Best Shop Vac 2018 – Buyer’s Guide

Best Shop Vac
One of the must have pieces for every garage is a shop vac. The number of things that need to clean up quickly piles up. Sawdust, soil, paint chips, spider webs, pet messes, water, and engine oil can be cleaned up effortlessly and easily. The best shop vac can make the cleanup process a whole lot less stressful.

Our pick

Best product

Craftsman 12004

For the price, the Craftsman 12004 is a great vacuum/blower combo because it is very well-built. Many wet/dry vacuums are very awkward to move around, tippy, top-heavy, or the wheels do not work well.


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The term ‘Shop-Vac’ is actually a brand name, but it is commonly used to describe most wet dry vacuums that can be used in a workshop or garage.

Craftsman has become known for making great shop vacuums for dust collection. Their shop vacuums have high power motors, so they can easily clean up dust, dirt, and other spills.

Their shop vacs are also a great choice if you are planning to create a DIY dust collection system using a standard shop vac. We will take about the other uses of shop vacs shortly.

No matter if you need a vacuum to clean your shop floor, remove water from your basement, or extract dust from your tools, these vacuums have you covered.

Top 5 Shop Vacs

Brand Gallon Price
Craftsman 12004 6 $
Workshop WS1600VA 16 $$
RIDGID WD1851 16 $$$
ArmorAll AA255 2.5 $
Shop Vac 5873410 10 $$

Craftsman 12004

Craftsman 12004For the price, the Craftsman 12004 is a great vacuum/blower combo because it is very well-built. Many wet/dry vacuums are very awkward to move around, tippy, top-heavy, or the wheels do not work well.

The 12004 is different because it works well. The wheels have been beefed up and it has been designed to be stable, which makes it easy to use.

There is also a one piece carrying handle that is on the top, which is a great addition. This handle makes it easy to pick up the vacuum when you cannot roll the vacuum. (We have used other wet/dry vacuums that you basically need to hug it to carry around). A decent shop vacuum needs to have flexibility with its movement. Craftsman has designed the 12004 to move in tight spaces and it has a full 360-degree swivel caster. This means that you do not need to pull, or yanking on the cord, so you can reach hard to reach spots.

This vacuum’s suction is one of the biggest positives that regularly show up on user reviews. The 3hp (6-gallon) and 4hp (9-gallon) motors provide more than enough power for a large range of home and shop applications.

The 9-gallon model is 21” tall and 15” wide without wheels if you are worried about space. The wheels do add a few inches on the side.

This is the only vacuum that you will ever need. It may look like it is a little clunky to use around the house, including bathroom and kitchen. However, it works great and its hose does not clog. It also comes with many attachments, which are very handy. The compact size makes it easy to carry and store. It will handle most jobs with ease. It really does suck, which is great for a wet/dry vacuum.

Top-notch Features

  • Powerful 3 peak HP motor makes very short work of jobs
  • Durable 6 Gallon polypropylene collection tank
  • Quickly converts to a blower for yard, patio or shop


  • Ease of mobility
  • Overall power and performance
  • Converts to blower
  • Comes with 4 different hose attachments – all the standard ones you need


  • A bit bulky for storage, and no option for wall mount
  • Only a 1-year warranty – could be more


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Workshop WS1600VA

Workshop WS1600VAIt is a great option for a larger, reliable vacuum that comes with many great attachments. The hose is seven feet long and 2 ½ inches in diameter, which makes is great for sucking up debris and dust from around the shop. The hose locks into the vacuum and the attachments easily attach, so there is no need to worry about the attachment falling or sliding off when you are using it.

Its hose is not stiff like many other hoses on the market and the 180-degree flexibility makes it easy to reach tight corners. It also has a blowing port, so you can blow your shop clean.


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RIDGID WD1851RIDGID has gotten just about every detail right with the WD1851 model. It is a general purpose model that comes with many features and is easy on the wallet at around the $160. The motor is relatively quiet and has a strong performance. It comes with a good selection of cleaning tools that fit in the tool caddy that is mounted to the handle.

The caster and wheels provide great mobility on rough surfaces. The 7 foot by 2 ½ locking hose and bottom mounted drain make it great for wet pickup. There is some assembly required, but only takes a short amount of time to put together. This is a great vacuum, with a few disadvantages.


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ArmorAll AA255

ArmorAll AA255This is the least expensive option on the page. The AA255 is a great option if you are looking for a lighter and smaller unit. It is only 8.4 pounds, which makes it is easy to lift and move. The tank is 2.5 gallons, so it is great for small to medium clean up jobs. The 1.25-inch diameter hose does clog, especially if you try to use it to clean up larger items. The AA255 is an excellent option for cleaning a vehicle and for areas where larger models would not fit.

The tank has a powerful 2 horsepower motor. This vacuum comes with everything that you need, so you can use it right out of the box. The features make it great for everyday tasks. So, if you think that the other wet/dry vacuums on this list are overkill, the ArmorAll AA255 could be the best option for you. It is a powerful small/medium sized wet/dry vacuum.


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Shop Vac 5873410

Shop Vac 5873410This Shop Vac is the most compact, general purpose model on this list. It is very versatile and mobile. This is a very good performer that is very easy to use anywhere in your home and shop. It is $130, which is very affordable for this type of vacuum. It comes with a good selection of tools and it uses a paper bag filter.

The 12 feet of 1 ½ inch hose has a screw lock, so it can reach farther without the risk of the hose falling off. The dolly is removable, so it can be moved with just the handle. If you have limited space, the smaller size allows this vacuum to be stored just about anywhere. This is an excellent option for home and shop use.


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Budget pick

Best product

Vacmaster 5 Gallon

It is very easy to store because of its smaller size. The hose is six feet in length and the cord is 8 feet long, which makes it easy to reach most places. The noise diffuser muffles the noise from the motor. The vacuum has a cloth filter, which has a reusable foam sleeve. This vacuum also has onboard storage for all the attachments.


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Best Shop Vac

How to Buy Best Shop Vac

Why Buy a Shop Vacuum?

Shop vacuums are very multi-purpose tools that clean up many of the toughest messes which happen around the house. Many wet-dry vacuums have larger tanks that will collect liquid and debris. This is why you can easily and quickly clean up your DIY projects, or spills.

Wheels make shop vacuums easy to move the vacuum around the house, so you can use it anywhere. Along with suction, many shop vacuums have a blowing setting. This can help you keep a clean sidewalk and deck. There are some models that will allow you to detach the tank, when in the blowing setting. However, many models will need to have their tanks to be used at all.

How We Tested, What We Found

The most important features of any shop vacuum are its capacity and power. These features are what tell you how quickly it will suck up debris and how often that you will need to empty it. We took into account the portability, but not as high as the power or capacity. We also considered the design and how easy it is to use.

In our test, we vacuumed up some typical materials that could be around your house. We tried vacuuming up 2 ounces of sawdust and mulch with six small screws in the mixture. We only passed over the mixture once and then measured how much was left.

We also added larger pieces of mulch, so we could see how well the shop vacuums handled heavier items. To test section, we tried sucking up 2 gallons of water, and timed how long it took to complete the task. After testing, we found the best vacuums were about three times faster than the lower end options. We also checked how clean the filters were after all the testing was done. General movement tests were also done to see how easy the vacuum was to use and move.

What Else Is Important In Selecting A Shop Vacuum?

While we tested many of the most important considerations for finding the right shop vacuum, there are other capabilities and features that you should check before making your choice. Here are some key questions that you should ask yourself before buying a shop vacuum.

Design: Is the Overall Size Important to You?

Most shop vacuums have a similar design. The storage tank will be on wheels and will be stable on the floor. The wheels make it easy to move the vacuum around. An extendable hose makes it easy to suck up water or debris. Many vacuums will have a handle on the top, which makes it easy to move it up and down stairs.

There could also be racks or clips for attachments on it. You should look for a shop vacuum that includes a long hose, a power cord that locks into place, and extension tools. The size of the vacuum will vary, along with the power cord length. The best option is to find the longest power cord since some vacuums have cords that can be over 20 feet long.

Many of the tops ranked shop vacuums are around 14 gallons, but they could be too large for your home or storage area. If you are using your shop vacuum for only cleaning your car, or small messes, a small 2-gallon one could be just right.

Filters: Will You Be Working with Fine Materials?

There are various kinds of filters that can come with a shop vacuum. Some vacuums will come with cloth bags, which will need to be replaced regularly. Cartridges are also commonly used, mainly because they are easy to clean and are reusable. Pleated cartridges are recommended, especially since they are easier to change and are less likely to leak or break.

When you are buying a shop vacuum, you should check what filters are compatible with the vacuum. Some filters are harder to find, are expensive or are only available on the manufacturer’s website. If you are vacuuming small or fine materials, you should look for a vacuum with a dust filter that better removes the dirt and dust. The smaller particles can get into the motor, which will shorten the life of the vacuum.

Attachments: What Jobs Do You Need Your Vacuum to Do?

The extra attachments that can come with a shop vacuum will make it stand out. Many vacuums come with extension wands that make reaching hard to reach areas easier. Some will come with more than one wand to make it easier to reach different areas.

Brush nozzles are great for picking up larger debris, while crevice tools are best for cracks or corners. If the shop vacuum has a blower setting, the vacuum may come with a wide mouth tool to cover larger areas. Most times, concentration attachments and squeegees are used for a better-wet clean-up.

Best Shop Vac

Types of Wet / Dry Vacuums

General purpose wet-dry vacuums

This is the best option for most home users. Most times, a consumer grade general purpose shop vacuum will offer a good mixture of portability and power. These shop vacuums have enough suction power for most home and light workshop jobs and come with a few accessories. The main drawback is their noise. They can also have issues with dust getting into the motor.

Most times, the price is based on the size of the vacuum cleaner. Smaller shop vacuums usually range from 5 to 10 gallons and cost from $40 to $100. Medium vacuums can hold 12 to 14 gallons and usually cost $40 to $100. The largest ones hold from 15 to 20 gallons and can cost up to $200. Along with the vacuum’s size, the included accessories, features and overall performance also factor into the price.

Tool-triggered shop vacuums

If you are working in a workshop or using tools regularly, this could be the best option. These shop vacuums are professional grade and make it easier to use your tools. These vacuums will plug into your power tools and will suck up the dust that is created. The vacuum is powered by the power tool, so when the tool is turned on, the vacuum turns on. These vacuums are very handy, but they have a high price tag. Most tool-triggered shop vacuums will cost you around $500.

Portable wet-dry vacs

Many wet-dry vacuums that are designed to be used in workshops are bulky and need an AC outlet in order to be used. This makes them hard to use and move around. If you need to regularly move your wet/dry vacuum, a portable wet/dry vacuum could be for you.

There are many cordless versions, but most are smaller than the general purpose options. Most of the time, they have smaller tanks, usually from 2 to 4 gallons and could have weaker suction. The price range for these wet/dry vacuums is between $30 and $100.

Cordless models are more expensive. If you are buying a cordless model, you should check to see if it comes with a battery pack and charger. You can buy compatible batteries and chargers, but they can put you back another $100 or more.

Wall-mount vacuums are easy to store but have a small capacity

If you do not have a lot of space in your workshop or home for a full-sized wet/dry vacuum, a wall mounted wet/dry vacuum is a great option. Wall mounted vacuums will come with extra-long hoses, that are most times over 20 feet. These hoses make it easy to reach a vehicle or the rest of a room. The convenience does come with the downside of the small tank and the hose can also become clogged regularly.

Things to consider

Take advantage of wall mounting. Many wet/dry vacuums come with wall mounts, which will make storing the vacuum easier. Most wet/dry vacuums are bulky, so it is best to find ways to store it away when it is not in use.

Hose length. Most of the recommended wet dry vacuums have hoses that are 4 feet to 18 feet long. However, the longest hose that is available is not always the best option. If you are going to use the vacuum inside most of the time, you may want a shorter hose. This will save you time, and stress of having to drag the hose around, or knocking things over.


Lastly, unless you are planning to use best shop vac for a stationary dust collector, you should think about the size of the vacuum, including the accessories and hose. Larger wheels and casters are great for uneven and rough surfaces, while handles can make it easier to move the vacuum.

It is hard to say that one wet/dry vacuum is the best option for everyone. Most times, there are many sizes and applications to consider. We will say that the Craftsman is the best value for a full-sized shop vacuum in our opinion because it has a good length hose, is stable, and comes with both dry and wet filters.

Best product

Craftsman 12004

The Best Shop Vac


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