Professional car detailing can be expensive. Although pro service is typically worth the cost every now and then, keeping up with regular car cleanliness doesn’t require a big investment. However, achieving optimal results does require a vacuum for car detailing, even if it’s for a DIY detail job in the driveway.
With so many options on the market, choosing the right vacuum can get confusing. There are corded and cordless models, different levels of horsepower, and a variety of accessories. It can be tough to determine what will work best for a particular vehicle.
This guide shares how to choose the best vacuum for car detailing, explains the finer points of features and uses, and even suggests a few top models to consider.
- BEST OVERALL: Ridgid 4-Gallon Portable Wet/Dry Vac and Car Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Armor All 2.5-Gallon 2 Peak HP Utility Wet/Dry Vacuum
- UPGRADE PICK: Makita 18V 2-Gallon HEPA Filter Wet/Dry Vacuum Kit
- BEST CORDED: Vacmaster Professional 8-Gallon 11-Amp HEPA Vacuum
- BEST CORDLESS: DeWalt 18/20V Max Cordless Wet-Dry Vacuum
- BEST PORTABLE: Milwaukee M18 2-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum
- BEST CAPACITY: Vacmaster 12-Gallon 5 Peak HP Wet/Dry Vacuum
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Vacuum For Car Detailing
When choosing the best car vacuum for detailing, it helps to know a bit of background about this category of tools. There are certain features to consider, and the following sections detail (pun intended) some of the most important ones. Before settling on a vacuum, determine which features are important so the vacuum will have what it takes to get the job done.
Corded vs. Cordless
Vacuums for car detailing come in two main types: corded and cordless. Because battery technology has improved greatly over the years, the best type for most jobs is largely a matter of personal preference and convenience.
Corded car vacuums plug into power outlets, typically in a garage. These models usually have plenty of power for detailing, effectively sucking up dirt, crumbs, and pet hair. However, they do require that a power source be nearby, and because they have cords, their range is limited and they can pose a tripping hazard. There also are corded models that can plug into a vehicle’s 12V power port, but they’re generally too underpowered for anything more than removing crumbs from a child safety seat.
Cordless models are much more convenient and portable. They run off rechargeable batteries, so the user can take them wherever the vehicle may be or move them from one side of the car to the other without having to worry about the cord. However, these models typically have less power than corded models.
Capacity and Maneuverability
Capacity frequently determines maneuverability. Smaller-capacity vacuums are more portable, even when they do have a cord tethering them to an outlet. They can usually fit easily inside the vehicle if needed, as well. Large wet/dry vacuums with more capacity are a bit more difficult to move around, but they often include long hoses or wands to improve their reach.
Unless there’s been an awful mess or the detailer is cleaning several cars in a day, capacity is rarely an issue for a car detailing vacuum. Typically, a 2-gallon tank is enough, but those who’d prefer a bit more capacity before they have to empty their vacuum may want to consider an 8- or 12-gallon model.
Power does matter a bit. These vacuums have to be powerful enough to remove pet hair from carpets or snack remnants ground into the upholstery. The main difference in power is between corded and cordless models.
Corded vacuum power is measured in terms of horsepower (hp). Light-duty models land anywhere between 1 and 4 hp, generally speaking. Heavy-duty car vacuums will offer 4 hp or more.
Cordless vacuum power ratings are described in terms of voltage, and it’s determined by the batteries they use. Models that use 18V to 20V batteries are likely to be similar in suction power. However, batteries have capacities as well, and the larger the Ah (amp-hour) rating of the battery, the longer it will run before needing a recharge.
One of the most crucial aspects to consider in choosing the best vacuum for car detailing is the included accessories. Models with attachments that can fit into tight spots, spread suction out over a few inches of carpet, or brush hairs loose will make the detailing process faster and more enjoyable for most users.
Shoppers may want to look for models that come with crevice attachments, as they can fit between seat cushions, under seats, into cupholders and door pockets, and inside other areas. Also, the best car detailing vacuums often come with carpet attachments that can help brush stubborn pet hair loose from floor mats or upholstery. Extension wands are also helpful, as the user may be able to reach more of the car without repositioning the vacuum.
Our Top Picks
Choosing the best vacuum for car detailing may seem like a lot of work, but the following list of some of the best vacuums will help make it easier. Each of these models has its pros and cons, so be sure to keep your top features in mind while reviewing the options.
Those who want a vacuum that does everything well—and aren’t set on getting a cordless model—may want to consider Ridgid’s portable wet/dry vacuum. This corded model features a powerful 5-hp motor and an ample 4-gallon capacity, giving DIY detailers the capability to handle tough jobs.
This kit comes with a set of tools meant explicitly for detailing. In addition to basic tools, it includes a flexible hose extension to prevent scratches, extension wands, and several crevice and upholstery nozzles. And although this isn’t the most compact vacuum on the market, it does have a 20-foot cord and a set of wheels to improve its range and functionality. It would be nice if the car kit had an HEPA filter, but the included filter should get the job done.
- Type: Corded
- Power: 5 hp
- Capacity: 4 gallons
- Powerful motor
- Includes kit of detailing attachments
- Wheels and 20-foot hose improve range
Get the Ridgid vacuum for car detailing at The Home Depot.
When the goal is saving as much as possible when compared with going to a professional detailer, Armor All’s wet/dry vacuum may be the right pick. This corded model has a 2-hp motor and a 2.5-gallon tank, giving it enough power for detailing jobs while remaining small enough to take into the car. It can also convert from a vacuum to a blower, allowing users to force dust out of tough-to-reach spots.
This model features a 6-foot hose that allows it to reach into most areas of a vehicle relatively easily. It also comes with a full complement of car-cleaning accessories, including a general-purpose nozzle, a crevice tool, a flat nozzle for carpets and upholstery, and a detail brush attachment for getting into every spot. It also comes with a filter. The 10-foot cord does limit how portable the model truly is, though an extension cord easily solves the problem.
- Type: Corded
- Power: 2 hp
- Capacity: 2.5 gallons
- Affordable price
- Full kit of accessories
- 6-foot hose
- Compact size
- 10-foot cord; may require extension cord
Get the Armor All vacuum for car detailing on Amazon.
DIY detailers who crave portability but don’t want to sacrifice capability may benefit from giving consideration to the Makita 18V wet/dry vacuum. This model runs on the brand’s 18V battery system and comes with a 5.0-Ah battery and a charger. It also has a three-stage HEPA filter to remove up to 99.97 percent of particulate matter from the air—something that could be important for older cars with musty, dirty carpets.
This model features two power modes: high and low. High provides powerful suction, while low will allow this particular vacuum and battery set to run for up to 1 hour. Also, it features a compact size thanks to its 2-gallon capacity, so it can easily fit inside a vehicle for maximum portability. It comes with a 6.5-foot hose, a crevice nozzle, and an upholstery nozzle. Because most other options include more attachments, the two nozzles that come with this vacuum may disappoint.
- Type: Cordless
- Power: 18V
- Capacity: 2 gallons
- Up to 1 hour of runtime
- Cordless portability
- 3-stage HEPA filter
- Compact design
- Limited included attachments
Get the Makita vacuum for car detailing on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
Folks who want to make sure they never run out of power when detailing their car or truck may find what they’re looking for in the Vacmaster professional 8-gallon vacuum. With its corded design and 8-gallon capacity, it’s capable of detailing multiple cars in 1 day without needing time to recharge.
This vacuum comes with a large kit of accessories, many of which are a big boost to car detailing, including a crevice tool, a round dust brush, and a floor nozzle. Also, it has a dust collection bag, a HEPA filter for catching air particulates, and a 10-foot hose. The Vacmaster also comes with a set of steel wands for reaching into distant spaces while detailing. However, it doesn’t come with an upholstery nozzle.
- Type: Corded
- Power: N/A
- Capacity: 8 gallons
- Big kit of accessories
- Large capacity
- HEPA filter included
- No horsepower rating
- No upholstery nozzle
Get the Vacmaster 8-gallon vacuum for car detailing on Amazon.
Taking care of a detailing job on the road may not get easier than it does with this DeWalt vacuum. The design allows it to function with older snap-in style DeWalt batteries as well as the new sliding batteries, allowing detailers to get the use out of once-obsolete batteries. Once energized, this vacuum can go wherever the detailer’s job may be.
The vacuum features a 2-gallon capacity and comes with a HEPA filter for improved air quality. It has onboard storage for the upholstery nozzle and crevice tool, and the hose wraps around for onboard storage. A potentially problematic issue with this vacuum concerns the hose, as it’s only 5 feet long. Luckily, this compact vacuum can easily sit on a seat or floorboard to improve reach.
- Type: Cordless
- Power: 18V or 20V
- Capacity: 2 gallons
- Compact cordless design
- Uses new and old DeWalt batteries
- Onboard storage for hose and attachments
Get the DeWalt vacuum for car detailing on Amazon or at Lowe’s (20V compatibility only).
The Milwaukee M18 2-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum’s design mimics that of a standard hand-carry tool box, allowing for maximum portability. It has a top-mounted lid that users can open and close, providing access to battery power as well as handy storage space for the 6-foot hose, crevice tool, and upholstery nozzle.
This powerful car vacuum uses the brand’s popular M18 battery lineup. This means anyone invested in the Milwaukee M18 lineup of cordless tools and has a shelf full of batteries can get more for their money. This model doesn’t come with a battery or charger, but it does feature a compact and portable design. However, this vacuum provides only about 30 minutes of runtime, even when equipped with a large 9Ah battery (not included).
- Type: Cordless
- Power: 18V
- Capacity: 2 gallons
- Onboard tool box–style storage
- Uses brand’s M18 batteries
- Comes with a HEPA Filter
- 30 minutes of runtime
- Battery not included
Get the Milwaukee vacuum for car detailing on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
Whether it’s a terribly dirty car that needs a lot of work or simply cleaning all the family’s vehicles in 1 day, this wet/dry vacuum from Vacmaster has detailers covered. This corded model features a 12-gallon capacity that won’t require emptying until the day (or several days) is done. And with a 5-hp motor, it has plenty of power to keep running until it’s full.
This corded model comes with a full assortment of onboard stored accessories, including a 7-foot hose, two extension wands, a utility nozzle, a crevice tool, a car nozzle, and a tapered nozzle for extreme suction. Remove the top of the vacuum to use it as a handheld blower, which can blast debris out of engine bays or truck beds. Where the vacuum may fall short for some is that this is a big vacuum, and portability can be an issue.
- Type: Corded
- Power: 5 hp
- Capacity: 12 gallons
- Plenty of power
- Large 12-gallon capacity
- Lots of accessories for detailing
- Not easily portable because of its size
Get the Vacmaster 12-gallon vacuum for car detailing on Amazon.
Those who want the best vacuum for cars that has the features and power to do an excellent job detailing most types of vehicles may want to consider the Ridgid vacuum for car detailing. However, folks who want to save a little money while still getting a capable vacuum for car detailing may want to consider the Armor All vacuum for car detailing.
How We Chose the Best Vacuums for Car Detailing
Choosing what’s on a list that represents some of the best car vacuum detailing wasn’t easy, but luckily, we were up for the task. We have years of experience with car maintenance and care, so we knew just what to look for when choosing our favorite products.
First, we determined which features we find most important, balancing convenience, portability, power, and the attachments we typically need. Next, we performed extensive product research to compile a list of vacuums we thought might meet our needs. Then, we compared those models based on power, price, and capability to ensure that each model offered enough value. Some didn’t, and we tossed those aside. Those that passed our tests were given awards based on their strengths and most useful features.
Tips for Using Vacuums for Car Detailing
Many car owners bounce around a vehicle when they vacuum, and as a result, they miss quite a bit of the dirt and dust. We find that it’s best to work in sections: first the front driver seat and footwell, next the center console, then the front passenger seat and footwell, and so on. One benefit of owning a vacuum for car detailing is that since users aren’t working on a time constraint and feeding a car-vacuum machine quarters by the minute, they can take their time.
Another helpful strategy is rather than vacuuming the floor mats in the vehicle, remove them and shake them out before vacuuming them on a flat surface. Not only will this shake the surface dirt off, but it will also loosen up the dirt stuck deep inside the fibers, making removal with a vacuum much easier. The best car detailing vacuum will often come with a flat, wide attachment specifically for tasks like this.
One thing that separates a professional detailer from an amateur is that pros vacuum headliners. These fabric ceiling surfaces collect dirt and dust and will drop little bits with every pothole or hard braking. Be sure to vacuum the headliner with a brush attachment.
- Work in sections to prevent missing spots.
- Remove floor makes and shake them out before vacuuming them on a flat surface.
- Vacuum the headliner with a brush attachment.
That may be a lot of information about choosing the best vacuums for cars, but there may still be some lingering questions embedded. This section will attempt to answer them, as it’s a collection of some of the most frequently asked questions about the topic. Shoppers will want to look for an answer to their query listed below.
Q. How can I vacuum my car without a vacuum?
If a user doesn’t own a vacuum, the best way to vacuum a car is to head to a local car wash or gas station. These businesses typically have vacuum cleaners in their parking lots, and they’ll typically operate for 5 minutes for $2 or $3 in quarters.
Q. Can a regular vacuum be used for a car?
If the vacuum has a wand attachment, it may work. However, household vacuums are too large to get into the tight spots in a vehicle. A smaller vacuum made for car detailing is best.
Q. What type of vacuum is best for cars?
Small wet/dry shop-style vacuums are usually best. They typically come with an array of attachments and can get the job done with plenty of power.
Q. What do professionals use to vacuum cars?
Most professional detailers use heavy-duty car vacuums outfitted with professional-grade accessories that allow them to reach into tight spots or pull dirt from thick carpets.
Q. How long does a full car detailing take?
A full car detailing, depending on the condition of the vehicle, typically takes from 5 to 10 hours. During that time, the vehicle gets washed, waxed, and vacuumed, the carpets get shampooed, and stains are removed. If the vehicle is exceptionally dirty, it may take much longer.