The Best Shop Vacs of 2024, Tested

best shop vacs wet dry vacs tested
Best Shop Vacs for 2024, TestedGannon Burgett - Car and Driver

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This article was updated in March 2024 with new products and information.

Commonly called "shop vacs" after the popular Shop-Vac brand, the trusty wet/dry vacuum is a cornerstone of garage and workspace cleanliness. These handy large-capacity vacuums can suck up both dry and wet messes, from oil-soaked kitty litter to wood, metal, and drywall shavings. Far better than a regular vacuum cleaner around the garage, they're perfect for construction projects, woodworking, and general shop cleansing.

With dozens of types, brands, and styles on the market, which one is the right shop vac for your workspace? With this test, we aim to answer that question.

Looking for more? The Gear Team has tested a number of shop and garage products, including best car vacuums, best garage flooring, and best garage door openers.

Things to Consider When Buying a Shop Vac


Capacity is the most important aspect of a wet/dry vacuum. It's quite simple: The larger the capacity, the more gunk and garbage a vacuum can hold before needing to be emptied. The caveat is storage space—not all of us have room to keep a 16-gallon vacuum in our precious garage. Mid-size shop vacs are enough for most people, but consider your usage carefully.


Shop vac power ratings are measured in peak horsepower, and this affects the amount of overall suction power the motor can produce. Generally, the higher power, the more suck (although there are other factors that come into play, such as level of blockage in the filter and hose size). High-power vacuums also excel in wet suction, slurping up liquid and mucky messes much better than a low-power vac.

Wet Capabilities

Typical shop vacs is capable of picking up liquids, which is a huge advantage over your typical household vacuum. This can come in handy if your basement floods or you need to remove water from your toilet, but you must verify that your vac can do it; it's usually quite easy to swap them over from dry to wet mode. Some even feature a drain plug.


Make sure the vacuum you buy has a changeable filter, or at least a washable filter so you don't need to keep buying new ones. Get one that's fine enough one to capture fine dust particles as well as wet messes. Getting a HEPA filter will ensure the exhaust air is safe to breathe.

Weight and Portability

You'll likely be moving a wet/dry vac around quite a bit. Thankfully, most shop vacs roll on wheels, but not all do. For the wheel-less vacs, you'll want to take weight into consideration. This leads to the portability aspect—you want good casters that move freely. The Vacmaster in our test is wall mountable, which limits some portability while freeing up floor space.

Some folks like to use household stick vacuums to clean their workspace. While they're effective, the job will likely take longer and the life span of your household vacuum will likely suffer from heavy-duty use.


Shop vacs usually feature a large hose with a wide mouth. While this large opening is fantastic for sucking up large quantities of dirt and fine dust, you may also want to consider getting one with a crevice tool and a brush nozzle for tricker messes.


Running these for extended periods of time can damage your hearing, so it's recommended you use some kind of ear protection. Use a shop vac in a small space like a bathroom and you'll quickly realize how valuable a quiet vacuum is. Take a look at the readings we recorded from our average decibel reading to help you make your decision.

Corded or Cordless?

The vast majority of garage vacuums are powered by your standard 120-volt wall outlet. However, battery-powered models are starting to show up in the market. Picking up a cordless shop vac greatly increases your portability and maneuverability around the car, but you'll always need to take time to recharge the batteries. If you choose a battery-powered option, it's wise to stick with your favored lithium-ion battery system and brand, such as DeWalt's 20V MAX or Milwaukee's M18. If you choose to go corded, you may need an extension cord.

How We Tested Wet/Dry Vacuums

To give our shop vacs the Gear Team treatment, we tested them on both objective and subjective parameters. Of course, we had to know: Do they suck up real-world messes? We fed these hungry machines a buffet of wood chips, trail mix, kitty litter, and even a golf ball. Here's the full list of tested parameters:

  • Suction performance on various-sized items

  • Wet capacity

  • Noise level

  • Portability

  • Usability

  • Weight

After running each vacuum through these testing parameters, we were able to determine which works best in a given situation. For a more in-depth look at our testing, see below.

Here are our picks for the best garage and shop vacs.

6-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum

The Stanley 6-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum is the best choice for your typical garage. The six-gallon capacity strikes an excellent balance between size and storage, and the price won't break the bank.

It performed fairly well against all our contaminants but struggled with the largest mulch pieces. Aside from that, we loved how easy it was to move around, the low noise level, and its attractive price point.

If you're in the market for a medium shop vac, this is the one to get.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>6-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum</p><p></p><p>$74.55</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett</span>

16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum

If you're looking for a wet dry vacuum for a job site or other large-mess areas, Craftsman's option is excellent. The 16-gallon behemoth was unstoppable on our suction test, guzzling everything in its path.

The vacuum rolls around nicely, and a unique hose design with more flexible sections on each end allows for superior usability. Attachments include a nice squeegee-like wet nozzle to aid in liquid pickups.

The one drawback is storing this beast, but Craftsman does offer a 12-gallon option. And if you need something larger, a 20-gallon vacuum exists too. For us, the 16-gallon hits the sweet spot and is our choice for the top shop vac for big messes.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum</p><p></p><p>$139.99</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett</span>

5-Gallon Wall-Mount Wet/Dry Vacuum

On the opposite side of the spectrum, this wet dry vacuum from Vacmaster is the ultimate space saver. With an extra-long hose and the ability to mount on your garage wall, it can reach all corners of your garage without needing to be lugged around.

For attachment fanatics, the Vacmaster provides plenty of options. One handy feature is a remote on/off switch at the end of the hose—it's perfect for a quick pause. We wish it had wheels in case we did need to move it around, but the wall mount will work for most.

The other note we have is the water capacity: 50 percent less than advertised. But otherwise, this is the ultimate space-saving shop vac.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>5-Gallon Wall-Mount Wet/Dry Vacuum</p><p></p><p>$116.00</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett</span>

M18 Fuel Packout 2.5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum

If you aren't familiar with Milwaukee's Packout system, it's worth a look—and this wet dry vac fits seamlessly. At first glance, it looks more like a lunchbox than a vacuum, but it's ingeniously designed to be as portable as possible. You can even sit on it while you use it.

Everything is self-contained inside the lid, and there's even some extra storage. The Milwaukee was the quietest vacuum we tested, and it picked up nearly as much water as advertised. However, it's not particularly powerful, and large chunks of mulch clogged it easily.

It's worth noting that this link only comes with the bare tool—you'll need an M18 battery. But if you're already in the Milwaukee ecosystem, this is our choice for the most versatile shop vac.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>M18 Fuel Packout 2.5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum</p><p></p><p>$219.00</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett</span>

1-Gallon Micro Wet Dry Vacuum

Maybe you don't need to suck up six gallons of mess in your garage. If that's the case, this Micro Shop-Vac is the one to grab. It's super compact and easy to move around—perfect for storing out of the way.

Size is, of course, the one drawback. But if you need it only for occasional spills, why spend money on a big one? The small size does translate to struggles against larger chunks, and an angled inlet to the drum doesn't help either. The hose lacks any useful flexibility, and it tends to get in the way of true compatibility.

But if you just need something small for occasional messes, you can't go wrong with the Micro Wet Dry Shop-Vac.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>1-Gallon Micro Wet Dry Vacuum</p><p></p><p>$44.99</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett</span>

20V Max Cordless Hand Shop Vacuum

While we're not quite sure this qualifies as your traditional "shop vac," it is indeed a wet dry vac. As far as portability is concerned, this DeWalt vacuum is the top dog.

The cordless design makes this a do-it-all vacuum for small spills. We like the one-handed operation, though you can remove the hose and use that separately too. For capacity, it's definitely small but capable—as long as you don't mind emptying it often.

The uses for this vacuum are limited, so we'd recommend this as a portable companion to a larger shop vac, rather than rely on it alone to do everything. But if that fits your fancy, it's a solid buy.

<p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>20V Max Cordless Hand Shop Vacuum</p><p></p><p>$99.00</p><span class="copyright">Gannon Burgett</span>

How We Tested Shop Vacuums

To properly test these vacuums, we wanted to evaluate how well they cleaned up different-sized items. As seen in the photo, we evenly lined trail mix along the diagonal tape line. We then ran each vacuum's hose along the horizontal line on the bottom, to measure the power of the suction.

Other items in our buffet of messes were chunky mulch, dry kitty litter, oil-soaked kitty litter, and even a golf ball. We took notes on how well each vacuum sucked up each item.

To verify the wet capacity, we sucked up water in a measured bucket until the vacuum was full. We then measured the total and compared it with manufacturer claims.

For noise level, we used a decibel reader six feet away and gathered an average number over 15 seconds. We also weighed each vacuum on our scale.

Plenty of notes were taken on the usability of each vacuum, including how the cords were stored and how easy they were to move. Another factor was portability, as we noted how easy each vacuum was to move around and use.

best shop vacs wet dry vacs tested trail mix
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver


Can a Wet/Dry Vacuum Clean My Carpets?

Not in the way professional carpet cleaners do. The term "wet/dry vacuum" simply means the vacuum can pick up both dry items and liquids. Sure, you could run your shop vac over your carpet, but it won't clean it as well as your conventional home vacuum, and it will be far less effective than a professional carpet-cleaning service.

What's the Deal with CFM?

Cubic feet per minute (CFM) is simply how much air your vacuum's motor can move at a certain load. Typical mid-size wet/dry vacs are rated between 75 and 100 CFM. The higher the number, the more air it can move.

Can I Use a Shop Vac in My Car?

Absolutely. Shop vacuums are great for cleaning your car. The ability to move the hose freely, combined with all the attachments, makes it a perfect interior vacuum. However, because most lack a spinning brush attachment, dirt embedded in your carpets will take some work to dislodge.

What Are Wet/Dry Vac Bags?

You can buy a bag that sits on the inside of your vacuum's drum that collects all of the yuck that gets sucked up. This makes disposal much easier once the vacuum is full. Without a bag, you need to dump the entire barrel into the garbage.

You don't want to use a bag for cleaning up liquids, though. Make sure to check the manual and remove the bag, change the filter for a foam covering, and just fill the drum on its own.

Why Trust Us

Hearst Autos combines the talent, resources, and expertise of three of the largest, most influential automotive publications in the world. The Gear Team has tested a wide variety of automotive products, parts, accessories, and gear, such as floor jacks, car buffers, car vacuums, and backup cameras. We get our hands on each and every product we test. Most are purchased; some are supplied by manufacturers.

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Visit our Tested & Trusted page to see the very best in automotive gear. Read more about our product testing and evaluation process here.

best wet dry vac shop vac tested
Gannon Burgett - Car and Driver

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