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Don’t be fooled into thinking shop vacuums should only be used at a car mechanic shop. These versatile vacuums are great to keep around the garage, making the task of cleaning your car a lot easier when compared to a traditional hand vacuum. Shop vacuums are designed to be more heavy duty than your run-of-the-mill vacuum, but more importantly, they can be used for both wet and dry pickup.
When it comes down to choosing the right shop vacuum, there are a few factors to consider. Do you need one with extra long reach? How much suction power do you need? How large of a tank should you get? We address every one of these questions when detailing our recommendations below, noting the peak horsepower of each vacuum, how large the tank is, and the reach from the hose and/or power cord.
If you only need a shop vacuum to clean up your car, you don’t need an extremely powerful option, or one with an oversized tank. Larger tanks are more convenient if you own a large SUV or crossover, but even the smallest tanks will do the job—you’ll likely just have to empty it out more often. If you want to use your shop vacuum for other tasks around the house or garage, we recommend a more powerful option for larger objects.
For more information on the best shop vacuums, refer to our table of contents.
Updated 7/20/20 with more information on shop vacuums.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor's Pick: Armor All 2.5-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
- 2. Vacmaster 12-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
- 3. Shop-Vac 5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum
- 4. CRAFTSMAN 16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum
- 5. Stanley 5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum
- What is a Shop Vacuum?
- Why Do You Want a Shop Vacuum?
- What to Look for When Shopping for a Shop Vacuum:
1. Editor's Pick: Armor All 2.5-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
Compact and lightweight, Armor All’s shop vacuum is ideal for a home garage. It features a 2.5-gallon polypropylene tank with a 2-peak horsepower motor, offering enough suction to vacuum your car with ease. Attached to the vacuum is a 10′ power cord, along with onboard hose and accessory storage up top. Like most shop vacuums, Armor All’s offering works for both wet and dry pickup.
This vacuum can also serve as a blower to help you dry your car after a wash. It’s easy to carry around thanks to its top handle, which is where you’ll find the dust-sealed power switch. To prevent overflow, this vacuum has an auto shut-off feature.
- Compact and lightweight
- 2.5-gallon polypropylene tank
- 2-peak horsepower motor
- 10′ power cord
- Onboard hose and accessory storage
- Easily converts to a blower
- Dust-sealed power switch
- Auto shut-off to prevent overflow
2. Vacmaster 12-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
If you need something more heavy duty, consider Vacmaster’s option with a 12-gallon tank and a 5-peak horsepower motor. This shop vacuum features 19′ of total reach between the hose and power cord. What makes this vacuum a compelling option is its detachable, handheld 210-mph blower, which is easy to use with just one hand. It’s constructed from polypropylene and has an extra large port at the bottom for easy draining.
Other features on this shop vacuum include casters for easy maneuvering, as well as accessory storage on the casters and power head. A secure-fit hose system ensures it won’t go popping off while you’re cleaning. A variety of tools is also included to make vacuuming your car easier, such as a utility nozzle, crevice tool, car nozzle, and concentrator nozzle.
- 12-gallon tank
- 5-peak horsepower motor
- Total of 19′ of reach
- Detachable, handheld 210-mph blower
- Constructed from polypropylene
- Extra large port for easy draining
- Casters for easy transport
- Onboard accessory and cord storage
- Secure-fit hose system
- Includes a variety of tools
3. Shop-Vac 5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum
You’ve likely heard of the Shop-Vac brand name if you’re browsing for shop vacuums. As you can imagine, the company has several options, but our pick is this 5-gallon vacuum with a 4.5-peak horsepower motor. Instead of polypropylene, this vacuum uses a stainless steel tank, attached to a maneuverable full circumference dolly. You can also use the top and side carrying handles for easy transport.
The attached hose has a 1.25″ diameter and 7′ length, while the power cord measures 6′. Onboard storage and a blower feature is expected from a shop vacuum of this quality. Accessories included with this shop vacuum to help clean your car are 3 extension wands, a crevice tool, a gulper nozzle, and a floor nozzle. It’s also backed by a 3-year warranty.
- 5-gallon stainless steel tank
- 4.5-peak horsepower motor
- Full circumference dolly
- Top and side carrying handles
- 7′ hose with 1.25″ diameter
- 6′ power cord
- Onboard storage
- Blower feature
- Includes 3 extension wands, crevice tool, gulper nozzle, and floor nozzle
- 3-year warranty
4. CRAFTSMAN 16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum
When it comes to tools, there are very few brands as recognizable as CRAFTSMAN. The company has a few shop vacuum offerings, all of which are powered by a 6.5-peak horsepower motor. Choose between 16- and 20-gallon tank sizes, depending on your needs. A built-in blower port allows you to easily convert the vacuum to a powerful blower, while a built-in oversized drain makes it convenient to empty out liquids from the tank.
Onboard accessory storage and an oversized top carry handle are pretty consistent with our other recommendations, but this vacuum does have extra reach with a 20′ power cord and a 7′ hose with a 2.5″ diameter. The hose also features Dual-Flex technology with 180° mobility to resist kinking. CRAFTSMAN includes a few accessories with this vacuum: 2 extension wands, utility nozzle, car nozzle, wet nozzle, Qwik Lock filter, and dust collection bag.
- Reputable brand
- 6.5-peak horsepower motor
- Available with 16- or 20-gallon tanks
- Built-in blower port
- Oversized drain
- Onboard accessory storage
- Top carry handle
- 20′ power cord
- 7′ hose with 2.5″ diameter and Dual-Flex technology
- Includes accessories for car cleaning
5. Stanley 5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum
Another popular brand you might recognize is Stanley. This recommendation is another stainless steel option, with a 5-gallon tank and a 4 peak horsepower motor. Its attached hose measures 5′ with a 1.25″ diameter, while the power cord measures 10′ for a total of 15′ of reach. Like other shop vacuums on our list, this is a wet/dry vacuum and can easily be converted to a blower.
A large handle up top along with casters at the base make this vacuum easy to carry and move around while you’re cleaning your car or garage. Stanley includes a 12-month warranty with this shop vacuum, along with several accessories such as 3 extension wands, a gulper nozzle, a floor nozzle, and a crevice tool.
- Stainless steel, 5-gallon tank
- 4 peak horsepower motor
- 5′ hose with 1.25″ diameter
- 10′ power cord
- Blower feature
- Large handle up top
- Casters at the base
- Includes several tools
- 12-month warranty
What is a Shop Vacuum?
While traditional household vacuums are sufficient when it comes to cleaning up the interior of your car, a shop vacuum makes the job a whole lot easier. More importantly, shop vacuums can deal with wet and dry, and often have the capacity to clean your entire car before having to empty out the container. Shop vacuums also come in handy around the garage, making quick work of large messes that are typically cumbersome to clean up with a normal home vacuum.
Why Do You Want a Shop Vacuum?
If you like keeping the interior of your car clean, you’ll want to purchase a shop vacuum. These vacuums are designed for convenience, with attachments for the hose will make it easier to clean hard-to-reach areas, like between your front seats. They’re also great for vacuuming your floor mats and trunk area, while wet/dry shop vacuums will take care of spills before they ruin your carpet.
What to Look for When Shopping for a Shop Vacuum:
If you’ve looked over our recommendations, you’ll notice a few factors that define shop vacuums: the power of the motor, capacity of the tank, and their total reach. As we mentioned before, you don’t need an extremely powerful vacuum to take care of your car’s interior, but if you’re planning on cleaning up messes with larger debris, you’ll want a more powerful motor.
Capacity of the tank really comes down to personal preference and the type of vehicle you own. Naturally, the smaller the tank, the less it holds—which means you’ll have to empty it out more often. If you own a large SUV, you’ll likely want to purchase a larger shop vacuum so you’re not spending more time emptying out the tank than you are cleaning.
The same goes with total reach. If you own a larger vehicle, you’ll want to make sure your purchase can reach door-to-door. This way, you’re not constantly repositioning the vacuum as you work from front to back.
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