The top performers in our reviews are the Ridgid WD1450, the Gold Award winner; the Vacmaster VBV1210, the Silver Award winner; and the Craftsman 12004, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a shop vacuum to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 shop vacuums.
Shop vacuums are multipurpose tools that can clean up the toughest messes around your house. Most are wet-dry vacuums with large tanks for both debris and liquids, meaning you can use them after wood projects in the garage or to dry a flooded basement. Wheels make them portable for spills in the kitchen or vacuuming your car. Beyond suction, the best shop vacuums have a blowing feature, perfect for clearing leaves from the sidewalk. Some convert into a blower you can carry around by detaching the motor, while others still require you to move around the tank alongside you on the ground.
The two most important components of a shop vacuum are its capacity and power. That is, how quickly it sucks up debris and how much it can store before you need to empty it. We took into account that portability is also important, though not at the expense of power. Beyond this, we considered the overall design and how easy each vacuum is to move around.
For our tests, we vacuumed up typical materials you'd run into in your own home or garage. We spread out 2 ounces of mulch and sawdust mixed with six small screws. We then measured how much of the debris the shop vacuums picked up after one pass. We included bigger pieces of mulch to see how well the shop vacs handled heavier projects. For suction, we sucked up 2 gallons of water and measured how long it took for the vacuum to complete the task. We found the best vacuums were up to three times faster than those on the lower end of the lineup. After the work was done, we measured how clean the filters were and performed general movement tests, such as moving the vacuums around by the hose or over an obstacle.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate products in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experience of the typical consumer. We obtained all the shop vacuums for this review from the companies. The companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
While our tested attributes should be leading considerations in buying the right shop vacuum, other features and capabilities should figure into your choice. Here's a rundown of the most important, with a key question for each.
Design: Is the Overall Size Important to You?
Shop vacuums all have a similar design. The tank usually sits on the floor on wheels and can be maneuvered around while you vacuum. The debris or water is sucked up through a long, extendable hose. Most vacuums include a top handle for picking up the appliance and racks for the attachments. You should look for shop vacs that have long hoses, multiple extension tools and power cords that lock in place. The best cords are up to 20 feet in length. The size varies. Our highest-rated vacuums have tanks as large as 14 gallons, but that might be too large if you have a small shop or limited storage space. For small jobs like vacuuming your car or keeping a vacuum in your hall closet, there are vacuums with tanks as small as 2 gallons.
Filters: Will You Be Working with Fine Materials?
Several different filters are available on shop vacuums. Some are cloth bags that need to replaced, while others are cartridges that you can clean out and reuse. Most models come with a pleated cartridge filter, which is easier to change and less likely to leak than a foam or cloth filter. You should pay close attention to how compatible the filter is as well. Some are hard to find and can only be purchased through the manufacturer's website. If you are vacuuming fine materials like ash or sawdust, you should look for a dust filter that better traps particles. These tend to get into the motor and lower the life of the vacuum if it doesn't have this filter.
Attachments: What Jobs Do You Need Your Vacuum to Do?
Attachments can really help your wet-dry vacuum stand out. Most have extension wands for hard-to-reach areas, but some come with multiple wands for added reach. Brush nozzles work best for bulky debris, and crevice tools are good for corners or cracks. For the blower, some vacuums come with a special wide tool for covering a larger area. For wet cleanup, look for squeegees and concentration nozzles.
Three shop vacuums – the Ridgid WD1450, the Vacmaster VBV1210 and the Craftsman 12004 – stood out compared to the other wet-dry vacuums we tested. The Ridgid and Vacmaster picked up every piece of mulch in the first pass and sucked up water three times faster than other models. The Craftsman left a bit behind, but it still performed better than the competitors overall with its bigger hose. It was also one of the easiest to move around.
A couple of models were harder to compare directly. The ArmorAll AA255 and the DeWalt DCV581H were simply not as powerful and had trouble with large jobs, but each is designed as a portable unit that you can carry around. The ArmorAll only has a 2-gallon tank, but you won't need much more if your goal is cleaning your upholstery. The DeWalt is unique in that it works with a chargeable battery. These features may be important to you if the vacuum is more for your car than your shop.