Woodworkers and handymen are the ones to talk to when it comes to quality wet/dry vacs for the home or workshop. These are the people who need to suck up large amounts of dust, wood chips, bolts, nails, water, and other debris. Wet/dry vacs are capable of cleaning up tough messes like water spills that other vacuums just couldn't do. The heavy duty models from Festool, Fein, Bosch, and Porter-Cable are best for avid woodworkers or professionals in the construction business. The high end machines clean up more debris in less time than the cheaper models from Craftsman, Ridgid, and Shop Vac. For the average homeowner who needs periodic help with excess dust, liquid spills, or garage debris, the 3 models mentioned above will do just fine for around $100 to $150. The heavy duty brands cost between $350 and $500.
The one difference that many reviewers mention is that the Festool and Fein models run much quieter than say the Craftsman or Ridgid. If you plan on switching from wet to dry cleanup, then make sure you have dust bags on the interior which keep things cleaner and make the conversion a simple step. The bags cost between $3 to $8 and really make all the difference. The filter cartridges ($10-$20) are what give you the suction power so keep them maintained as well. The larger the vac (16 gallons is a good size) the better they perform. Mid-size to smaller wet/dry vacs are still not bad, but do less work in more time. Some newer models are hangable like the Ridgid Stor-N-Go WD5500 ($100) which means it can be wall mounted. It's great for easy storage and provides a 20 foot hose, but capacity on this Ridgid is lacking. There are cordless wet/dry vacs which seem to lack power compared to the plug-in models. The more traditional wet/dry vacs are on wheels and roll around your floors. Consumer Reports (CR) does an excellent job of reviewing the latest wet/dry vacs as does Popular Mechanics and several woodworking websites. CR actually went so far as to NOT RECOMMEND the Emerson goClean ($50) because it failed their water test and spilled the gallon of water. We found excellent owner reviews on HomeDepot, Amazon.com, and at Sears.com. Comparing all the different sizes and types is not easy, but we say that Consumer Reports does the most thorough test by measuring wet vacuum ability, dry vacuuming ability, emissions, ease of use, cleanup tools, and if the machine accepts dust bags. Features you want in a wet/dry vac are a wide hose for picking up debris (2 1/2" is best), dual-swivel hose fittings, extension wands, hose lock, cleanup tools (crevice nozzle, etc.), cartridge filter, squeegee, and a drain spout. The pleated cartridge filters are better and easier to change than the two-piece paper and foam filters. Consider hearing protection since some models reach up to 85 decibels like the Stinger WD2025. We have included some of the "best picks" down below with prices, descriptions, where to buy, and owner opinions.
Wet Dry Vac Reviews:
The large capacity Craftsman 17784 ($130) from Sears is considered an excellent 20 gallon wet/dry vac. The large wheels make for a very mobile unit and the drain spout allows for quick emptying of debris. The 20 foot cord gives you plenty of room to roam in your workshop or basement for cleanup duties and the 7 foot hose will stretch even further. The big plus on this model is the 2 1/2 inch diameter hose which makes picking up anything quite easy. Includes a fine dust pleated paper filter. Owners rate this vac as better than the previous years model (Craftsman 17762). You can find all Craftsman wet/dry vacs in Sears stores (online at Sears.com). A 16 gallon wet/dry vac that rated exceptional well on Amazon.com per customer reviews was the Shop-Vac 962-16-00 ($130). It's powered by a 6.25 HP motor with a sound reduction feature to limit the noise output. The concentrator nozzle and blower port give you plenty of options when using the vac and it also features a lock-on hose, floor nozzle/brush, utility nozzle, and extension wands. Consumers call it a "great value" and positively say it "really sucks". Consumer Reports says the Ridgid Pro Utility Vac WD1850 (16 gallon) is another wet/dry vac that homeowners should consider - you can find it at Home Depot for about $150.
Medium Sized Wet Dry Vac:
A good medium sized wet/dry vac is the Ridgid 14 Gallon Pro Vac WD1450 ($99). Although you will give up a bit in terms of capacity (smaller than the large models above), it still performs exceptional well with picking up wet or dry debris and the emissions are the lowest amongst the competition. It accepts dust bags which makes for a cleaner interior and the 6 HP motor provides all the suction power you need. Comes with 2 extension wands, utility nozzle, wet nozzle, car nozzle, and a storage basket onboard. This Ridgid wet/dry vac is top rated by Consumer Reports, Popular Mechanics and owners on the Home Depot site user reviews. Consumers agree with experts that this vac is "impressively quiet", has "good power" and is "fairly priced". Check it out online at HomeDepot.com or at Ridgid.com.
Heavy Duty for Workshops:
When it comes to finding a wet/dry vac that is powerful, durable, and convenient, there is no substitution for the Festool Cleantec CT 33 HEPA ($490). This heavy duty vac comes highly recommend on almost woodworking and power tool sites we came across online. Festool has an excellent name for durability and reliability which makes the price less of an issue. Festool gives you a 3 year warranty on their equipment and the versatility of the CT33 will impress even the most avid woodworker. The HEPA filtration system gives you 99.99% dust free environments which is the best on the market. The vac is tool triggered or offers a manual start. The variable speed lets you use a wide range of power tools and the electronic sensor automatically shuts off the motor when the maximum liquid capacity is reached for safety. You can find this and other models on the Woodcraft.com website.
Wall Mounted Vac:
The Ridgid WD5500 Stor N Go Wall Mounted Vac ($100) is available at HomeDepot and seems to be gaining in popularity. It easily mounts to the walls in your garage or workshop and has a 5 gallon capacity for wet or dry debris. The hose connections let you reach almost 21 feet and the 2 wands and extra nozzles make pickup a breeze. The crevice tool and dusting brush are very good at cleaning those hard to reach spots found in garages. Reviews are extremely positive on this newer model, the only complaint we read was that the hose diameter could be larger.