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Selecting The Best Wet Dry Vac For Your Workshop

Selecting The Best Wet Dry Vac For Your Workshop

Specifications Summary - Wet Dry Vacuum

  • 5 Gallon Canister
  • 3-5 HP
  • Wheels and on-board storage
  • A drain if you expect to use often for removing water

Product Recommendations - Wet Dry Vacuum

Wet-dry vac uses

A wet/dry vacuum is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about which power tools you should be buying.  I know that I certainly did not think about buying one when I first moved into my house but I received one as a gift and now I am really glad that I did.  These vacuums are great for cleaning up saw dust, wood chips, dirt and other heavy items around your garage or work area.  If you have done any demolition work then you know how big of a mess you can create.  You could sweep it with a broom but it is much faster to do it with wet dry vacuum.  I was also grateful to have one any time I have done some drywall work as I can run the vacuum as I am sanding and most of the dust is immediately swept into the canister rather than floating around the room and layering our furniture with dust. I had to replace about 250 square feet of drywall on my ceiling and having this vacuum was very handy during the demolition and the finish work.  You really do not want to vacuum a large amount of drywall dust into your standard home vacuum.  The dust is extremely fine and it seems to live in your vacuum for ever.

The wet dry vacuum is also my ‘go-to’ whenever I want to vacuum my car.  It can pick up the big stuff and the fine sand.  There are also kits that you can buy that are made specifically for automobile cleaning that attach to your wet dry vac.  

And to address the “wet” part yes, you can vacuum up several gallons of water right into your canister.  The amount of water you can remove at one time depends on how large a canister you have.  Ever have a water heater leak, a tub overflow or maybe an air conditioner drain line back up and spill?  All good times to have a wet dry vac on hand.  Speaking of air conditioner drain lines, did you know that you are supposed to clean those out every few months?  Well, when you do clean them out and the water solution is coming out of the drain very slowly or maybe not all, then you probably have a clog in the pipe somewhere.  You can take your wet/dry vacuum and place the hose at the end of your drain pipe and create enough suction to clear the pipe of any debris or mold build up.

Wet dry vacuum attributes

- How messy are you? -

You will come across many options in your search for a wet vac.  The most commonly marketed feature will be the size (in gallons) of the canister.  There will be many different options between 4 and 16 gallons although I am sure there are both larger and smaller versions available.  I have an 8 gallon wet/dry vac and I do not remember a time where I have filled it up.  I think around your home or for a home renovation project, that 8 gallons is really enough.  Think about the size of a 5 gallon bucket.  Will you be creating enough dust and debris to fill up one and half of those at a time?  Probably not but even if you do, you just have to empty it and then get right back to vacuuming.  Another reason I would stay in the smaller capacity range is storage space.  These tools do not fold up into a nice little storage box that will fit in a tool cabinet.  They tend to be bulky and awkward so if space is limited, then smaller is better.  The only time that a small capacity wet vac will be a hinderance is when you need to remove a large amount of water.  If you have to empty a water bed or you have an inch of water standing in your basement then having a 5 gallon tank is not going to be efficient (though it is much better than nothing at all!).  If you really anticipate having a need to remove a lot of water, then by all means step up to the larger tank size.

- Horse Power -

The other common metric you will notice in the manufacturers description of a wet-dry vac is the horsepower (HP) of the motor.  As you probably already know, the larger the horsepower the more powerful the engine.  With all else being equal, if you are looking at one wet/dry vac with 4.5 HP and another with 5 HP, it is probably not worth paying much more for the additional half of a horse.  My model runs on 4 HP and has performed well for me over the years.

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Wet Dry Vac

4 HP 8 Gallon Craftsman Wet Dry Vac

- Modern Conveniences - 

There are several more features that I think are important to have on a wet/dry vac that will not necessarily be in the short product description.  In other words, you will have to look at the picture or read a more detailed description of each product to determine if it has any of these features.  First, I like a wet dry vacuum with wheels.  If you are doing some renovations or vacuuming your car it makes life easier if you can just pull the vacuum around on its wheels and not have to bend over and pick up the entire unit once you have cleaned one small area.  Another feature I like is on-board storage of the attachments and cord.  I like to keep my power tools and all their related attachments together in one case if possible.  That way, when I need to use them, I am not scrambling around my work area looking for all the parts that I need.  The wet/dry vac is no different and since most of them come with several attachments, you want to be able to store them neatly on the tool itself.  Also, you want to be able to wrap the power cord around something on your vacuum or store it in your vacuum in some sort of way as you do not want 15’ of cord laying around and tripping over it.  A third feature to look for is a drain which will come in very handy if you ever have to vacuum up water.  If your wet vac does not have a drain then the only way to empty the water is to remove the power unit, pick up the canister and dump out the water.  If you have a 16 gallon canister, that is not going to be easy.  So look for a wet vac that has a drain that will allow the water to empty from the canister without needing to remove the power unit.

- These things are loud - 

Finally, there is one metric that I wish wet/dry vacuum manufacturers would publish about their products and that is the decibels at which the motor runs.  In case you do not know, decibels is the measure of how loud something is.  My wet dry vacuum is loud and I imagine that most others are as well.  I have seen some products marketed as “quiet” or even “ultra quiet” but I am leery of this claim as it is difficult to find specifications of noise levels.  If every product listed its decibel level then it would be easy to substantiate one’s claim of being “quiet.”  However, this is not the case so be cautious before spending a premium on a wet/dry vacuum claiming to be quieter than a competitor.

To speed up your decision process, I have provided some recommendations above.

Wet-dry vac prices

A 6 gallon wet dry vacuum with a few attachments will start around $50.  A 12 gallon version will cost about $80.  Wet/dry vacs with 14-16 gallon capacities will be at least $100 and $120 respectively.  Of course, with any size vacuum the more attachments that are included, generally the more you will pay.  However, it is almost always more economical to buy everything in a package deal than buying additional parts later.  So, if you are interested in buying attachments specifically for cleaning cars, then look to see if there is a package available that includes those accessories as you will be better off buying the package rather than buying the car kit separately.  

Best brands for wet-dry vacuums

You can find a seemingly endless list of manufacturers for wet-dry vacs.  Some of these manufacturers are clearly trying to put out the cheapest product possible while others seem to be adding heaps of premium into what should be a fairly simple product.  All of the major brands play in this space including Ridgid, Milwaukee, Bosch, Makita, Stanley and DeWalt along with Shop-Vac who is the specialized brand in this arena.  Shop-Vac is a well known brand and many people actually refer to wet vacs as Shop-Vacs.  It appears like Stanley has some well priced products that come with decent accessories although I really can not speak to their quality.  Ridgid also has quite a few options for wet vacs and while I do not own a Ridgid wet vac, I do have other Ridgid tools and their quality has been excellent.  Some of the prices for the other brands mentioned seem a bit too high in my opinion.  My brand choice for this category would be any of the following:

  • Shop-Vac
  • Ridgid
  • Stanley

If you are interested in “Made In The USA,” Shop-Vac is your only choice.  I have read that Shop-Vac has manufacturing plants in the U.S but they will also produce products in China.  They do not provide any guidance as to which products are manufactured where however.  The only other brand that I know that manufactures in the U.S is DeWalt but unfortunately, their wet-dry vacuums are not emblazoned with the “Made In The USA With Global Materials” emblem.  

Wet dry vac attachments

Many accessories exist for wet/dry vacuums.  Additional hoses, extension wands, car cleaning packages, bags, filters, brushes, water pumps and even mufflers to name a few.  When buying any of these accessories, it is important to make sure that they are compatible with the brand and size of wet dry vac you are using.  Be sure to check the owners manual for details.

A simple brush or squeegee attachment can be $8-$10 each while additional hoses, extra length hoses or car cleaning kits will be $20-$40.  Filters and bags depend on the capacity of your wet vac and the potential use of it but expect to pay $15+ for a filter and $12+ for a package of a couple bags.  The good news is that some filters can be rinsed and reused over and over again so they do not need to be replaced very often, it at all.  As for bags, I have never used one in mine but I wish that I had.  It just makes emptying your canister easier and at the same time, keeps the canister clean.  I would definitely use a bag if you plan to do any drywall work, including demolishing a wall made with drywall.  Like I said previously, drywall dust is very fine, floats around everywhere and is hard to get rid of.  Do yourself a favor and keep it contained as much as possible and a bag in your wet dry vacuum will make a difference.

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