Your average vacuum cleaner can handle many kinds of messes—but not all. When it comes to things like water or hot ash, your standard home vacuum cleaner will be ruined trying to pick them up. While mopping and sweeping these messes are an alternative, there is a better choice: purchasing the best wet and dry vacuum for your home. This buying guide will help you select the right wet and dry vacuum for your home so you can be confident in your purchase.
What is a Wet and Dry Vacuum?
As the name implies, this type of vacuum is designed to pick up wet spills and dry dirt, and it can do so in large amounts. It can handle things like shards of glass, wood chippings, and some models can even clean hot ash out of the inside of a grill. Because of its versatility, this type of vacuum is good to have on hand.
However, these vacuums are not the sleek models that you usually clean your home with. Instead, they are small, stout vacuums primarily designed as tools—which is why they are often referred to as shop vacs, which is also a brand name of this type of vacuum. They look similar to canister vacuums.
Because these vacuums are meant for heavy-duty jobs, often in industrial or workshop settings, they do not have the bells and whistles you might expect from a vacuum. Despite this, they are an excellent edition most households because of their versatility. They can clean up water from a burst pipe or flooded basement, remove spills from carpeting, and clean up your driveway after a DIY project. They are also excellent for cleaning out vehicles.
How Does a Wet and Dry Vacuum Work?
The design of wet and dry vacuums tends to be very simple. The base of the vacuum is a large bucket, which is usually divided into two sections: one side for dry vacuuming and one side for wet vacuuming. On the dry side, the vacuum uses a standard filter, though some models use HEPA filtration. On the wet side, there is a foam filter to ensure any large particles are caught.
How the vacuum separates the wet from the dry will vary by model. Some do this by allowing you to toggle a switch on and off, while others use a speed change as debris exits the hose to naturally deposit the dirt on the dirt side and the liquids on the liquid side. Depending on the model you purchase, your vacuum may also some with a blower function to blow dirt and debris away when outdoors rather than vacuuming it up.
Types of Wet and Dry Vacuum Cleaners
When it comes to wet and dry vacuum cleaners, there is very little variety. Most every option on the market is merely a variation on the standard. Some models can also be used as blowers, or are designed to pick up hot ash. Aside from these features, the main difference between the various wet and dry vacuums on the market is size.
- Large wet and dry vacuums are great for those who frequently have large messes to clean or who want to be prepared for one to occur. These vacuums have lots of space inside, but because of their size, they are harder to store. They are also more difficult to move.
- Medium wet and dry vacuums are great if you are seeking a middle ground. They can still handle most messes, but are easier to store and move around when cleaning. And since they have a smaller capacity, they do not get as heavy or as difficult to empty as large versions.
- Small and mini wet and dry vacuums are great for those who are short on space but want a vacuum that can handle small messes both wet and dry. These are very light and easy to carry and clean, but they often have weaker motors, which means less cleaning power.
Carpet steamers are another type of wet and dry vacuum. However, they are a specialty items and a subset of wet and dry vacuums, so we will not be covering them today.
What Are Wet and Dry Vacuums Good For?
So at this point you know that wet and dry vacuums are good for spills and dirt, but those are pretty general things. To get a better idea for ways you can use one of these vacuums, let’s take a look at specific circumstances in which you will be happy to own one.
You spill a drink at the dinner table: Rather than running for the mop and bucket, you can simply vacuum it up and then use a wet rag for any residue left.
You need to empty your water bed, fish tank, or other water item before moving: Just use the vacuum to suction out the water and dump the water in the tub or shower or take it outside.
Your fireplace is filled with old ash: Rather than calling the chimney sweep, you can vacuum it out yourself. If the ash is hot, make sure your vacuum is designed to handle it.
Snow piled up outside your door and fell inside when you opened it: but all you need to do is grab your wet and dry vacuum. It can handle the snow while frozen and once melted. If it has a blower function, you can blow the rest away so it doesn’t fall inside.
Your sink is clogged: once again, if you have a blower function on your vacuum, you can use it to get out of a sticky situation. In this case, you can blow down the drain to loosen the clog.
There is flooding in your home: whether from a burst pipe or an act of nature, wet and dry vacuums can get the water out and give you the chance to save your home.
You need to inflate an air mattress: forget a manual pump and use the blower function on your vacuum instead.
What to Consider Before Purchasing a Wet and Dry Vacuum
While the advantages of owning such a vacuum are no doubt clear to you at this point, you do not want to just run out and purchase any wet and dry vacuum for your home. It is important to find the one that best works for you. To make the right purchase, consider the following features.
You basic wet and dry vacuum will not come with anything more than a hose, but this isn’t the best thing for the job, so look for those offering accessories. Which accessories you need will depend on the applications you want the vacuum for, but things like crevice tools and squeegees are good to have.
Swivel Hose Fittings
Swivel hose fittings allow the hose to freely rotate, avoiding kinks in the hose that can damage the hose and reduce suction. Some wet and dry vacuums have these where the hose attaches to the machine or where it connects with tools, and some will have them at both ends.
Not all wet and dry vacuums have space for filters, and even those that do may not come with them. Be certain to look for one that does use filters, and hopefully includes them in the purchase rather than making you buy them separately. Also check that they are standard filter sizes you can easily replace and not specific to that model.
A hose lock is a feature that secures the hose to the vacuum, allowing you to tug the vacuum along using the hose without the hose falling out. Many wet and dry vacuums are just press-on fittings, which is not secure for pulling the vacuum.
The average hose diameter for a wet and dry vacuum is 1 ¼ inch. This is good for some jobs, but it won’t work for picking up larger debris and it will restrict how much water your machine can take on each second. A 2 ½ inch diameter may be best for you.
Best Wet and Dry Vacuum Reviews 2018—Comparison Table
1. Craftsman 12004 6 Gallon 3 Peak HP Wet/Dry Vac
Wet and dry vacuums are traditionally shop tools, so it is understandable that a brand like Craftsman would make the very best. This is a mid-size vacuum with the ability to handle most messes with ease. In fact, in tests it was able to vacuum up nearly 1.5 gallons of water in 10 seconds. This means that despite it not being the largest vacuum on the market, it certainly is one of the most powerful.
In addition to its power, it is also very smooth running and easy to assemble. The hose attaches easily, but locks in place for dragging. You can easily remove the filter when needed. The only major downside to this vacuum is that it only has a few attachments, but they are the important ones.
2. Vacmaster 12 Gallon, 5 Peak HP, Wet/Dry Vacuum with Detachable Blower
The VacMaster is a best-selling wet and dry vacuum, and it has earned this distinction. If you are looking for a vacuum that can handle large messes or amounts of water, this is the vacuum for you. At 12 gallons, it is one of the largest wet and dry vacuums on the market for residential use.
The biggest attraction for this vacuum is that the motor head is detachable and can be used as a blower. This portion is lightweight and highly portable, allowing you to get a lot of use out of this vacuum. Also important is the amount of attachments it comes with—8 total—giving you plenty of options when it comes to cleaning. While most everything about this vacuum is great, it is a large wet and dry vacuum, so it is heavier than smaller models and harder to store.
3. DEWALT DCV581H 18/20-Volt MAX Cordless/Corded Wet-Dry Vacuum
Sometimes you have a cleaning job that isn’t easy to access with traditional wet and dry vacuums. If this is the case for you, the DEWALT DCV581H is the vacuum you should purchase. It is designed for maximum portability, giving you the option to use it corded or cordless. The rechargeable battery provides twenty minutes of fade-free cleaning time and the vacuum is one of the quietest shop vacs on the market. In addition to being used as a vacuum, it can also be converted to a leaf blower.
There is a downside to this vacuum, and it is a pretty big one: it lacks the power of the other models. However, this is a tradeoff for the portability it offers. It is also easy to store as it is very compact in its design.
4. Ridgid WD1450 14-Gallon 6-Horsepower Wet/Dry Vacuum
With a 14-gallon capacity, this is another large wet and dry vacuum. Much like the DEWALT model, this one runs quietly, though not quite as quietly as the DEWALT. However, it has a significant amount of power behind it, allowing it to pick up all sorts of debris and water quickly. Once again, it can convert to a blower, but the motor does not detach, which makes using the blower a little awkward to do.
Unique to this vacuum is the fine dust filter, which helps to keep the air clean and prevent dirt from getting back on the floor. It comes with multiple accessories, all of which fit on the body of the vacuum for easy access and storage. However, due to its size, it is not easy to store and can be heavy when close to capacity.
Ridgid WD1450 suction Test
5. Shop-Vac 1.25 inch Diameter Locking Hose
Wet and dry vacs are often referred to as shop vacs, so you know the brand Shop-Vac has certainly made its mark. This is a mid-sized model that can clean most messes and spills but is still easy to store and tote around. It comes with many different attachments, making it easy to customize your approach to each cleaning job. The motor is powerful, though not the most powerful on this list, and it has a very long hose, offering 10 feet of reach.
The diameter of the hose is on the small side, which can make it hard for it to pick up all debris It comes across. However, it is suitable to most jobs. And the wheels are excellent at allowing you to maneuver the machines buy pulling the hose.
How to Vacuum Water with a Wet and Dry Vacuum
Never used a wet and dry vacuum before? Then you might find the prospect intimidating, but you shouldn’t. Using these vacuums is pretty straightforward. It can clean nearly anything, from the things your usual vacuum handles to flooding. The main thing you need to know is what you should not clean up with your wet and dry vacuum.
Wet messes cleaned with your vacuum should be restricted to those that are water or water soluble materials. This means that things like spilled paint, cement, and other items that are liquid or can be in a liquid state are not to be cleaned with the shop vac.
Your user manual will have the information needed to correctly operate your machine. It is important that you consult it as different vacuums require different steps for moving between dry and wet cleanup and for cleaning and changing filters.
When you are finished cleaning, you should check that the hose does not have any moisture left inside of it, and do the same for the body of the vacuum. This will prevent mold from growing and help you avoid any bad smells from mildew.
How to Maintain a Wet and Dry Vacuum
You should approach the purchase of a wet and dry vacuum as an investment, and as such, you should take care of it properly. This means completing regular maintenance to avoid breakdowns in the machine. While this might sound tedious, the steps you need to take are actually quite simple.
- Clean the filters in the vacuum at the end of each use. Follow the directions in your user manual to clean them correctly.
- While cleaning the filters, also clean the cage that holds them.
- Replace the filters as needed and be certain to select filters designed to work with your machine.
- Always empty the drum after use, and give it a thorough clean after every 3-5 uses to ensure bacteria is not building up inside.
- Check the hose before each use to ensure there is nothing blocking the flow or that could be sucked in and cause damage.
- Look for wear and tear on the hose, especially since the hose is how you drag the machine.
- Before plugging in the machine, always check the power cord for damage. If you notice any, do not plug the machine in until it can be repaired.
- Oil the casters and wheels any time you notice problems with movement or noise.
- Follow any other maintenance instructions in your user manual.
How to Use a Wet and Dry Vacuum When Cleaning Carpet
Carpet cleaners are a type of wet and dry vacuum, but they are a specialty item, and also very expensive. Because of this, you might be wondering if your shop vac can also get the job done. The answer is yes, but it is a pretty difficult job.
The first thing to do is remove all furniture from the room so that it does not sustain water damage or develop mold. Then use the vacuum of your choice to clean the carpet while it is still dry; it is best to use a vacuum designed for the type of carpeting you have and that has powerful suction.
Once you have cleaned as much dirt and debris away as possible, it is time to target the stains. Use a stain remover directly on the stains and let it sit for about 15-25 minutes, or as long as the container indicates it should sit. You can also create your own stain remover if that is best for your home.
At this point, it is time to apply the carpet cleaner. You will mix this with water according to the instructions on the bottle and then apply it evenly to your carpet. You can do this with a sprayer, a spray bottle, or even just a watering can like you would use in the garden. After you have thoroughly applied the solution, you will need to make sure it is evenly spread by using a stiff-bristled brush over the carpet.
Once this has been evenly distributed, you will not want to leave it to sit long; once again, follow the directions on the bottle. When it is time, get your wet and dry vacuum and set it up for vacuuming up liquids. Approach the job of vacuuming up the moisture by dividing the carpet into small sections. Use a floor attachment and apply pressure as you clean to remove the moisture all the way from the base of the carpet. Drag the attachment toward you slowly and use as many passes as it takes to completely remove the moisture from the section of carpet you are working on. Once one section is dry, move on to another, proceeding until the whole carpet is dried.
While you might not want to use your wet and dry vacuum for every cleaning job, its ability to tackle wet messes means it is something every home should have. If you are in the market for a best wet and dry vacuum, we are confident that you will be happy with one of the five options we have reviewed. Keep your home clean and dry with a shop vac.