Skip to main content

A good shop vac can help you with clean-up and maintenance in your garage, home, and car. In fact, investing in a vacuum is a great way to maintain your car’s value. It can also be a valuable tool if you own an RV or even a boat. And a good shop vac doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. But before you go out and buy one, there are a few things you should know. 

Determining which shop vac is the best

A mobile car wash worker uses a shop vac to vacuum the back of an SUV in a customer's front yard
Shop vacs are a great investment for your car and garage | Boniface Muthoni/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Roadshow by CNET released its editor’s choices for the best shop vac of 2021. The reviewers used several criteria to determine which shop vac is best. Two of the biggest criteria were customer satisfaction and expert recommendations. They also considered price, size, and function. Of those, we chose the four best for less than $200.

The 4 best shop vacs under $200

Best overall: Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 16-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac

As its name implies, you can use Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 16 Gallon Wet/Dry Vac for wet and dry messes. It also has three nozzles and a tank that’s easy to empty. Plus, it’s a heavy-duty model, which means it can tackle any mess. Bonus: It comes with a feature that lets you use it as a leaf blower. Best of all, it costs only $159.99 on Amazon as of this writing.

Best for cars: Armor All 2.5-Gallon Wet/Dry Utility Shop Vacuum

If you plan to use a shop vac only to clean your car, you don’t necessarily need a huge tank, but you need one that’s cordless or has a long cord so that you can reach every crevice of your vehicle. This Armor All model has a 10-foot cord and a six-foot hose and can handle wet and dry messes. It earned the Amazon’s Choice designation and costs only $50.94 through Amazon

Best for home use: Ridgid 4-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum

Using a shop vac instead of a regular vacuum to clean your home can be beneficial, particularly if it can handle wet and dry messes like this Ridgid model. It has a 20-foot cord and a seven-foot hose and is light enough to carry from room to room. It costs $99 at Home Depot.

Best cheap option: Vacmaster 12-Gallon Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum With Detachable Blower

Cheap doesn’t mean shoddy in this case. This Vacmaster 12-gallon wet/dry shop vac can be used for wet and dry messes, and it comes with a slew of attachments to clean up various messes. You can get it on Amazon for $89.99.

5 things you need to know before buying a shop vac

First, where will you be using it? This is important because it can help you determine which size shop vac you’ll need and whether a cordless model would be more practical than a corded one. There are also some models made especially for use in cars.

Second, will you be cleaning up dry messes, wet messes, or both? Some vauums are not designed for use with liquids, so if you anticipate having to clean up wet messes, you need a shop vac that can handle them.

Third, what size tank do you need? There’s no need to get an extra-large tank if you’ll be cleaning only your car, particularly if it’s a small model. However, if you plan to clean your extra-large garage, you’ll want a tank large enough to accommodate the space. 

The last two things you need to know are how you use your shop vac and how to keep it running smoothly. You should be familiar with the instructions for your model before using it. This is important not only to ensure the shop vac functions properly but also for your safety. Cleaning up a huge puddle of water with a shop vac not designed for that can be dangerous. It’s also important to understand how to properly maintain your shop vac, including how to change the filter and how to empty the tank properly. 


5 Best Car Detailing Kits in 2021