- Best Cordless Shop Vac – DEWALT DCV517B 1/2 Cordless
- Best Shop Vac for Car – Armor All 2.5 Gallon, 2 HP
Best Shop Vacs
|Best Shop Vac (Overall)||Best Small Shop Vac||Best Shop Vac for Woodworking|
|Shop-Vac 5-Gallon 4.5 Peak HP Stainless Steel Wet Dry Vacuum||DEWALT DCV581H 18/20-Volt MAX Cordless/Corded Wet-Dry Vacuum||FEIN Turbo I Vacuum Cleaner, 5.8 Gallon, 1100W|
|Tank capacity||5-gallon stainless steel||2-gallon tank capacity||8 gallon tank
|Capability||Multi-surface, wet/dry capability||Wet/dry capability||Wet/dry capability
|Special Features||5HP motor, 25” diameter hose||2HP motor, 25” diameter crush-resistant hose||Auto start/stop function, Two fans for cleaner operation
|Customer Ratings||3.7 / 5.0 Stars||4.2 / 5.0 Stars||4.0 / 5.0 Stars|
Also see: Shop Vacs Comparison Table
Best Shop Vacs Reviews
Best Shop Vac (Overall)
This unit is the best wet and dry vacuum cleaner that you will find. Look at some of its best features.
- Stainless steel tank
- Multi-surface, wet/dry capability
- 5HP motor
- 25” diameter hose
- Multiple accessories included
- Compact and portable
The first thing you will notice about this unit is the stainless steel. Most shop vacs are made of plastic, which makes them all look very similar, but can get scratched up fairly easily. Not this one. The stainless steel makes it a little more durable. In addition, it is much easier to clean the inside.
There is a reason that this model is one of the best wet and dry vacuum cleaners that you will find. The 4.5 horsepower motor can clear a drain faster than other units with smaller motors, and it will also blow nearly twice as much air. The strong motor allows you to be able to clean up a mess quickly.
In terms of portability, this sturdy unit has two carrying options, a handle on top and two handles on the side. In addition, the base is a full circumference dolly (not just two wheels attached to the unit). This gives it stability as it glides along smoothly behind you as you vacuum.
One of the things that makes this the best wet and dry vacuum cleaner for home use is the accessories that come with the unit. Along with the 7-foot standard hose, you get three extension wands, a crevice tool, “gulper nozzle” (for wet vac) and a floor nozzle.
There is a place on the unit to store all of the accessories, so you can easily change extensions or tools without having to go and search for them. For the inner part of the unit, you also get a cartridge filter, foam sleeve (important for wet vac, see “How to Choose” section), and a filter bag.
One of the most common complaints about this unit is that the power cord is too short. At only 6 feet long, you are going to need an extension cord to be able to vacuum continuously without having to constantly change the plug from outlet to outlet.
All in all, this unit has a lot going for it: from the multiple accessories to the easy portability, this is definitely one of the best wet dry shop vacs you can buy.
Best Small Shop Vac
If you are looking for the best portable shop vac for small jobs, take a look at this unit from DEWALT.
- Rechargeable battery
- Wet/dry capability
- 2HP motor
- 25” diameter crush-resistant hose
- Multiple accessories included
- Compact and portable
This is an incredibly compact, dual power, wet/dry shop vac. It runs on an AC electric cord, but can also run on its rechargeable 18 or 20 volt battery. The 2 horsepower motor is plenty adequate for the size of the unit. Since it is on the low end of the HP range, it is quieter than other small shop vacs.
It has both wet and dry capability, with separate storage bins for each, which means you can switch between the two without worrying about dry debris getting stuck in a still damp capacity bin. It also has a switch that allows you to change the unit to “blow” so you can blow debris into a bigger pile for easier collection.
In terms of portability, this is probably one of the best portable vacuum cleaners that you will find. It weighs roughly 11 pounds (depending on what accessories you have attached), so even if you fill up the 2 gallon capacity bin, you will still have less than 15 pounds to carry around.
This small unit comes with a crevice tool, for getting into small spaces, and a car nozzle, which can be used for cleaning upholstery. Its 5 foot hose also ensures that you will not get tangled up in it if you are working in small spaces. There is also a rack attached to the unit for easy storage of these tools.
The HEPA rated wet/dry filter has a high 99.97% efficiency rating, and is easy to remove for cleaning. The filter is washable and reusable, which will cut down on the cost of having to constantly replace filters.
The cord is short, at only 5 feet long, but a small unit does not necessarily need a long cord, because the portability makes it easy to carry from outlet to outlet. This is a benefit because it means the cord has less chance to get tangled and knotted.
Because of its size and horsepower, you cannot expect to be able to use this vacuum on heavy jobs or large debris. But it is great for use in spaces where you can’t fit a full-sized shop vac, making this one of the best small wet dry vacs on the market.
Best Shop Vac for Woodworking
This unit is slightly different than the first two in that not only is it the best vacuum for woodworking, the suction makes it the best shop vac for dust collection as well.
- Auto start/stop function
- Wet/dry capability
- 8 gallon tank
- Two fans for cleaner operation
- Easily maneuverable
- Compact design
The high air flow on this unit is part of what gives it the edge when it comes to vacuuming finer particles, which makes it perfect for a woodworking shop where everything will probably be covered in sawdust.
Able to suction both wet and dry debris, this unit also connects to power tools through an integrated tool socket. This does not, however, mean that all power tools are compatible, so be sure to do your research on that before buying.
This is a heavier unit, at roughly 26 pounds, but users report that the four wheels on the bottom of the unit rotate 360 degrees, making it extremely maneuverable while eliminating the need to pick it up and carry it all of the time. The bin capacity is 5.8 gallons, but it should be noted that the liquid capacity is 3.4 gallons.
Unlike the first two shop vacs, the FEIN does not come with any accessories; these can be bought separately. However, it does come with a flat, pleated filter in a protective cartridge. The filter can be easily cleaned for repeated use.
You will get extra working space with the FEIN, because it has a long 13-foot hose and an 18-foot cord. Coupled with the wheels on the bottom, and depending on the size of the woodshop, this should enable you to plug the unit in once and still be able to reach all areas of the room.
This is not a unit that will necessarily work well for large debris. However, the suction capacity of over 98 inches makes this the best wood working vacuum.
Best Cordless Shop Vac
If you are looking for a mini shop vac that won’t tangle you up in a cord, look at DEWALT’s second entry on this list.
- Wet/dry capability
- 5 gallon bin capacity
- Gripped handle for easy carrying
- Extremely portable
- Dual clean-up mode
This could also be listed as the best garage vacuum, because it weighs less than 5 pounds. This, combined with the cordless nature (it runs on a 20 volt, rechargeable battery), means that you can clean up a mess at a workbench in the garage quicker, without having to untangle a cord or look for a nearby outlet.
With a bin capacity of only half a gallon you won’t be doing any heavy duty vacuuming, but that is not what this unit is for. It is best used on small jobs like woodchips, cereal, and even dust or dirt.
It should be noted here that the length of the battery life will depend on the type and amount of debris that you are vacuuming. The harder the unit has to work, the shorter the life will be.
The HEPA wet/dry filter traps 99.97% of dust at 0.3 microns, meaning that it can retain the smallest particles. This, in turn, means that you will not have the dust blowing back into the room. The filter is also washable, simply by running it through tap water. Be sure to let it dry thoroughly before placing it back in the unit.
A really nice feature of this unit is that it is all one piece; the hose, wand, and nozzle are all connected. The flexible hose extends from 2.5 feet to 5 feet, enabling you to get into those hard-to-reach places. It can also be used with vacuum attachments, but the adapter for that is sold separately.
The best handheld vacuum should be portable, flexible, and not have a cord to get tangled up in. This unit from DEWALT fits all of the criteria.
Best Shop Vac for Car
While the previous unit may be the best handheld shop vac, it cannot compete with this Armor All unit for the title of best car vacuum.
- Wet/dry capability
- 5 gallon bin capacity
- 0 Peak HP motor
- 25 inch hose diameter
- Auto shut-off
- Blower function
Let us start with the most important details. The main reason this is the best vacuum for car detailing is that it comes with several attachments, all designed to address different types of debris that you could find in your car. There is a crevice tool, blower nozzle, large utility nozzle and both small and large detail brushes. There is even storage for all of the accessories.
Right there, you can see why this should be your choice if you are looking for an auto detailing vacuum. You pretty much have everything you may need to clean the inside of your car, without having to bring rags, solutions, and other messy items into the equation.
It is also lightweight and portable, weighing only 7 pounds. The 2.5 gallon bin capacity ensures that you should be able to clean your entire car in one pass (unless you have kids, of course). The unit comes with a reusable cloth filter and a reusable foam sleeve, which is recommended for wet vac purposes.
The unit has a 6-foot-long hose and 10-foot power cord, and there is a wrap area on the unit so that you can adjust how much cord you unwind. This will enable you to easily reach into second and third row seating areas without getting tangled in the cord.
The auto shut off will prevent overflow, which is especially helpful when vacuuming large quantities of debris. Convert the unit to blow, and you can use it to dry areas of your car, or to blow debris out of the wheels and grills.
Armor All has long been associated with top of the line car products, so it really should be no surprise that they have the best car vacuum cleaner that we looked at.
Shop Vacs Comparison Table
|Best Shop Vacs||Price||Tank||Capability||Special Features||Customer Ratings
|Shop-Vac 5-Gallon 4.5 Peak HP Stainless Steel Wet Dry Vacuum||$57.63||5-gallon stainless steel||Multi-surface, wet/dry capability||5HP motor, 25” diameter hose||3.7 / 5.0 Stars|
|DEWALT DCV581H 18/20-Volt MAX Cordless/Corded Wet-Dry Vacuum||from $106.73||2-gallon tank capacity||Wet/dry capability||2HP motor, 25” diameter crush-resistant hose||4.2 / 5.0 Stars|
|FEIN Turbo I Vacuum Cleaner, 5.8 Gallon, 1100W||from $264.97||5.8 gallon tank||Wet/dry capability||Auto start/stop function, Two fans for cleaner operation||4.0 / 5.0 Stars
|DEWALT DCV517B Baretool 20V MAX Cordless 1/2 gallon Wet/Dry Portable Vac Kit||from $83.23||5 gallon bin capacity||Wet/dry capability||Dual clean-up mode, Gripped handle for easy carrying||4.1 / 5.0 Stars
|Armor All 2.5 Gallon, 2 peak HP, Utility Wet/Dry Vacuum||$39.99||5 gallon bin capacity||Wet/dry capability||Blower function|
, 25 inch hose diameter
|4.0 / 5.0 Stars
How to Choose A Shop Vac
A shop vacuum, more commonly known as a shop vac, is an item that everybody needs, but nobody ever thinks about needing. Consider how many times you have had a mess to clean up that a regular vacuum just can’t handle.
Once relegated to machine and wood shops for their extra volume capacities, shop vacs are now marketed for regular household use. Because there are so many ways to use one, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what exactly the best shop vac would be for your purposes.
There is a lot of information out there , so first, let us take a look at the 5 best shop vacs on the market today.
As you have seen, there are many considerations that go into choosing the best wet dry vac, including technical specifications as well as intended usage. Here is a short, but helpful, guide that will give you some more detailed information.
- What is sealed pressure?
- Cubic feet per minute (CFM)
- Bin capacity
- Hose Size
- Filtration System
- Last Word Buyer’s Tips
This should probably be one of your main considerations. If you intend to use it in various places in the house, or at least have the capability to do so, you want to look for smaller or lighter units. If you want a larger bin capacity, look for one with wheels. If you plan on it being stationary, you can go with a bigger, heavier unit.
What is sealed pressure?
This is basically the suction pressure of the shop vac. It is most important when using the unit as a wet vac. It is measured by how many inches of water the vacuum can lift a column of water. The higher the number, the greater the suction pressure is.
When it comes to shop vacs, you really just have to look at what you are going to be using it for. If you generally only have little stuff, like stubborn pet hair, or small spills, you can pick one that is only one or two hp.
If you have plan to use it on more stubborn messes, especially larger pieces of debris, you should go with a four or five hp machine.
Cubic feet per minute (CFM)
This is essentially the airflow – how much pressure there is as it is moving air. Generally speaking, you do not need that much CFM for small, every day use. For finer debris like sand or sawdust, you want something that has a higher CFM.
As with other metrics of the unit, you need to ask yourself what you will be using the shop vac for. Smaller debris, finer material, and little messes do not require a big bin capacity. If you have bigger debris, a bigger bin capacity would obviously be better.
However, if you are planning on using the shop vac on a regular basis, regardless of the type of debris, you will want to get one with a bigger bin capacity to alleviate constant emptying of the bin.
You may not think that this is important, but it could actually make a huge difference in how well your unit functions. As with the filtration system (next point) the size of hose you want will be determined by what type of debris you will be vacuuming up the most.
For fine debris like sand or sawdust, you want a 1.25 or 1.5-in-wide hose; for medium, a 1.5-2.5-inch-wide; for large, you’ll need at least a 2.5-inch-wide hose. If you suck up large debris with a small hose, you will lose suction because it will clog (a lot).
In addition, you want to consider hose length. You do not want it to be so short that you constantly have to lift the unit to be able to reach certain areas. However, if you choose a longer hose, you will be sacrificing suction power, regardless of the HP of the motor.
A lot of shop vacs do not have an air filtration system like regular vacuums, but they do have filters within. If you use the wrong filter, you could find yourself with dust blowing back out of the unit into the air, which pretty much defeats your purpose of vacuuming.
A general rule of thumb is that the filtration level should match the type of debris you will be vacuuming up (for the most part, at least. It is understood that the debris type may vary). So, if it is fine debris, you want a filter with a fine filtration level; medium debris needs a medium level; you can use a general filtration level with large debris.
If you are going to be using your shop vac for wet debris, it is recommended that you buy a foam sleeve for your filter (it makes for easier cleaning). In addition, if you or a household member has allergies, you should use a HEPA filter or collection bag (depending on the unit you choose).
Do you have to buy accessories with your shop vac? Of course not. But can some accessories enhance the power and capability of your shop vac? Absolutely. If you (or your kids) are forever losing things in the sofa cushions, you definitely want a crevice tool, because you will get the suction to pull the items out without sucking them all the way into the bin (think Legos).
Likewise, several models have special tools that can go on the end of the hose and be used specifically for unclogging drains, which ultimately could save you a lot of money in the long run. Whichever model you choose, you should definitely at least take a look at the accessories offered.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why do I need a shop vac if I have a regular vacuum?
Answer: A regular vacuum may be enough for some quick spot cleaning, but many of them lack sufficient CFM to tackle bigger, or heavy duty jobs. In addition, woodworking and other jobs that produce fine particles such as sheetrock dust, will clog a regular vacuum. Remember, shop vacs were originally made for use in shops, so they are better equipped all-around for such usage.
Question: If my shop vac isn’t rated for wet and dry, can I still use it for wet debris?
Answer: It is not recommended to do so. The filters are not the same, and there could be internal components that could be ruined by wet debris.
Question: What are some other uses for a shop vac?
Answer: This is actually the fun part. Depending on the horsepower and attachments you use with your shop vac, you can do any one of the following: clean up toys, inflate pool toys, rescue something from a sink drain, defrost a deep freezer, clean your dryer vent, or even play fetch with your dog (you will need the blower function for that one).
Last Word – Buyer’s Tips
There is a lot of information in this review guide, and it can all be a little overwhelming. The best place to start is to consider what the primary use of the shop vac will be. Then you can think about what accessories will enhance the capabilities of the shop vac.
Once you figure those things out, you can start looking at the other specs and information to determine which one will ultimately be the best shopvac for you to buy.
Thanks for reading Top 5 Best Shop Vacs. We hope our review article will help you pick the right product for your needs from among our top picks.
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And if you’re shopping for other gear take a look at these related review articles from Outside Pursuits:
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Last update on 2019-03-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API