These Powerful Vacuums Can Handle Both Wet and Dry Messes

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

Saw dust or dust bunnies? That’s a pretty good measure of whether you need to add a shop vac to your arsenal of cleaning equipment. While regular vacuum cleaners — stick, upright or canister vacuums — are built for the everyday removal of dust, dirt, pet hair and the like, a top-rated shop vac will suck up heavier debris like piles of sawdust and sharp nails and screws that might tear up a standard vacuum. Also known as wet/dry vacs, these heavy-duty cleaners can also whisk away water and other liquid messes, for example from a flooded washing machine or burst water line.

The cleaning and home improvement experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute teamed up to identify the best shop vacs on today’s market. The Cleaning Lab has tested hundreds of vacuum cleaners since its inception, putting together lists of the best robot vacuums, top-performing HEPA vacuums, the best handheld vacuums and more. To test shop vacs, we reviewed more than 20 models and tested close to a dozen, running a battery of performance tests, while also assessing durability, value and ease of use. The following seven shop vacs, covering a range of sizes and price points, made our list for their top-tier performance.

Our top picks:

After our top picks, keep reading for more information on how we tested wet/dry vacuums as well as what to look for when shopping for one.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

DXV10P 10 gallon Quiet Poly Wet Dry Vacuum


Dewalt is a trusted brand with our experts, earning a solid reputation for performance and reliability through years of testing. (Its cordless drill and circular saw also make our recommended lists.) Carolyn Forté, Home Care & Cleaning Lab Executive Director at the Institute put this 10-gallon electric corded model through its paces during an extended at-home test. The machine performed superbly across the board, showing serious suction power thanks to its 5.5 horsepower motor and extra-wide 10-inch nozzle.

“There was no scattering or snowplowing [of debris] during repeated dry tests,” Forte said, which involved vacuuming up oatmeal and baking soda. “I was impressed!” The shop vac is also very easy to operate. The 360-degree wheels roll smoothly, the lid is easy to put on and take off and an onboard accessory pouch keeps tools and attachments in order. The cord is a bit of a nuisance, but at 20-feet-long it provides good range, and the machine’s handle doubles as a cord wrap for tidy storage. Like all electric shop vacs, you definitely hear the Dewalt when it’s running at full tilt, “but it’s not as high-pitched or irritating as other models we’ve tested,” says Forté.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

6 Gallon Cordless Shop Vacuum


There’s no bigger name in vacuums than Hoover, so our experts were eager to get their hands on the brand’s new battery-powered shop vac. With its 6-gallon tank, testers say the vac should provide decent cleaning capacity for most homeowners. It’s not built for serious job sites since it’s constructed of less rugged materials. “One of the latches that locks the lid in place kept falling off during testing,” an engineer from the test team noted. Also, the storage bands that hold accessories aren’t as effective or user-friendly as other systems, and there’s no drain plug. That being said, the Hoover handled its primary tasks of sucking up wet and dry debris quite well, though testers dinged it for the absence of a squeegee on the wet attachment since it left the surface slick even after several passes. But still, for the at-home DIYer, this Hoover shop vac is a solid value, especially if you already own the brand’s ONEPWR battery and charger.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

3) 40V 10-Gallon Shop Vac


Our experts have now tested several products from Ryobi’s 40-volt line of battery-powered products, from leaf blowers to lawn mowers, and we’ve been consistently impressed with their performance. That continues with the brand’s 10-gallon shop vac, which aced our tough tests, including sucking up 2 gallons of water in under 10 seconds. “It was very good at sucking up spilled water from our test surface, thanks to the squeegee on the wet vac attachment, which left the surface completely dry,” says Alec Scherma, a test engineer at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

The Ryobi comes loaded with features and accessories, like dual extension wands, a wet filter and a drain plug, which makes it easy to empty the tank, especially when it reaches the 10-gallon capacity. The cordless battery-powered design is a big convenience, especially since it’s a bulky machine. Finally, the Ryobi is quieter than other shop vacs from our tests, even at its higher speed.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

4) 16-Gallon Shop Vac


With its 6.5 horsepower motor and 16-gallon tank, this electric-corded Craftsman shop vac can handle ultra-tough tasks. “It saved me during a flood that otherwise could have led to catastrophic damage to my basement,” says Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist & Executive Technical Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute, who tested the machine at her home over the course of six months. It delivers impressive dry and wet vacuuming, aided by its 2-1/2-inch-wide by 7-foot-long flexible hose. A built-in blower port means it can also be used to clear small piles of leaves and grass clippings from the garage or driveway. Other convenience features include onboard organizers for the hose, accessories and power cord, as well as an oversized drain plug, essential when sucking up large spills.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

5) 5-Gallon Shop Vac


The compact design, stainless steel construction and bevy of accessory tools make this corded-electric Stanley shop vac one of the most multi-functional models on the market. Though our experts haven’t tested it in the Lab yet, we’re impressed by the specs and technical data. For example, it’s one of the few shop vacs that comes with a floor brush, in addition to the usual wet/dry nozzle and crevice tool. There’s also a dust collection bag, which is good for keeping the air clear when vacuuming inside living spaces. The 10-foot power cord is shorter than others and its 5-gallon is on the smaller side, but if you’re looking for a mid-sized shop vac to tackle minor messes all around the house, this Stanley is worth a look, especially at this price.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

6) 12-Gallon Shop Vac


Many pros swear by Ridgid as a maker of quality tools that are built to last, and we tend to agree having had favorable experiences with the brand’s cordless vacs, cordless drills and more. Though this 12-gallon model is aimed at DIYers (as opposed to Ridgid’s commercial-grade shop vacs), it still has many heavy-duty features. For example, the 5-horsepower motor is capable of moving air at a rate of 140 cubic feet per minute — twice that of other shop vacs. The comfort-grip handle and 360-degree casters allow for easy maneuverability. The shop vac can also be converted into a blower to handle small piles of leaves or blow sawdust off a workbench. Ridgid also touts a patented sound reduction technology that controls air flow for quieter operation.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

7) 2-Gallon Portable Shop Vac


Portable shop vacs, like this 2-gallon version from Craftsman, are designed for smaller jobs, say clearing crushed cereal from the back seat of the car or cleaning up minor messes in a home studio or wood shop. Though we haven’t gotten to test it in the Lab — we’ll update once we do — based on the specs review, our experts confirm that the 2-gallon tank and limited airflow (35 CFM) mean this Craftsman has more in common with handheld vacuums we’ve tested than other shop vacs in this roundup. But it is rated for both dry and wet spills, and its true HEPA filter, good for capturing 99.7% of dust and allergens, isn’t something you’ll find on the typical shop vac.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

8) How we test shop vacs

Having tested vacuums and power tools for decades, our product specialists have a sense of the leading brands in the category. They hone this knowledge by attending trade shows and industry events throughout the year. Using that expertise, they identified the most promising models available for sale right now.

Hands-on evaluations took place in our Lab, where we performed controlled tests designed to measure a shop vac’s performance. Dry vacuuming tests included sucking up a mixture of oatmeal, baking powder and rice from both bare and carpeted surfaces, as well as an assortment of screws, nails and other hardware from the same two surfaces.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes


To measure wet vacuuming performance, we had each vacuum suck up 2 gallons of water from a bucket, then 2 cups of water spread across a wood floor. We also evaluated shop vacs in testers’ homes to get a sense of their performance and ease of use under real-world conditions. We considered the range of accessories and utility of any onboard storage features, the presence of a drain plug for quick draining, battery runtime (where applicable) and noise level since it impacts user experience.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

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✔️ Power Type: Shop vacs can either be corded electric or battery-powered. Here are the pros and cons of each:

  • Corded Electric: Until fairly recently, all shop vacs plugged into the wall. The most powerful machines still are corded electric, and this option also gives you the greatest range of sizes, styles and prices. They also run indefinitely, assuming you have a power source. The downside with corded electric shop vacs is you’re tethered by the cord, which is easy to trip over or can get tangled up in storage.
  • Battery Powered: The power tool battery revolution has found its way to shop vacs. Eliminating the cord means total portability and easier storage. Our tests have found that the best battery-powered shop vacs have suction performance almost equal to corded models. But because of their high-powered motors and increased suction capabilities, shop vacs use a lot of power, so the run time on the battery is limited, with some heavy-duty models maxing out at around 30 minutes.

✔️ Capacity: This is determined by the size of the tank (a.k.a. “canister”), which can range from as small as 2 gallons, all the way up to 18 gallons. Our experts recommend a tank size between 6 and 10 gallons for the average homeowner. If your main intention for the shop vac is to clean out the car, a 2-gallon model will do the trick. On the other hand, if you’re a serious DIYer with a workshop in the basement, or if flooding is a constant issue, a larger shop vac might be in order.

✔️ Cost: You can spend as little as $50 for a shop vac or more than $500. While cost is largely determined by capacity, with most sub-$100 models having 5-gallon tanks or smaller, quality and convenience factor in as well. Our experts say it’s worth spending more for a shop vac with casters for easy movement throughout the room. Multiple accessories also add convenience, including extension shafts for increased reach and a squeegee nozzle for getting the last bit of wet spills.

lifestyle, these powerful vacuums can handle both wet and dry messes

How we test luggage

Dan DiClerico has written about the vacuum cleaner market for more than twenty years, reviewing hundreds of models from every leading brand, as well as newcomers to the space. Prior to becoming a home expert, he worked on various construction crews, where shop vacs were part of the everyday cleanup. In his role as Director of Home Improvement and Outdoor at the Good Housekeeping Institute, he worked closely with other cleaning experts on staff to develop testing criteria for shop vacs. Dan has also served as a consumer advocate on the vacuum committee for ASTM International, the organization that creates voluntary consensus standards across a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services.

Carolyn Forté has tested and reviewed hundreds of vacuum cleaners, carpet cleaners, mops and other major (and minor) home appliances as executive director of the Home Care and Cleaning Lab. She oversees all testing done in the Cleaning Lab and recently tested all of the handheld, stick, upright and canister vacuums that were submitted for consideration in the most recent Cleaning and Organizing Awards. She is an active member of the ASTM Committee on vacuum cleaners and chairman of the consumer information sub-committee.

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