The list of messes you make in your workshop is long and distinguished: sawdust all over the floor, metal shavings, a shattered and full coffee decanter, and even the occasional flooded basement from a failed sump pump. You can never predict when gravity will turn from friend to bitter, angry enemy and set loose chaos into your life. The only thing standing between you and the collapse of order and civilization is a wet/dry vac, but on second thought it’s not all that serious so you don’t want to spend a ton of money.
We hear you and would like to help. We’ve reviewed a handful of wet/dry vacs to fit your budget. If you don’t like our suggestions, we’ve included a handy little buyer’s guide at the end to help you make an informed choice.
|Vacmaster VBV1210||26 lbs||4.6/5|
(Best for the Money)
|Craftsman 12004||16 lbs||4.2/5|
|Wagan 750||2 lbs||3.9/5|
During our tests of wet/dry vacs under $100, it pretty quickly became apparent that there were two tiers of products: top shelf and everyone else. You will pay for more top shelf, but you’ll also get top-shelf quality. The Shop-Vac 5989300 was our favorite among the top-shelf models.
It had good power and good capacity in the tank. It was simple to set up and use and not a hassle to move around. It worked great on everything we tested it on, from water to pet fur. Purchase this, and you might even feel tempted to let your everyday home vacuum die and just use this. It was even slightly less expensive than its top-shelf competitors, which makes it an excellent value.
Our only beef was with the accessories caddy. It did not like to play with others. We had difficulty getting to stay put. Considering its performance in actually doing the job, however, that’s a pretty minor beef.
At 5hp, this one was the most powerful wet/dry vac we tested. And, it had the most powerful suction of the models we tested. Its tank also had a nice, large capacity to decrease trips to the deep sick to empty it out while working. As a wet/dry vac, it was very, very solid. It also worked great as a standalone blower, which while we’re testing models as wet/dry vacs is a pretty standard feature.
We were impressed with its performance and if you went with this as your choice we’d endorse that. But, there were a couple of reasons why we gave this the runner-up trophy instead of top billing. First, if you’re looking for a wet/dry vac for less than $100, you’re already shopping for value. This was the most expensive model we tested, so it’s not quite the value you can get in competitors. It was also really big and really bulky to store and especially move around. If there’s a mess in reach of it, you’re in business. If the mess means you have to move this first, you’ve got a chore to do before you do a chore.
For the money, the Vacmaster VQ607SFD was the best wet/dry vac we tested. If you have specific needs beyond what the Vacmaster offers, we also felt like this is a great model to act as a starting point. If you need a larger tank or a more powerful motor, you can price those options compared to this.
It had adequate power at nozzle end and an adequate number of accessories to make it versatile, it did an adequate job cleaning up dry and wet debris and its 6-gallon tank was large enough to let you put some work in before emptying it.
We liked this wet/dry vac as an all-around, basic tool for the workshop or garage. Our only caveat is that if you deal with a flooded basement on a semi-regular basis, you might wish to spend a few dollars more on something with more power. It’s not really that much money to make that leap.
There is a very narrow place where price and performance intersect for the Craftsman 12004. If you need something to do an adequate job on spills or debris in a limited space, it’s better than laying out a few dollars more for something more powerful than you need. But if you just need something to clean up the occasional kitchen spill too big for towels, you can find one that’s cheaper. That’s our bottom line conclusion.
We didn’t like the suction power it delivered. Its seven-foot hose and its 3hp motor combined just don’t deliver quality suction. It also lacked in accessories to make it a multidimensional wet-dry vac. Those two things really limit what you can do with it.
That said, if you need it for a very crude suction in a confined space, or what to blow cut grass off a patio, this will handle those jobs as ably as a more expensive model.
The worst thing that we can say about the Wagan 750 is that if the air pump that came with your air mattress gives out and you have company coming over it can stand in as a multipurpose alternative. If that doesn’t sound like much of an indictment, remember that we reviewed it as a wet-dry vac.
As a wet/dry vac, it’s underpowered. And its tank capacity means as slow as it cleans up liquids, you’ll spend half your time running to the deep sink to empty it. Or toilet. The tank can only hold a gallon. In fact, if you have a big job to do, going back and forth might cause you so much frustration that you hurl it against the wall, where thankfully it’s shoddy, cheap construction will easily – and satisfyingly — shatter.
The best thing we can say about this is that it’s cheap. It costs less than a solid mop and bucket system, and frankly if given the choice we’d suggest putting down a few extra dollars on the latter.
You’ve read our reviews, and you don’t think any of our models are just quite what you’re looking for. Well, okay. We didn’t just arrive at our conclusion by aggregating reviews other people did. We measured the performance of our wet/dry vacs with some very specific criteria in mind. Here’s what followed.
Be honest with yourself about this. It’s tempting to assume that you need to prepare for catastrophe and get the most powerful vac available with the biggest tank and the most accessories because you assume your day will end with you in a hazmat suit cleaning up spilled radioactive waste from your DIY fusion-core reactor. But, really, you just have some sawdust from your woodworking shop and the occasional backed-up washing machine.
For most people, we thought the Vacmaster VQ607SFD did the basic job most people will want at the most reasonable price possible. You might want to get something with a bigger tank or with a little more power because maybe you have to vacuum water from the bilges of your boat. Our top-shelf models were both great at those.
You are buying this because of its suction power. That’s the bottom line. If it can’t pick up what gravity put onto the ground, you’ve wasted your money. That’s why we didn’t like the Wagan 750. It’s the most affordable, but it shows in its lack of suction power. We also felt the Craftsman 12004 fell into this category, not enough suction for the money you’re paying. The Vacmaster VBV1210 had the best suction of the models we tested.
Messes, unfortunately, happen where messes want to happen not where we’d want them to happen. If the two coincide, you’ve got that piece of good fortune going. If not, you need to get your wet/dry vac to where the mess is. Either your vac is lightweight and portable or it can make up with that with a decent hose length and that doesn’t drop off in suction power at the nozzle end because of an underpowered motor.
You’re not shopping just for wet/dry vacs. You’re shopping for wet/dry vacs for less than $100. That means you have a budget in mind for a reason. So, you want to make the most of every single dollar you spend. You want just enough suction power to do the job, without paying for tank capacity or motor power that you’ll never need. But, be aware that sometimes you can pay a little more money within your desired range and get something a little more powerful. A more powerful motor gets less stressed by difficult work and usually has a longer lifespan.
Of the models we tested, there were the top two and there was everyone else. The Shop-Vac 5989300 and Vacmaster VBV1210 nailed down the very basic part of the job, which is delivering suction power. If you have a $100 budget to get a wet/dry vac and are willing to spend all of it, neither of these two models are a bad choice. Just be aware that while the Vacmaster has a larger tank capacity, you’re trading that for portability. In this case, it was enough for us to give the edge to the Shop-Vac. On pure value terms, the Vacmaster VQ607SFD was our choice. It did the work that most people will need and did it at less than a top-shelf price. We were less impressed by the Craftsman 12004, which combined long hose and underpowered motor for a noticeable drop-off in performance. The Wagan 750 was less a wet/dry vac and more an unfunny joke.
We hope you got something out of our review of budget wet/dry vacs. If you don’t like any of our five models, we hope at least you keep in mind the tips we provided in our buyer’s guide when making your purchase decision.