What every best Wet / Dry Vacuums has:
- Quiet operation.
- A drain valve or spout.
- Wide-set wheels and a low profile.
Reviewers at Top Ten Reviews test the capacity and power of wet-dry vacuums by sucking up mulch mixed with sawdust and small screws, followed by two gallons of water. After the dirty work, they check the filters for cleanliness. They also consider overall design and how easy each vacuum is to move around. Each wet-dry vac gets an overall rating and separate ratings for capacity and power, design, filters, and accessories.
After looking at dozens of top-selling wet-dry vacuums, Reviewed editors choose to nine finalists – mostly smaller-size models – for testing. They measure how much water each vacuum swallows in ten seconds and how well it picks up both heavy metal screws and wet sand. They also rate the ease of moving the vac, changing the filter, and switching out attachments. Based on this, they name an overall top pick and one that's "best for big messes."
Roy Berendsohn and his team test six small wet-dry vacs, around 3 gallons in capacity. They time each model as it picks up two pounds of sawdust, two pounds of screened top soil, and one gallon of water. A brief write-up lists pros and cons for each vacuum, but there's no direct comparison between models, and no explicit ratings. One of the four top picks is discontinued.
Pro Too Reviews reports on all sorts of workshop tools, including tool-activated wet-dry vacs (dust extractors) and cordless utility vacs. You have to search a little to find appropriate articles, taking care to separate the actual reviews from news and product announcements. Some reviews are more rigorous and complete than others, but all include at least an overall rating of a shop vacuum's capabilities. Some of the older reviews cover products that are no longer available.
Paul Johnson and the editors at FineHomebuilding.com put eight wet-dry vacs through three rigorous tests: sucking up concrete mix, drywall dust, and a mixture of sawdust and nails. The shop vacuums range in size from 10 to 30 gallons, and six of the eight are tool-activated. All eight models either come with or are compatible with HEPA filters and disposable filter bags. Johnson recommends five of the eight models, but one of these is discontinued.
Amazon sells thousands of wet-dry vacuums, from mini to massive in size, and some popular models receive hundreds of comments from users. We found three models with ratings of at least 4.5 stars from 300 users or more. Owner-written reviews vary in length and detail, but they provide useful info about durability and usability problems that may not be apparent during professional testing.
Home Depot has over a hundred wet-dry vacuums for sale online, and several models have hundreds of owner-written reviews. The most popular wet-dry vacs here are all from the Ridgid brand; we found several Ridgids with 4.5-star ratings from at least 500 users. In addition to its overall rating, each wet-dry vac receives ratings for quality and value, and the site also notes what percentage of users would recommend the product.
Sears is the best place to find user feedback on Craftsman wet-dry vacs – a brand sold primarily at Sears. In fact, all the top-rated models here are made by Craftsman, including five that have 4.5-star ratings from 150 owners or more. Reviews can be sorted by age, rating and helpfulness.
While some content at Fine Woodworking is restricted to members only, you can read a number of reviews of tool-actuated shop vacuums at FineWoodworking.com. Testing is hands-on and fairly thorough. Reviewers don't provide any explicit ratings, but they outline each shop vacuum's strengths and weaknesses. However, there are no reviews more recent than 2014.
Dan Ward puts four wet-dry vacs under $100 to the test by cleaning up various common messes: grinder dust, metal shavings, water, and "the crud off of new floor mats." He also factors in cord and hose length, noise, capacity, suction power, and other features to evaluate each vacuum. He doesn't list model numbers, however, so it's a bit hard to identify the recommended shop vacuums.
ConsumerReports.org no longer tests wet-dry vacuums, but it has ratings on its website for 23 shop vacuums it has tested in the past. Each one gets ratings for wet and dry pickup performance, emissions and ease of use, as well as an overall rating. Some of the editors' top picks have been discontinued, but similar models are often available.
A contractor tests out four compact wet-dry vacs (between 4 and 5 gallons in capacity) at a job site and shares his impressions. No top model is explicitly named, but a brief write-up highlights each wet-dry vacuum's strengths and weaknesses. Two of the four vacuums are no longer available, however.
Lowe's has a smaller selection of shop vacuums than Home Depot, and the products it sells don't have nearly as much feedback from owners. We found only a handful of wet-dry vacs with substantial feedback -- mostly Shop-Vac models that aren't extensively reviewed elsewhere.