10 Best Shop Vacs of 2020 – Buyer’s Guide and Reviews

If you own a home or even rent an apartment, chances are that you also own a vacuum cleaner. After all, they are the best tool for rapidly cleaning up debris from carpet or a hardwood floor. But even the most high-end consumer vacuum cannot do it all.

To be specific, regular consumer vacuums are simply not cut out for sucking up and containing liquids safely. Doing so may cause a standard vacuum to short-circuit, which in turn makes your vacuum permanently unusable. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine a vacuum capable of handling wet jobs as well as dry jobs…but there is!

A wet-dry vacuum, better known by the genericized trade name “shop vac”, can accomplish both types of jobs without seizing up or clogging. Given their capacity to take on difficult jobs, shop vacs see a lot of use in woodworking, construction, and even in many homes. They often feature a large physical capacity as well, thus allowing them to suck up lots of water or other debris without needing to stop for emptying.

Several decades ago, there were only a few shop vacs on the market under the “Shop Vac” brand. But now, nearly every major hardware brand has their own version of the shop vac. As a result, it’s difficult to know which shop vac model is best at first glance. This guide should help you do just that without needing to search all over the internet. Better yet, this guide will also answer many of your questions about shop vacs as well as teach you what to look for in a high performing unit.

Best Shop Vacs – Comparison

PictureProduct NameWeightVoltagePrice
WORKSHOP WS1600VAWORKSHOP WS1600VA23.4 pounds116 voltsCheck Latest Price
CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE1759532.2 pounds120 voltsCheck Latest Price
Stanley 6 Stanley 6 13.4 pounds120 voltCheck Latest Price
Shop-Vac 2021000Shop-Vac 20210006 pounds120 voltsCheck Latest Price
DeWALT 14DeWALT 1429.5 pounds120 voltsCheck Latest Price
Shop-Vac 5989500Shop-Vac 598950015 pounds120 voltsCheck Latest Price
Bissell 2035MBissell 2035M16.1 pounds 220 voltsCheck Latest Price
Stanley 5Stanley 514.02 pounds110 voltsCheck Latest Price
Armor All AA255Armor All AA2557 pounds120 voltsCheck Latest Price

What is a Shop Vac?

Before we go too far, though, you should know and understand what a “shop vac” is in terms of core operations. This will empower you to compare prospective models based upon how well they measure up to industry performance standards.

So, with that in mind, let’s crack into the basics of a shop vac. At their core, a shop vac is any kind of vacuum cleaner that is explicitly designed to handle both wet and dry loads. Moreover, a shop vac is built with increased internal and external durability. This allows them to also suck up and safely handle non-standard objects, like wood chips and even nails.

Shop vacs are also usually built with versatile use in mind. As such, even a standard shop vac will feature an extra-long, extra-durable cord that allows the main canister unit to be positioned far from a wall outlet. Moreover, most shop vacs utilize a cylindrical form factor that include wheels built into their base. This allows the unit to easily scoot about without the user needing to apply much-added effort.

In terms of application, most shop vacs see use in industrial environments (such as woodworking or auto “shops,” as their name implies). Shop vacs may also be used in a setting closer to home, such as in a garage or in a basement that experiences minor flooding. You can even use a shop vac to clean the interior of your home (though they aren’t optimized for this use).

Also, just to be clear, not all vacuum cleaners that are known as “shop vacs” are made by the Shop-Vac brand. Though this is where their name originates from (like Band-Aid or Kleenex), most any type of wet-dry vacuum today may be known as a generic “shop vac.” In fact, many well-known brands today (including Stanley, DeWalt, and Vacmaster) make their own shop vacs for industrial and commercial uses.

Why Should I Own a Shop Vac?

There are numerous benefits to owning a shop vac. Many of these benefits apply to folks who work in an industrial setting or routinely need to clean up wet materials. To that end, a shop vac’s power alone allows them to make quick work of fairly large jobs. Moreover, their ability to pick up both wet and dry materials allows them to see lots of use in situations where a broom, mop, or blower might have otherwise been warranted.

Meanwhile, shop vacs are often very user-friendly. Specifically, their core construction makes it very unlikely that they will ever clog up while in use. This is because most modern models use extra-large internal and external tubing at sizes up to 2.5 inches in diameter. In addition, most shop vacs don’t include the same kind of internal filters that are prone to clogging in the presence of large objects.

Taken together, the best reasons to own a shop vac are their strength and their capacity to handle “odd jobs” safely. These qualities have allowed shop vacs to become a mainstay in garages and on industrial sites across the country.

Features and Specifications to Look for in a Shop Vac

If you’re in the market for a new shop vac, then you may not yet know what to look for when it comes to specifications and features. That’s okay, given that many of the most important shop vac specifications and features differ from those seen in a standard consumer vacuum cleaner. However, some core specifications remain as important as every for shop vacs. This includes a unit’s motor power, which should be as high as possible (as communicated through HP (horsepower) ratings).

There are several other specifications dealing with core performance that you should be on the lookout for, as well. One such specification is a unit’s airflow rating, as measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). This specification communicates how rapidly a given shop vac can pick up dry items, including dirt, woodchips, and more. On the reverse side, a unit’s sealed pressure rating (SP) can give you a solid idea of how capable a unit is when sucking up water. For both specs, a higher rating is always preferable.

When it comes to vacuuming up liquids, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your shop vac’s tank fills up. That’s why it is always important to choose model that has a maximized tank capacity. Typically, you’ll find that shop vacs are sold in three capacity sizes: small (2-6 gallon), medium (6-14 gallons), and large (14-18 gallons). A medium-sized unit is an all-around solid choice for most needs, unless the increased needs of your workshop or work site require a large-sized unit.

Though it may not come to mind at first, durability is also an important quality for any productive shop vac. This is especially true of their exterior, which is likely to take a beating over many years of use. After a bit of shopping around, you’ll find that shop vacs are usually made from plastic or stainless steel. Though most plastic models can perform admirably, a stainless steel model is still preferable due to their ability to resist corrosion and cracking.

2020’s Top Shop Vacs

As more and more folks learn about the wonders of a shop vac, more and more hardware brands have thrown their hat in the arena to meet customer demand. As such, you’ve probably already noticed how many wet-dry vacuum models are on the market today. While this has the benefit of driving down average prices, it does make it harder to pick out just a single model that can fit your needs with precision.

This quick digest of this year’s top 10 shop vacs should make that process a little easier. Ideally, you should be able to read through these assorted reviews and find a model that suits your at-home or professional needs well.

1. WORKSHOP WS1600VA – Best Overall Shop Vac

WORKSHOP WS1600VA

When it comes to the best overall shop vac, you were probably expecting a well-known brand name to top the charts. Instead, you’ll be surprised to learn that the WORKSHOP WS1600VA earns this award for its balanced performance and overall affordability. In fact, this model only costs right around $100 right now on most popular online retailers. That’s a considerable bargain for a reliable 16-gallon wet-dry vacuum.

Of course, price isn’t everything when it comes to the WORKSHOP WS1600VA. This model’s core specifications deserve recognition as well. For example, this model’s 7-foot dual-flex locking hose is plenty long enough to give you an optimal cleaning range, regardless of where you use it. In addition, this same hose includes locking tabs to prevent accidental disconnection while in use. At 2.5 inches in diameter, this hose is also capable of transporting a full gallon of water per second.

The WORKSHOP WS1600VA also does a great job when it comes to keeping the necessary vacuuming accessories close at hand. This includes this model’s LED lighted nozzle head, which can be mounted onto any of this model’s castor wheels for secure storage. Speaking of storage, this shop vac’s extra-long 20-foot cord won’t ever get tangled, so long as you wrap it around this unit’s purpose-made vacuum head.

What We Like:

  • Affordably priced
  • Impressive capacity
  • Long hose that locks onto canister
  • Extra-long cord that won’t tangle

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Poor quality control
  • Lacks a listed warranty

2. CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 – Best General Use Shop Vac

CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595

If you’re in the market for the best general use shop vac, you’re likely to find what you’re looking for in the CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595. This model comes to you from a trusted hardware brand, with a fairly modest price relative to its arsenal of features. These include a 6.5 horsepower motor that has been slightly enlarged to increase its reliability. Most users will also appreciate this model’s 2.5 inch diameter hose, which is built with dual-flex technology to increase its overall mobility and durability.

As you can probably surmise from its appearance, the CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 is no slack when it comes to capacity. In fact, this unit can hold up to 16 gallons of material at any time before it needs to be emptied. This model’s assortment of accessories will also ensure that you always find a use for it, too. In no time, you’re sure to find a use for its 2 extension wands, utility nozzle, car nozzle, and wet nozzle.

Vacuuming isn’t all the CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 can do, either. To make it more useful during all seasons, it includes a built-in rear blower port. When properly engaged, this port allows you to reverse the main motor and instead blow air out rapidly. This, in turn, can make it easy to remove leaves or grass clippings from your driveway.

What We Like:

  • Reliably 6.5 HP motor
  • Dual-flex is both mobile and durable
  • Comes with a variety of wands and nozzles
  • Can be used as a blower

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Known to ship with some parts missing
  • Louder than older models

3. Stanley 6 – Best Budget Option Shop Vac

Stanley 6

Finding a worthwhile shop vac on a budget can be challenging if you’re just looking in retail stores. To avoid in store price inflation, check online and you’ll find affordable models like the Stanley 6. This model only costs around $58 online, which is an impressive price tag given what it comes equipped with. To name just a few of those worthwhile features, I believe you’ll find this model’s blower port and free-moving swivel castors to be the most useful.

Anyone who has bought a cheaper vacuum knows that some brands cut corners in an effort to save money. But Stanley is a trusted hardware brand who would never decrease their product’s quality to save a few bucks. That why the Stanley 6’s inclusion of 4 horsepower motor is so impressive. The same can be said of its 6 gallon tank, which is also effectively sealed to prevent liquid leaks.

However, I can’t say that the Stanley 6 is perfect in all regards. In fact, its exterior plastic casing is rather fragile and does not hold up well if this unit is left in extra hot or cold environments. Also, the manufacturer itself only rates this unit for 300 hours of use. While this likely plenty enough to meet most needs, commercial or industrial users of this product may want to look elsewhere for a more long-term shop vacuuming option.

What We Like:

  • Priced to fit any budget
  • Free-moving swivel castors add to mobility
  • Sealed canister prevents leaks

What We Didn’t Like:

  • May overheat or smoke if canister is overloaded
  • Exterior is fragile compared to competition

 

Also Read: 15 Best Shark Vacuums – A Complete Guide

4. Vacmaster VBV1210 – Best Shop Vac for a Home Workshop

 

Many folks who are in the market for a shop vac are searching because they need something to clean up their home workshop. If you can count yourself among that crowd, then the Vacmaster VBV1210 is for you. This unit has many of the most important qualities needed to keep a home workshop safe and tidy. This includes an extra-large drain port that makes it easy to empty this unit’s 12 gallon tank without ever needing to get your hands wet.

Also, much like other models in its class, the Vacmaster VBV1210 can be easily converted into a blower. However, unlike those other units, this model mixes full portability with its blower function. To be specific, the whole motor unit lifts off from the base, allowing you to use the blower feature without being tied to the main canister. That blower can output at speeds of up to 210 MPH, too, so it certainly makes the most of its motor when in this configuration.

Regardless of what mode you use it in, the Vacmaster VBV1210 will always provide you with plenty of reach. That’s because it comes standard with a 19-foot power cord. Also, you’ll be able to use the Vacmaster VBV1210 for wet jobs right out of the box because it comes with a compatible foam filter.

What We Like:

  • Extra-large drain port for 12 gallon tank
  • Motor unit separates for use as a strong blower
  • Sturdy 19-foot cord
  • Comes with compatible foam filter

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Tends to lose power as tank fills
  • The on-off switch is not user-friendly

5. Shop-Vac 2021000 – Most Compact and Portable Shop Vac

Shop-Vac 2021000

Shop-Vac – while they aren’t alone in the industry anymore, they have managed to remain a top name in the field by putting out a quality product. One such quality product is the Shop-Vac 2021000. This unit takes the prize for both portability and compact size due to its minimized form factor and overall lightweight. Both of these qualities make it easy to carry around while working or store away when the job is complete.

As one of the smallest units in this collection, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the Shop-Vac 2021000 can only hold 1 gallon of dry or wet materials at any given time. However, given its size, it is surprising that Shop-Vac fit a reliable 1 horsepower motor into this unit. As a result of this strong motor’s inclusion, you’ll be fully able to vacuum up most materials with ease just as you would with a larger or more expensive shop vac.

Speaking of price, the Shop-Vac 2021000 shouldn’t strain your budget at all. In fact, at just under $35, you could easily pick up one of these shop vacs to keep on hand “just in case.” Should you decide to do this, you’ll be able to keep your Shop-Vac 2021000 handy by utilizing its built-in wall mounts for easy access.

What We Like:

  • Tight form factor makes it ideal to carry in hand
  • 1 HP motor surprisingly strong for unit of this size
  • Affordable price makes it a good “just in case” purchase

What We Didn’t Like:

  • 1 gallon tank fills up very quick

6. DeWALT 14 – Best Large Capacity Shop Vac

DeWALT 14

Though there are certainly some larger shop vac options in this collection, I’d still rate the DeWALT 14 as the best large capacity model on the market today. That’s because this model has the distinction of actually being able to reach its full capacity before losing suction power. This is especially true when vacuuming up liquids because this model utilizes buoy technology. This important feature automatically shuts the unit down, but only after it has reached its maximum capacity.

Once you’ve filled this huge tank up, you might be worried about emptying it out again. But on that front, the DeWALT 14 has you covered. In fact, it features a very large built-in tank drain that can be removed by hand with ease. Should you need to scoot this model’s canister to a deposit point, you won’t need to strain yourself, either. That’s because the DeWALT 14 includes built-in rubberized casters that are as durable as they are easy to maneuver.

Along the same lines of maneuverability, the DeWALT 14 doesn’t even require you to bend down to push it about. You can simply grab ahold of its built-in raised handle and push it around like a shopping cart. You may not even need to unplug this shop vac’s cord while moving it around, either, given that it is fully 20 feet in length.

What We Like:

  • Buoy technology safely shuts down unit when it is full
  • Very large built-in tank drain can be opened by hand
  • Rubberized casters are durable and roll smoothly
  • Cord provides plenty of range

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Suction is less reliable than smaller models
  • Not assembled with sturdy screws

7. Shop-Vac 5989500 – Best Professional Job Site Shop Vac

Shop-Vac 5989500

Professional level jobs call for a professional-grade shop vac. Though this class of wet-dry vacuums has become more crowded lately, I’d still say that the Shop-Vac 5989500 still remains the top option among them. Its core specification alone speak to its ability to handle any heavy-duty job with ease. Take its 175 CFM max airflow, for example, or even its 320 max air watts. Both speak to this unit’s ability to draw in and choke down heavy materials, both wet and dry.

Meanwhile, the Shop-Vac 5989500 sets the standard for dependability among shop vacs. This start with its exterior, which is made from corrosion-proof stainless steel. Not only that, but this metallic case ensures that this unit never loses its vacuuming capabilities because it takes a little tumble. You might need to be careful where you move the Shop-Vac 5989500 to, though, because its 6 foot cord is far shorter than average.

It’s also clear that Shop-Vac designed this model for folks who have to work on their hands and knees often. This can be seen in the fact that the Shop-Vac 5989500 includes a greppable handle near its head. This allows a user to more efficiently guide its operation, even when they are up close and personal with the targeted materials.

What We Like:

  • Top-tier max airflow and max air watt specifications
  • Corrosion-proof stainless steel exterior
  • Handle near vacuum head for added manueverability

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Very short cord

 

Also Read: 7 Best Miele Vacuums

8. Bissell 2035M – Best Multi-Use Home Shop Vac

Bissell 2035M

For some homeowners, keeping a shop vac around the house is essential. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a big remodel and routinely have debris to clean up. Or perhaps you live in a low-lying area, which causes your basement to flood routinely. Whatever the case may be, the Bissell 2035M can handle whatever you throw at it. This model’s 11 amp motor has more than enough power to work through your toughest in-home tasks without wearing down in the short-term.

In fact, once you bring home a Bissell 2035M, you’ll find that there are a surprising number of ways to use it. This is made possible by the veritable chest of accessories that comes standard with this model. That kit includes a set of crevasse tools that make vacuuming out a car a simple task. In that kit, you’ll also find a specialized nozzle that is designed to maximize suction when dealing with water. With that particular attachment, you’ll be able to suck up 6 gallons of water and fill this unit’s tank in no time flat.

That’s not all for the Bissell 2035M’s versatile tool chest, though. With this shop vac, you’ll also receive a multi-surface floor tool that can effectively draw in dirt and sand from both hard and soft floors. The Bissell 2035M even comes with an upholstery brush so that you can ensure that your delicate furniture is treated right when it comes time to clean it up.

What We Like:

  • Long-lasting 11 amp motor
  • Comes with a wide variety of useful accessories
  • Effective on both hard and soft floors

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Hose is rather narrow

9. Stanley 5 – Most Versatile Shop Vac

Stanley 5

Though it may not look like it on the surface, I can certainly say that the Stanley 5 is one of the most versatile shop vacs on the market today. That’s primarily because it is designed to serve as 3 useful pieces of hardware in a single package. Those first two functions are as a wet and dry vacuum, as you’d expect. The third function though is equally practical, though. In fact, when utilized in blower mode, you’ll see why you don’t need a separate leaf blower around when you have this unit on hand.

With 3 functions in a single package, you might expect the Stanley 5 to be priced at well over $100. But currently, you can get it for right around $65. That’s a serious bargain, especially for a unit that can hold a whopping 18.5 liters of liquid at one time. This model’s added value doesn’t stop there, though. It also comes standard with a 12 month warranty, as well as an assortment of accessories that make it useful in a wide variety of situations.

What We Like:

  • Can be used as a leaf blower
  • Recently received a price cut
  • Holds a solid volume of wet or dry material
  • Comes with a 12-month warranty

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Hose often snaps on sections that get kinked

10. Armor All AA255 – Best Automotive Shop Vac

Armor All AA255

Despite the increasing number of shop vac designed for regular at-home use, very few of them are properly sized for comfortable use in a car or truck. The Armor All AA255 is a rare exception, given that its elongated form factor and light weight make it easy to move around as you vacuum out your vehicle. Its 2.5 gallon tank is also far larger than its size would suggest, which is a testament to this model’s utilization of its polypropylene enclosure.

Usually, a shop vac of this size would be an ear sore to use in an enclosed space. But unlike the average compact shop vac, the Armor All AA255 features a specialized noise diffuser that you’re sure to notice in action the first time you flip it on. In fact, you won’t even need to wear ear plugs when this unit’s 2 horsepower motor is fully engaged.

What We Like:

  • Very lightweight, making it very portable
  • Relatively large tank for a compact unit
  • 2 HP motor doesn’t produce too much noise

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Nozzle shape can create suction issues

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQ

Can a shop vac pick up water?

In most cases, yes. One of a shop vac’s distinguishing qualities is its ability to efficiently pick up and store liquids. While some models don’t include this capability, the vast majority are able to handle straightforward liquids like water as some thicker liquids (such as those found in an auto shop). In any case, you should always check your model’s instruction manual to ensure that it is rated for use with liquids. Any model that is described as a “wet-dry vacuum” should work safely in this capacity.

What is the best filter to pick up wet materials? Dry materials?

Ideally, you should use a foam sleeve filter when working with liquids. That’s because this type of filter is permeable enough to allow water through while also drawing out any sizable impurities. For example, a foam sleeve filter will be able to capture sand, glass shards, gravel, and prevent them from jamming up the unit’s holding tank. However, these are not always available for all units. In that case, you may be able to pick up liquids without a filter, so long as you use caution.

Meanwhile, when it comes to vacuuming up dry materials, your filter choice will differ depending on the type of material you anticipate capturing. For example, if you plan on sucking up wood chips, gravel, or any similarly sized material, a standard dry filter with household-level filtration will do. Meanwhile, vacuuming up sand and sawdust may warrant a medium-grade dry filter. Finally, particularly fine materials such as coal ash and drywall dust should always be handled in conjunction with an ultra-fine dry filter.

Why do shop vacs lose suction?

Often, as a shop vac ages, its motor begins to run less efficiently. This can cause a shop vac’s suction to become less strong, regardless of what material you are trying to pick up. However, in most cases, a loss of suction can be traced back to an internal clog. To find out if this is the case, try flushing out your unit’s detachable hoses with water. Then, check the inside of the holding tank to see if any materials are obscuring the intake point. This is especially likely to occur when vacuuming up liquids with materials suspended in it, such as lake water.

Also, a loss of suction can be caused by damage to the aforementioned hoses. To rule out this possibility, inspect the entire length of each hose. While a crack may occur down the length of the hose, you’ll most likely notice cracks on the hoses “ribs.” These can be repaired with heavy duty tape as a temporary solution. However, the best way to restore full suctioning capacity in this case is to replace the damaged hose.

How long should a shop vac last?

A shop vac’s productive lifespan can differ dramatically based upon how often the unit is used and for what purpose it is used. In other words, if you use your shop vac on a regular basis to vacuum up water or other gritty liquids, your unit is more likely to degrade in reliability quicker. That being said, any shop vac worth its salt should last for at least 10 years, so long as it is properly cleaned and maintained.

There are also some models that are built explicitly for industrial or heavy-duty used. These models often include a reinforced metal exterior. This helps prevent corrosion, which is a common cause of damage to otherwise working shop vac units. These commercial-grade units can often last for 20 years or more without needing to be replaced.

The Bottom Line

As you’ve now seen, there are a lot of shop vacs on the market today. Many of them are comparable when it comes to their core specifications. But when it comes to their features, some models stand above the rest. Hopefully, you were able to find a few models that suit your needs in this collection. Moreover, I hope you’ve now seen that purchasing a shop vac is an affordable way to handle all of your assorted outdoor vacuuming needs.

But if you’re still not sure which of these reliable shop vacs is for you, take a second pass at my reviews. From there, you can narrow down your list based upon your budget. Then, you can determine how large or small of a unit you need. By that point, you’re more than 90% towards finding the shop vac that will serve your professional or home cleaning needs effectively.

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