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.
This machine is especially loud.
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.
Its small size means it must be emptied often.
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.
Requires a bit of assembly.
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.
No drain, so it must be disassembled and emptied.
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.
Lithium-ion battery is not included.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wet/dry vacs come in a range of sizes:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Shop vacs and upright wet/dry vacs may have built-in accessory storage as well.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
For $100 to $200 are more robust vacuums with features such as accessory attachments, extension wands, and cordless designs.
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.
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.
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.
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.