Best Shop Vacs of 2017 – Reviews & Buying Guide

Craftsman_16_Gallon_Wet-Dry_VacAn inevitable consequence of construction work is the mess that comes with it! Whether you’re carrying out some light DIY at home or more heavy-duty projects at your workshop, a shop vac can make a big difference. Sawdust and other debris are fairly common in such work areas and while most regular vacuums can handle this, they cannot collect the various screws, nails and wire that a shop vac can.

Essentially, a shop vac is more powerful and durable than your average vacuum cleaner! So when you want heavy-duty cleanup you really need a shop vac. After all, you don’t want to buy or use a regular vacuum and end up breaking it unnecessarily. The best shop vac is durable and should last a long time, even when picking up a great deal of mess including nuts and bolts! In fact, some can suck up not only dry spills but wet ones too. Add to this an array of features and you’ve got a very handy tool indeed.


The Best Shop Vacs of 2017

MODELPRODUCT DIMENSIONS
ITEM WEIGHT
USER RATINGPRICE
Vacmaster VBV1210
Vacmaster VBV1210
17.8 x 17.8 x 24.2 inches
24.4 pounds
4.5/5
$$$$
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Armor All AA255
Armor All AA255
10.6 x 14.2 x 14.4 inches
7 pounds
4.4/5
$
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Craftsman 12004
Craftsman 12004
6.2 x 6.2 x 8.3 inches
16.2 pounds
4.4/5
$$
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Shop-Vac 5951400
Shop-Vac 5951400
29 x 22 x 30 inches
30.6 pounds
4.2/5
$$$$$
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Shop-Vac 5986000
Shop-Vac 5986000
13.5 x 13.5 x 19.5 inches
17 pounds
4.2/5
$$$
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A lot of people think that most shop vacs are much the same. While their primary purpose is to clean up and offer more durability than typical vacuums, there are a number of different features that help set them apart. If you want the best shop vac for your money, take a look at our shop vac reviews complete with pros and cons. These will help you narrow down the many options and find the product for your cleaning needs! And don’t forget the buying guide which includes plenty of tips and tricks. You’ll be a shop vac pro before you know it!

1. Vacmaster VBV1210 – Our Top Pick

Vacmaster VBV1210This large and powerful shop vacuum has a strong and sturdy build. It is capable of holding up to 12 gallons of water which means that it is quite bulky and not the easiest object to store. However, it is still quite portable with 4 heavy-duty casters and several handles. The motor is capable of reaching up to 5 HP which is more than enough to clean up any spills quickly and efficiently. The Vacmaster VBV1210 also converts to a handheld blower as well with a blowing speed of 210 MPH. Despite the power, it is considered fairly quiet in comparison to competitor shop vacs on the market.

One of the best features of this shop vac is the long, thick hose which has a diameter of 2.5-inches and a length of 7 feet. This product can be used with different filters which offer you much more flexibility when cleaning. The filters included are a cartridge filter for dry debris and a foam filter for liquids. These are nice and easy to install. A rack for attachments means that you have a handy place to store the many possible accessories which include extension wands and a car nozzle. For serious debris, you really want the best small shop vac on the market and in our opinion this is it!

Pros

  • Strong and sturdy build

  • Excellent suction

  • Fairly quiet

Cons

  • Large size makes storage tricky


2. Shop-Vac 5951400 – Another Solid Pick

Shop-Vac 5951400The bright yellow color of the Shop-Vac 5951400 certainly makes the product stand out. But it is any good? In our opinion, this is another very solid pick if you’re looking for a shop vac that simply gets the job done. This is reflected in the very impressive 6.5 peak HP and the fact that it can hold up to 14 gallons. It comes with a range of accessories including a lock-on hose, extension wands, nozzles, cartridge filter and collection filter bag. Of these accessories, the lock-on hose is particularly useful as it prevents the hose from disengaging at inopportune moments.

Despite the power offered by this shop vac, it’s surprisingly quiet in comparison to other products on the market. It’s also very portable thanks to the large rear wheels and metal carriage handle. One minor issue is that the handle is perhaps a little low for taller people and this may cause some discomfort when pulling the shop vac around. Also, some consumers have stated that assembly does take some time. These are obviously very minor complaints and that’s why the Shop-Vac 5951400 is another solid pick and that’s before we even mention the 4-year motor warranty.

Pros

  • Large tank holds up to 14 gallons

  • Metallic carriage handle increases portability

  • Reduced noise despite the power

Cons

  • Handle is a little short for taller people

  • Assembly can take a while


3. Shop-Vac 5986000 – Best for the Money

Shop-Vac 5986000Perfect for cleaning up wet or dry mess, the Shop-Vac 5986000 is a relatively compact shop vac. It’s also quite lightweight in comparison to some of the other products on the market. Because this is the best shop vac for the money, there are some compromises that are worth keeping in mind. The biggest compromise is in the power with a peak of 4.5 HP. It can hold 5-gallons which may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how much you value portability. Of course, there is a handle and a set of 4 wheels which help when moving it around.

The stainless steel tank provides something of an industrial feel and in truth, it looks pretty smart too. One feature we particularly like is the rear blower port which is very efficient. As you’d expect with a unit that is so competitively priced, there are some cons to consider! For example, the power cord is only 6 foot so an extension cord will most likely be required. A lot of people have also mentioned the tool holder being in a particularly awkward position. If you are on a budget and can see past issues such as these, you’ll likely love this product.

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact

  • Stainless steel tank

Cons

  • Lacking in power

  • Short power cord

  • Tool holder isn’t well placed


4. Armor All AA255 – Another Inexpensive Option

Armor All AA255It’s nice to have choices and the Armor All AA255 is another inexpensive option available to you. As you’ll quickly work out from the 2 peak HP and 2.5-gallon limit, this is a compact shop vacuum. It’s perfect for cleaning small spaces but will experience some trouble with bigger messes which is when you really need to stretch the budget. In particular, the AA255 is specially designed to clean car interiors and the compact size of the unit is indeed ideal for this. It can deal with both wet and dry mess only in small quantities.

Despite its small size, it’s not as portable as you might think since it doesn’t come with wheels. However, there is a top handle and the whole unit only weighs 7 lbs so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Despite being a small, budget shop vac, it does come with plenty of attachments including a 2-in-1 utility nozzle and a crevice tool. This is a great little vacuum for smaller-scale cleaning and is surprisingly powerful for the small size. But it’s still not packing enough power for heavy-duty cleaning. You should also bear in mind that it’s not the quietest of machines but you get what you pay for!

Pros

  • Light and compact

  • Very competitive price

  • Includes various attachments

Cons

  • Lacks power for anything other than light cleaning

  • Can be quite noisy


5. Craftsman 12004 – Worth Considering

Craftsman 12004The Craftsman 12004 is a nice compromise between the more pricier shop vac with all the bells and whistles and those more basic, budget options. This is reflected in the price of the unit and in its specifications. A 6-gallon polypropylene tank and 3 peak HP motor should handle most small to medium cleaning tasks that come their way. One minor problem with this product is that it is rather noisy due to the lack of a noise diffuser. Otherwise, the design is very solid with a top handle which makes it easier to move around. However, the wheels are not fixed and can come off on occasion.

One of the best features of the Craftsman 12004 is the very long 7-foot hose while the 10-foot power cord gives you plenty of room to move around, particularly in larger shops. It doesn’t come with as many attachments as some other leading shop vacuums but there is a storage rack to hold them all. Choosing this product gives you real bang for your buck as it provides respectable power at a very competitive price. While it may be a little noisier and lack some accessories, it’s a shop vac option that is well worth considering.

Pros

  • Long 7-foot hose

  • Offers good power for the price

Cons

  • Quite a noisy shop vac

  • Wheels are a bit flimsy


Factors to Consider When Buying a Shop Vac

Now that we know about some of the very best shop vacs on the market, we’ll now take a look at some of the factors to consider when buying a shop vac. These will help you narrow down the options so that you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re looking for.

Size/Capacity

Sometimes size really doesn’t matter but in the case of a shop vac, it just might! The size and capacity of the shop vac you go for depends on a couple of factors. Firstly, how much mess do you have to clean up? If it’s a lot, you’re best going for a bigger size if only to avoid having to empty it as often. This makes cleaning up so much quicker and easier. However, you may find yourself restricted by your environment. If you don’t have the space for a larger shop vac or will struggle to shift it when it’s full, opt for a smaller one!

Performance

Getting the right size shop vac is all well and good but what about performance? When it comes to the performance of a shop vac, it’s important to look at the suction and airflow offered. The first thing is to look at the peak horsepower rating. As you’ll have seen in our reviews, the products ranged from 2 to 6.5 HP. Always try to get a shop vac with a little more horsepower than you actually need, just in case. It’s better to have too much horsepower than too little. Other things to look for include sealed pressure, cubic feet per minute and air watts or air power.

Filters

There are different filters for different types of debris. You don’t want to end up with the wrong filter as you may end up making more mess than you started with! For large debris, go for a general household filtration level. Medium debris can be picked up with a medium filtration level and fine debris with a fine filtration level. A foam sleeve can really help with sucking up wet debris. Some shop vacs come with a range of filters and some will have them sold separately. Consider this before buying in order to weigh up one product against another.

Hose Length

The length of the hose is something you’ll want to strike a balance with. On the one hand, the longer the hose, the easier you can reach the debris that you need to clean. On the other hand, the longer the hose is, the weaker the suction power! For large debris, opt for a 2.5-inch wide hose to avoid debris getting stuck. Medium debris can be cleaned up by anything from a 1.5 to 2.5-inch wide hose. If you’re only cleaning up fine debris, a 1.25 to 1.5-inch wide hose is fine.

Noise

One of the disadvantages of shop vacs is that they can make a lot of noise. Unmuffled units can make some 85 decibels or more of noise while those with mufflers are around the 60 decibels range. If your chosen shop vac doesn’t have a muffler, consider adding one. They’re cheap and can make quite a difference. Also, consider wearing ear protection when using a particularly loud unit, especially if it’s around 80 decibels or more.

Drain Valve

A drain valve allows you to easily drain any liquid collected. This makes life much easier since you then don’t have to pick the whole thing up and tip it over in order to empty it. The advantage of this is that the whole process is much less tiring and injury becomes less likely.

Frequently asked questions

Q. What’s the best tank size?

A. For the average workshop or household, a shop vac of 10-14 gallons is great. Not only can these perform well with most jobs, they’re not too difficult to store. Big cleanups require anything from a 16 to 20-gallon tank which is obviously bigger. Small jobs such as cleaning the car or the house suit a tank of 5 or 6 gallons. These are easier to move around.

Q. How much power do I need?

A. For smaller debris, you only really need 1 to 2 HP. It’s always a good idea to overestimate how much you need, just in case you end up needing to clean larger debris.

Q. What hose size do I need?

A. For general workshop jobs, a hose diameter of 2.25 to 2.5-inches is highly recommended. This should avoid having problems with clogging which can happen to narrower hoses.

Q. Should I buy a plastic or stainless steel tank?

A. If you’d prefer a cheaper, lighter shop vac then plastic is the obvious choice. If durability in a working environment is very important then it’s best to go for stainless steel.

Q. Where can I buy filters and accessories for my shop vac?

A. It’s very easy to find filters and accessories for your shop vac online. In fact, there’s so much availability that it’s worth shopping around in order to get a good deal.

Q. How much will accessories cost?

A. Some accessories such as filters can be used on more than one brand so this is worth investigating in order to get a better deal. High-end shop vacs have accessories that tend to be more expensive but this isn’t always the case. Try to budget for additional accessories such as filters, dust bags, a bigger or more flexible hose and more extension wands.

Q. Why is my shop vac emitting dust?

A. Hopefully, this hasn’t happened to you yet. But if it does it’s because you’re using the wrong filter. Take a look at the filters section above to find out which you need.

Safety Tips

A shop vac is relatively simple to use but there are some things you can do to ensure that the whole experience is safer.

  • Eye protection

While not always necessary, eye protection isn’t a bad idea particularly if you’re vacuuming in a confined space such as a car. Even in a larger space such as a workshop, there can be a lot of dust and debris flying around so some safety goggles can’t hurt in such instances.

  • Ear protection

Some shop vacs can be very loud, especially those designed for industrial use. Shop vacs that reach 80+ decibels can damage your ears so ear protection is a must. Not all shop vacs are this loud however and many come with mufflers to reduce noise.

  • Keep loose objects away from openings

Any exposed openings on the shop vac can create a lot of suction when it is in operation. Long hair, loose clothing and jewelry should all be kept well clear of these openings. Failure to do so could result in injury, particularly with the most powerful shop vacs.

  • Dust mask

Needless to say that there can be a lot of dust and debris flying around when using a shop vac in a particularly messy area. If this is the case, a dust mask can help you from inhaling this. Combine this with goggles and ear protection and you’ll be safe and sound!

  • Unplug when not in use

Another fairly simple safety tip is to unplug when you’re no longer using the shop vac. This is to avoid any accidents when moving around. It’s so easy to trip over a long cord but this can be avoided by unplugging the shop vac. It’s better to be safe than sorry!


Conclusion

While all shop vacs do essentially the same thing, there are enough differences between them to make this a tough decision. We recommend that you decide on the size and power that you need for your cleaning needs. In order to separate one product from another, take a look at the cost of accessories. Find out if there are any accessories included in the purchase price and add this to your thinking.

Take a look at the various pros and cons of each of the products in our reviews of shop vacs. Are there any features that you simply must have? Likewise, are there any that you can do without? By asking yourself these questions, we’re confident you’ll find a shop vac that fits your needs. Whether you’re cleaning at home or your workshop, there’s surely a great product at a price to suit you.