The Best Wet/Dry Vacuums of 2018

By 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.

Here are the best Wet/Dry Vacs we tested, ranked in order:

  1. Craftsman 12004
  2. VacMaster
  3. Ridgid WD0670
  4. Ridgid WD1270
  5. Ridgid WD0970
  6. Craftsman 12006
  7. Shop-Vac 5920611
  8. Shop-Vac 5989300
  9. Stanley SL18130
— Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Updated November 14, 2018

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Overall Winner Best Overall
Credit: Reviewed.com / Jonathan Chan

Craftsman 12004 6 gallon, 3 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

  • Best of Year 2017

Craftsman 12004 6 gallon, 3 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

Best 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.

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 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 stormwater 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 vac

VacMaster 12 gallon, 5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

Best 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

The Tests

In Testing
Credit: Reviewed.com / Jonathan Chan

We test water pickup on our top-rated Craftsman.

All the vacuums we chose ranged in size from 6 to 12 gallons, and from 3 to 5 horsepower. We tested them on three major criteria: power, usability, and versatility.

To test power, we first started by measuring how much water each unit could suction up in 10 seconds. It’s a quintessential task considering that’s the “wet” in wet/dry vac. We also took note of how much each model bucked when cleaning up a liquid mess. The strain of suctioning up water also speaks to the build quality of a unit.

The water pickup test was the most important and we performed it multiple times. Peak horsepower and amperage are not reliable ways of determining suction ability.

After the water pickup test, we moved onto more solid matter. We chose wet sand and metal bolts. We chose these two materials but they represent a wide range of densities and malleability.

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.

The Tester

Hey, I'm Jon Chan, the Senior Lab Technician at Reviewed. In our testing labs, I'm the garage guru, testing everything from work gloves to pressure washers. I’m also the resident expert on vacuums in general. Having lab-tested more than 100 vacuums, I know superior cleaning performance when I see it.

When it came to testing wet/dry vacuums, I was most interested in finding the best model for the average homeowner. To claim that top stop, a vacuum needed to be reasonably priced, consistently powerful, and easy to use.

What You Should Know About Wet/Dry Vacs

Most people should only require a 3.5 to 5 peak horsepower motor for their wet/dry vac. If it can suction up water and sawdust, you're probably good to go. Besides, the horsepower number on most wet/dry vacuums is peak horsepower, which is a more generous estimation than a defined power rating. Peak horsepower, also known as developed horsepower, is a number based on ideal laboratory conditions, not real-world work.

Manufacturers also like to tout the amperage, or amps for short, of their models. Amps represent the total amount of electricity drawn by a device. The idea is that the more amps a motor uses, the more energy it can put out.

Again, the amount of energy used does not represent the total amount of suction. A dirty filter or a clogged hose can turn all those amps useless. Because of the limitation of how much a circuit breaker can take—typically between 15 and 20 amps—most vacuums do not exceed 12 amps.

Since amps and peak horsepower don’t translate to how well a wet/dry works, we also relied on real-world tests, including water pick-up tests to calculate suction power because water has a consistent density at room temperature.

You should also know that a wet/dry vacuum is a very versatile tool. They can unclog drains, retrieve hard-to-get cables, and help you tie a perfect ponytail. But don't take our word for it, check this out:

How Does a Wet/Dry Vac Differ From a Regular Vacuum?

While a wet/dry vacuum is a versatile tool, we don’t recommend having it replace your regular floor cleaner. First, most wet/dry vacuums do not come with HEPA filters. Typically, if a HEPA is offered at all, it has to be purchased separately. Second, because a wet/dry vacuum has to be able to deal with water, there’s no such thing as a motorized brush head for this type of vacuum. This lack of spinning brushes means a wet/dry vacuum can’t clean carpet or upholstery as effectively as a moderately priced regular vacuum. Finally, a wet/dry vacuum is designed to live in the garage, not inside your home. They are bulky and awkward to store indoors, and many can’t even fit inside a normal closet.

Do Wet/Dry Vac Materials Matter?

We like plastic tubs over metal ones. Plastic won’t rust or corrode as metal does. Remember, stainless steel means it stains less—not that it won’t stain at all. We also like plastic models because they tend to be lighter, which aides in how easy they are to move.

Who Benefits from Owning a Wet/Dry Vacuum?

In short, any homeowner would benefit from owning a wet/dry vacuum. It’s not just for people who are planning on doing construction projects. Although the ability to pick up sawdust as well as the odd nail is a huge time saver. There are also situations in which a floor may be too delicate—and can be scratched from using a broom and dustpan—when a wet/dry vac would be a safer choice to clean up a mess.

Anyone with small children will appreciate the wet pick-up power. A wet/dry vacuum can easily solve spills and bathroom mishaps that require half a roll of paper towels.

If you find yourself constantly dealing with clogged drains, try using a wet/dry vacuum on them. Plumber’s snakes and plungers can be very laborious and chemical methods can damage your pipes. Even when a wet/dry vacuum can’t remove a clog, we have found that removing the excess water makes the situation so much better.

Is a Blower Feature Just a Gimmick?

Many wet/dry vacuums allow you to hook the hose onto the exhaust end, in effect, creating a blower. The force generated is not as powerful as a dedicated leaf blower, but we found it more than adequate to deal with dust on workbenches and light walkway clearing duty in the fall.


Other Wet/Dry Vacuums We Tested

Ridgid WD0670 6 gallon, 3.5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

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

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

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

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 onboard 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.

Shop-Vac 5920611 6 gallon, 3 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

Where To Buy

$39.99 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 5989300 5 gallon, 4.5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

Shop-Vac 5989300 5 gallon, 4.5 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

Testing showed that the Shop-Vac 5989300 was one of the weaker contenders in our roundup. While the Shop-Vac proved half as powerful as our favorite Craftsman, it wasn’t a total dud. The stainless-steel exterior gives the 5989300 a nice industrial look, albeit one that might make it a little more susceptible to rust. It also comes with three cleaning attachments including a crevice, two wet-pickup nozzles, and extension wands for all three. Also, while not made in America, this vacuum was assembled here.

Stanley SL18130 5 gallon, 4 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

Stanley SL18130 5 gallon, 4 peak horsepower wet/dry vac

Avoid

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.

If you're shopping for powerful home cleaners, check out our guide, The Best Pressure Washers.

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