A wet-dry vac tackles the toughest messes
heavy-duty cleanup tasks, standard vacuum cleaners sometimes don't cut it. While upright vacuum cleaners and canister vacuums can handle standard
household cleaning tasks such as vacuuming rugs, hard flooring and carpeting,
bigger jobs – like sucking up water, large piles of sawdust or heavier
objects like wood chips or nails – require a wet-dry vacuum. From house
to workshop to job site, these tough vacuums can handle whatever you throw at
vacs come in a range of sizes, from mini wet-dry vacuums that hold around 2
gallons to large shop vacuums with a 20-gallon capacity. Larger models
typically provide stronger suction, but smaller ones are easier to tote up and
down stairs or out to job sites.
Types of Wet / Dry Vacuums
General purpose wet-dry vacuums
For most home users, a consumer-grade general-purpose wet-dry vac offers the best balance of power and portability. These vaccuums provide plenty of suction power for home and light workshop duty, and most come with a decent assortment of accessories. Their biggest drawbacks are high noise and a bit of dust in the exhaust. Consumer-grade wet-dry vacs vary in price based mainly on size. The smallest wet-dry vacuums, with a stated capacity of 5 to 10 gallons, cost between $40 and $100. Medium-sized models of 12 to 14 gallons range from $70 to $120. The highest capacity wet-dry vacs can hold 15 to 20 gallons and typically cost $100 to $175. Along with size, factors that affect the price include performance, features and included accessories.
Tool-triggered shop vacuums
For use in a workshop, professionals and hardcore DIYers often favor tool-triggered shop vacuums. To use these professional-grade vacuums, you plug a power tool into the unit's electrical outlet and hook up the tool's dust port to the shop vacuum's hose. When you switch on the tool, the vac automatically starts up at the same time and sucks dust directly into its canister. This extra feature comes with a hefty price tag, though; tool-triggered wet-dry vacs typically cost at least $500.
Portable wet-dry vacs
The wet-dry vacuums described above are all fairly bulky and can only be used within range of an AC outlet. That makes moving them around a challenge. If you need to carry your vacuum from room to room or out to a job site, portable wet-dry vacs – especially cordless models – are a more convenient option. These little vacs are smaller than a general-purpose wet-dry vacuum, typically two to four gallons, and have weaker suction. Portable, corded wet-dry vacs range in price from around $30 to $100. Cordless models cost around $100, but that doesn't include the battery pack and/or charger. If you don't own a compatible battery already, these extras can add another $100 or more to the total price.
Finding The Best Wet / Dry Vacuums
"Tool Test: Shop Vacs"
"We Test the 6 Best Shop Vacs"
find the best wet-dry vacs for general-purpose and workshop use, we turned to
professional, hands-on comparison tests from sources like Fine Homebuilding,
Popular Mechanics and ConsumerReports.org. Experts evaluate wet-dry vacs on
their ability to suction water, sawdust, nails and other materials, often timing
their performance to see which models can get the job done most efficiently. We
also consulted owner-written reviews from retail sites like Amazon.com and
HomeDepot.com to see how wet-dry vacs perform under real-world conditions. User
reviews also provide information about long-term durability and the quality of
customer service from various manufacturers.
best wet-dry vacs for home owners and do-it-yourselfers
reviews of consumer-grade wet-dry vacs, the Ridgid WD1450 (Est. $100) comes up over
and over again as a top performer. Its 14-gallon size is just right for most
home users – big enough to clean up a mess in one shot, but not too big
to move around or empty comfortably. It comes with a 7-foot-long, 2.5-inch
diameter hose, two extension wands, three nozzles for different jobs and a fine
dust filter. An optional HEPA filter enables it to capture even finer particles
– as small as 0.3 microns. Finally, it's backed by Ridgid's lifetime
warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.
Ridgid WD1450 scores at or near the top in several professional comparison
tests. In one test, it beats out four other medium-sized wet-dry vacuums, with
top scores for both wet and dry cleaning and low emissions. In a review for
Fine Homebuilding magazine, the Ridgid cleans up both concrete and dust faster
than seven other shop vacuums, including some more than four times its price,
and only the 12-gallon (Est. $520) (discussed below) bests it at sucking
up nails. And in a comparison test at TruckTrend.com, the Ridgid vacuum places
second among four wet-dry vacuums under $100, impressing editors with its "powerful
suction both for fine dust and water, best-in-class 88 dB operating noise
level, and lifetime warranty."
The Ridgid has its flaws, however. Paul Johnson at Fine
Homebuilding says the 7-foot hose limits the vac's range, so it has to be moved
around a lot – which isn't easy, since it doesn't roll smoothly. He also
complains of getting static shocks from the hose. The editors at TruckTrend.com
knock points off the Ridgid for its oddly designed crevice tool, which is hard
to get into tight
and low spots.
feedback is excellent. More than 1,000 user reviews at HomeDepot.com give the
Ridgid WD1450 an overall rating of 4.7 stars out of 5, and 97 percent say
they'd recommend it. Overall, owners praise the Ridgid WD1450 for its powerful
suction and surprisingly quiet operation. They also appreciate its onboard
storage for the attachments and the hose, although some quibble that the
accessory bag is too small to hold any extra attachments. Their main complaints
are that the hose is too short and flimsy and the extension wands tend to come
loose. Also, while most users say this wet-dry vac is reliable, the few who had
problems report that Ridgid's customer service leaves much to be desired.
one wet-dry vacuum that beats out the Ridgid WD1450 in the TruckTrend.com test
is the 12-gallon Craftsman 12006 (Est. $90).
Its 5.5-horsepower motor delivers the strongest suction power, and it places
either first or a close second in all other tests, including water pickup,
grinder dust pickup and overall ergonomics. Editors also say that the Craftsman
12006's large-diameter hose (2.5 inches) did not clog even when cleaning up
300-plus owners who review this Craftsman wet-dry vac at Sears.com say it has
excellent suction power, is relatively quiet and is easy to move around during
cleanup, thanks to its relatively low 26.5-pound weight and heavy-duty,
360-degree swivel casters. Reviews for durability are more mixed, however.
While some owners say this vacuum has provided years of service, there are a
few isolated complaints about motors burning out after just a few hours of actual
use. Overall, though, users give the Craftsman 12006 an average rating of 4.5
stars out of 5, and 90 percent say they would recommend it.
terms of accessories, the Craftsman is comparable to the Ridgid. It comes with
a 7-foot hose, two extension wands, three nozzles and two filters (a cartridge
filter for dry materials and a foam one for liquids). There's also onboard storage
for the hose, accessories and power cord, as well as a tray on top for storing screws,
nails and other tools. However, its one-year warranty pales in comparison to
the limited lifetime warranty on the Ridgid. Overall, we'd say the Ridgid
WD1450 is a better buy, but the Craftsman 12006 is a strong back-up choice.
are easy to store but have a small capacity
If you don't have space in your workshop for a full-sized shop vacuum, a
small wall-mounted wet-dry vac could be the solution. These vacuums have
extra-long hoses, often 20 feet or more, allowing you to vacuum a car or a
whole room without moving the vacuum from its spot on the wall. This
convenience has a downside, however: wall-mounted vacuums usually have a
smaller capacity of 5 gallons at most, and their extra-long hoses clog more
The only wall-mounted wet-dry vac to earn a recommendation in
professional sources is the Ridgid Stor-N-Go WD5500 (Est. $100).
In a comparison test by a major consumer organization, this 5-gallon unit comes
in second among seven small-sized wet-dry vacuums. Its overall performance
can't match larger units like the Ridgid WD1450, but editors rate it very good for
dry cleaning tasks and good for wet cleanup. It also gets acceptable scores for
dust emissions and ease of use.
This wet-dry vac's 20-foot cord gives you plenty of choices about where
to mount the vacuum so that it can reach both the outlet and everything else in
the room. In addition, it has both a 14-foot hose and a 7-foot collapsible hose
that can be joined together, giving you 21 feet of overall range. Built-in
accessory storage keeps all its tools – two extension wands, a utility
nozzle, a car nozzle, a crevice tool and a dusting brush – within easy
reach. And, like other Ridgid tools, it's backed by a lifetime warranty.
The Ridgid Stor-N-Go receives roughly 200 reviews from owners at
HomeDepot.com, and a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. Owners praise its suction
power, lifetime warranty and space-saving design. They also say it's fairly
easy to mount the vacuum to the wall, and they like being able to switch it
from a vacuum to a blower for dispersing dirt and leaves. Their main complaint
is that there's no easy way to convert this shop vacuum to fit over a power
tool's dust port – not even with other Ridgid tools. Also, some owners
find the long hose too stiff. Finally, users who like to move the vacuum around
rather than leaving it mounted to the wall wish it came with wheels –
though it does have holes where casters can be added. But despite these minor
percent of owners say they would recommend this shop vacuum.
wet-dry vacs for workshops
pros typically want a tool-triggered shop vacuum for capturing sawdust. You can
sometimes add an accessory to make an ordinary wet-dry vac work with power
tools, but the extra noise can be punishing – particularly during, for
example, a long sanding session.
Dust control is not merely a convenience but also a health precaution, as the US Department of Health and Human Services deems wood dust a known carcinogen.
Most tool-triggered wet-dry vacuums can use a HEPA filter to capture even the
tiniest particles. However, these extra-fine filters can clog easily, impeding
the vacuum's performance. Thus, many tool-triggered vacs can also use a filter
bag that helps keep the main filter clean while also containing debris. In
addition, some models have self-cleaning features that periodically shake dust
from the filter to keep the machine running smoothly.
a review of tool-triggered wet-dry vacuums for Fine Homebuilding, Paul Johnson
names the 12-gallon (Est. $520) his top pick. He says its
self-cleaning function (which activates every 15 to 20 seconds) kept the
filters clean and the suction strong as the shop vacuum greedily sucked up
concrete, drywall mix, sawdust and other debris. He also says it's stable,
lightweight and easy to empty. Reviewers
on other professional sites, including FineWoodworking.com and ProToolReviews.com,
second Johnson's opinion. Though the VC4710 is rated at just 59 decibels (dB), Bill
Peck at FineWoodworking.com measures it at 72 dB – but that still makes
it one of the quietest units he's ever tested.
have a few complaints, however. Johnson says the Makita's self-cleaning
function produces an "unnerving" noise that he describes as "like a tennis ball being sucked up and
whacked into the vacuum." Clint deBoer of ProToolReviews.com says the lack of
an elevated handle makes the shop vacuum difficult to maneuver, especially over
rough terrain. And Peck points out that while it can take a HEPA filter, it
doesn't come with one. Adding the filter set, the (Est. $140), adds quite a bit to the overall price of the unit.
experts give the Makita strong praise, users aren't quite as sure, though, to
be fair, there isn't a great deal of owner feedback for this shop vacuum. For
example, we found just under 40 reviews at Amazon.com, with an unimpressive
overall rating of 3.7 stars out of 5. Owners say the machine is powerful and
quiet, with excellent filtration, and they appreciate the self-cleaning system.
However, many users wish they could turn the system off when it's not needed,
as it's not only annoying but also interrupts the flow of air. They also
complain that the filters are pricey and the narrow hose (just under 1.5 inches
in diameter) isn't great for picking up large debris. On the plus side, the
16-foot hose and 24.6-foot cord make it easy to clean more area without having
to move the unit. Makita backs the VC4710 with a one-year warranty and a 30-day
10-gallon (Est. $495) isn't included in the Fine Homebuilding test, but it earns a Best
Value rating at FineWoodworking.com
and an enthusiastic review from ProToolReviews.com. This wet-dry vacuum has
most of the features found on the Makita, including adjustable suction and a self-cleaning
filter -- and unlike the Makita, it comes with a standard HEPA filter. At 33.5
pounds, it's heftier than the 27-pound Makita, but reviewers say its large
wheels and telescoping handle make it easy to maneuver.
measures the airflow of this wet-dry vacuum at an impressive 65 cubic feet per
minute (cfm), just behind the Makita's 70 cfm. He also says its filter-cleaning
feature, which works by sending a reverse puff of air through one of the
filters every 30 seconds, works quite well. DeBoer concurs, saying the filter
cleaning "didn't present a hiccup for the
collection of dust." And both Peck and DeBoer are impressed with how easy the
DeWalt is to wheel around, despite its weight.
The DeWalt DWV012 earns an overall rating of 4 stars out of
5 from about 35 reviewers at Amazon.com. They love its powerful suction,
maneuverability and self-cleaning filter, and they say it's not too loud when
running. Their biggest complaint is that, unlike the Makita, this wet-dry
vacuum doesn't come with any adapters for hooking its 15-foot hose up to power
tools. DeWalt customer service can help you find the right adapters to use if
you have DeWalt power tools, but if you own any other brand, you're on your
own. Since the whole point of owning a tool-triggered shop vacuum is to hook it
up to tools, this is a big enough problem to throw our Best Reviewed pick to
the Makita, rather than the otherwise exemplary DeWalt.
tool-triggered shop vacuum that gets good feedback from professionals is the
9-gallon (Est. $600). Like its competitors, it has an automatic filter
cleaning option, which cleans the filter every 15 seconds to maintain maximum
suction power. However, unlike the Makita and DeWalt vacuums, the Bosch allows
you to shut off the self-cleaning when it's not needed so you don't have to
listen to the annoying thumping noise it makes. It weighs 28 pounds, has a
10-foot vacuum hose, and is backed by a one-year warranty. HEPA filters are
available, but not included.
says the VAC 090A produces an airflow of 70 cfm, just as good as the Makita's, and
its self-cleaning feature is "very effective." He also says it's quieter than
average at 77 dB. The 20 or so users who review the Bosch at Amazon.com agree
that it's powerful and quiet, but some say its performance just isn't
impressive enough to justify its near-$600 price tag.