9 Best Shop Vacs for Cleaning a Workshop
Looking for the best way to keep your workshop dust free? Check out this roundup of nine fantastic shop vacuums.
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Buying a Workshop Vacuum
A DIY workshop doesn’t need to be immaculate, but sawdust and project debris can pose tripping and breathing hazards. While a clean workshop is safer and more enjoyable to work in, who wants to spend hours hunched over a broom and dustpan? And that old-school method is almost useless when cleaning up water or slurry.
Enter the venerable shop vacuum!
Workshop vacuums come in various shapes and sizes, all with the same goal: Keeping your work area debris-free. When choosing a workshop vacuum, consider these factors.
Mobility. If you have a large shop, look for a vacuum on wheels so you can move it around easily. If it’s a small shop, go for a model that’s lightweight and storable so it doesn’t take up valuable floor space when not in use.
Durability. Metal bodies can withstand more of a beating than plastic, but they’re heavier. Crush-resistant, kink-free hoses keep the air flowing. Dust-proof covered power switches prevent grime and dust from clogging the switch.
Storage capacity. The larger the storage drum, the less often you’ll need to clean it out. That will also determine how heavy it gets.
Power. Compare air movement in cubic feet per minute (CFM). Many manufacturers also tout the horsepower (hp) of their motor, but that’s secondary because a well-designed motor can draw more suction with less power.
Wet/dry option. Not all shop vacuums can handle wet material. But it’s a common feature, usually requiring some adjustments to the filter and/or storage drum. If you expect to vacuum wet debris only occasionally, that’s fine. But if you work with wet slurry from tile cutting, look for a unit that’s adept at both.
Compatibility. If you own a table saw, miter saw or other power equipment, you can use a shop vacuum for dust collection. Shop vacuums fill up faster than a true dedicated dust collection system, but they’re far more affordable. Look for a hose size that matches your equipment’s dust port or can accept an adapter.
Noise. Operating volume isn’t a detail all manufacturers include with their product descriptions, so you may need to do a little sleuthing to identify a good fit. Check reviews for comments about noise, remembering lighter-weight models with thinner bodies muffle less noise than more robust units. Look for ratings in decibels (db); normal conversation is around 60 db.
Best Corded/Cordless Combo Workshop Vacuum
DeWalt has been selling corded/cordless workshop vacuums for more than a decade, all useful in shops and remote jobsites. Our current favorite is the DeWalt DXV04T. It comes with a four-gallon storage tank, 20-ft. power cord, and a seven-foot, 1-7/8-in.-dia. hose.
The DXV04T has 90 CFM draw and uses the same filter for wet and dry collection. If you’re already invested in the DeWalt 20-volt system, this model comes as a bare tool, or packaged with a battery but no charger.
Best Ultra-Portable Workshop Vacuum
The Milwaukee 18-volt Backpack Vacuum lets you truly go anywhere. It’s perfect for large shops or areas with stairs a traditional canister vacuum can’t navigate. This vacuum can be carried on your back or hung on the wall while you clean the shop with the six-foot hose.
Relatively quiet at 76 db, it comes with a HEPA filter and works with Milwaukee M18 tools. The vacuum gets more than 40 minutes of run time on low-energy mode, dropping to about 25 minutes on high-energy.
The portability does come with downsides. This vacuum has a relatively weak intake of 55 CFM, and the storage tank only one gallon of capacity. The clear plastic body is a plus because it’s easy to know when it’s full.
Overall, this is a great pick for relatively light work across large or scattered areas.
Best Budget Workshop Vacuum
If you’re in no rush to buy, save money by keeping an eye on the big box stores like Lowe’s and The Home Depot. Shop vacuums are often used as loss leaders to lure shoppers during holiday sales. That’s when the best deals happen.
If you can’t wait, check out the Craftsman Nine-Gallon Shop Vacuum ($60) for regularly-priced value. It draws 82 CFM and comes with a 10-ft. power cord and seven-foot, 1-7/8-in.-dia. hose. It features wet and dry options and can even act as a blower.
Craftsman also makes a Five-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum that retails for $50, though we feel it gives up too many features. The eight-foot power cord limits its reach, and the six-foot hose with 1-1/4-in. hose diameter is significantly smaller than most competitors. The biggest drawback is the 66 CFM draw, surpassed even by the cordless DeWalt mentioned earlier. Our advice: Pay the extra $10 for the nine-gallon version.
Best Big-Tank Workshop Vacuum
There are plenty of wet/dry vacuums with large storage tanks, but what do you do with it when it’s full? That’s a question The DeWalt 14-Gal. Corded Portable Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum handles smartly.
It’s a big vacuum, weighing 37 pounds empty. Filling the 14-gal. tank brings the total weight to about 150 lbs. That’s quite a load. But when it’s time to empty the canister, oversized rear wheels and an integrated handle makes this model easy to dolly from one spot to another.
In addition, the DeWalt features a six-horsepower motor and a whopping 110 CFM, enough power to deal with almost any mess. It comes with a 20-ft. power cord and a seven-foot, 2-1/2-in.-dia. hose.
Best Workshop Vacuum for Wet/Dry Use
Most shop vacuums can handle wet or dry material, but it usually takes a filter adjustment to switch from one mode to the other. That may not be a deal breaker, but it’s inconvenient. The Dustless HEPA Wet/Dry Vacuum is a true all-in-one unit that collects wet and dry material without fuss.
It generates 81 db of volume, loud but not deafening, with 126 CFM of draw and a 16-gal. storage tank. It’s certified air tight, so dust won’t sneak out of the container to clog your lungs. That feature makes this vacuum particularly useful for tile and masonry cutting, or any activity that produces dry dust and slurry.
The 12-ft., 1-1/2-in. hose is kink- and crush-proof. The tank has a threaded spigot so you can hook up a hose and drain liquid waste at a distance.
And when you’re ready to clean the shop vac filter, follow one of our favorite instructions from a manufacturer: “Filters can be cleaned by agitating a rod on the outside of the vacuum.” That’s corporate jargon for “Hit it with a stick.”
Best Workshop Vacuum for Dedicated Woodworkers
For true dust extraction, consider the Bosch 14-Gal. Wet/Dry Dust Extractor. It’s got serious suction with 150 CFM draw, great for sucking up wood scraps and sawdust. But it really shines when it’s hooked up to a power tool.
Connect the vacuum hose to the dust port and plug the tool into the integrated outlet on the vacuum. Then tool activation kicks the Bosch on or off as needed. A particularly handy detail is the “power broker dial” that appropriately allocates power between the vacuum and the connected power tool.
This vacuum’s 1-3/8-in.-dia. hose is almost 10 ft. long. It’s compatible with Bosch’s L-Boxx stackable storage units, allowing you to store small tools and parts on top of the vacuum canister to create a mobile workstation.
Best Low-Noise Workshop Vacuum
The Fein Turbo 2 Vacuum is an 8-1/4-gal. shop vac with 151 CFM air flow. Best news? It operates at 66 db, slightly more than normal conversation but less than a movie theater (around 70 db).
It has an 18-ft. power cord and a 13-ft., 1-7/8-in.-diameter hose. Like the Bosch unit, it comes with an auto-start socket for connecting a power tool.
Best Wall-Mounted Workshop Vacuum
A wall-mounted vacuum saves floor space and places the noisy motor away from your work area. The Prolux Wet Dry Garage Vacuum brings central vacuum convenience to your workshop wall.
The Prolux can vacuum dirt, snow, water or dust, then turn around and inflate or deflate basketballs and air mattresses. It features 107 CFM of draw and a reasonable 72 db of noise.
Because the canister is wall mounted, the hose has to be extra long. In this case, the crush- and kink-resistant hose runs 32-feet with a 1-1/2-in. diameter. The canister is just under six gallons, with a clear indicator window so you’ll know when it’s almost full.
Best Workshop Vacuum With Blower
Most wet/dry vacuums can be used as a blower by switching the hose from the intake to the exhaust. But the Rigid NXT Vacuum With Blower takes it one step further. The entire motor detaches from the canister so it can be used as a corded electric leaf and dust blower. It’s a brilliant choice for a garage workspace, where dust can be blown right out the overhead door opening.
It comes with a 16-gal. capacity tank, a seven-foot long, 2-1/2-in.-dia. hose and a 20-ft. power cord. The 6-1/2-hp motor draws in 161 CFM as a vacuum and blows air out at 190 mph, making it a genuinely respectable leaf blower. It also comes with Rigid’s lifetime warranty against material defects and workmanship.