Tool-triggered shop vacs are not particularly lightweight or easy to haul to a jobsite. For such tasks outside of the workshop, 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 -- ideal for vacuuming dust but easy to clog with bigger debris.
Several owners praise small-sized Shop-Vac wet dry vacuums for their portability and affordability. The 5-gallon Shop-Vac Heavy Duty Portable 587-24-62 (*Est. $80) takes dust bags, which simplifies emptying and cleaning the vacuum. With 5.5 peak horsepower, carpenter Dave Andrews calls the 587-24-62 a "solid performer" in a This Old House roundup of compact utility vacuums. Amazon.com users also like the Shop-Vac Heavy Duty Portable series in general, giving the similar 587-25-00 model an overall rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars based on about 40 reviews. Both models come with a pick-up filter, disposable dust bag, crevice tool, claw nozzle and wall-mount bracket for off-the-floor storage, and they are covered by a five-year warranty.
A more affordable Shop-Vac option is the 6-gallon Shop-Vac 930-20-01 (*Est. $45), available exclusively at Lowe's. On Lowes.com, many user reviews mention the Shop-Vac's easy transport and use, and people seem to find the vac's suction quite serviceable for the price tag. Like the Heavy Duty Portable series, the Shop-Vac 930-20-01 features disposable dust bags and a three-year warranty.
A good high-end portable wet dry vac designed for heavy use is the 6-gallon Fein Turbo I 9-20-24 (*Est. $315), which replaces the Turbo I 9-55-13. At 60 decibels, it is considerably quieter than the Shop-Vac Heavy Duty Portable wet dry vacs, which have an 82-decibel noise level. Its compact size and rubber bumpers make it ideal for jobsite use, and it's tool-triggered, allowing it to connect to the dust port on a sander. The main drawback, according to owners, is that its dust bags are expensive, and without them, the vac is messy to empty. Still, owners give it high ratings at Amazon.com, saying it's easy to use and has powerful suction. The Fein Turbo I carries a three-year warranty upon registration.
On the other end of the price spectrum, the 4.5-gallon Ridgid Pro Pack WD4522 (*Est. $95) doesn't accommodate dust bags, but it performs well in comparison tests 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. 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.
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 usually sold without batteries.
Power tool manufacturer DeWalt makes a couple standout cordless wet dry vacs. The 2-gallon DeWalt DC500 (*Est. $100) is a hybrid that can also run as a corded model on electrical power. In cordless mode, it can be used with any DeWalt rechargeable 12-volt to 18-volt battery. Reviews give the DeWalt DC500 especially high marks for low dust emissions. It vacuums liquids, with a full 2-gallon capacity, and it can also operate as a blower. A washable filter is used for wet and dry pickup, and there's no need to change filters when switching tasks. Users have a few minor complaints about the DC500's short cord and hose, as well as awkward tool storage and battery changes, but most reviews are positive. It carries a three-year warranty.
The considerably smaller half-gallon 18-volt DeWalt DC515K (*Est. $140) earns high marks from owners reviewing it online at HomeDepot.com and Northern Tool and Equipment. It's essentially a pro-grade handheld vacuum that can handle liquids and has a hose that extends 2.5 feet to reach into tight spaces, like under the front seats in a car. This tool also earns mostly positive reviews at Amazon.com, but owners say it can be quite loud. The DeWalt DC515K includes one battery pack and charger; if you already have the battery and charger from another 18-volt DeWalt cordless tool, you can buy just the vac without the battery and charger as the DeWalt (*Est. $80). Like the DC500 above, the DC515 models carry a three-year warranty.
Another cordless competitor is the 2-gallon Milwaukee 0880-20 (*Est. $95), which carries a five-year warranty and works with Lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) Milwaukee 18-volt batteries. Note, though, that no battery is included with the vacuum itself. Like the DeWalt DC500 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. Tests at Tools of the Trade demonstrate that it runs about 10 minutes per charge, and the stretchy hose only extends about 4 feet before the unit starts sliding. Still, Tools of the Trade reviewer Mathew Steadman finds the Milwaukee 0880-20 cordless vacuum well worth its price, saying, "I've used this cordless one more in the last few months than my corded one in the last few years."