Tool-triggered shop vacs are not particularly lightweight or easy to haul to a jobsite. For tasks outside of the workshop, and for general home and garage use, smaller, portable shop vacs are popular. Though they can't come close to matching the suction of larger vacuums, owners usually find they have enough power to get the job done. The hose diameters are usually small -- fine for vacuuming dust, but can easily clog with bigger debris.
The 4.5-gallon Ridgid Pro Pack WD4522 (Est. $100) performs well and is recommended by expert and user reviewers. The Ridgid Pro Pack is shaped like a toolbox, and the lid provides storage for the hose, cord and cleaning tools, but not two included 20-inch extension wands. More than 300 owners posting feedback to HomeDepot.com contribute to an overall rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 for the Ridgid Pro Pack. Reviewers say it is ideal for vacuuming autos or for use on stairs or ladders, and it can also double as a blower. Another plus is that the Pro Pack's exhaust is cleaner than that of most wet dry vacs in its size range. At 90 decibels, the Pro Pack isn't the quietest vacuum in the bunch, but most users say they find it easy to overlook its noise in light of its suction power and lifetime warranty.
While the WD4522 hasn't been extensively reviewed by professionals, its very similar predecessor, the Ridgid Pro Pack WD4550 had been widely tested and fairly well rated. It was the top pick among mini-sized wet/dry vacuums in one large, comparative review. The current model, the WD4522 looks to carry on in its tradition. Though no top model is named in a comparison of four compact shop vacs at This Old House, the Ridgid Pro Pack WD4522 draws praise from a contractor for its convenient accessory storage and the extension wands that let the vacuum reach places that are just beyond the range of other models.
The ArmorAll AA255 (Est. $40) is a good alternative for those looking for a portable shop vac on a budget. It hasn't been professionally reviewed by any of the experts that we deem to be most credible, but it gets strong feedback from users. At Amazon.com, we found a 4.4 star rating based on nearly 1,575 reviews. There less feedback elsewhere, but similar satisfaction, including a 4.5-star rating based on more than 110 reviews at HomeDepot.com.
With a 2.5-gallon capacity and a 2-horsepower motor, a 6-foot hose and a 10-foot cord, the ArmorAll AA255 is ideal for smaller tasks such as vacuuming a vehicle. Owners say it's sturdy and doesn't tip over easily during use, fairly quiet, and comes with a variety of attachments for cleaning versatility. Most say it has excellent suction power for its size, although there are some complaints of durability issues, such as loud or malfunctioning motors or loss of suction after a few uses or several months of consistent use. The ArmorAll AA255 is manufactured by Vacmaster and backed by a two-year warranty.
The Shop-Vac 589-51-00 (Est. $50) is another alternative in the budget price range. It earns a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 following more than 240 owner-written reviews at Amazon.com. With a top-carry handle and attached dolly with casters for easy maneuverability, this 1.5-gallon wet dry vac is easy to use in campers, homes, garages, vehicles, and more. Owners say it has good suction on dry debris, but some say it's not as effective at picking up liquids. The 7-foot hose has a narrow, 1.25-inch diameter, so this unit is best for smaller debris. It comes with several attachments, and with an included bracket, it doubles as a wall-mounted wet dry vacuum.
The Vacmaster VP2015 (Est. $30) is cheaper still. It's got the same 2.5-gallon capacity as the ArmorAll AA255, but its 4-foot hose is shorter than the other compact utility vacs profiled here. Owners say it's lightweight and easy to maneuver, but the hose is stiff and difficult to work with. Opinions are mixed on suction power, with some owners saying it's powerful while others say it lacks the suction strength to really do the job. Overall, the Vacmaster VP205 earns decent feedback --4 stars out of a possible 5 based on nearly 400 owner reviews at Amazon.com. It's backed by a two-year warranty.
Cordless wet dry vacs offer the ultimate in portability at the expense of suction and runtime. Reviews say they're ideal for vacuuming a car or for quick cleanup jobs that last 10 to 15 minutes. Because some of these shop vacuums use the same batteries as other cordless tools from the same maker, they are often sold without batteries.
The 2-gallon DeWalt DCV581H (Est. $100) is a corded/cordless shop vac that earns good feedback, including a rating of 4.4 stars out of 5 in nearly 385 owner-written reviews on Amazon.com. It weighs just 11 pounds and has a 5-foot hose, along with a crevice tool and wide nozzle attachment. It has a power cord for those tasks that require longer sustained cleaning time, but also works with an 18v or 20v DeWalt battery, adding versatility for portable use, and owners say it runs for about 25 minutes on a single battery charge. However, neither the battery nor charger are included in the price.
Owners appreciate the HEPA filter and say it's easy to clean, but several say the hose is too short. Feedback on suction power is mixed across the board; some reviewers say it has exceptionally powerful suction for its size, while others say it's too weak. With a narrow, 1.25-inch-diameter hose, this corded/cordless wet dry vacuum is best for smaller jobs. It's backed by a three-year warranty.
Expert feedback isn't extensive, but we spotted a very helpful review at ProToolReviews.com. Clint DeBoer is fairly impressed, granting the DeWalt a 4.2 star rating. It's almost a no-brainer if you are already invested in DeWalt cordless tools; he tests it with both 18 volt NiCd batteries and newer 20 volt Li-ion ones, and found that the vacuum worked fine with either. Performance is excellent, and the noise level is pleasingly low. "For smaller jobs and portability it's going to be hard to beat the DeWalt DCV581H wet/dry vac -- especially if you already have a lot of yellow and black in your garage or work trailer," DeBoer says.
The 2-gallon Milwaukee 0880-20 (Est. $100) is similar. It works with either Li-ion or NiCd 18-volt Milwaukee batteries though, once again, the battery and charger is not included. In addition, it is battery powered only, and AC operation is not an option. It carries a five year warranty.
Like the DeWalt DCV581H cordless shop vac, the Milwaukee 0880-20 employs a washable HEPA-rated filter and earns high marks for clean exhaust. Reviewers also say they like the Milwaukee's hard-shell toolbox with its onboard storage for the included crevice tool and wide utility nozzle. The 1.25-inch hose diameter allows users to attach any standard vacuum attachments for more versatility. Depending on the battery used, owners say it can drain a battery in as little as 10 minutes, while others are able to use this unit for a few minutes at a time and recharge the battery approximately every two weeks.
Again, expert reviews are tough to come by, but DeBoer at ProToolReviews.com also evaluates the Milwaukee and gives it generally good feedback. However, it doesn't impress quite as much as the DeWalt in some areas, including suction that's more than sufficient for light duty, but not for enough for heavy-duty tasks. "This tool is most definitely made for smaller jobs and simple clean-up," he says.
For even more portability, the half-gallon DeWalt DC515K (Est. $120) earns high marks from owners reviewing it online at HomeDepot.com and Amazon.com. It's essentially a pro-grade handheld vacuum that can handle liquids. Features include a hose that extends 2.5 feet to reach into tight spaces, like under the front seats in a car. Among the 335 owners reviewing this cordless wet dry vac on Amazon.com, where it earns an overall rating of 4.4 stars out of 5, several complain that it's quite loud, but most agree that the portability and power of this model can't be matched in a unit of this size. The DeWalt DC515K includes one 18v battery pack and charger, which can be interchanged with other DeWalt tools. Like the DC5V581H above, the DC515K carries a three-year warranty.