When most people think of shop vacs, they think of large, lumbering devices that take up space and make a lot of noise. However, recent advances in technology mean you can have great power in a small, quiet frame.
Portable shop vacs are on the rise, but like all machines that are starting to become popular, there are knock-offs and other crummy products riding on the coattails of their better-made brethren. When shopping online, it can be hard to tell if you’re getting the real deal or making a purchase you’re going to regret.
We know that shopping online can be intimidating, but we believe that all customers can make great decisions if they’re given all the facts. Our reviews show you the good and the bad on each model so you can go into your purchase with full knowledge of what you’re getting. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide, so you can learn to evaluate these machines like an expert would, even if you’ve never owned one before.
|RIDGID VAC3000 ||Lifetime||4.6/5|
|Armor All AA255|
|Vacmaster (VFB511B0201)||5 years||4.2/5|
|DEWALT DC515B 18-Volt||3 years||4.0/5|
The DEWALT DCV581H is easily the best portable shop vac out there. This model uses batteries from the great DEWALT 20V battery line. If there’s a tool out there that can run on a battery, chances are that it’s represented in this battery line. That makes this a good family of tools in which to invest if you’re looking to expand how many battery-powered tools you own. However, this model is good because of some of its inherent features, too. It features a great washable filter that can keep everything clean for a long time without being replaced, just washed off instead.
This model has a two-gallon tank, which is relatively large among portable shop vacs. Because of this, you can work for longer with this model, and get more done without having to stop what you’re doing and empty the tank. It also comes with a crush-resistant five-foot hose, so it will stand up to even the toughest job sites. The one downside to this model is that it struggles with damp, clumpy material. Other than that, it would be difficult to find a better shop vac.
The RIDGID Wet Dry Vacuums VAC3000 Portable is the model you’ll want to get if you need a portable shop vac that you can fit into tight spaces, but that still packs the power to get the job done. This model is incredibly powerful for a portable shop vac, and it’s one that will make short work of most projects that you would tackle with a portable shop vac. It also comes with a fantastic nozzle. This nozzle is well-designed and makes the most of the provided suction so you can pick up just about anything quickly and efficiently.
However, this vac runs very loudly. It’s a powerful model, so that’s to be expected, but there are models out there with similar power levels that are engineered to run more quietly. If you’re using this vac in a confined space like a car, you’ll definitely notice how loud it is. It also relies on a power cord and doesn’t use batteries, so it’s not as portable as other models on our list, despite its small size. If you’ll always have access to power outlets and need a powerful shop vac, this could be a good choice for you.
The Armor All 2.5 Gallon AA255 strikes a nice balance between overall size and tank size, as it’s able to pack a 2.5-gallon tank into a frame that isn’t all that much larger than the tank itself. That makes it highly portable and good for situations where you may be working in tight spaces. It also comes with a six-foot hose and a ton of nozzles, which gives you the ability to work without having to move the base unit around frequently and lets you customize the machine to the task at hand. Also included is on-board accessory storage, so you’ll always have the part you need.
Since you can get this vac for about half of what you’d pay for the top two models on our list, it’s the best model for the money. If you’re looking to get a great deal, you’ll be very happy with this model’s performance. Unfortunately, it comes with underwhelming power relative to the other models, so it’s best for use in cars, and other light-duty work. However, if you’re looking for an inexpensive vac for cleaning out your car, you’ll be very happy with this model.
The Vacmaster Professional Wet/Dry Vac (VFB511B0201) is a model that you may consider if you’re looking for a model with tons of power and a large tank but still need a reasonably portable shop vac. It comes with a massive, five-gallon tank, making it one of the larger models you can find that still weighs less than fifteen pounds. It also comes with a five horsepower motor, which is more than two times as powerful as most of the shop vacs on our list. Plus, you can convert it to blower mode to pump waste to other places, so it’s one of the more versatile models out there.
However, given its size, we wish that this model came with wheels. While it isn’t that heavy on its own, adding five gallons of water or debris will result in a shop vac that is hard to carry around. It’s also on the larger size. While it’s still shaped to allow it to fit into smaller areas, it’s wide and especially taller than most shop vacs on this list. This isn’t a bad deal for the price, but if portability is what you’re after, there are more suitable models.
The DEWALT DC515B 18-Volt has an interesting design. It’s like a combination of a shop vac and portable dust buster. Consequently, you can use it like a handheld device, where you move the unit around all at once. That makes it extremely portable, and arguably the most portable one on our list since you won’t be limited by a power cord and the current location of the shop vac’s base. You can also disconnect the hose from the nozzle and set the unit down to use it more like a traditional shop vac. The one big upside to this model is that it runs very quietly, which makes it good for use around the house.
However, there are some big shortcomings to this model. If you’re looking to do serious work with your portable shop vac, you’ll be disappointed with the half-gallon tank on this one. That’s one-quarter the size of the largest models on our list, which dramatically reduces the amount of material you can remove in one go. It also doesn’t include batteries, which can be expensive. Ultimately, this is a gimmicky model that will leave most people looking for a heavy-duty device.
Hopefully, our reviews and buyer’s guide have helped you find the right model for your needs. If that hasn’t happened yet, don’t worry. This buyer’s guide is designed to help you better understand these machines so that you can find not only a model that works great, but one that’s right for you. We cover the features you need to understand to get the most out of your next purchase and end up with a vac that you like using. We’ve also included some tips on getting great value for your money, so if you’re looking for a deal, make sure you check out this guide.
The most important feature of your portable shop vac is its size. If you’re looking for a truly portable device, you’re not going to want to be lugging around a huge machine, especially when the tank is full. Make sure you’re investing in a shop vac that is sufficiently small. The good news is that you can still get great power in a small size, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to get the job done with the right models.
There are two different factors that control how large a portable shop vac is. The first is the size of the tank. The larger the tank, the larger the shop vac will be. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get around the restriction. If you need more storage space, you’ll have to invest in a wider or taller model.
The other major factor is motor power. The more powerful the motor, the larger it tends to be. There aren’t currently any technological advancements that give any brands an edge when it comes to compactness. That’s why you’ll find that shop vacs of similar power tend to be pretty much the same size, even across brands.
Power is another big feature that will affect how much you ultimately enjoy using your shop vac. However, the size of the shop vac you need is going to limit how much power you can get out of it. Smaller motors produce less power. Most two-horsepower shop vacs are going to be about the same time. The only real difference in size between them is going to be more due to a difference in the tank size than in the difference in the amount of space the motors take up.
However, you’re probably not looking for the most powerful models on the market, but for a model, you can move around easily. If you’re looking to clean out a car, or other light messes that aren’t wet or heavy, you can easily get the job done with a shop vac with a two-horsepower motor. Any more than that won’t be necessary, but you may be able to get the job done faster.
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The accessories that come with your shop vac are unlikely to make or break your experience with it, but they can add some value. Long power cords are a consistently underrated accessory. Many models come with a power cord under ten feet long, which may require an extension cord to be useful. However, a few come with cords that are fifteen feet long or longer, and that’s enough for most people to use a shop vac without worrying about the cord, no matter how inconveniently placed their outlets are.
Many people get good value out of the extra nozzles included with their shop vac, as it expands the range of tasks that they can do. However, if you know you’re only going to be doing one kind of task with your shop vac, it doesn’t make any sense to pay extra to get nozzles you won’t use.
There are a lot of portable shop vacs out there, and since everyone’s needs vary, some models are going to be better choices than others. Instead of trying to find the best model for you by looking at the price tag, it’s better to look at the features you need, and that will bring you value. Consider the tank size and power you need to get your tasks done.
You can get great value by limiting your search to models that meet those requirements. Once you have a shortlist of those, you can sort them by price. Then, choose the least expensive model. While it may not be the least expensive model on the market, it’s the lowest-priced model that has all the features you need for a good experience, making it the best overall value for your money.
The DEWALT DCV581H is our favorite portable shop vac due to its washable filter, two-gallon tank, and crush-resistant hose. In second is the RIDGID Wet Dry Vacuums VAC3000 Portable, which comes with great power and a fantastic nozzle, making it great for car use, though it’s loud and not powered by batteries. The Armor All 2.5 Gallon AA255 comes with a 2.5-gallon tank, a six-foot hose, and a low price, making it the best overall value for the money on our list. The Vacmaster Professional Wet/Dry Vac (VFB511B0201) comes with a huge tank, a powerful motor, and a blower, but its size and lack of wheels make it a poor choice for those looking for a portable shop vac. The DEWALT DC515B 18-Volt shop vac features an innovative design and runs quietly, but its small tank and lack of included, but necessary, batteries mean it falls to the last place on our list.
We hope that our reviews and buyer’s guide have helped you better understand portable shop vacs, and have helped you find a model you’ll like using at a price you will love.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!