If your household is like ours, messes don’t come in defined categories. You might have a mix of broken glass and the liquid contents that was inside it, or dust from a demo project along with tracked in wet leaves. You need a wet-dry vacuum that can deal with the disaster with ease.
The best wet-dry vacs (also called shop-vacs or dust extractors) come in a variety of sizes and ranges of capabilities. Do you need one for your hobby work area? Is apartment or condo chaos more along your lines of cleaning issues?
We’ve found the best wet-dry or shop-vacs for all your needs, no matter how small or large. This is a case where one size doesn’t fit all, including the heaviest of the heavy duty machines. You want an answer to cleaning up those mixed jumbles of materials no matter how dusty the pile or big the puddle.
6 Best Wet/Dry Shop Vacs
Best Overall: Shop-Vac 5979403
- Capacity: 8 gal.
- Portability: B
- Airflow: 75 CFM
- Suction: 54 in.
- Hose Length: 7 ft.
- Weight: 19 lbs.
Shop-Vac is the name most of us associate with the wet-dry vacuum market (to the point where we apply the name ‘Shop-Vac’ as the generic label for all manufacturers). This company has been around for over 65 years and offers you a range of sizes and features on its models. We like this 8-gallon version because it sits at a sweet intersection of horsepower and workable size.
If you want to make sure your canister doesn’t smell from debris over time, you want stainless steel, which this Shop-Vac has. It features a drain on the tank for wet messes and a blower on the back to reverse the air flow and use as you would any leaf blower. The handles allow you to move the system on its rollers with ease.
Users note that the hose length might not be adequate for all of us, and longer lengths are available as an add-on. The extensive accessories that come with the Shop-Vac fit into holes on the back of the machine’s wheeled frame for easy access, though these can get in the way for some people. If you want to suck up nails as easily as dust and effectively remove sitting water from carpet, this vacuum will be a great investment to meet your needs.
Best for Home Workshop: DeWalt 9 gal Pro Poly
- Capacity: 9 gal.
- Portability: B
- Airflow: 90 CFM
- Suction: 70 in.
- Hose Length: 7 ft.
- Weight: 23 lbs.
DeWalt, a well-known name in both pro and homeowner construction tools, entered the wet-dry vac market with the intention of expanding its iconic yellow and black design to all the goods you’ll need in your workshop.
This model is one of a range of sizes offered that seems to satisfy the most enthusiastic hobbyist or DIYer out there. It features a plastic canister, so emptying it regularly will be a good idea to avoid odors.
A drain removes wet messes from the canister tank. The rear blower port is good for moving debris like leaves out of the way, and the unit overall travels easily on swivel casters. The on-off button is large and prominently colored so you won’t accidentally change the setting while engrossed in a task.
The system comes with numerous accessories with their own carrying pack, a point that some customers like and others don’t. Some complain about the suction power and blame the washable filter for restricting the airflow. Overall, though, most users are delighted with the power and variety of tasks this DeWalt can conquer in their workshops and around the house.
Best for Professional Job Sites: Vacmaster VJH1612PF Beast
- Capacity: 16 gal.
- Portability: B+
- Airflow: 150 CFM
- Suction: 64 in.
- Hose Length: 18 ft.
- Weight: 24 lbs.
As we’ve found with other manufacturers, Vacmaster makes a range of wet-dry vacs across sizes and features. This model features amazing airflow, the reason it can support a detachable blower with settings up to 240 mph. The extra-large drain port on the tank helps you avoid clogs as you remove wet debris from its plastic canister.
This is a very powerful machine (which is why the pros love it) and some users have noted that blowing an electrical breaker is a possibility if you plug it into a circuit less than 20 amps. The longer power cord helps you avoid extension cords, and both the cord and the long hose can wrap around the machine. Extensive accessories store in slots around the wheeled base of this unit.
Customers note that the muffler in this vac makes it quiet to run, unique among this style of vacuum. Based on the six and a half horsepower motor, it would be nice if it offered a bit more suction, note others. For heavy duty shop or construction site needs, however, this Vacmaster makes the grade with pros and DIYers alike.
Best for Limited Storage: Bissell Crosswave Pet Pro 2306A
- Capacity: 1.75 gal.
- Portability: A-
- Airflow: N/A
- Suction: N/A
- Hose Length: Wand-type
- Weight: 12 lbs.
If you live in a small space where storage will be an issue and need a machine to do all your dirty work, you’ll want to consider this Bissell.
While it doesn’t feature the type of suction or power you’d find in a workshop system, that isn’t the reason you’d buy this unit. The manufacturer notes that it is not designed to be a standard dry vacuum, though customers rave about its performance doing precisely that.
An advantage this machine has over other wet-dry vacs is that it can be used safely on different types of flooring material. Users vote positively for its effectiveness on tile and hardwoods as well as wall-to-wall carpet and area rugs. A single pass over the average stain lifts it out, and a double pass over set in versions takes care of the issue.
Note that this is not the vacuum to use if you’re working on major renovation projects or creating a lot of sawdust or dirt in the garage. It doesn’t have the strength or capacity to do that debris justice, and you’ll end up ruining its internal parts. If your pets are making your tiny home a mess, though, this Bissell will help you deal with the results.
Best for Portability: Ridgid Portable 50313 4000RV
- Capacity: 4 gal.
- Portability: A
- Airflow: 110 CFM
- Suction: N/A
- Hose Length: 8 ft.
- Weight: 15 lbs.
While we can’t confirm the suction capability of this Ridgid brand vacuum, users note that its five horsepower motor is more than up for cleaning professional messes.
Its small size allows it to get into places larger machines can’t, making it a favorite of contractors like plumbers under sinks. The 20 foot power cord and low amperage requirements (nine amps) means it won’t require an extension cord and won’t blow out circuits.
The amount of air this vacuum moves is on par with much larger pro units. While the weight isn’t light by itself, the sleek design and longer hose allow you to put the base down and work without fear of not having enough distance. The quick filter release and fine dust accessory make even drywall dust easy to clean.
Customers wish this vacuum came with more accessories. Subjectively, they can’t agree on whether it is quieter than expected or a bit louder. However, for a portable unit that still needs the power of a monster, this Ridgid seems to live up to the manufacturer’s reputation.
Best for Budget: Craftsman CMXEVBE17584
- Capacity: 9 gal.
- Portability: B+
- Airflow: 70 CFM
- Suction: N/A
- Hose Length: 7 ft.
- Weight: 16 lbs.
Rated as a medium-duty machine, this Craftsman features the durability we’ve come to expect from the brand at a reasonable price. It is a good all-around vacuum for indoor and outdoor projects, while not quite as powerful as the larger units on our list. That’s okay, because you’re buying this for the price, and you know it’s not for the pro-level high-volume user.
The power cord wraps around the top handle, and the hose attaches to the body. Accessories can also be stored on board. Filters release easily for fast clean up and replacement.
Customers say adding more length to the hose or putting on more attachments reduces suction power. While four and a quarter horsepower is deemed to be adequate under industry standards, some customers had a hard time sucking up debris they considered as usual stuff with this machine.
However, Craftsman has proven to be a workhorse under normal conditions and many that were purchased a decade ago are still going strong.
The Complete Wet/Dry Shop Vacs Buyer’s Guide
What You Need to Know about Wet-Dry Vacs
The uses you’ll find for a wet-dry vac around your house are only limited by your imagination in creating spills and debris. If you have a toddler or pet or like to work on home improvement projects, you know what I mean. Even those of us with no tykes underfoot and those messier projects behind us find the occasional broken container of food product or dribble on wall-to-wall carpet a challenge without the right equipment.
Using a regular vacuum for the dry products isn’t a good idea when there’s texture or volume involved. Ditto for sucking up fine particles unless your vacuum has an industrial filter inside. I can attest to this, having burned out a high quality (and expensive) vacuum to deal with drywall dust and chunks.
Not all cleaners will be created for the same purposes, so it’s a good idea to consider what and how you’ll be using your wet-dry for vac before you make a choice about the machine. Think about the factors we’ve listed below to determine what features will be most important in finding the right wet-dry vac for you.
Types of Messes
Are you looking for something to help you clean up after the construction crew (or you) are done for the day? You want heavy-duty, with good suction and airflow and high debris container capacity. If it comes on rollers and has a special filter for fine drywall dust, all the better.
Living in a condo with carpets and pet hair? Storage space required for the unit will be key, as well as the machine’s ability to clean what ends up in the rug courtesy of your nonhuman housemates. Dust control via a good vacuum filter and portability are factors to think about.
If you’re a busy young family, you probably need something with features out of both extremes. Soil spread from pots of tumbled plants and knocked over drink glasses could occur with daily frequency. Getting a big machine out of the garage could seem like overkill but needing that kind of cleaning power in a household model would be important.
Dusty Dust and Allergens
This can’t be stressed enough. The standard vacuum cleaner isn’t designed to pick up fine particulates, and without a filter, allergens will float in the air after you clean. If you’re prone to dropping, say, baking flour, you want the ability to vacuum in the allergens & dust without having the machine’s exhaust sending it back out into your atmosphere.
Not all wet-dry vacs come with a fine particle filtering system. The vacuum you use for your floors and carpets has a filter, but it also isn’t optimal for things like flour. Unless you have an allergy-specific HEPA filtering system, you won’t have adequate pickup capability.
There’s no polite way to say this – the kinds of things your wet-dry sucks up will over time develop odors. They permeate the plastic of the system and the materials of the filters. For this reason, having a system you can clean thoroughly trumps using a household vacuum and dealing with lingering smells of dog, cat, or your failed attempt at cupcakes for the rest of its existence.
For this reason, we like wet-dry vacs with canisters or debris containers that can be washed out and dried completely. A wet-dry that cleans itself has not yet been invented, so you’ll need to stay on top of this to ensure your house stays fresh-scented after its use. Exhaust from the machine will carry any smells throughout the working area.
Filters can also attract and hold on to odors. If you’re diligent about washing the washable kind and replacing disposable filters and debris bags regularly, you can avoid a smelly mess. Replaceable filters and debris bags come with a cost, though for the average low-volume user, that expense is not significant.
|Shop-Vac 5979403||8 gal.||75 CFM||54 in.||19 lbs.|
|DeWalt 9 gal Pro Poly||9 gal.||90 CFM||70 In.||23 lbs.|
|Vacmaster VJH1612PF Beast||16 gal.||150 CFM||64 in.||24 lbs.|
|Bissell Crosswave Pet Pro 2306A||1.75 gal.||N/A||N/A||12 lbs.|
|Ridgid Portable 50313 4000RV||4 gal.||110 CFM||N/A||15 lbs.|
|Craftsman CMXEVBE17584||9 gal.||70 CFM||N/A||16 lbs.|
Capacity before Emptying
There’s a reason commercial shop-vacs are such a big size. Workers don’t want to be stopping every few minutes to carry the full canister to the dumpster. You won’t want to either, so think about debris capacity before you buy.
While we’re on this topic, consider where you’ll dump the debris too. Directly into your trash receptacle seems like a good idea, but fine dust inside your can results in clouds each time you add a bag from the house. If you’re dealing with a trash shoot, you can’t toss the contents out without bagging it.
If your debris is a mix of wet and dry, your predicament becomes more complicated. Wet stuff alone can be dumped in a utility sink or down a toilet, but when mixed with any dry debris, that’s impossible. Some people spread an old shower curtain liner over a five gallon bucket to use as a strainer when emptying their wet-dry vacs to separate the contents before disposal.
Distances to Power
If you’re using this machine as a shop-vac in the garage, will your power cord be long enough to span your space? How about vacuuming the car’s interior out in the driveway? You want a cord length that works for your needs.
If space is at a premium in your apartment or condo, you might also consider retractable cords. Not many large machines come with this feature. Winding up the 60-foot cord can be a chore almost as big as the cleaning itself.
If you live in an older home or you’re buying a larger capacity machine, pay attention to the amperage required to run your wet-dry vac. The standard 15-amp wall plug might be fine for your television and a few other electronics, but once you add on a vacuum, it could blow the breaker.
That’s why many pro users recommend plugging your wet-dry into a dedicated 20 amp circuit or using the plugs in your kitchen which are usually on higher amp circuits.
Do you need to vacuum the interior of your SUV with this machine? You’ll want accessories and a portable size. How about blowing the leaves off outdoor steps (a reverse airflow or ‘blower’ feature) or vacuuming the wood shavings from the inside of your furniture-making project (with a soft brush working best)?
Once you have a wet-dry vac, you’ll find many more uses for it than you can currently imagine – unless you’ve had one before and know it will go from house to garage to car to vacation setting. It’s a good idea to think about your possible future requirements too, since these vacuums are made to be durable and to last.
Note that manufacturers do not recommend using these machines as a replacement for your standard vacuum. They provide too much suction and can’t be adjusted for less. You’ll burn out the vac’s motor because it affixes to the floor or carpet and can’t suck in the air it needs to run.
A feature none of us can ignore is the noise this gear makes when it’s running. Most aren’t designed with insulated motors or mufflers like our household vacuum. They also do not have the exhaust controls and other design aspects that make them good around sleeping babies or spouses.
There is no workaround here. These mechanicals are loud, often louder than adults should be hearing on a regular basis, much less kids or skittery pets. Consider ear protection for you and others when you use your wet-dry and be conscious of the hours you’re operating the vac so you don’t bother neighbors.
Filters on most smaller wet-dry vacs are not made to remove all particulates from the air moving through the machine. Some will exhaust out into the air you’re breathing, and for that reason, wearing breathing protection of some kind can be important if you’re cleaning up, say, drywall dust after sanding or the remnants of your kids’ flour fight. Some machines come with a special fine dust filter for this purpose.
Liquids can also hold toxic substances you shouldn’t be breathing. Before cleaning up a questionable wet spill, read about the material either on the original product packaging or online to make sure there are no special handling requirements. If you’re using this machine for fine particles or a wet mess with questionable substances in it, mask up.
FAQs about Wet-Dry Vacuums
Let’s dig into the questions often asked about wet-dry vacs. Some have to do with features, and others are about vacuum uses.
|Wet-Dry Vacuum||Best For||Portability||Hose Length|
|Shop-Vac 5979403||Best Overall||B||7 ft.|
|DeWalt 9 gal Pro Poly||Best for Home Workshop||B||7 ft.|
|Vacmaster VJH1612PF Beast||Best for Professional Sites||B+||18 ft.|
|Bissell Crosswave Pet Pro 2306A||Best for Limited Storage||A-||Wand-type|
|Ridgid Portable 50313 4000RV||Best for Portability||A||8 ft.|
|Craftsman CMXEVBE17584||Best for Budget||B+||7 ft.|
How important is a filter on a vacuum?
There’s a good reason why large shop-vacs come with reusable or replaceable filtering systems. They’ll be clogged all the time from the dust of a job site or home improvement effort. That’s why so many are made to be washed out and staying on top of that is important.
If your allergies or those of others in your household are severe, shift your messy projects outdoors or to a larger open area like a garage.
Consider other methods of keeping the dust out of your lungs, like wearing individual breathing masks rated for smaller particulate matter. Buy a vacuum with a reusable dust filter that can be cleaned after each use to avoid ongoing expenses.
Remember that liquids can carry allergens and toxic substances too. You’ll want to take precautions when working around solvents or chemicals, even outdoors. Some are best sopped up, not sucked up, so read your product labels for the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Will a small shop-vac be as effective as a large one in sucking up nails?
The number one reason this is a big no-no is the damage it can do to the machine. Yes, we said they’re generally durable, but that’s under normal conditions.
Nails and screws torpedoed through a plastic tube and into a plastic canister, rattling around in a volume of suction and airflow, reduces that durability faster than normal. Get a broom and a dustpan instead to pick up as much of the material as you can first.
How large does my investment need to be for a quality wet-dry vac?
Shop-vacs can be found at value prices with stripped down features and accessories. That may be all you need for your projects. Household machines with greater portability and more features will run you more but have less heavy-duty uses.
You want to consider a wet-dry vac as an investment, but one with a lifecycle marked by how frequently (and how hard) you use it. A whole house renovation will burn it out faster than the occasional run through the SUV and pick-up of broken potted plant. Luckily, you have affordable choices from which to select.
Do canister drain plugs really remove the liquid inside?
Opinions on this are mixed. You’ll often hear a professional say that they don’t last long because they tend to become clogged, especially if they have any kind of bend or elbow to them. Household users can find them to be very handy with mixed messes.
It depends on what you’re draining. Something that can build up in the drain with use and clog it will be different from regular suction on liquids and little else. The experience will vary depending on what you’re cleaning with the machine.
What’s not to love about wet-dry or shop-vacs?
Probably the number one complaint is the amount of dust that comes out the exhaust flow of a wet-dry vac. For the standard model, the filter might not control fine particles. It’s always a good idea to sweep up as much as you can when dealing with dusty substances before using the vacuum for what’s left over.
The other issue is related to durability. Plastics pick up odors, and depending on what you’re cleaning, those odors can stay with you even after a project or mess is a distant memory. For this reason, people with frequent smelly cleaning needs should select a machine with a metal canister that fights off lingering residue.
Selection Criteria for Wet-Dry Vacs
There is no one best wet-dry vac, but rather the one that is best for your specific cleaning requirements. For this reason, we include criteria that should guide you to the one that works for your unique situation. Other features of each machine have been noted in the comments for that gear.
|Wet-Dry Vacuum||Best For||Capacity||Portability||Airflow||Suction||Hose Length||Weight|
|Shop-Vac 5979403||Best Overall||8 gal.||B||75 CFM||54 in.||7 ft.||19 lbs.|
|DeWalt 9 gal Pro Poly||Best for Home Workshop||9 gal.||B||90 CFM||70 In.||7 ft.||23 lbs.|
|Vacmaster VJH1612PF Beast||Best for Professional Sites||16 gal.||B+||150 CFM||64 in.||18 ft.||24 lbs.|
|Bissell Crosswave Pet Pro 2306A||Best for Limited Storage||1.75 gal.||A-||N/A||N/A||Wand-type||12 lbs.|
|Ridgid Portable 50313 4000RV||Best for Portability||4 gal.||A||110 CFM||N/A||8 ft.||15 lbs.|
|Craftsman CMXEVBE17584||Best for Budget||9 gal.||B+||70 CFM||N/A||7 ft.||16 lbs.|
Capacity refers to how much debris the canister can hold before emptying, expressed in gallons. Small units hold about six gallons or less, while the large capacity can be over 14 gallons. While the canister size is often in the name of the machine, we call it out here too.
While stick vac (and particularly cordless stick vacs) have carrying ease and weight in their corner, smaller, lighter shop-vacs also exist. Some have removable canisters, most larger models come with rolling capability, and others require you to turn the whole unit over to empty it. We grade this criterion on a standard A to F scale.
Airflow is the speed/volume of air able to flow through the machine. It is expressed in cubic feet per minute or CFM. If you have heavier or larger pieces to pick up, you want higher CFM.
Suction picks up liquid, which weighs more than you’d think. The standard measurement is how far the suction can lift a precise sized tube of liquid. We grade the suction on inches when available, though not all manufacturers readily provide this data.
Hose length is a trade-off. Too short and you can’t reach debris, but too long means you need better suction strength to pull that gunk through the distance. We give you the hose length that comes standard with the machine (without accessories or additions).
When you’re using your machine, its weight will become as important as its bulk and features. Think about muscling around a heavy canister and motor with a short hose and lots of ground to cover. Here we note the weight, and if it comes with a long hose and power cord, it receives its kudos in the product comments.