The Complete Shop Vac Buying Guide – Powertoolbuzz

The Complete Shop Vac Buying Guide

shop vac buying guide

The Complete Shop Vac Tool Guide for First Timers

While a traditional vacuum cleaner is meant for cleaning pet hair, debris reserves, dust and all kinds of what nots from your room, there is an entirely different category which takes things to the next level. I am talking about shop vacs; they are often called wet-dry vacuum cleaners.

This best shop vac buying guide is written with the intent of helping first time users who have no prior experience with such products. Until over a few weeks ago, I was also more of a newbie level user. However, for the sake of reviewing a bunch of high-end shop vacuum cleaners, and doling out my “expert” opinion on certain specific models, this guide had to be written.

Let’s just say that as compared to reviewing & recommending power tools at ‘Power Tool Buzz’, shop-vac / wet vacuum cleaners was a revealing experience. It was generally easy for me to go through each model and come up with whatever I had gathered about it.

shop vac buying guide

Also, shop vacs are normally less complicated as they do not have all the intricacies and accessories as that of a conventional power tool. Therefore, it is safe to say that you can take our opinion about how to buy the best shop vac with more than just a grain of salt.

The staff spent a lot of time on carefully reviewing different standard wet-dry vacs to come up with a buying guide for you. Moreover, I spent an entire weekend on weeding down and editing the guide to see stuff from the perspective of a first time online user. So, maybe you might just want to humor me for a while?

What Are Shop Vacs?

Shop vacs are not that different from an actual indoor only upright vacuum cleaner unit. The only difference is that this category is meant for out-of-the-box use. Think of cleaning glass shards after a party gone horribly wrong at someone’s place, an aftermath of kids pool party, a completely blocked gaping basement that was the result of some broken water pipe and vice versa.

Oh, and professionals also use shop vac vacuum cleaners to clean crime scenes. Not that I am suggesting that they are a good tool for mopping things up after a grisly murder scene – i.e. if you happen to be a professional cleaner, but you get the point here, don’t you? Shop vacs are anything unlike a regular vacuum cleaner because of their vicious tenacity to suck up liquid, chunks of hardened debris and anything that a normal vacuum cleaner isn’t capable of.

We have reviewed different brands, such as; Dewalt, Shop Vac, Ridgid, Craftsman and vice versa just to take the guesswork out of the equation. The only minor issue with each of these wet dry vacuum cleaners is that none of the models is perfect, but it works flawlessly if your requirements fulfill the criterion.

 For instance, let’s say that a traditional model of a Shop Vac series vacuum cleaner comes with 6 – 8 gallons of holding capacity. Meanwhile, Ridgid and Dewalt shop vac models are offering up to 14 gallons of dirt/ slime holding capacity. Therefore, which model would you go for? Obviously, if you are a home based user who is just looking for normal garage and kitchen cleaning, you will go for a shop vac with lower storage capacity
shop vacs

But, If you are a DIY enthusiast, or a professional cleaner, you will want to invest in a high end Ridgid shop vac, or a Dewalt for that matter. Not only the holding capacity is more in latter case for uninterrupted cleaning, but the specs are also a little bit robust as compared to a normal model.

Getting by with a squeaky-clean experience is not that easy because “capacity” is not just the only thing that you need to lookout for. As technology is gradually improving, so is the shop vac market alongside the buyer demographics demand curve.

There is a strong chance that you are not a cleaner/ professional contractor. So, what is the best way of assessing things about a specific model of a shop vac that the sales person has been trying to shove down your throat? Let’s start with some of the key benefits as a way of warming up to these mean machines.

Some of the Key Benefits of Owning a Shop Vac Are?

Although the benefits section of a wet-dry shop vac will always go one-step further (*thanks to constantly evolving technology), some things will always remain the same.

  • Wet Messes Are No Longer a Concern:

Just as I mentioned earlier, if you have spilled a wine bottle, dropped down a glass on hard floor, or just ended up blocking the entire basement, it is no longer an issue. As long as you know where your trusty shop vac is, you will not only end up cleaning the mess on your own, but it will also help to cut down on the ginormous cleaner services bill.

However, you cannot just use any shop vac to suck up liquids. You will require a wet-dry vacuum cleaner to clean any wet messes. I am talking about soaking wet or a completely water filled basement in that sense.

  • Minimum Exposure to Dust:

Now, I am not saying that conventional upright vacuum cleaners are bad for health as long as dust particles are concerned, but shop vacs are more secure. The latter have a dedicated storage compartment for both liquids and dry dust, which minimizes the chances of ejecting so-called “filtered” air back into the room’s atmosphere.

A typical shop vac can suck up dirt and collect debris/ liquid deposits without any hassle. The waste material can be disposed of later through the dedicated valve that’s usually located at the bottom, or one side of the tank on the outside panels. You can even zoom in on Shop Vac Wet Dry Vacuum Cleaner models’ images to see where this valve is.

wet dry vac

Side Note: The liquid/ waste material disposal valve is also called a drain hose.

Fun Fact:

No matter how much technology has advanced, conventional vacuum cleaner manufactures are still not able to fully overcome the issue of air-released allergies. These allergies are caused when the vacuum cleaner sucks in dusty air and ejects back the “filtered” air into the room through the exhaust port.

You don’t have to take my word for it. You can do your own research on this issue. To solve this problem, Hoover and many other companies are producing upright vacuum cleaners with a biodegradable air filter. The idea is to filter the air back to its natural state, so that the chances of allergies or a typical whooping cough can be avoided.

However, the reality is that this issue still hasn’t been resolved. The filters wear down, and their performance is subject to various conditions. In this context, owning a shop vac wet-dry vacuum cleaner is far better. Everything goes in through the suction port and nothing is “exhausted” out! All of the waste material has to be drained via the drain hose.

Versatility Factor:

By now, you already have an idea how versatile these vacuum cleaners are. They are not exactly industrial standard as long as home use is concerned, but thanks to a robust motor and reinforced storage canister, shop vacs can outperform many other categories of cleaning equipment.

Just to give you an idea, a wet-dry vac can be used to unclog pipes, clear blockage in kitchen sinks, remove snow from driveway and many other activities. One of the main reasons as to why I like wet dry vacs over conventional indoor-only vacuum cleaner units is because of their ability to perform outside of norms.

wet vacuum cleaner

If you are looking to inflate kids’ pools, balls or standard material, a normal shop vac can be used to do so. The air suction motor can be reversed to pump the air, which results in filling up inflatable objects in a relatively less amount of time.

Likewise, you can also use high performance shop vacs to pull in heavy chunks of debris, slog and slime without any issues or whatsoever. Professional cleaners use these bad boys to do a major overhaul on whatever needs to be cleaned. Later on, they bring in small sophisticated cleaning equipment to brush up on whatever little deposits of dust that the shop vac couldn’t get rid of in the first place.

What Kind of Specifications Should I look For In a Standard Small Shop Vac Model?

Although power specs vary from one product to another, some of the basic features always remain the same. You can take a look below to get a rough idea of specs as a baseline for your upcoming purchase. Should you eventually decide on buying a wet dry vacuum cleaner, you can settle for a model with specifications which are exactly the same or in excess of the ones listed below:

  • Power Usage: Power draw in a typical shop-vac is always in terms of amperes. More is better in this case. You should be looking for 12 Amps on the minimum – and that too with a higher storage capacity tank to avoid having it emptied after every hour or so.
  • Horsepower: Remember the time when I talked about horsepower vs. performance dynamics in my air compressor review series? Well, the formula is typically the same in case of shop vacs, regardless of whether they are big or small. If you are a homeowner, your wet-dry vac should have more or less 1.5 – 2 Hp. If you are a contractor, the Hp should be a minimum of 3 in that case.
shop vac tool guide
  • Sealed Suction: This suction capability is measured in terms of how much liquid your wet dry vac can pull in against a certain amount of water pressure. When the hose is submerged in water, it drastically takes a toll on the vacuum’s motor performance. Therefore, your wet-dry small shop vac should have at least sealed suction power of 50 inches.
  • CFM: Just like air compressors, shop vac motors are also built to demonstrate performance in terms of CFM. This is the measure of how much air a vacuum cleaner can suck in over a certain period of time. Just to be on the safe side, your mini shop vac should have 90 CFM rating to be able to outlast any filter, hose related, or any other resistance during extensive cleaning sessions.

Shop Vacs Come With Tons of Accessories… Or Not!

Depending on the brand and company, your shop vac  may or may not come with extra accessories kit. These accessories consist of pipes, cleaning heads and many other attachment ports that make any reckless cleaning session a breeze.

Also called power tools, the items can be attached to the vac hose, enhance/ regular air wattage, extend the reach of the vacuum and etc. One thing which you need to keep an eye out for is whether the manufacturer is giving any accessories with a brand new purchase of a shop vac, or not.

Sometimes, low standard companies entice customers with labels that promise a “whopping bundle” of power tools inside the box packaging. What unsuspecting buyers don’t know is that these power tools have substandard quality, and that their average price is somewhere around a few dollars. Watch out!

Don’t Make This Mistake When Using a Shop Vac:

This is more of a side guideline for first time users, but I felt it is important from a long term perspective. A lot of people make the mistake of pulling the shop vac by the hose. There’s no harm in doing so, but manufactures install a handle at the top of the shop vac’s body for a reason.

If you pull the wet-dry vac by the hose, your chances of tilting over the entire unit will be pretty damn high. Many people ended up physically damaging the unit because they were too lazy to use the handle in the first place. In some cases, the shop vac hose head can break as well if it is pulled at an awkward angle.

Some of The Basic Features to Look For In a Wet Dry Vacuum:

Although I warmly welcome any high end model of a wet-dry vac with open arms, it is the features that really matter in the long run. An increased amount of features can help you to do all kinds of cleaning, but it does take a toll on the pricing factor. Given that you can easily afford a shop vac in high price bracket, why not go for one of the following features as an add-on perk:

  • Tank Size: The tank size in wet-dry vacs I measured in terms of gallons. Your typical handheld mini shop vac can probably store 1 Gal. or ½ Gal., which is not exactly the standard I would recommend to any serious buyer. Medium and large size tanks come with storage capacity of up to 14 gallons. Go for the latter!
  • Horsepower: Yes, HP is part of the specs list, but just to be on the safe side, you should be looking for a wet-dry vac with at least 2 – 4.5 HP. This is called future proofing because you are not looking to invest in a dead-end product from long term perspective, are you?
shop vac filter
  • Filters: These filters are different than the ones that are installed in standard upright vacuum cleaners for indoor use only. A shop vac filter is made of foam and it is more than capable of cleaning up leftover fluid residue and dust deposits from any range of surfaces. Filters can also be purchased as an add-on product from any online or real life retailer store.
  • Hose Size: Yep, this one is measured in terms of diameter. The wider the hose is, it means it can easily cover up more area on the ground. Ideally, your shop vac should have a 2.5 inch wide hose so that debris, particles and liquid does not get stuck anywhere inside the hose.
  • Blower Port: I’d recommend that you buy a shop vac with a detachable blower port. Some models come with a permanently attached blower port, which is a good thing. However, it limits the reach of the vacuum’s hose too hard to access areas. Blower ports can do wonders when it comes to getting rid of sawdust, leaves or debris scattered around a job-site.
  • Drain Hose/ Drain Valve: Just as the name suggests, the purpose of a drain valve/ opening is to let out all the slimy liquid that’s stored inside the tank. Some inferior wet-dry vac models require a bit of manual labor work, but most of the latest models can be easily emptied without having to make contact with anything dirty inside the tank. In addition, you can set your shop vac to ‘Pump’ system and then use a hose to push out all the vile residue in one go.

My Two Cents About Shop Vacs?

In conclusion, wet dry vacs are a great convenience tool for anyone looking for a thorough cleaning experience. At least, compared to a normal vacuum cleaner, shop vacs offer a stress free venture through any surface, or room type without second thoughts.

On top of that, many shop vacs only require one time annual filter replacement. This saves a lot of money when you are calculating cost in terms of compound expenses, which typically come in after a power tool, is purchased. I hope this mini shop vac buying guide helped in setting you up straight for your very own vacuum cleaner in the near future.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts, experiences and tips about how to use, or buy a shop vac through the comments section below. Good luck.

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