If woodworking is your thing, you know that sawdust is your leading enemy. However, broom alone is not enough to solve the heavy dust problem. That’s right. That’s just what Steve of Steve Ramsey - Woodworking for Mere Mortals thought of in one of his videos. Well, that’s why shop vacs are your best resort.
Compared to the typical vacuum we are using at home, a bucket vacuum or shop vac is a specialized type of vacuum that can handle heavy-duty cleaning tasks. Besides the specs of dust, it is also capable of sucking up bits of debris from a woodworking or construction site. This includes sawdust, small chunks of wood, nails, screws, small metal pieces, and more. It is also capable of handling liquids due to its powerful motor. It can even handle all sorts of liquid which makes it an effective wet type of vacuum, as well.
What Can Shop Vacs Do?
Shop vac is very powerful that it is considered as one the most versatile cleaning tools ever. Besides its typical duty of sucking up dirt, it can also be used in a variety of unique tasks such as:
- Pumping out a small flooded area like a basement
- Cleaning up of a barbeque pit
- Removing snow if you don’t have a snowblower
- Sucking up kitchen spills such as soup, sauce, and any type of food
- Fixing clogged sinks or drains
- Using it as an alternative in inflating pools
- Cleaning aquariums and fireplace
- Retrieving items accidentally dropped in tight unreachable spaces like sink
The capabilities of shop vacs are so vast that their function is not limited to the ones mentioned above. In one of his videos, Alex of Alex Quiroz Channel even demonstrated how powerful a shop vac can be as a dust collector system. According to him, building one will benefit your health as the majority of the dust will be collected into the shop vac instead of being inhaled.
Such kinds of demanding tasks can only be performed with the right model and size of a shop vac. However, a huge-sized shop vac is not for everyone. Besides its big body, it also comes with an apparently higher price which can be unappealing for some. This is where small a shop vac comes into action.
What to Look for in Small Shop Vacs?
Despite its small size, it is still relatively competitive and equipped enough to handle all kinds of jobs. A small shop vac, despite the obvious lower flow rate compared to bigger models, is still more robust in comparison with normal vacuum units. Nonetheless, it is essential to look for the features and specs of the small shop vac to assure you’ll get the best value in case you purchase one. Some of the things you should keep eye on include capacity, portability, power, hose size and connection, handles, disposal system, filters, noise level, price, material, and even brand.
Some brands have made great innovations in their models which make them stand out more against other competitors. For instance, given the nature of shop vacs being relatively loud due to the power of their motor and air-sucking capacities, you will appreciate that Ridgid small shop vacs are employing noise-reducing technology which greatly affects the decibel rating of the machines. On the other hand, some models focus on the improvement of the machine’s mobility just like most Craftsman models that feature the Dual-Flex technology for 180° mobility and kinking resistance.
Vacmaster VFB511B0201 is one of the models you can confidently choose due to the number of its alluring features. It comes at 5.5 HP with 102 CFM. Might be too strong for a small task like dust cleaning, but you can be sure that it will effortlessly suck any liquid and small chunks of woods and metals. Plus, at 5 gallons, you can be sure that it will last an entire day’s cleanup activity. Nonetheless, if you a smaller shop vac as the footprint is your main concern, there are more options available.
5 Best Shop Vacs
We took the initiative of ranking the 5 best small shop vac models in the market. Underscoring their best qualities and features, we hope to give you the guidance you need before you decide on which one to have. We also offer some personal insights about each item which might be of great help to you. That said, take time reading the details of each shop vac model we personally tested and compared just for you.
1. Vacmaster VFB511B0201 Professional Wet/Dry Vac
Vacmaster is one of the most well-known brands that offer great varieties of shop vacs. As a matter of fact, VFB511B0201 is just one of its 5-gallon shop vac models the brand is currently offering on the market. There are other models of the same capacity but they come in different HP powers like the VOC507PF (3 peak HP) and VWM510 (5 peak HP). Nonetheless, we can confidently say that the VFB511B0201 is by far the best among the three.
The Vacmaster VFB511B0201 boasts a polypropylene tank that is way thicker compared to other models of the same capacity. It offers a great solid, rugged feel and for a 5-gallon small shop vac, its construction seems compact. We also appreciate the small details of the unit that makes the storage of its accessories easier and instant. It comes with an integrated hose and 18’ cord storage. Really handy and simple, yet efficient cord management.
2. Ridgid 50313 4000RV Portable Wet Dry Vacuum
Ridgid 50313 4000RV is just a step behind Vacmaster VFB511B0201. Its horsepower is just .5 lower than the former but is barely noticeable as it is capable of performing almost just the same amount of suction power. Its capacity, on the other hand, comes at 4 gallons which tells why it’s a bit smaller. Nonetheless, we really admire that its electrical cord and hose are relatively longer at 20 feet and 8 feet, respectively.
So far, we really think that it is the best compact shop vac from Ridgid given its performance and built. It has another variant, the RIDGID 4500RV, which offers almost all the same features from HP to power cord length and accessory diameter. However, when it comes to the build, convenience, and value, we deem Ridgid 50313 4000RV as a better option.
We also appreciate that despite its size, the brand armed it with an undeniably strong motor that delivers 5 HP. With this, it can contest the power of larger units without a problem. It can perform in dry and wet conditions really well. Its ability to suck water from a wet carpet is also impressive with just a couple of passes. The 92 CFM (compared to the 102 CFM of Vacmaster VFB511B0201) makes it rather more gentle to sensitive materials. Truly excellent at all angles.
3. DeWALT DXV06P Poly Wet/Dry Vac
If you are looking for a medium-sized shop vac, DeWALT DXV06P Poly might be the best option. At 6 gallons, it is half the capacity of large shop vacs on the market but is still capable to do its purpose. However, some might find it a bit dismaying that it only offers a peak of 4 HP but we think, it is actually more of a beneficial point to consider. The right amount of suction power combined with its big tank capacity makes it very ideal for most of your daily vacuuming needs.
Its 80 CFM is just right to make its hose and attachments fairly safe on sensitive surfaces. It can also easily handle almost any kinds of debris and dirt such as small chunks of wood and pebbles. No clogging during our test which we really appreciated. With this, it is a competitive model that can adapt to your daily workshop cleaning tasks effectively.
We also praise it as it comes with four casters compared to most small shop vacs on the market. Each caster has great smooth 360-degree movements, so maneuvering the body of the machine itself is effortless. However, the 10' length of the power cord might make your movement a bit restricted. This can be resolved with an extension cord but, nonetheless, we would really appreciate it if DeWALT and made the effort of making this model’s cord a bit longer. Its hose, nonetheless, has just the right length at 7’ x 1-7/8" which is identical to the sizes of what other models have.
4. Armor All AA255 Wet/Dry Utility Shop Vacuum
Armor All AA255 is one of the best-selling small shop vacs on the market for two reasons: price and convenience. Yes, it is a REALLY small shop vac, really compact, but it meets the standards that make it suitable for most of your cleaning needs. It comes with a 2.5-gallon tank and a 2 peak HP, which are the minimum requirement of a wet/dry vacuum to suck up liquids. At 53 CFM, it is one of the safest units that you can use for cleaning up extra sensitive surfaces. The detail brush is one of the best features we love about it. With the small opening of the hose, sufficient air flow, and this attachment, detailed cleaning is a total breeze! And for its size, it performs really well as a blower, too!
Besides its lightweight body, it comes with a 10’ power cord and a 6’ x 1-1/4' hose which is far longer than what Stanley SL18910P-3 offers. It is very impressive for its size and one of the key reasons why we put it on this spot. The storage of materials is also something to appreciate. It has an integrated hose and accessory storage and its body is so compact that it won’t consume too much storage space.
It also comes with almost all the accessories and attachments you need such as a reusable cloth filter, foam wet filter, 2-in-1 utility nozzle, detail brush, crevice tool, blower nozzle, and car nozzle. All in all, it has will give you more than what you would pay for. Not just a simple decent deal, but a truly incredible steal!
5. Stanley SL18910P-3 Wet/Dry Portable Vacuum
Stanley SL18910P-3 is a perfect small shop vac that can handle light-duty cleanups on the daily. Its 3-gallon capacity and 3 HP are just adequate to cater to your needs in a small workshop. It can also be a good alternative to a car vacuum due to its size and power. The 3-in-1 crevice nozzle is also one of the reasons we picked this. It offers great constructions and functionality that optimizes the air flow of the 1-1/4"x4’ hose.
It comes with a 4’ hose and 6’ power cord which is pretty reasonable since this is just a small shop vac unit. It complements its small body which allows easy wrapping of cord.
Furthermore, it is very practical for dry debris, dust, sawdust, and dirt. With the right attachment, it can also deliver a powerful suction for liquids. It picks up crumbs, pet hair strands, and leaves and can even remove water from car seats. Of course, it isn’t as powerful as the Vacmaster VFB511B0201 or the Ridgid 50313 4000RV, but it isn’t a downside at all as the model is specifically built just to address lightweight jobs. If you understand its limitations, you will surely appreciate this model. After all, still a winner in its own way!
Best Small Shop Vacs - Buyer's Guide
The size and the capacity of a shop vac are directly related to each other. With that, it is really important to determine what you really need. Of course, having a small shop vac is very beneficial, especially if you don’t want it to consume a lot of storage space or if you need a handy, portable unit you can bring anywhere. However, getting a shop vac that is too small means sacrificing the capacity you can get. It puts a limit on your cleanup capabilities. A 2.5 gallon like what Armor All AA255 offers should be enough for very light-duty tasks. If you would just use it for your car or occasional cleaning that involves liquid, this should be enough. However, if you want something with a capacity that can be somehow compared to bigger shop vacs, opt for something medium in size. Vacmaster VFB511B0201 is one good example of this. It sits between portability and great capacity which means you can do rely on it on most of your daily cleaning activities.
The horsepower is a good measurement to check if you want to determine how powerful a shop vac can be. If you just intend to use it for dust and small pieces of stuff, 1 or 2 HP should be enough. This is normally present in smaller shop vacs. However, if you need more power that can deal with bigger pieces of debris, 4 to 5 HP is recommended.
CFM or airflow is also an important detail to check as it will tell you the quantity of air being sucked by the vacuum in a single 1. Normally, vacuums should come at 50 to 100 CFM. This means that the higher the CFM, the better its suction power would be. The same goes for air watts or air power. Ideally, you should look for at least 100 AP to get the best assurance.
The portability of the shop vac can be primarily determined by the size of the unit. However, it is also important to consider other factors that will contribute to its ease of use and transportation. This includes the handles, the availability of casters, and the length of the power chord and the hose. The last two are the most important as they will determine the initial reach of the unit. The longer the cord and the hose are, the farther you can go. Of course, it can always be resolved with the use of an extension cord but it is always best if you can have a unit that you can use with less fuss.
Shop vacs apparently cost higher than normal vacuums due to their capabilities. Shop vacs models also vary from each other. You can purchase a shop vac as low as $40 but this depends on the unit. Typically, the bigger the unit is and the more power it has, the higher the cost is. If that is what you need, there is no need to hesitate. After all, you don’t want to end up purchasing a cheap unit that is unfit for a particular task. This would just end up disappointing you.
Best Small Shop Vacs - FAQs
Yes, you can use shop vacs for liquids. They are powerful enough to deal with such elements but keep in mind to check the water lift capacity of the unit and so as the CFM and HP. The higher they are, the more capable the unit could be.
Yes, shop vacs are more capable than normal vacuums. Though they are much bulkier and noisier, shop vacs have powerful motors that can pick up bigger pieces of debris and even water.
Shop vacs are very powerful that they are very ideal for woodworking shops. Nonetheless, they can also be used at home depending on the purpose. They can deal with a great amount of dust and water.
Typically, an average-sized shop vac should at least have 5 to 6 HP. This allows powerful performance for the vacuum to suck bits of stuff and a considerable amount of liquids. However, smaller units that are meant for light-duty purposes normally come with at least 2 HP.