Photo: Tom Scalisi for Bob Vila
Workshop and DIY projects create piles of sawdust, sanding dust, and all sorts of tiny bits of debris that add to general clutter and chaos. Wet/dry vacuums, sometimes called “shop vacs” because they’re often found in construction and workshop settings, make quick work of cleaning up both liquid spills and dry messes.
Another variety of vacuum that cleans up both wet and dry messes is the vacuum mop. Vacuum mops perform as traditional vacuums with the added ability to clean up liquid spills and wash flooring.
To help those on their vacuum-shopping journey, we performed hands-on testing with some of the best wet/dry vacuums on the market. We compared suction, accessories, and more to determine which vacuums are worth the investment. Learn about the features and options to look for in a top-quality shop-type model, and don’t miss the roundup of some of the best wet/dry vacuum options available.
- BEST OVERALL: DeWalt 6-Gallon 5 HP Wall-Mounted Wet/Dry Vac
- RUNNER-UP: DeWalt 12-Gallon Poly Wet/Dry Vac
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Vacmaster 12-Gallon 5 HP Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
- BEST LIGHT-DUTY: DeWalt 20V MAX Wet/Dry Cordless Vacuum
- BEST MEDIUM-DUTY: Craftsman 9-Gallon 4.25 Peak HP Wet/Dry Vac
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: Workshop High-Capacity Wet/Dry Vacuum Cleaner
- BEST FOR HOMES: Shop-Vac 5-Gallon 5.5 HP Long Tank Wet/Dry Vac
- BEST COMMERCIAL-GRADE: Vacmaster 14-Gallon 6.5 Peak HP Steel Wet/Dry Vacuum
- BEST FOR DUST COLLECTION: Craftsman 16-Gallon 6.5 Peak HP Wet/Dry Vac
- BEST WITH HEPA: Vacmaster Pro 8-Gallon HEPA Wet/Dry Vacuum
- BEST FOR PORTABILITY: Ridgid Portable 4-Gallon 5.0 HP Motor Wet/Dry Vac
Photo: Tom Scalisi for Bob Vila
How We Tested the Best Wet/Dry Vacuums
Testing the best wet/dry vacuums wasn’t rocket science. We needed to see how well they worked when sucking up dirt and vacuuming up liquids. We also evaluated how much we liked their attachments. After all, that encompasses the basics of wet/dry vacuums.
First, we prepared roughly 2 gallons of soil for the dirt test. We placed the dirt in a bucket, removed the filters inside the vacuums, and used only the hose to suck up the dirt. We started with the compact models, then moved to the medium-duty models, and finally went after the heavy-duty shop-style vacuums. We timed them all for comparison and emptied each canister for the next test.
Next, we filled the same bucket with 2 gallons of muddy water and repeated the testing process. Starting with the compact models and moving up to the heavy-duty vacuums, we timed how long each took to suck up the muddy water.
Finally, we vacuumed our vehicles to test each model’s suction with hard-to-remove pet hair and dirt, as well as their portability when manipulating them around a vehicle.
We also considered other things, like how easy each vacuum was to assemble and how well the attachments fit and worked. By the end of the test, we had a good idea of what worked, what didn’t, what we liked, and what we’d improve upon if we could. All told, we spent about 2 hours testing each vacuum over the course of several days.
Our Top Picks
The ability to suck up dry and wet messes with a single vacuum eliminates the need for separate vacuums. The following wet/dry vacs are some of the best, varying in power, size, and messes they can effectively tackle. Some are better suited for a job or worksite than for use in a home.
One of these may be the boon needed for keeping the home or workspace tidy. And, to make sure shoppers spend that hard-earned money wisely, we performed hands-on testing with these models, putting them through the paces of sucking up dry and wet messes. Keep reading to find the right model for your specific needs among our list of top wet/dry vacuums.
Folks looking for a top-notch wet/dry vacuum will seriously want to consider the DeWalt 6-gallon 5-horsepower (hp) wall-mounted wet/dry vac. While larger and more powerful models are available, this unit has upgraded features that make a serious difference, including a super-flexible hose and remote control that turns the model on and off from your workstation.
This DeWalt wet/dry vac also comes with lots of accessories. You get a wall-mounted rack for the vac and its attachments as well as extensions, a claw nozzle, a crevice nozzle, a round brush, a utility nozzle, a floor nozzle, several filters, a bag, and even a muffler. The 5-hp motor has plenty of power for almost all cleanup activities, and while the 6-gallon canister might be small for jobsites or big floods, it’s compact enough for garage use.
The difference between this hose and all the other hoses we tested was night and day. This model’s hose was flexible and soft as well as thick and heavy-duty. Also, turning this wet/dry vac on and off from a remote is incredibly handy, especially when cleaning a car or tidying up around an entire garage. It had more than enough power for our purposes, though we did find that, due to its compact size, it’s not ideal for large spills or really big jobs, and it also doesn’t have wheels.
It’s worth noting that between the onboard storage and the mounting rack, all of the accessories and the hose store neatly away. And, since the rack is designed to hang from just one stud, we found that it’s much easier to install than its size would imply.
Read our full review: DeWalt 6-Gallon 5 HP Wall-Mounted Wet/Dry Vac
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 5 hp
- Size: 6 gallons
- Comes with a remote control for turning the model on and off from your workstation
- Clever onboard storage and wall-mounted rack keep everything neatly organized
- Provides plenty of power for a compact vacuum and comes with multiple accessories
- Due to its compact size, it’s not ideal for large messes
Get the DeWalt wall-mounted wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Tractor Supply Co., The Home Depot, or Acme Tools.
For cleaning up after DIY and other household projects, this DeWalt wet/dry vac stands out. It has a medium-capacity 12-gallon collection tank and comes with a powerful 5.5-hp motor for strong suction. The bright yellow canister stands 26.7 inches tall and is 19.09 inches in diameter, which is big enough that most users will need to stow it in a garage or workshop.
The DeWalt vacuum comes with a 20-foot power cord and features a 7-foot-long flexible suction hose. This model weighs 23.15 pounds and comes with a handle that makes it easy to carry up a staircase or load into a truck bed. The vacuum also comes with some accessories, including a utility nozzle and crevice tool, for various cleanup jobs. Buyers also receive a nifty accessory storage bag that attaches to the vacuum.
During testing, the DeWalt proved to be an excellent vacuum overall. While it wasn’t the most powerful model, it was fast and efficient. We particularly liked the onboard storage pouch as it does a better job of retaining attachments than any other method. The only downside we could find is that setup took a while since the wheels, their brackets, and the brackets for the tool pouch needed assembling.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 5.5 hp
- Size: 12 gallons
- Provides powerful suction that’s ideal for most cleaning projects
- Onboard storage pouch conveniently stores attachments
- Simple and effective cord and hose management keeps you from tripping over them in the workshop when it’s not in use
- Setup took a little longer than with some other models
Get the DeWalt Poly wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, The Home Depot, Acme Tools, Blain’s Farm & Fleet, or DeWalt.
Enjoying the powerful suction of a wet/dry vacuum shouldn’t break the bank. The Vacmaster shop vacuum has a medium-capacity 12-gallon collection tank and a respectable 5-hp motor. Best of all, it comes at an affordable price point. The Vacmaster stands 24.49 inches tall, 20.52 inches in diameter, and weighs 20.5 pounds. It comes with a 7-foot flexible hose and a 12-foot power cord.
This shop vac does double duty as a blower: Simply remove the power head from the canister and connect it to one of the two included extension wands. It also comes with additional nozzles and a crevice tool for cleaning in tight spots.
If it wasn’t for the Vacmaster’s impressively low price point, it might’ve taken another more prestigious award. The truth is that we found this vacuum to be as good as the other models on this list. In fact, even though it’s only a 5-hp vacuum, its design allows for suction as powerful as the larger vacuums we tested. Also, this model is the only one with a detachable motor you can operate as a corded leaf blower. The one downside we found is that it doesn’t come with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, but most don’t.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 5 hp
- Size: 12 gallons
- Punches above its weight class in suction power
- Affordable price point compared to similar options
- Vacuum motor detaches and operates as a blower if needed
- Doesn’t come with a HEPA filter; may not vacuum up all dust and fine particles
Get the Vacmaster 12-gallon wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Newegg, or Walmart.
Those looking for a light-duty shop-type vac may need to look no further than this cordless wet/dry vacuum powered by a 20-volt lithium-ion battery. Weighing just under 10 pounds, this vacuum is lightweight enough to easily carry from room to room. Since it’s battery-powered, you can also take it to remote locations without electrical outlets, such as garden sheds.
This light-duty cordless shop vac comes with a small-capacity 2-gallon collection tank and is just 13.12 inches high by 17.25 inches long by 12.31 inches wide, so it’s possible to store it on a shelf in the garage or workshop. It comes with a 5-foot-long flexible hose and a top handle for carrying. You also get a crevice tool and wide-nozzle tool attachment for cleaning messes in various spots.
We’ve been using this tiny wet/dry vac for weeks. It was just too compact and convenient to leave in the box. While it certainly doesn’t have the power of the corded models, we found it incredibly handy and portable, and we especially liked that it accepts all our 20-volt DeWalt batteries. There’s onboard tool storage for a streamlined design as well.
- Style: Tool/shop style
- Power: 20-volt battery
- Size: 2 gallons
- It’s compact and easy to carry around as needed, making it convenient for lots of light-duty projects
- Operates on any DeWalt 20-volt battery, so DeWalt tool fans will have plenty of batteries
- Smart onboard storage makes it easier to swap out accessories when needed but also store attachments away securely
- Doesn’t quite have the power of some corded models currently available
Get the DeWalt 20V MAX wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Ace Hardware, The Home Depot, Acme Tools, DeWalt, or Walmart.
The classic-style Craftsman wet/dry vac doesn’t have many bells and whistles. Still, it features a powerful 4.25-hp motor and offers an ample 9-gallon collection tank suitable for cleaning up medium-size messes found in most home workshops and garages. It is 24.3 inches high by 16.6 inches long by 18.4 inches wide, which is slightly more compact than competing medium-duty models.
The Craftsman vac includes a 10-foot power cord and a 7-foot flexible hose. It also comes with accessory storage right on the canister, and you get several additional attachments, including a wet nozzle, utility nozzle, crevice tool, and two extension wands.
This model from Craftsman is not the most powerful, and it doesn’t have the highest capacity. But the corded shop-style vac got the job done during testing. It made short work of dirt and dust, pet hair, and muddy water. It did require a bit of assembly, including attaching the wheels to the bracket and the brackets to the vacuum, but it wasn’t complicated.
We did, however, find that it was very easy to secure the vacuum motor to the canister slightly askew, which absolutely destroyed suction. While that’s not necessarily a deal breaker, buyers should be aware of this issue.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 4.25 hp
- Size: 9 gallons
- No slouch when it comes to suction; suitable for multiple cleaning tasks
- Comes with dust collection for easy cleanup; suitable for dander and pet hair
- Filters pop on and off easily; good time-saver
- It’s a little finicky to assemble; may be hard for first timers
Get the Craftsman 9-gallon wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Ace Hardware, Acme Tools, Blain’s Farm & Fleet, Craftsman, Newegg, or Walmart.
With durability, power, impressive storage-collection capacity, and several attachments, this Workshop wet/dry vacuum is meant for big cleanups. It boasts a sizable 6.5-hp motor and a copolymer drum that resists the potential cracking that can occur with the standard plastic drums found in many wet/dry vacs.
This model has a built-in auto-shutoff float that shuts off the vacuum when the liquid level in the drum gets too high, thus preventing overflow accidents. In addition to a blower connection, a drain spout, and a 7-foot hose, the attachments list runs long. It includes all of the following: wet nozzle, utility nozzle, car nozzle, and two extension wands for carpeting as well as hardwood floors.
Sometimes, when a tool claims to have a certain amount of suction power, it disappoints. The Workshop shop vac tied for the most powerful model in our test, definitely meeting our expectations. This vacuum cleaned up dirt and muddy water the quickest of all the vacuums in our test. We also liked that it has a lot of onboard storage, allowing for more attachment organization than most other models. Also, draining out the dirty water was a cinch thanks to the built-in drain plug.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 6.5 hp
- Size: 16 gallons
- Very powerful motor means it can easily handle most indoor and outdoor jobs
- Enough capacity for even the toughest jobs, making it suitable for commercial use or in garages
- Drain port makes it a breeze to empty 16 gallons of liquid from the dirty water tank
- It doesn’t come with HEPA filtration, so it may not trap finer particles
Get the Workshop wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Tractor Supply Co., or Wayfair.
Folks needing a powerful shop vac that doesn’t take up much space will want to consider this model from Shop-Vac. The unit features a 5.5-hp motor and a unique tank design that takes up very little floor space. You can store it in a closet or the corner of a utility room and have it ready anytime.
This model from Shop-Vac comes with several accessories and brackets to store them. It includes two hoses (one 18-foot and one 7-foot), a floor nozzle, a utility nozzle, a crevice tool, a brush tool, three wands, a bag, and several filters. It also comes with a wall mount that you can hang the vacuum from as well as a wall-mounted accessory bracket that stores the attachments.
We’ll start by addressing what we don’t like: The power cord is short (just over 6 feet), the attachment bracket is poorly designed (it’s too cluttered and doesn’t hold attachments well), and the compact size does limit this model’s capabilities. But it’s also a total beast with a very small footprint. The 5.5-hp motor was incredibly powerful for its size, and the lock-on hoses ensure that a tug or two doesn’t pop the hose loose. Photos showing this model’s compact size don’t really do it justice—it takes up less than one square foot of floor space. That also makes it extremely handy for hanging from the wall bracket.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 5.5 hp
- Size: 5 gallons
- Tall design takes up less than 1 square foot of floor space; easy to store on the floor or the wall
- Despite its compact design, it has a powerful 5.5-hp motor
- Lock-on hoses ensure that the hose doesn’t pop loose with a tug
- Storage bracket is poorly designed; it’s cluttered and doesn’t secure the attachments well
- The power cord is short, measuring just over 6 feet
Get the Shop-Vac wet/dry vacuum at Amazon.
Anyone who needs a heavy-duty reliable wet/dry vac that can handle the rigors of commercial use will want to give this model from Vacmaster some thought. It features a heavy-duty stainless steel canister (which is really more of a tank) with 14 gallons of total capacity, as well as a 6.5-hp motor. It has enough power and capability for jobsites, industrial facilities, and professional cleaning or restoration services.
This model from Vacmaster comes with heavy-duty, push-cart-style wheels that can make moving this vacuum around easier, especially when loaded with liquid. It also has a large discharge port for quick draining. It comes with a 7-foot hose, a floor nozzle, a floor brush, a squeegee nozzle, a crevice tool, extension wands, a wet filter, a storage bag, and a muffler.
Our model came labeled as “The Beast,” which really does describe this vacuum. We felt it had tons of power, and the stainless steel drum should last a long time. We liked the design of the cart and storage bag, which does keep all of the accessories in place (something the larger wet/dry vacs usually don’t do well). However, we found the cart didn’t wheel as nicely as we thought it would, even when the vacuum was empty. The top of the vacuum is flat, which we found handy for storing a nozzle quickly while transitioning from one to another, and we liked that the power cord was 20 feet long for plenty of reach. Annoyingly, our model was missing the hardware used to attach the casters to the cart, but we found some extra wood screws lying around that did the trick.
Note: Referring to this vacuum wheel system as a “cart” is not meant to imply that the unit comes off the base. It is permanently attached.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 6.5 hp
- Size: 14 gallons
- Stainless steel canister is heavy-duty and should stand up to the rigors of commercial use
- 6.5-hp motor has the power to clean up large messes and plenty of liquids
- Onboard storage and cart keep all of the nozzles and attachments organized better than most large vacuums
- Ours was missing some hardware that we had to come up with on our own
Get the Vacmaster 14-gallon wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Acme Tools, or Northern Tool + Equipment.
This Craftsman wet/dry vac features a powerful 6.5-hp motor and a 16-gallon-capacity tank that you can use with or without a dust-collection bag. In testing, we found the option to collect dust in a disposable bag to be a unique perk.
When using this Craftsman to clean dry debris, you simply insert a disposable bag you can later lift out of the collection tank and throw away. Dust-collection bags are only used when vacuuming dry debris and pet hair. One bag is included with purchase, and replacement bags are sold separately.
The Craftsman comes with a 7-foot flexible hose and a long 20-foot power cord, delivering ample reach for most cleanup situations. With two extension wands, a car nozzle, a crevice nozzle, a utility nozzle, and a wet nozzle, this wet/dry vac is well suited for DIY and home renovation projects.
We found the Craftsman provided just as much power as advertised, making short work of everything we threw at it. We liked its strong suction, the fact that it comes with dust-collection bags, and even its organization. The power cord wraps around the handle (which we had to install ourselves), and the hose has brackets (that we also had to install) that hold it in place. However, if the hose and cord storage is ideal, the attachment storage is anything but; attachments popped off the vacuum as we pushed it around.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 6.5 hp
- Size: 16 gallons
- Lots of power, making it capable of tackling most projects, indoors and out
- Comes with dust-collection bags for ease of cleanup of seriously dusty messes
- Brackets for hose storage and cords keep everything neat and organized
- Onboard storage isn’t secure; accessories may fall off and get lost
- Finicky assembly compared to similar options
Get the Craftsman 16-gallon wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Ace Hardware, Blain’s Farm & Fleet, Acme Tools, or Walmart.
For maximum dust control, check out this Vacmaster Pro wet/dry vac, which has a HEPA microfiber prefilter and a HEPA cartridge filter. This vacuum is designed to clean up both wet and dry messes. The HEPA filters (used only in dry mode) will keep even tiny particles of dust and pollen from reentering the air in the room.
The Vacmaster Pro features an 8-gallon collection capacity and comes with an extra-long 30-foot power cord and a 10-foot-long flexible hose. It also has several accessories, including a crevice tool, two steel extension wands, a dust brush, and more. This model can be fitted with a disposable collection bag (not included), which limits dust from entering the air when dumping the tank.
From the second we unboxed this Vacmaster, it was clear that it was an industrial beast. Where other models come with plastic attachments, this one comes with heavy-duty aluminum that works well on hardwood floors as well as some carpeting. And the attachments are akin to those on canister-style vacuums from decades ago, meaning they’re durable and feature click-in buttons and adjustable suction.
The 10-foot hose is much longer than any other wet/dry vacuum on the list, and the wheels and casters are of high quality for easy rolling. But we found a couple of issues, including that it’s not exceptionally powerful, and we don’t understand why Vacmaster hides this model’s hp rating.
- Style: Shop style
- Power: 11-amp motor
- Size: 8 gallons
- By far the best attachments in the group, including a tool for every task
- Excellent wheels and casters make moving it around a breeze, even when filled
- Comes with HEPA filter, which is a noticeable bonus compared to other options
- Didn’t have quite the power of the other Vacmaster models in the test
Get the Vacmaster 8-gallon wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Acme Tools, Northern Tool + Equipment, Vacmaster, or Walmart.
Small but mighty, the Ridgid portable wet/dry vacuum features a compact 4-gallon tank. Surprisingly for its size, it also comes with a powerful 5-hp motor, making it a highly effective vacuum suitable for moving from room to room or transporting in a car trunk. It has a 20-foot power cord and a flexible 8-foot quick-release hose. It weighs 12 pounds and is 16.5 inches high by 19 inches long by 15 inches wide in size.
The Ridgid wet/dry vac does double duty as a blower by removing the power head from the canister. It comes with a car nozzle and a removable diffuser to cut down on the noise level, and it can be fitted with a filter bag (sold separately).
It’s rare to find a wet/dry vac with more power than capacity, but this model from Ridgid has it. We like this vacuum’s powerful motor, but we like it even more since the model is incredibly portable. And, to combat its high-performance motor, it comes with a noise diffuser that keeps it quiet. It really could use a few extra attachments, but it’s a top-tier vacuum either way.
- Style: Indoor/shop style
- Power: 5 hp
- Size: 4 gallons
- More horsepower than gallon capacity makes it extremely powerful for its size
- Comes with noise diffuser to make it run more quietly, but it can be removed for better airflow as well
- Compact, lightweight design makes it extremely easy to move around
- Low on attachments; may not be suitable for specialized tasks
Get the Ridgid wet/dry vacuum at Amazon, Ridgid, or Walmart.
We also tested the Kenmore Household Wet/Dry canister vacuum, but we felt it didn’t offer enough value for the price. It’s very small and has an undersized motor, so it isn’t capable of cleaning up much more than pet hair or dust. It also takes up more floor space than the model in our test that we chose for home use, without nearly as much capability. In our opinion, there are much better options and, as such, we wouldn’t recommend the Kenmore.
What to Consider When Choosing a Wet/Dry Vacuum
The most important consideration in choosing a wet/dry vacuum is figuring out its primary intended use. A large 10-gallon shop vac is unlikely to fit in a home’s hall closet, while a compact, handheld model wouldn’t be much help on most construction sites. After determining its main use, buyers also have various other aspects to consider, including desired capacity, weight, the type of power it uses, and whether certain attachments are necessary.
Types of Wet/Dry Vacuums
The ability to clean up both wet and dry messes with the same vacuum eliminates the need to lug two different types of vacuums around. In small homes and workshops, storage space may be limited, so multipurpose cleaning tools will often leave more open floor space. In the wet/dry category of vacuums, three types stand out: shop vacuums, vacuum mops, and handheld vacuum models.
A mainstay in the DIY industry, shop vacuums have high-powered motors and heavy-duty suction power to suck up all manner of dirt and small construction debris. They feature bucket-style canisters that hold a large amount of debris—up to 14 gallons or more. These models come with a long, flexible hose and a couple of different attachments for vacuuming when standing or for sucking up debris from tight spaces.
Many shop vacs also clean up liquid messes, earning the label “wet/dry” shop vacs. These powerful vacuums can help reduce the amount of water in flooded carpet or help drain out a clogged sump-pump basket. A wet/dry shop vac also can be used for a variety of cleaning tasks, including cleaning gutters.
A handy newcomer to the home-cleaning arsenal, vacuum mops combine traditional vacuuming ability with floor-washing ability. They resemble conventional household vacuums but may contain both a dust-collection bin and a dirty-water collection bin. Depending on the model, you can often switch between vacuuming and floor washing at the touch of a button.
Depending on the brand and quality, vacuum mops may come with additional features, such as a rotating brush roll, floor lights, and easy-dump collection bins. Some also come with a reservoir for holding floor-cleaning solution. Many models are suitable for cleaning hardwood floors since they don’t leave water or cleaning solution standing on the wood long enough to cause damage like a standard mop would.
For quick cleanup jobs, a handheld wet/dry vac can be very helpful. These compact little cleaners come in a variety of styles.
- Shop style: Made to resemble larger shop vacs, these miniature vacuums feature the same canister-type collection system but on a much smaller scale. They include flexible hoses and sometimes a couple of attachments. They also come with a handle for carrying them along while vacuuming up wet or dry messes.
- Indoor style: Often cordless, these handheld vacuums feature a motor base that snaps onto a vacuum funnel, which can be used to pick up pet hair from a sofa or carpeted stairs in a jiff.
- Tool style: Major power-tool manufacturers will often make small handheld dry or wet/dry vacuums that accommodate the same lithium-ion batteries required to run their larger cordless tools. For those who use one brand of power tool regularly, it’s a simple task to switch a battery from, say, a cordless drill to a handheld shop vac to clean up a small mess quickly.
Size and Weight
From lightweight, compact models to large canister commercial models, wet/dry vacs span a wide range of sizes and weights. The smallest shop-type vacs may weigh less than 3 pounds and stand about 1 foot high and wide, while heavy-duty shop vacs with large stainless steel canisters can weigh more than 35 pounds and stand 3 feet tall or taller.
In general, larger shop vacs are better suited for workshop use. Compact models are more appropriate for household use and hauling in the trunk or back seat of a car. In-home wet and dry vacuums and vacuum mops are comparable in size and weight to traditional household vacuums and can weigh less than 2 pounds for handheld models or as much as 18 pounds for larger upright models.
Corded vs. Cordless
Most medium-duty and heavy-duty wet/dry vacuums have power cords, and as long as an electrical outlet is handy, they never run out of power. Cordless vacuums are suitable for either quick indoor cleanups or for limited-project debris, like wood shavings left behind when a carpenter installs trim around windows. In the latter case, a carpenter might opt to carry a lightweight cordless shop vac that accepts the same lithium-ion battery as a drill or saw.
The cord length of a corded vacuum can be extended by attaching an extension cord, but only use the type of cord recommended by the vacuum manufacturer. In many cases, this can mean using a 14-gauge cord if the cord is less than 50 feet long or using a 12-gauge cord if it is more than 50 feet long.
Power and Performance
In the context of wet/dry vacs, the horsepower of a given unit refers to the motor output of a corded shop vac, not performance ability. While it’s true that higher hp translates to a more powerful motor, the length and diameter of the hose and other factors influence the amount of suction that a vacuum delivers.
When it comes to battery-operated cordless vacuums, power is indicated in volts instead of hp. Corded vacuum mops, like traditional household vacuums, typically don’t list hp.
- Light-duty: These wet/dry vacs range from 1 to 4.5 hp for corded vacs and approximately 18 to 20 volts for cordless vacs. They are ideal for small cleanup tasks around the house or in an automobile.
- Medium-duty: Featuring 5- to 6-hp motors, medium-duty wet/dry vacs are well suited for cleaning up after DIY and small construction projects. They’re also great for helping remove water from basements. Equivalent power in a cordless wet/dry vac takes a more powerful battery, with an average of 20 to 24 volts or higher.
- Heavy-duty: The big boys of the bunch, heavy-duty wet/dry vacuums have motors with more than 6 hp of power and are often for commercial use. Battery-operated versions of heavy-duty wet/dry vacs are relatively rare, but advances in technology may make them more common.
Wet/dry vacuums vary widely in capacity, which refers to the size of their collection tank.
- Small capacity: This includes most vacuum mops and handheld models, and these units will hold from 0.5 to 6 gallons of debris, depending on the style. Household models feature the smallest capacities but are often the easiest to dump. At the upper end of the small-capacity scale are compact shop-type models well suited for DIYers and crafters.
- Medium capacity: This size range features collection bins that will hold 6 to 14 gallons of debris, making them appropriate for larger workshops or frequent removal of standing water.
- Large capacity: At the top end of the size options, large-capacity wet/dry vacs come with collection tanks that hold 14 to 18 gallons. These are typically used on busy construction sites and can help remove flood water quickly.
Hose length runs from 6 to 30 feet, depending on the model. Longer hoses allow you to mount the vacuum in a central location and vacuum from one end of the room to the other without having to pull the entire vacuum along with you. While this is handy in many cases, long hoses tend to get twisted if not wound carefully after use.
Some of the best shop vacs will come with a holder for winding the hose for storage. But, if not, the hose is usually detachable and can be hung in loops on a wall hook.
The filters in wet/dry vacs vary widely, and their primary purpose is to trap dust and small bits of debris to keep them from recirculating in the air. Most shop vacs feature a corrugated paper filter with rubber seals on both ends that keep dust from blowing around the filter and into the canister.
Wet/dry vacs may also feature a foam prefilter that keeps larger particles from entering the corrugated filter, which reduces clogging and extends its useful life. Manufacturers usually suggest removing the filters before using the vacuum to suck up water.
Special multistage filtration systems may come with HEPA filters made to trap up to 99.97 percent of airborne dust, pollen, mold, and bacterial particles that are larger than 0.3 microns in size. HEPA filtration is found in a few shop-type vacs, but it’s more frequently found in residential vacuum mops and other wet- and dry-capable in-home vacuums.
Several wet/dry vacuums come with accessories that connect to the device and expand its functionality so they have the ability to do more, such as reaching into tight spots, like a stick-type vacuum. Nearly all models come with a wide floor utility nozzle, which connects to a rigid extension wand. Additional attachments can help tackle several cleaning problems.
- A crevice nozzle is used for sucking debris out of tight corners.
- An elbow wand is used for reaching around corners or overhead.
- A wet nozzle with a squeegee edge is used for banishing liquid spills.
- A brush roll or nozzle is used for cleaning upholstery and car interiors.
- Reusable or single-use dust bags are used for collecting debris.
- A blower connection allows you to clear leaves away from the yard or garage door.
While shop vacs are designed mainly to be functional and don’t have a lot of bells and whistles, in-home wet/dry vacuums may have a few more features.
- A drain plug lets you release liquid without having to remove the inside collection canister.
- Built-in cord and hose holders help keep the cord and hose tidy when storing.
- Filters with antimicrobial ingredients prevent mold and mildew growth in the filter.
- Wall-mounted shop vacs save floor space in utility rooms and closets.
- Washable filters allow you to clean the filter rather than shell out the money for a new one.
The Advantages of Owning a Wet/Dry Vacuum
Wet/dry vacs are found in virtually every workshop and garage, and for good reason. They’re tough, durable, and they offer powerful suction for cleaning up DIY messes. Here are a few advantages of having a wet/dry vacuum on hand.
- Eliminates the need for two separate tools.
- Cleans up leaks, spills, and debris in the home.
- Traps pet hair, dust mites, and other ultrafine particles (if the vacuum has HEPA filtration).
- Removes water from wet carpeting so it can dry faster.
- Cleans the inside of automobiles.
- Removes wood chips, shavings, and debris from a jobsite or workshop.
- Sucks up piles of blown-in leaves that collect in corners of the garage and shed.
- Blows leaves off the sidewalk (if the vacuum has a blower connection).
Investing in a wet/dry vacuum simplifies cleanup for a variety of messes, but before buying, consider the vacuum’s intended use, where it will be stored, and whether it should be portable. For those thinking about buying a wet/dry vacuum for the first time, a few questions are to be expected. Here are answers to some of the most common questions.
Q. Is a shop vac the same as a wet/dry vac?
The terms are often used interchangeably, but some shop vacs might not feature the wet-suction capabilities of other models.
Q. Is a shop vac more powerful than a regular vacuum?
That depends on both the quality of the regular vacuum and the quality of the shop vac. In general, however, a shop vac is more powerful than a household vacuum because it is made to suck up large or heavy objects. But shop vacs are also capable of sucking up liquid and small particles.
Q. Can I vacuum water with a shop vac?
Many shop vacs (not all) are also wet/dry vacuums, and you can suck up dirty water as well as dry messes. Some shop vacs can also act as a pump for removing large quantities of water from areas like tubs and showers, pools, ponds, and more.
Q. Can a wet/dry vac clean carpets?
A shop-type wet/dry vacuum is often the tool of choice for sucking water out of a flooded carpet or for cleaning dust, debris, and pet hair from carpet fibers. However, those with high-pile carpet fibers may have a trickier time using a wet/dry vacuum (depending on the model).
Q. How do I choose a wet/dry vac?
Figure out what type of messes you need to vacuum. Then, select a wet/dry vac with the power and capacity to tackle those messes easily. Tip: Look for the horsepower and tank capacity of a given vacuum to determine the kind of messes it can tackle.
Q. What is the most powerful wet/dry vacuum?
Among the most powerful wet/dry vacuums is the Workshop wet/dry vacuum, which comes in as the Best Heavy-Duty pick in this lineup. Not only does this model provide 6.5 horsepower for tough debris and dust, but it also has a 16-gallon tank capacity for taking on larger messes.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.
Meet the Testers
Glenda Taylor is a product tester and writer specializing in the construction, remodeling, and real estate industries. She and her husband own a general contracting company, and Taylor is experienced in both residential and commercial building applications. She tests a wide range of power tools as well as other home improvement, household, and lawn-and-garden products.
Tom Scalisi is a full-time DIY and construction writer for many of the largest websites in the industry, including Bob Vila, This Old House, Family Handyman, and Forbes. He also owns and operates a pest control blog, RiddaBugs.com. He spent years working in industrial building maintenance.