The Best Wet/Dry Vacuums of 2017By Jonathan Chan
Whether you're getting water out of a flooded basement or picking up spilled metal screws in the garage, wet/dry vacs clean where other vacuums cannot. That's by design: Unlike the vacuum you use to clean your carpet, a wet/dry vac keeps its motor separate, so it is almost impossible to damage.
But choosing the right wet/dry vac is key. After all, horsepower ratings are largely a myth (we'll get to that later), and some vacuums are a lot easier to use than others. That's why we evaluated dozens of best selling wet/dry vacs and brought nine to our test labs in Cambridge, MA. That's where we put them through two weeks of grueling tests to measure power, usability, and versatility.
After analyzing the results, we've got the skinny on which wet/dry vacs are right for you and which ones you should avoid.
Updated February 20, 2017
Craftsman 12004 6 gallon, 3 peak horsepower wet/dry vacBest Overall
The Craftsman 12004 was our overall pick for the best wet/dry vacuum because it offered the most well-balanced combination of power, usability, and versatility.
While it wasn't the largest or most powerful vacuum in the lineup, it picked up 1.43 gallons of water in just 10 seconds—more than any vacuum its size.
Measuring a size-to-power ratio is important because the 3 "peak horsepower" rating on the side of the box is basically useless. Like most wet/dry vacs, this Craftsman's output is measured in peak horsepower, which only rates how hard a motor works the instant it turns on. After that split second passes, a peak horsepower measurement is useless.
The six-gallon Craftsman also backed up its power with smooth operation. The hose was easy to attach and remove, but still felt secure even when you used to to drag a heavy, water-filled vacuum. This Craftsman also boasted the easiest to remove filter, with a screw cap which was more intuitive than the usual twist-and-pull dance we had to deal with on other models. (Remember, you shouldn't have the fiberglass filter on when you're doing wet pickup, so if you're switching between cleaning storm water and sawdust, an easy-to-remove filter is a must.)
The only weak spot was the Craftsman's lack of attachments. It comes with two extension wands, a floor squeegee for wet pickup, and a utility nozzle. That covers wet and dry pretty well—but some of the competition came with more.
This Craftsman retails for around $50, and is backed by a one-year warranty.
VacMaster 12 gallon, 5 peak horsepower wet/dry vacBest For Big Messes
The VacMaster is one of the most popular wet/dry vacs on Amazon, and is our pick for the best 12 gallon model. While it wasn't the most powerful vacuum, it was the most versatile.
First off, this vacuum has a detachable motor, meaning it can instantly turn into a corded leaf blower that's easy to tote around the yard or use for garage cleanup. It also comes with eight attachments, including a crevice tool that makes it easier to clean out your car when it's sitting in your garage.
The only problem we found with this VacMaster was its power: It sucked up 1.36 gallons of water in ten seconds, placing it in the middle of the pack. Even so, it was still able to handle our dirt and heavy debris test. For just $81, you're getting a great value that's covered by a two-year warranty.
How We Tested
All the vacuums we chose ranged in size from 6 to 12 gallons, and from 3 to 5 hp. We tested them on three major criteria: power, usability, and versatility.
To test power, we measured how much water each unit could suction up in ten seconds, if it could pick up heavy large debris including big metal screws, and if cleaning up wet sand posed a challenge. We tested usability by switching out filters, putting on attachments, and lugging the unit around our offices and labs. Finally, our versatility tests looked at how easy it was to store, how long the cord was, and whether it worked as a blower.
Here are some other wet/dry vacuums we tested
Ridgid WD0670 6 gallon, 3.5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac
For its size, the Ridgid 6 gallon, 3.5 Peak HP wet/dry vac came in a close second to our overall winner for raw power. In fact, both the Craftsman and Ridgid sucked up the same amount of water. That's not a surprise, as both brands are made by a company called Emerson Electric. Ridgid is mostly sold at Home Depot, while Craftsman is mostly sold at Sears, KMart, and Ace Hardware.
While it was a photo finish in the power department, the Ridgid only came with two extension wands and a utility nozzle, so there's no specific attachment for water pickup.
We also found the filter tough to remove. Unlike the Craftsman's screw, the Ridgid has rubber flaps you have to pull up on while pressing down on a hard plastic button. One piece of good news: the Rigid WD0670 is covered by a limited lifetime warranty.
Ridgid WD1270 12 gallon, 5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac
The massive 12-gallon WD1270 also comes with a car-cleaning nozzle, along with the standard two extension wands, utility nozzle, and wet-cleanup nozzle.
In real-world cleanup tests, the WD1270 had no issues. So if you need to clean up a lot of mess and find it on sale for a lot less than the VacMaster, a limited lifetime warranty makes this Ridgid worth checking out.
Ridgid WD0970 9 gallon, 4.25 peak horsepower wet/dry vac
The Ridgid 9 gallon, 4.25 Peak HP wet/dry vac is like a value meal: For 20 percent more money, you get 33 percent more capacity, 21 percent more horsepower, and one extra attachment—a wet-cleanup nozzle—to top it all off.
However, after testing this Ridgid for two weeks, we found that the increase in power didn't translate into real-world performance. Remember, peak horsepower only lasts for a moment. If you need more capacity, we'd recommend stepping up to the 12 gallon WD1270.
Craftsman 12006 12 gallon, 5.5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac
The Craftsman XSP 12006 was the most powerful of the wet/dry vacuums that we tested, cleaning up a whopping 2.2 gallons of water in ten seconds. It comes with two extension wands, a utility nozzle, a squeegee nozzle, and a crevice tool. If that sounds overwhelming don't worry—there's an on-board tool caddy so you'll never lose them. That's a pretty good spread of features for an $80 vacuum.
The major downside is the bulk. With everything onboard, it weighs nearly 30 pounds and takes up a lot of space. If you're planning on keeping it in the garage, that's fine. But for a crowded workshop or cramped basement, you should pick a less bulky model.
Where To Buy$49.99 Lowe's Buy
Shop-Vac 5920611 6 gallon, 3 peak horsepower wet/dry vac
Everyone knows the Shop-Vac brand, and the company's mid-priced 5920611 model excelled at usability and versatility, with three extension wands and a wet-cleanup nozzle. They were all easy to slip on and off, as was the twist-off filter. It has a three-year limited warranty and is even assembled in the U.S.
However, on the power front, this Shop-Vac didn't clean as well as others we tested. Based on our water suction test, this vacuum only got up 1.07 gallons of water in 10 seconds. It could still pick up wet sand, clear a clogged drain, and clean spilled screws. But, pound-for-pound, it's not as powerful as the Craftsman of similar size.
Shop-Vac 5986000 5 gallon, 4.5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac
The Shop-Vac 5986000 has a stainless steel tank, which gives it an industrial feel. It also comes with six attachments: three extension wands, a utility nozzle, a wet-cleanup nozzle, and a crevice tool. Like its plastic stablemate, however, it just isn't as powerful as some of its competitors. In fact, it was about half as powerful as our top-rated Craftsman.
Stanley SL18130 5 gallon, 4 peak horsepower wet/dry vacAvoid
This Stanley was the strangest of the wet/dry vacuums we tested—and not in a good way. Because it's taller than it is wide, it can be hard to maneuver by its hose—but a high-up handle makes it easier to carry. A bag filter that slips over the motor was easy to remove, but hard to affix. It also lacked in power, and isn't a great value. We think you should only buy this vacuum if you have serious space constraints.