Best Shop Vac Reviews (2020): The Top Tools To Clean Up With

Last Updated: by Peter Lynn

I was 10-years-old when I was first introduced to a Shop Vac. My stepfather had become upset about roadwork up by our property because a bunch of pea gravel had been deposited along our yard. He bought a Shop Vac and sent me out there to suck up all that gravel. And, much to my skeptical amazement, it worked.

Woodworking is as much about staying clean as it is producing clean cuts. The best Shop Vac reviews will help you bring in the tool that you need to keep your space clean and tidy every day.

Our Favorite Shop Vacs

Now “Shop Vac” is actually a brand of vacuum, so it is important to look at other brands to make sure you’re getting the best possible tool. The chart below includes the top-rated vacuums in this category so you can easily compare and contrast each model.

PictureNameOur RatingPeak HPPrice
Shop Vac 5-Gallon Stainless Steel Wet/Dry Vac 4.2
Armor All 2.5 Gallon Utility Wet/Dry Vac 4.4
Shop Vac 8-Gallon Stainless Steel Wet/Dry Vac 4.3
Craftsman 12004 6-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac 4.5
Shop Vac 1.5 Gallon Small Wet/Dry Vacuum 4.2
Vacmaster 12-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac with Detachable Blower 4.4
Karcher WD5/P MultiPurpose Wet Dry Vacuum 4.2
Ridgid Wet/Dry Vacuum Cleaner and Blower 4.1
Shop Vac 14-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum 4.2
Vacmaster 4-Gallon 2-Stage Industrial Floor Vac 4.4
PictureNameOur RatingPeak HPPrice

What Is a Shop Vac and Why Do I Need One?

If you need to take care of some heavy-duty cleanup work, then there isn’t a better tool to use. It is the go-to tool that will make quick work of virtually any mess. Many are even designed to be wet/dry vacuums, so you can pick up those liquid spills just as easily as you can pick up that big sawdust mess that suddenly appeared as you were working.

Now any vacuum can pick-up some sawdust or other woodworking debris with relative ease. What makes the trusted models stand out as a tool is its ability to pick up heavy items with the same efficiency as it picks up dust.

In order for heavy items to be cleaned up quickly, there are some features that the best shop vacuums must have.

  • A large storage tank. Although you can grab a unit in just about any size, the best vacuums tend to have a minimum tank size of 16 gallons. This larger size will allow you to quickly pick up heavy messes and liquids without worrying about clogging or overwhelming whatever filtering process may be included.
  • A high horsepower motor. It takes a lot of strength to be able to pick up a heavy mess. Look for models with a motor of 5 HP for the best results.
  • Locking hoses. If the hose to your unit doesn’t lock into place, there is a chance that a heavy cleanup could dislodge it from the tank. When that happens, especially if you’ve just cleaned up a whole mess of sawdust, then you’re stuck with even more work to do.

Bottom line here: larger models tend to provide the fastest and most efficient clean-up. You can save money by purchasing a smaller model, but that means you’ll be spending more time cleaning and less time with your woodworking projects.

How to Find the Best Shop Vac for Me

There’s no doubt about it: many shop vacuums are loud tools. So loud, in fact, that continued exposure to the sounds they produce could cause hearing damage. The best shop vacs in this category should be able to run at full power without producing more than 85 decibels. Otherwise you may wish to consider wearing your hearing protection from your woodworking personal protective equipment kit.

The best shop vacuums should also have a powerfully consistent level of air movement. One of the easiest ways to measure this feature is to test how fast the vacuum is able to pick-up a 15-pound mess. The best vacuums can get the job done in 25 seconds or less. Anything above 35 seconds means the vacuum is underpowered and you will run the risk of having the motor burn out on you one day.

Accessory storage is another important consideration. Many units have inadequate storage solutions on the vacuum, causing the extra items to fall off when you are working. If you need a wide range of accessories for your woodworking cleanup needs, then look for a design that can safely store all of those accessories.

Without the best shop vac, your workshop will be twice as difficult to clean, and we recommend the ARMOR ALL 2.5-GALLON model for its lightweight construction and ease of use.

Shop Vacuums and Capacity Claims: Fact or Hype?

In the best shop vac reviews, we have noticed that many manufacturers have overstated what the fluid capacity of their vacuum happens to be. Manufacturers tend to claim that the liquid capacity of a wet/dry vac is reflective of the tank storage capacity. If the tank is 10-gallons, then the manufacturer tends to claim it can hold 10 gallons of liquid.

This is simply not the case. In the actual testing of almost every model, the internal float of the vacuum rises as more liquid is gathered by the tool. This float will eventually block suction, often several gallons short of the capacity claims that are made by the manufacturer.

So if you were to take the motor off of the vacuum and only use the tank, then you could reach the full capacity. Your shop vacuum is not a bucket, however, so we encourage everyone to double-check the facts through each review if vacuuming liquids is going to be a top priority.

What will it cost me to buy the Best Shop Vacs?

Units are generally priced based on the size of the tank and the strength of the motor. Larger sizes and higher horsepower translates into a bigger price tag. This means you can find a unit for less than $50 right now, but there’s a good chance that it will only have 1.5-gallon tank and maybe a 2 HP motor.

Many hobbyists and small shops can get away with using a 6-gallon tank and 3 HP motor for their cleanup needs. Models in this category are typically priced between $75-$125.

The best shop vacuums are usually priced between $150-$200. Professional-grade vacuums in this category may be priced between $300-$500, but are typically intended for full-time, large-scale operations.

Let’s Have a Look at Some Reviews

Shop Vac 5-Gallon

The primary feature we really appreciated with this design was the rear blower port. Some vacs have the blower on the side or the front, which makes it really difficult to pickup sawdust or other light debris. With this Shop Vac, you don’t have to keep cleaning up the same messes all of the time. There is on-board storage for the cord and for the accessories or tools that you want to use with the vacuum. As with most Shop Vacs, the cord storage isn’t the most convenient design, but it is an upgrade from previous models.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Armor All 2.5-Gallon

We were highly satisfied with the performance of this small unit. It’s powerful, but still lightweight at under 8 pounds, and gives you a consistent performance. It does particularly well with the fine dust and debris that you may need to pick up, but you may benefit from a filter upgrade if you need to pick up soot or sawdust on a regular basis. For homes with hardwood floors or shops with concrete surfaces, this vacuum will over-perform. The accessories give you the reach that you need to take care of an entire room, assuming you place the vacuum tank in the center of your working space.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Craftsman 6-Gallon

What makes this design work so well is the sealed switches and components at the top of the machine. You won’t have to worry about dust interfering with the mechanics of this model. Just attached the hose, use your preferred attachment, and you’ll be ready to get to work. It also offers 360-degree swivel casters that are formed as an attachment to the primary tank on this vacuum, giving you good movement and rotation as you work without a threat of tipping over.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Shop Vac 8-Gallon

The square dolly design of the wheels, which roll pretty easily, by the way, lends more stability to the user experience with this vacuum as well. Because it weighs close to 20 pounds, you’ll also find that it is difficult to accidentally move this vacuum or tip it over as you are working. We also appreciated the rear blower port that comes with this particular design. At 5.5 peak HP, the amount of exhaust coming out of the blower is quite impressive, so you’ll want to take care that you aren’t creating a bigger mess behind you as you clean up the mess that is in front of you.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Shop Vac 1.5-Gallon

The size of the tank on this vacuum limits its ability to function as a primary vacuum. It can do a good job in a small shop or for portable applications, like vacuuming the rugs in a vehicle. If you were trying to clean a garage or a home with this vacuum, however, it would take a lot of time due to the lack of reach and the reduced size of the tank. The exhaust on this model is also noticeably strong. You’ve got to be careful about where you place the tank when working, especially if you’re just starting to clean up a mess. We created a massive dust storm on our first attempt.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Vacmaster 12-Gallon

This model can take a licking and keep on sucking – so to speak. The 12-foot cord is a nice option, especially when combined with a 7-foot hose. The cord wrap actually works on this vacuum, while the quick-release detachable blower is actually a useful feature instead of just a marketing gimmick. The drain port is large, but does require you to lift the tank of this vacuum when removing a liquid mess. If you want an affordable larger shop vacuum, however, you can’t really deny the benefits this model provides.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Karcher 5-Gallon

This is the shop vacuum that can replace multiple tools. It allows you to work faster, achieve a better clean, and do so consistently. Included with the accessories is a standard floor nozzle that does a good job of picking up dust and fur without clogging, despite the presence of a pleated filter and fleece bag. It offers auto-start and auto-stop features as well, giving you a hands-free user experience when you need it the most. The blower function is practical, but not the top feature of this model. It’s a bit of an investment, but one that will pay you back over time.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Ridgid 12-Gallon

This was the design we came to prefer when it came to cleaning up a liquid mess. The drain on the bottom is the right size to encourage full fluid evacuation, leaving you to just clean up the tank with a dry rag afterward. The hose is appropriately flexible and doesn’t clog easily. As for the tank, it may be 12-gallons, but it is also wide and compact, taking up a small space footprint. This made it a lot easier to take it to various spots to clean up messes. A 15-pound mess could be removed in under 30 seconds. Give it a try and we think you’ll be pleased as well.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Shop Vac 14-Gallon

As the largest unit we took a look at, we were impressed with the amount of power and portability this design offers. Not only does it have the typical casters of a Shop Vac, but it also has a back handle and wheelbarrow design that allows you to transport large amounts of debris, trash, or refuse to its intended destination. There’s also a filter minder to remind you when it’s time to clean everything up. A tool basket is even included on the back of this vacuum… and it’s cheaper than smaller models from other brands. Take a look and we think you’ll like it as much as we did.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

Vacmaster Industrial

If your cleanup needs are large, then you need a vacuum that can handle the toughest of jobs. That’s what this 5 peak HP vacuum will be able to do for you. It cleans all floors, including carpets, with ease. The design includes a HEPA-rated cartridge filter and the dust collection bag doesn’t make a huge mess during cleanup. The hose fits securely, so with the 18-foot power cord, you have up to 25-feet of total reach. Don’t miss out on this value purchase.

Click here to look at prices on Amazon and get a great deal.

The best Shop Vac reviews will help you find a vacuum from a number of different manufacturers that could meet your needs quite effectively. Consider your options and then buy the shop vacuum that makes the most sense for your space right now.