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Best Shop Vac: 7 Top Mess Cleaning Vacuums for 2020

Best Shop Vac:
7 Top Mess Cleaning Vacuums for 2020

My grandpa always said, “Measure twice, cut once.” That’s because when you’re doing a home improvement project things can get really messy. A big mess needs a big cleanup. That’s why shop vacs are such an underrated part of your arsenal. The best shop vac can take a chore and make it fun. That’s why we’re breaking down the best shop vacuum for you. Whether you’re looking for specific add-ons like an extension wand or a nozzle or just need help vacuuming up a metric ton of pet hair, these shop vacs do the dirty work to get the job done.

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Summary (TL/DR)

What are we looking for? The best shop vac will give you flexibility through attachments, an extension wand, and enough horsepower to get the job done.

Our top choice is the Craftsman CMXEVBE17606. Its combination of power and functionality will make it a great fit for almost any job.

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Buying Guide Summary

You can skip down to our buying guide if you want to read a more detailed version of how we determine what the best shop vacs have in common. If you’re just looking for the quick and dirty version, here’s a quick rundown of what to look for when buying your next shop vac.

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  1. Size of the Tank – Bigger doesn’t always mean better. Having a large tank means that you won’t have to empty it all the time (good) but means it’s going to take up more space (bad). For large shop vacs, we recommend 16 gallons or more. For small shop vacs we recommend a 4 gallon tank.
  2. Power – Power is measured by three different metrics: sealed pressure (SP), cubic feet per minute (CFM), and air power (AP). Skip down below if you want to get a more detailed view of what each of those metrics measure, but suffice to say a good vac is going to have high numbers in all three categories.
  3. Hose Size – The width of the hose should be determined by what type of debris you’ll be vacuuming up.
    • Large Debris – 2.5” or larger hose width
    • Medium Debris – 1.5” – 2.25” hose width
    • Small debris/water – 1.25” hose width
  4. Attachment Functionality – Whether you need an extension wand or a way to detach your blower for a quick blast of the leaves in your yard this fall, figuring out how well the attachments work is a big part of how we rate these shop vacs.

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Editor’s Choice – Craftsman CMXEVBE17606

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This is the cream of the crop for shop vacs. It’s a great mix of power and functionality. While it doesn’t have the biggest tank size of some of the others on this list, the 6 gallon tank is enough for most jobs. We also loved that it was able to be detached from its base and used as a leaf blower. If you’ve been searching for a great all-around shop vac, stop looking. You just found it.


Pros

  • 2.5” diameter Hose: We mentioned previously that if you’re going to be vacuuming up big debris that you’ll need a hose with a big enough diameter to get the job done. This hose definitely gets the job done. Plus it’s got the power needed to really get in there and utilize the full capability of the hose.
  • Good use of power: The CMXEVBE17606 graded out pretty well in our power rankings. It gets up to 145 CFM, which is great for a vacuum of this size. We also liked that it had a 6.0 peak HP, though it looks like it usually grades out around 5.5 real-world horsepower.
  • Lots of great accessories: Not only does the Craftsman come with a blowing port to make it a detachable blower, it has a great list of other accessories that come with it. Those include a hose, two extension wands, car nozzle, crevice tool, blower wand, and utility nozzle. It might feel like overkill, but when you need a specific job done you’ll be excited by the amount of options these accessories give.

Cons

  • Good but not great capacity: 12 gallons might be enough for most jobs, but it’s not quite at the peak level of capacity that we look for in a large shop vac. That’s usually about 16 gallons. While that may not matter for most jobs, it’s a minor inconvenience that’s definitely worth noting.
  • Inconvenient latches and wheels: While this product ranks extremely high on Amazon (all 4 and 5 star reviews), occasionally people have problems with latches and wheels. It seems that some latches are located next to the handles, which lead to accidents when picking up the shop vac. Some customers also noted that the wheels fell off when the vac was flipped if they weren’t clicked properly in place. While this is technically a user error, it’s worth noting.
  • Slight problems with smaller debris: While this vac does have a fair amount of power, it doesn’t always pick up the smallest debris with ease. That’s because of the large diameter of the hose. If you’re looking for a shop vac to mainly suck up small particles, it might be worth looking elsewhere.

Specs

Here’s what you need to know: you’re getting a great, versatile shop vac with a lot of different abilities tailored to the jobs you need to do. While it’s manufacturer’s warranty isn’t the best, it does beat some on the market.

  • 12 gallon tank size
  • 144.8 CFM (Graded heavy duty)
  • 5.5 HP motor
  • 20 foot cord
  • 2.5” diameter hose
  • Bag and cartridge filtration type
  • ETL certified
  • One year full warranty
  • List of components: wet/dry vacuum with detachable blower, 2.5” dual flex hose, 2 wk extension wands, utility nozzle, car nozzle, crevice tool, locking blower wand, Qwik Lock Filter, Dust Collection Bag

Summary

If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for all your shop vac needs, then this is the one for you. We mentioned previously how great it is to have an extensive list of accessories to facilitate many different jobs, but the best part is that the CMXEVBE17606 has the power and chutzpah to carry it off.

Getting a grade of almost 150 on its CFM is a big deal and is indicative of the Craftsman quality that went into this great shop vac. That, plus the year-long full warranty give you some assurance that this shop vac won’t quit on you anytime soon. It’s also worth noting that this vac has a brother, the CMXEVBE17594 is basically the same vac, but has a fixed instead of a detachable blower. Both are great machines that get dirty jobs done fast.

CHECK PRICE

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Best Value – Vacmaster VBV1210

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While slightly less powerful than our editor’s choice, this 12-gallon wet dry shop vac has more than enough HP to get most jobs done. It has an extra large drain port, especially helpful for cleaning up liquid messes, and a nice design that makes using it easy and fun. That, plus a two-year warranty means that you’re getting basically the second best wet dry shop vac on the market at a very reasonable price.


Pros

  • Great suction power: 143 CFM, a 60” water lift, and 370 airwatts means that this has the power you’ll need to get the job done. It’s working with a 5 HP motor, which is the second highest on our list. That sort of power across the board means that it’s ideal for both small debris and water (because of the water lift) and larger pieces of debris like wood (CFM).
  • Great Warranty: It’s got a full two-year warranty through vacmaster, as well as a 5-year limited warranty. That means that you’ll be able to get any part repaired or replaced in its entirety for the first two years. That gives you peace of mind, especially with high powered and expensive equipment like a wet dry shop vacuum. You won’t have to worry any longer about what you can and can’t suck up to get the job done.
  • Integrated 2.5” diameter hose: The hose on the vacmaster is definitely a selling point. Not only is it 2.5” in diameter, it also has proprietary non-kink technology to make sure that you’re not losing suction because of a weak spot in the hose. It’s integrated feature means that it’s easy to store and extremely hassle-free when not in use. That’s more space for the rest of your tools.

Cons

  • Iffy customer service: Some customers complain that when they tried to utilize the warranty on this product, the customer support wasn’t up to their specifications. Many customers reported that they received a message that their “call volume is higher than expected” which isn’t a great sign if you need to communicate with the manufacturer.
  • Less than stellar leaf blower: Some folks really appreciate the leaf blowing function on their leaf blower, but this won’t might not cut it. Some users report that this shop vac struggles when asked to perform this duty. They reported problems “even moving small leaves around.” You may need to use that extra space in the shed on a leaf blower.
  • Motor burnout: A small number of users reported motor burn-out when vacuuming up dust or sawdust. Be careful and read the manual, you’ll need a special filter for this type of vacuuming or you risk voiding the warranty.

Specs

This is a great all-around shop vac with some impressive specs, especially for the cost. Check out the great suction and accessory list.

  • 12-gallon tank
  • 143 CFM rating
  • 5 HP motor
  • 20 foot cord
  • 2.5” diameter hose
  • Bag and cartridge filtration type
  • 2 year full warranty, 5 year limited warranty
  • List of components: 2 extension wands, fine dust cartridge filter, foam wet filter, high efficiency dust bag, 12” floor nozzle, 8” utility nozzle, air/noise diffuser.

Summary

While it might not have the number of attachments that our editor’s choice has, this is still an extremely solid choice for a shop vac. It’s got great power, a nice looking (and easy-to-store) hose, and a good warranty. That, plus the easy drain filter makes this an extremely nice starter shop vac that will get most jobs done. Sure, it might not have all the options and accessories of some of the more expensive models, but with the money you’re saving you can pick the accessories you need.

CHECK PRICE

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Best Portable – Ridgid 50313

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Maybe you don’t need a ton of power in your next shop vac, maybe portability is more your jam. If that’s the case, the Ridgid 50313 has you covered. While iit doesn’t have near the capacity of our other two featured models, that 4 gallon drum is enough for most small jobs. That, plus a smaller non-clogging hose and 5 peak HP motor allow it to compete on suction, even if it’s a lot smaller.


Pros

  • Lightweight and portable: This is the little shop vac that could. While it doesn’t have nearly the size of other models, it doesn’t skimp on the motor (at peak 5 HP). That being said, it was still the lightest model we looked at (12 lbs), and its compact size means that it’s very easy to store.
  • Good suction power: We already mentioned the motor, but the amperage and air volume are pretty heavy-duty, especially for a portable vac. It’s CFM is 110, which while lighter than some of the other models we’ve reviewed, is still definitely in the acceptable range. That, plus 9 amps and 120 voltage means that you won’t be wanting in the power department.
  • Lifetime warranty: If you have a problem in the first 90 days, you can exchange the shop vac no questions asked. After that the manufacturer requires that you send it in for either a return/exchange or replace whatever the defect is. That’s not a bad deal at all!

Cons

  • No built in drain: Unlike other models we’ve looked at, this doesn’t come with an easy-to-use built in drain. Something to think about if you’ll be vacuuming up a lot of liquid. It’s not to say you can’t, but it won’t be as easy as some others.
  • Some questions on hose durability: A few reviews on Rigid’s website showed that there may be some durability issues when it comes to the hose. Some customers reported that it didn’t stay attached and maintain suction during use. Something to think about.
  • A small drum size: You’re only getting a 4 gallon drum size. While that shouldn’t be a problem for you if you’re looking for the best portable shop vac, it’s not as big as any of the others we’ve reviewed. Worth noting if you’re doing big projects and don’t want to spend a lot of time emptying the drum.

Specs

  • 4 gallon tank
  • 110 CFM rating
  • 5 HP motor
  • 20 ft cord
  • 1 ?” diameter hose
  • Bag and filtration type
  • Lifetime warranty

Summary

If you’re looking for a lightweight, portable shop vac then this is the one for you. Sure it doesn’t have the large hose capabilities or the tank size of the bigger options, but that’s ok. It still has great power for its size, plus a lifetime warranty that beats the competition hands down. If you’re thinking about a small shop vac that won’t take up a lot of size, but will still clean up a big mess — this is the one.

CHECK PRICE

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The Best of the Rest

These might not have ranked in our top three, but each of these shop vacs is great in their own way. Here’s a quick summary for five other shop vacs, each in their own distinct category. These might warrant a second look if you’re on the hunt for a specific feature or function.

 

Best Cordless – DeWALT DCV581H

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If you’re looking for a small option and don’t want to be encumbered by cord length, then the DeWalt DCV581H is the shop vac for you. Powered by a 20V battery, this shop vac has a 2 gallon tank to clean wet or dry messes. It has a reusable filter, and while it doesn’t have nearly the power of our other options (only 31 CFM), it does offer a blower function too.

If you’re looking for a shop vac that can vacuum up pet hair, or want a cordless vacuum with a little more oomph, this is your vac. We really dug that you could reuse the filter, and that it had a three year limited warranty (only 90 day money back guarantee). It’s super easy to use, and has a variety of nozzle attachments.

Specs

  • 2 gallon tank
  • 30 CFM rating
  • 20V motor (electric battery)
  • Cordless
  • 1 ¼” diameter hose
  • Rewashable filter
  • 3 year limited warranty
CHECK PRICE

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Best Large Shop Vac – Workshop WS1600SS

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This is a shop vac that just gets it done. Made with stainless steel, this wet dry shop vacuum has a giant 16 gallon drum, plus plenty of power. It rates out at 167 CFM, 12 amps, and a crazy 45 inch lift. That means that big or small, this vac takes on all jobs. It’s got 6.5 peak HP motor and its not afraid to use it.

It runs on filters and dust bags, so be prepared to have a couple spare on hand. It also has a five year limited warranty. You’ll be able to fix normal wear and tear during that time, but it may be voided if you don’t follow instructions on using proper filters, etc. The hose is great, with a locking mechanism that snaps into place so that suction isn’t compromised. It also has a large drain, making it great for cleaning up liquids.

Specs

  • 16 gallon tank
  • 167 CFM
  • 6.5 HP motor
  • 20 ft cord
  • 2 ½” diameter hose
  • bag/filter system
  • 5 year limited warranty
CHECK PRICE

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Best Medium Shop Vac – Vacmaster Professional

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Looking for a good entry-level shop vac that does everything pretty well? That’s the Vacmaster professional. This is essentially the exact same as our “best value” pick, so read that product description for all the specs and warranties. It’s a great option if you want power but don’t need the biggest and the best.

Specs

This is a great all-around shop vac with some impressive specs, especially for the cost. Check out the great suction and accessory list.

  • 12-gallon tank
  • 143 CFM rating
  • 5 HP motor
  • 20 foot cord
  • 2.5” diameter hose
  • Bag and cartridge filtration type
  • 2 year full warranty, 5 year limited warranty
CHECK PRICE

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Best Small Shop Vac – Shop-Vac 5895200

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Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it can’t pack a wallop. This shop vac advertises itself as the power of a shop vac with the convenience of a hand held model. We don’t know if it has quite that amount of power, but it’s enough to do most around the house jobs. Plus, it has an extremely handy wall-mount design.

It’s got great power. 130 CFM, 8 amps, and a sealed pressure of 56 inches. That beats some of our bigger models. It does only have a 2 gallon tank, so you won’t be able to do really big jobs with it. That’s OK, its small enough to be able to empty easily. We think this is a great “around the house” shop vac.

Specs

  • 2 gallon tank
  • 130 CFM rating
  • 2.5 HP motor
  • 18 foot cord
  • 1 ¼” diameter hose
  • Bag and cartridge filtration type
  • 3 year warranty
CHECK PRICE

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Best Professional Shop Vac – Festool 583492

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Sometimes you just need a professional to get the job done. That’s exactly what you’re getting in this vac. While it may be two, or even three, times the price of some of the other shop vacs on this list, it’s not without good reason. This is an industrial strength dust extractor.

It has a 26L tank, 137 CFM, and two different diameter sized hoses for different types of cleaning. Users really seemed to enjoy the heavy duty nature of the extractor and the fact that it reliably cleaned up any mess they threw at it. If you’re looking to cleanup a worksite that is covered in dust, or you just need something to vacuum up a lot of water in your basement, this is the one to get it done.

Specs

  • 26 L (7 gal) tank
  • 137 CFM rating
  • High performance turbine motor
  • Hose garage and cable windup
  • 27/32” diameter suction hose
  • Bag and cartridge filtration type
  • 3 year limited warranty
CHECK PRICE

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Buying Guide

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So you know you need a shop vac, but what are you looking for? We’ve got the hookup to show you what makes a shop vac great — or why it sucks. Which I guess could be great in this case? OK OK, enough with the vacuum puns, let’s do this.

Size of the Tank

You know how they say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog? Almost the exact opposite is true for shop vacs. You’re going to want a tank with at least a three gallon tank on the small side and 16 gallons on the large side. Remember, the smaller the tank, the more you’re going to have to empty it.

Conversely, if you live in a really small apartment (or just have minimal storage space) you might not be able to go with a large tank. In that case, it’s definitely worth your while to look at our pick for best small shop vac.

What to look for: 3 gallons (on the small side) to 16 gallons (for larger vacuums)

Power

Power is an extremely important part of figuring out the best shop vac. While you might just think that comes down to horsepower, it’s actually a little more subtle than that. We use three different readings to figure out how much power a shop vac is working with.

Sealed pressure – Basically, this is how many inches a vacuum is able to lift a column of water up a glass tube. It’s a little more technical than that, but for our purposes, all you need to know is that anything given a 75 or higher in SP is considered high-end in the shop vac world.

Cubic Feet per Minute – If you’re going to be using your shop vac in the woodshed, then this is the rating you’ll care most about. The CFM measures maximum airflow at the shop vac’s largest opening. That’s better for picking up fine debris like wood shavings or dust.

Air Power – This measures how much power a shop vac has at the inlet for dirt. This is basically a measure of how heavy a piece of debris the shop vac can pick up. If you’re going to be using this shop vac to pick up small nuts, bolts, or screws then you’ll want maximum air power.

What to look for: We measure a shop vac’s power with a combination of Sealed Pressure (SP), Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM), and Air Power (AP).

Hose Size

We’re going to stay away from all jokes on this one. Consider this: hose length doesn’t just mean longer is better. You’re going to want a long enough hose to reach all the places you need to clean, BUT the longer your hose, the less suction you’ll get. Now as for the wideness on the hose, that depends on what you’ll be using it for. For your convenience, here are the hose sizes we want depending on the type of debris we’ll be vacuuming.

  • Large Debris – You’ll need at least a 2.5-inch-wide hose. If you go smaller than that, large debris will become stuck in your hose and you’ll lose suction. That’s super annoying if you’re trying to clean a large space.
  • Medium Debris – This will probably be the case for the majority of your shop vac users, you’ll only need a hose 1.5 – 2 inches wide for most wood chips/small particles/nuts and bolts.
  • Fine Debris/Water – If you’re only using your shop vac to get rid of dust, dirt, and water then it makes sense to go with a smaller hose. You’ll get maximum sealed pressure, and won’t have to worry about debris getting caught in the hose. 1.25 – 1.5 inches wide should definitely be enough for you.

What to look for: Here’s our quick guide on hose width. Large Debris – 2.5” <, Medium – 1.5” – 2”, Small – 1.5” >

Functionality of Attachments/Detachable Blower

A good tool will be able to function a ton of different ways. Need it to vacuum up pet hair? Great. Need a good extension wand for hard to reach places? Yup. Need the best wet dry shop vacuum because you want to do it all? Got you covered. Whether you’re looking for a specific nozzle or need a cordless vacuum, figuring out how good your attachments will work is key to the best shop vac.

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Conclusion

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Whether you’re looking for a professional grade shop vac, or just need a small one for cleaning little messes around the house, there are some things you’ll always need to look for. Checking the warranty of a product is a great idea, anything less than a two year limited warranty should throw up some red flags. You’ll also want to make sure that the suction you’re getting is enough for the job you need. Consider heavy duty jobs as ones that need at least 110 CFM rating and go from there.

That’s also true of hose sizes. We recommend you looking for a hose that’s specific to the types of jobs you’ll be needing it for. The bigger the debris, the larger the hose. If you’ll mostly be using it for dust and liquid, then a small hose will do fine — though that same hose may have problems with large debris like nuts and bolts. That, plus the size of the tank should give you the best idea of what to look for in your next shop vac, don’t be afraid to research and compare! These are our faves. They work great, are dependable, and have enough power to blow your mind (and those pesky leaves) completely away.

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We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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