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Updated September 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Emerson Workshop High Capacity Wet/Dry Vacuum
WORKSHOP
High Capacity Wet/Dry Vacuum Cleaner
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Most Versatile
Bottom Line

A must-have for quickly and completely cleaning up extra-large messes of all kinds.

Pros

Designed for big jobs. Has a 16-gallon capacity. Powerful suction. Wheeled design. Detachable 7-foot hose. Includes five tool head attachments. Rugged construction. Large drain.

Cons

This machine is especially loud.

Best Bang for the Buck
Dewalt DXV06P Wet/Dry Vacuum
DEWALT
DXV06P Wet/Dry Vacuum
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Trusted Brand
Bottom Line

The compact design makes this a top option for cleaning vehicles and wet messes in small areas.

Pros

Affordable. Designed for small jobs. Lightweight. Portable. Reliably strong suction. Holds up to 6 gallons. Includes 7-foot hose and three nozzle heads. Sturdy. Carrying handle. Wheeled design.

Cons

Its small size means it must be emptied often.

Craftsman CMXEVBE17590 Wet/Dry Vacuum
Craftsman
CMXEVBE17590 Wet/Dry Vacuum
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Customer Favorite
Bottom Line

A solidly made model that is well-situated for garages and workshops.

Pros

Optimized for medium-sized jobs. Holds up to 9 gallons. Durable wheels. Includes two tool heads. Flexible 7-foot hose. Convenient carrying handle. Large drain. Handy 10-foot power cord.

Cons

Requires a bit of assembly.

Craftsman CMXEVBE17250 Wet/Dry Vacuum
Craftsman
CMXEVBE17250 Wet/Dry Vacuum
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Easy to Transport
Bottom Line

A must-have for buyers who value portability and the ability to clean in tight spaces.

Pros

Inexpensive. Lightweight. Holds 2.5 gallons. Compact design. Blower functionality. Includes 5-foot hose and two tool heads. Convenient 10-foot power cord and built-in cord management.

Cons

No drain, so it must be disassembled and emptied.

Makita XCV11Z HEPA Wet/Dry Vacuum
Makita
XCV11Z HEPA Wet/Dry Vacuum
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Best for Small Spaces
Bottom Line

This small yet strong model is worth the investment because it effortlessly traps dust and other harmful allergens.

Pros

Surprisingly powerful suction. Compact. HEPA filter. Comfortable carrying handle. Holds 2 gallons. Lightweight. Blower feature. Long battery life. Flexible hose. High and low suction and blowing speeds.

Cons

Lithium-ion battery is not included.

HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

51
Models
Considered
70
Consumers
Consulted
28
Hours
Researched
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Buying guide for best wet/dry vacuums

When it comes to cleaning, a wet/dry vacuum is the biggest workhorse in the DIY shop. From sucking up spilled water to nabbing sawdust, nails, and other debris from hard-to-reach corners, owners rely on their wet/dry vac to make the task of cleaning up the garage or shed much easier.

The design of a wet/dry vac is pretty basic: Its biggest feature is a large two-piece chamber to hold water or debris, with the vacuum motor perched on the top of the chamber. Most have casters on the bottom to roll the vacuum around easily. A flexible hose attachment enables users to reach into corners, and more accessories are usually available, such as crevice nozzles, dusting brushes, and even squeegees.

vacuum cleaner
Plastic or stainless steel? Both have benefits and drawbacks. Plastic storage tanks resist dents and scratches. They’re lighter but can be tough to clean. Stainless steel tanks are generally much easier to clean and are durable, but they could suffer from dents and dings.

How wet/dry vacuums work

Just like a vacuum cleaner for rugs, wet/dry vacuums have a powerful motor and fan that creates suction by drawing air into the canister, through an intake port, and upward through an exhaust port.

Unlike a home vacuum, a wet/dry vac typically employs a two-chamber system to separate solids and liquids. Debris is sucked in through the intake port of the outer chamber using a hose that attaches to the intake, and it helps direct and speed up airflow. Once inside the chamber, the airflow decreases. The debris and water exit the airstream and fall down into the inner chamber. Meanwhile, the air continues its upward journey, passing through a filter to strain out any fine dust and debris before exiting via the exhaust port incorporated in the motor housing.

Switching the vacuum from dry to wet vacuuming is almost as easy as flipping a switch—with one caveat. You must change the filter from a dry filter to a wet filter before tackling that puddle of water. Dry filters are made of paper, which doesn’t make them a great option for filtering water. Wet filters are usually made of foam and soak up the liquid.

wet/dry vacuum
Expert Tip
Larger wet/dry vacs can put a strain on electrical circuits, causing outlets to fail more often. Instead, have an outlet you use for the vac, and install an outlet switch that is easily replaced at any home improvement store.
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Choosing the best wet/dry vacuum for your needs

As with any household appliance, the best vacuum for you depends on what types of messes you typically clean up, how large your living space is, and how often you plan to use your vacuum.

Size

Wet/dry vacs come in a range of sizes:

  • Mini: This vacuum can be easily carried in one hand but has the least capacity and power of any wet/dry vac. It’s best for small spills and small piles of dust or debris around the house or shop, but it won’t handle larger jobs.
  • Small: This size of vacuum trades tank capacity and power for portability and price. A small wet/dry vacuum is best for smaller cleanups around the home and garage. These are often stick vacuums or upright models that resemble regular vacuums, so they require minimal storage space.
  • Medium: Offering more power, overall performance, and capacity, this size of wet/dry vac is a good all-around appliance for most do-it-yourselfers or homeowners to trade up to.
  • Large: Also called shop vacuums, this size is for shops that need heavy-duty cleaning and has large-capacity debris collection and higher power. It can also hold the most water. However, a wet/dry shop vac is a bear to haul around and may strain standard 120V electrical circuits.

But size isn’t everything. Buyers should also consider static pressure, airflow, and suction power. These ratings, listed on the vacuum’s label, give buyers an idea of the machine’s capability.

wet/dry vacuum
Expert Tip
To get the best performance out of a wet/dry vacuum, make sure it’s kept clean between jobs and that the filter is changed regularly.
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Ratings

Static pressure (SP), also called “sealed pressure” or “sealed suction,” is an important measurement for vacs that will be used to pick up a lot of water. High-end wet/dry vacuums have an SP rating of around 75.

CFM (cubic feet per minute) is a rating of the maximum airflow a vacuum can achieve at its largest opening. A higher airflow rating is important for vacs that will be used to pick up fine dust and other small particles.

Air power (AP), or air watts, is a key rating for vacs that will be used to pick up heavier debris, such as nuts and bolts.

While a good rating for all three is important for any wet/dry vacuum, look for a balance that leans slightly toward a higher rating for the primary planned use. For example, a vacuum with plenty of horsepowers and very high airflow, compared to its SP or AP ratings, may be great for picking up dust but not so good for vacuuming up nuts and bolts — its suction is too low. You’ll want the airflow rating to be more in balance with the suction and air power.

wet/dry vacuum
Did you know?
Listed tank capacity for many wet/dry vacs is often much higher than the actual capacity. A large vacuum may list its capacity as 16 gallons, but that measurement often doesn’t account for the filter. Many tanks hold just 65% of the advertised capacity.
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Wet/dry vacuum features

In addition to size, wet/dry vacs have a few other options that buyers may want to consider. If the vacuum will be used to pick up a lot of water, choosing one with a tank drain will make it much easier to empty the tank, rather than trying to pick up a large bucket of water.

Blower

Some wet-dry vacs include a blower feature—either a built-in port or a detachable blower. This is very handy for knocking dust out of the corners of the shop or even clearing leaves from the driveway.

Mop mode and carpet cleaning

If you plan to use your vacuum not only for cleaning up wet messes but also for mopping linoleum or hardwood floors, look for a model with a tank for clean water (or water with cleaning products added).

All-in-one products that act as carpet cleaners as well may serve as your primary cleaning appliance. Make note of the capacity of the dustbin and water tank, as these can be on the small side, limiting how long you can clean before it’s time to empty the waste.

Drain valve

Just as you empty the dustbin, you will need to empty the liquid collection bin at some point. Many shop vacs have a removable bin, but others have drain valves you can open to pour the waste down the drain or into the trash.

Smaller stick vacuums and upright vacuums usually have a single tank for all debris, wet and dry, but these smaller tanks are much easier to empty.

Attachments

Most wet/dry vacs come with a hose attachment with a diameter of 1 1/4 inches, but wider hoses can be purchased.

Other useful accessories include the following:

  • A dust brush for working dust free of gaps
  • A crevice tool for extra-tight spots
  • A utility nozzle for quickly cleaning large areas
  • An extension wand for reaching tough spots without having to bend over

Shop vacs and upright wet/dry vacs may have built-in accessory storage as well.

wet/dry vacuum
Expert Tip
Use foam earplugs to protect your hearing when using larger wet/dry vacuums. Not only are they very loud when running, but their high-pitched tone can be headache-inducing.
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Corded or cordless?

While most wet/dry vacuums are corded, there are a few disadvantages to cordless vacuums.

Cordless wet/dry vacuums are almost always more expensive than compatible corded models. However, with no cord to deal with, you can move around easily without worrying about where the nearest outlet is. Though a traditional wet/dry vacuum can reach most places with the help of an extension cord, you still have to think about where the cord is to keep it from getting snagged or unplugging.

Corded models have the obvious advantage of never running out of power, but they also tend to have a higher peak horsepower, especially when compared with cordless models at the same price.

Wall mount

Some small and mini vacs are capable of being wall-mounted. While this is great for storage and opening up floor space in the garage or shop, they’re not portable in this position. It may be hard to reach the far corners of the workshop, even with a long hose extension.

Multiple speed settings

Wet/dry vacs are really loud, with some reaching 85 decibels when running at peak horsepower, requiring ear protection. Motor pitch can be annoying in single-speed units, so buyers may want to consider a wet/dry vacuum that has multiple speed settings. “Two speeds enable varying the power, sound and tailoring performance.”

HEPA filtration

To prevent dust particles and allergens from simply reentering the air via the exhaust, consider paying a bit more for HEPA filtration. This catches allergens like pet dander, pollen, and dust mites, keeping your air clean as well as your floors.

Some filters are designed specifically to catch pet hair, which can prevent the exhaust from clogging and reducing suction power. Others are fine enough to collect drywall dust, which makes some home improvement jobs far easier. Look for washable filters when possible, as this keeps your vacuum running smoothly and saves you from having to purchase new filters regularly.

Blower port

For cleaning outdoor areas like driveways or patios, a blower port can help you quickly clear leaves, dirt, grass, and sawdust when paired with an accessory like an extension wand.

wet/dry vacuum
Did you know?
Consider using a dust bag in addition to the required filter for dry debris, especially if you switch often between dry and wet vacuuming. The bag makes cleaning the vacuum’s storage tank much easier, and can extend the life of the filter.
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Cost

A wet/dry vac can be an investment if you’re a woodworker or contractor,  but the budget end has smaller vacuums to meet everyday needs.

Inexpensive

Budget wet/dry vacuums start at $50 and cost up to $100. These are usually compact shop vacs with small debris capacity and lower power, but they may work well for household use.

Mid-range

For $100 to $200 are more robust vacuums with features such as accessory attachments, extension wands, and cordless designs.

Expensive

High-end wet/dry vacs cost from $200 to $500 and include both professional shop vacs and multi-surface cleaners with mop features. Vacuums on the higher end of this range usually boast either more horsepower and debris capacity or extra features and specialized cleaning capability.

wet/dry vacuum
Expert Tip
Thinking of replacing the wet/dry vac’s paper filter with a HEPA filter? They’re an expensive addition, so make sure you do it right. HEPA filters require effective pre-filters or they will quickly load with dust and become ineffective.
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Tips for prolonging the life of a wet/dry vacuum

  • Note that the filter is likely the most important factor in getting the most out of your wet/dry vacuum. They need to be changed regularly, and it’s important to buy the correct size filter.
  • Look into pleated cartridge filters. Many wet/dry vacs have pleated cartridge filters, which are easier to change than two-piece paper/foam filters. These filters also trap dust much more efficiently. If your model doesn’t come with this type of cartridge, consider upgrading to a pleated filter.
  • Clean and dry the vacuum interior regularly. A mix of organic soil (from vacuumed-up dust) and moisture can lead to mold and bacterial growth. Not only does that create a musty smell that affects indoor air quality, but it can also be a health issue.
  • Consider using a dust bag when vacuuming dry debris. This can make cleanup a bit easier and helps reduce the number of fine particles that escape the filter and re-enter the room. The bag can be quickly removed from the chamber, making the vacuum almost instantly ready to switch over to wet vacuuming (with a filter change, of course). A dust bag can also help prolong the life of the filter.
  • Keep a variety of filters available if you’re tackling different types of cleanup. For example, use a fine filter if you’re cleaning up cold fireplace ashes. A general or household filter is fine for larger debris.
  • For wet/dry vacs that are sold without them, bags are available for separate purchase. Be sure to buy the correct size for your vacuum and avoid the temptation to purchase a “high performance” replacement bag without doing your research—most standard dust bags do a good job of catching fine dust and jagged or sharp objects without compromising suction.
wet/dry vacuum
Wet/dry vacs enable some pretty unorthodox uses. For example, a vac that has a blower feature can be used to clear clogged drains. Or, using the foam filter and extension attachments, the vac can be used for impromptu carpet cleaning.

FAQ

Q. What messes can’t I clean up with a wet/dry vac?

A. Flammable liquids are extremely dangerous to suck up and can ignite inside the vacuum. Any materials that could be poisonous or harmful to you should also be avoided. Additionally, keep in mind that not all filters are the same, and some may let fine particles escape. Check the manual carefully to see what substances your vacuum can handle.

Q. Why isn’t my wet/dry vac sucking up water?

A. This is most likely because your filter is clogged and needs to be cleaned or replaced. Since liquids require more suction power than dry messes, you’re more likely to notice suction issues when cleaning up spills.

Q. Can you use a wet/dry vac on furniture?

A. Yes, both in wet and dry modes. Cleaning regularly with dry mode helps to remove dust and pet hair. Wet mode is useful after a deep clean with a mixture of water and either dish soap or vinegar, depending on the types of stains. Then, your vacuum can quickly dry the fabric and prevent water damage.

 

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