Buyers Guide: Wet/Dry Vacuums
Indoors and out, wet/dry vacs have become increasingly popular. Just be sure to buy the best model for your space and specs.
No longer strictly for the workshop, wet/dry vacuums are now a convenience for all around the house.
How did this happen? How did an essential clean tool for contractors become a secret weapon in the utility closet of regular Joe homeowners?
Simple. Homeowners finally discovered just how endlessly practical these special vacuums can be.
A wet/dry vac can suck up large spills and messes in the kitchen; dry leaves in the yard; and sawdust, wood chips, and other debris from home improvement projects. But these handy helpers aren’t one-size-fits-all, so it’s wise to do research before you invest in one. Ahead, you’ll learn what features and options will suit your needs and get specific insight on our picks for the best wet/dry vac, based on independent reviews and extensive customer ratings.
Pros and Cons of Owning a Wet/Dry Vac
Messes happen, and if you’re like most folks, you’ll find ample opportunities to use your wet/dry vac. They’re great for:
- Making short work of leaks and spilled drinks.
- Removing water from wet carpeting so it can dry more quickly.
- Sucking up piles of blown-in leaves that collect in corners of the garage and shed.
- Cleaning away woodchips and shavings in workshops.
- Vacuuming the inside of automobiles.
- Blowing leaves off the sidewalk (if the vacuum has a blower connection).
While wet/dry vacs have a lot going for them, do consider the following:
- These babies are big! Even a mini model can measure about a foot high and a foot wide. Plus, their canister shape can make them a challenge to store.
- Many wet/dry vacs are so loud; manufactures often recommend wearing ear protection when operating one.
- Wet/dry vacs are not designed to filter out dust and other tiny airborne particulates. Unlike standard household vacuums, which have sealed collection containers, wet/dry vacs have unsealed containers that let dust escape during use. While most come with washable filters, and some include dust bags to reduce a portion of the dust, shop-type vacuums will not contain the dust as a household vacuum will. If someone in your home has allergies or asthma, don’t use a wet/dry vac indoors.
Understanding which features best fit your needs will go a long way to simplify the shopping trip when you’re looking for the best wet/dry vac. Get started with these features.
SIZE AND CAPACITY
Manufacturers tend to list their models as one of four general sizes that correspond to the vacuum’s collection tank capacity.
- Mini: Holds less than 2 gallons
- Small: Holds 2 to 6 gallons
- Medium: Holds 6 to 14 gallons
- Large: Holds more than 14 gallons
The largest vacuums are often the most powerful, making them best suited to job sites and spacious workshops. Minis have such limited “oomph,” collection tanks, and options, they can’t be relied on for much more than cleaning small spills. Small- and medium-sized models tend to strike a happy medium for homeowners who want to dispense with sizeable messes but haven’t space for a larger unit.
Wet/dry vacs feature a number of attachments; some you may love while others you may never use. Nearly all models come with a wide floor utility nozzle, which connects to a rigid extension wand. Other common attachments include a crevice nozzle for sucking debris out of tight corners and an elbow wand for reaching around corners or overhead. Most models also boast a wet nozzle with a squeegee edge for banishing liquid spills and a brush nozzle ideal for car interiors.
Except for the smallest mini-models, most wet/dry vacs feature a drain plug that lets you release liquid without having to remove the inside collection canister. Many also include a blower connection, which allows you to attach the included hose and blow leaves away from a garage or sidewalk.
Filters and/or dust bags are helpful for capturing a greater amount of dust as you vacuum, but the filters are not designed to capture all the dust, as a HEPA filter does. Most filters can be cleaned and reused, while dust bags can be reusable or one-use only, depending on the model.
Hose length runs from six to 30 feet, depending on the model. Longer hoses, which often come with wall-mount models (another perk for garage and workshop use), allow you to mount the vacuum in a central location and vacuum from one end of the garage to the other without having to pull the whole vacuum along with you. While this is handy in many cases, long hoses have a tendency to get twisted if they’re not wound carefully after use.
Cord length, which runs six to 10 feet on average, is less important since you can always use a long extension cord if you’re cleaning the shed at the back of the yard and no electrical outlet is nearby.
POWER AND PERFORMANCE
When it comes to wet/dry vacs, horsepower can be a bit misleading, because the number relates only to the unit’s motor output, not to its performance ability. The horsepower number printed on the unit refers to peak horsepower (PHP), which designates the power of the motor. While it’s true that the higher the horsepower, the more powerful the motor, other factors, such as the length and diameter of the hose, also affect the amount of suction. So rather than focus on PHP as your sole focus, put more stock in customer ratings when determining actual suction power.
Best Wet/Dry Vacuums
After comparing reviews from consumers and experts in light of the key shopping considerations outlined above, we’ve rounded up three of the best wet/dry vacs available today. With miniature, medium, and large sizes represented below, you’ll find a model that’s built just right to tackle your messes and take care of your needs.
BEST FOR LIGHT DUTY: Shop-Vac 1.5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac
With a history of manufacturing quality work-type vacuums since 1953, it’s no surprise a Shop-Vac won a spot of honor among our three top choices. The compact Shop-Vac 1.5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac rises to the top of its class for mini wet/dry vacs. Weighing in at only 5.6 pounds, this little Shop-Vac is a breeze to tote from room to room. It features 2 peak horsepower (PHP), a washable filter and a 4-foot hose for sucking up small spills quickly. Attachments include an extension wand, a 5” utility nozzle for flat areas, and a crevice tool to get in tight spots. Easy-release buttons let you remove the top and dump the collection container. At only 10” high and 11” wide, this mini Shop-Vac can be stowed in a closet or on a shelf. Buy now.
BEST FOR MEDIUM DUTY: Rigid 12-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac
For its powerful motor and outstanding performance during rigorous testing, experts select the Rigid 12-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac as their top shop-type vacuum choice. This medium-size model features 5 peak horsepower and a sizable 12-gallon collection tank, making it an admirable option for workshops and do-it-yourself projects around the house. The tank comes with a built-in drain spout for easy emptying of liquids, and four sturdy swivel casters make it simple to pull across the floor. Attachments include two extension wands, a utility nozzle, an automobile nozzle, and a wet nozzle. There’s a 7-foot hose, a reusable filter, a reusable dust bag, and a blower connection. It weighs in at under 19 pounds, measures 26” high and 22” wide, and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. Buy now.
BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: Emerson 16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac
If you’re looking for a workhorse that you won’t have to stop and empty every half hour, consider the Emerson 16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac. With durability, power, impressive storage collection capacity and a multitude of attachments, the 6.5-peak-horsepower Emerson is our top pick for construction sites and major cleanup jobs. It boasts a copolymer drum, instead of the standard plastic drum found in most wet/dry vacs, so it resists cracking. Plus, there’s a built-in auto-shutoff float that senses when the liquid level in the drum gets too high and shuts off the vacuum automatically to prevent overflow accidents. In addition to a blower connection, a drain spout, and a 7-foot hose, the attachments list runs long and includes all of the following: a wet nozzle, a utility nozzle, a car nozzle, and two extension wands. You’ll appreciate the reusable cartridge filter, as well as the wet filter sleeve that protects the motor from liquid. Perhaps best of all, the Emerson 16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac comes with a limited five-year warranty. Buy now.