More powerful than the average Hoover, more versatile than the typical Dyson, and tougher than your pet Roomba, a shop vacuum is a must-have for any household. These cleaning tools can suck up almost anything. Once equipped with the best shop vac, you can attack any mess that’s thrown at you, whether it’s sawdust in the workshop, a mosaic of Goldfish crumbs under the kid’s car seat, or even the two inches of water flooding the basement.
- Best overall: Bissell MultiClean Wet Dry Vac
- Most powerful shop vac: Ridgid WD1450 Wet Dry Vac
- Best mini shop vac: Armor All 2.5 Gallon Wet Dry Vacuum
- Best battery powered: Milwaukee 0880-20 Wet Dry Vac
- Best budget: Stanley SL18910P-3
What can the best shop vac do for you?
In short, the best shop vac can do just about anything. Sometimes referred to as bucket vacuums, these machines resemble little R2D2s. Used most often in construction, shop vacuums are durable enough to suck up dust, dirt, and most other debris found at a worksite.
But shop vacuums aren’t just for cleaning big construction messes. Even the average homeowner should include one in their armory of cleaning supplies. They can take on even the most hard-to-clean areas, like a fireplace or barbecue pit. A cordless shop vacuum is easily transported out to the car to vacuum impossible corners and crevices between the seats and is powerful enough to pick up the dirt, leaves, and even matted down pet hair littering the floor of your car.
What really sets shop vacs apart from regular vacuum cleaners is the wet vac feature. Many, if not most, shop vacuums are capable of clearing both dry and wet messes, which is clutch in some of homeownership’s most difficult-to-handle situations. A wet dry vac can clean up the jar of applesauce your toddler dropped in the middle of the living room. It can be shoved down the drain in your kitchen sink to retrieve a missing earring. And it can suck up all the water if —shudder—your basement is flooding.
Things to consider when choosing the best shop vac
Shop vacs come in a variety of sizes and efficacy, so the biggest thing to consider is what kind of performance and capacity you’re looking for. Also consider shop vacuum attachments: different nozzles may be available for cleaning small crevices or for sucking up that flooded basement, or you may need to buy adapters to use the inflation feature (no more manually blowing up giant pool floats!).
Bear in mind that durability may come with unwieldiness. You might want to go all out with the most powerful shop vacuum you can find, but if a lightweight, portable shop vac is enough to handle the job, you’ll have an easier time maneuvering—not to mention, storing it when it’s not in use. Bigger might not be better, so tailoring your choice to your needs. We chose five of the best shop vacs to crank up your cleaning game and have your space spotless in no time.
A wet dry shop vacuum is a must-have in unexpected emergencies
One notable feature that sets a shop vacuum apart from your typical upright vacuum cleaner is that many shop vacuums come with wet suction capabilities. This capability is a must-have function you may have never known you needed.
A wet dry shop vac can remove unwanted water from your home, clean out a fish tank, unclog a drain, the list goes on. On top of this feature, many shop vacuums have a blowing function for added versatility.
Best overall: Bissell MultiClean Wet Dry Vac
If you want a wet dry shop vacuum that handles anything, the Bissell MultiClean vac covers all the bases. This versatile cleaning tool comes with a variety of features and functions including a blowing function for clearing leaves or blowing up inflatables, a wet suction tool, and a toolkit of different brushes for vacuuming various surfaces and crevices. The tank is on wheels for easy movement while vacuuming and its balanced body keeps it from tipping over when it’s pulled. This machine is sleek and easy to use for both small at-home messes or bigger shop cleanups.
Bigger messes require a large shop vac with more power
Shop vacuums come in a variety of sizes and levels of power, so the biggest thing to consider is what kind of performance and capacity you’re looking for. If you’re purchasing a vac for a construction business, you might want to consider at least a 12-gallon shop vacuum with the capacity to clean up larger, heavier debris.
Wall-mounted shop vacuums are powerful and offer excellent filtration and capacity, although their immobility can hold you back without an extra-long hose and fixtures to stretch your reach. When overall suction strength is your biggest concern, look for a machine with high horsepower.
Most powerful shop vac: Ridgid WD1450 Wet Dry Vac
This Ridgid shop vac’s 6-horsepower motor and topnotch dust filters make it one of the most powerful shop vacs on the market. Its 14-gallon tank makes it one of the larger models available, which is great if you have a big job and want to avoid frequent stops to empty the tank. Despite its size, this large shop vacuum is easy to maneuver thanks to its handled tank and a Tug-A-Long hose that stays locked in during use. Another perk? The powerful motor is made with noise-reducing technology, offering a quieter performance than other brands.
Mini shop vacuums are perfect for efficient clean up of smaller messes
Shop vacuums aren’t just for big industrial messes. A small shop vac can be a lifesaver for smaller jobs, like crumbs and pet hair. These lightweight micro machines come as small as 1.5 gallons.
The one caveat to mini shop vacs is that the size and weight may come at the expense of suction, as the small body doesn’t allow for a more powerful motor. We looked for a model that brings the most power in relation to its small size.
Best mini shop vac: Armor All 2.5 Gallon Wet Dry Vacuum
The Armor All 2.5-gallon Wet Dry Vacuum has a 2.5-gallon tank and weighs 5.6 pounds so it’s light enough to transport out to your car for some detailing or give the couch a quick once over before guests arrive. It has an easy-to-carry handle and a 10-foot power cord so you can take advantage of its portability. The 2 horsepower motor in this mini shop vacuum strikes the perfect balance between lightweight and power
Battery-powered shop vacs allow for extra portability
While most shop vacuums are electric, battery-powered vacs are also available. The electric shop vacs will provide more power for a longer duration of time, but a battery-powered vac has the upside of being portable and usable even when you don’t have access to a reliable power source.
On the downside, the batteries don’t last very long and you’ll be stopping to recharge frequently. Electric shop vacuums will be better for long jobs, like clearing out a flooded basement, but a battery-powered vac is perfect for a quick and easy pickup. Some users recommend them for cleaning up during a long road trip.
Best battery powered shop vac: Milwaukee 0880-20 Wet Dry Vac
This highly-rated, battery-powered shop vac is great for car detailing and ideal for travel or minor clean-ups. The design of this vac is different from the typical cylindrical tank—this one is rectangular and looks almost like a toolbox. The body is sturdy and doesn’t tip easily and the box has a handle for easy carry. It yields a strong suction, and you can expect about 20 minutes of continuous use on one battery before needing to recharge.
Budget shop vacuums: The best bang for your buck
Shop vacuums are by nature powerful and versatile, so even a less expensive model will complete a job better than a regular vacuum. The least expensive models are the mini vacs, but you can even get a more mid-sized shop vac with a larger tank and more powerful motor at a reasonable price.
Having a mid-sized shop vacuum on hand, even a cheaper model, ensures you’re ready for whatever small disaster hits your home. For minor floods, clogs, home workshop messes, spills, or pet cleanup (have you ever wished for an easier way to clean the kids’ hamster cage?), a simple budget shop vac will have your home spotless.
Best budget: Stanley SL18910P-3
This Stanley shop vac has a 3-gallon tank and a 3-horsepower motor. With more capacity than mini shop vacs, this vac is performance on a budget. While it may not complete a job as quickly as one of the more expensive models with higher horsepower and a larger tank, this lower-priced option has what it takes to clean up any wet or dry mess.
Q: What’s the difference between a shop vac and a regular vacuum?
It’s safe to say you don’t want to suck up scraps of woods, nails, screws, pieces of metal, or water with a regular vacuum. Not only does a regular vacuum lack the power to adequately suck up big pieces, but it’s also likely too small and delicate for the heavy debris. The shop vac’s powerful motor and its larger, tougher hose are made to handle those nuts and bolts, and its tank is capable of taking in water. The regular vacuum, on the other hand, is only made for reasonable amounts of dirt, dust, and crumbs in the home.
Q: Can you use a shop vac as a regular vacuum?
You can use a shop vac as a regular vacuum, and accessories and attachments are available to make that easier. However, a regular upright vacuum is easier to move across floors and rugs to clean up day-to-day dust and dirt. While you can substitute the regular vacuum for a shop vacuum in a pinch, they’re best left for the bigger messes that a regular vacuum can’t handle.
Q: Which shop vacuum has the strongest suction?
The suction on a shop vac relies on the strength of its motor. The strongest shop vacs have roughly 5-6.5 peak horsepower. Factoring in some other features, like the quality of the air filters and the size of the tank, sets these vacs apart from each other. The aforementioned Ridgid WD1450 and the Craftsman 12007 are notably among the shop vacs with the strongest suction at 6.5 HP and boast 14-16 gallon tanks, making them the strongest shop vacuums for big jobs.
A final on shopping for the best shop vac
A shop vacuum is a versatile piece of equipment—it’s the piece of cleaning equipment you never knew you needed. They provide a quick and easy way to clean up the messes you once thought were impossible. Make a list of the features that are most important to you—do you want it to be portable? Is power the biggest factor? Do you need a shop vac for car?—and determine which is the best shop vac for you. It’s hard to go wrong and there are many affordable options available. This is a purchase you won’t regret. Happy cleaning!