What is the Best Small Shop Vac? For Wet and Dry Cleaning (2023)

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Many woodworkers consider smaller shop vacs a godsend for workshops with little to no extra space. But a common concern is whether they have sufficient suction power and efficiency, given their small profile.

With the array of options, you might get a vacuum with weak suction that won’t pick up anything. So, our professional woodworkers tested the best small shop vacs suited for your situation. 

Premium Option
CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 Wet/Dry Vac
Editor’s Choice
Vacmaster VHB 305M Small Shop Vac
Budget Option
Ridgid WD4070 4 Gallon Portable Vacuum
CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 Wet/Dry Vac
Vacmaster VHB 305M Small Shop Vac
Ridgid WD4070 4 Gallon Portable Vacuum
• Powerful 6.5 HP moto
• Built-in blower port
• Dual Flex Technology
• Numerous compatible filters
• Wall-mounting bracket
• Has a long hose
• 3-in-1 multi-function operation
• Caster built for smooth swiveling
• Patented scroll nose reduction
• Lightweight 12-pound vac
• Large carry handle
• Three-layered filter
Premium Option
CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 Wet/Dry Vac
CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 Wet/Dry Vac
• Powerful 6.5 HP moto
• Built-in blower port
• Dual Flex Technology
• Numerous compatible filters
Editor’s Choice
Vacmaster VHB 305M Small Shop Vac
Vacmaster VHB 305M Small Shop Vac
• Wall-mounting bracket
• Has a long hose
• 3-in-1 multi-function operation
• Caster built for smooth swiveling
Budget Option
Ridgid WD4070 4 Gallon Portable Vacuum
Ridgid WD4070 4 Gallon Portable Vacuum
• Patented scroll nose reduction
• Lightweight 12-pound vac
• Large carry handle
• Three-layered filter

Reviews of the Top Small Shop Vacs

1. Vacmaster VHB 305M

The Vacmaster VHB 305M comes with a wall-mounting bracket to free up floor space, making it easier for storage. It’s also the only vac with four-wheel caddies, making wheeling around the shop more comfortable. 

What we love about this small vacuum is its suitability for many jobs: cleaning the garage, sweeping the house or workshop, and even on car seats. 

This Vacmaster shop vacuum has powerful suction that performs well during dust collection, even in tight spaces, due to its nozzle options. You can choose the right nozzle depending on your cleaning needs. 

What We Like

What We Don't Like

2. CRAFTSMAN CMXEVBE17595 Wet/Dry Vac

Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 Vac is another great option if you’re looking for a powerful and heavy-duty vacuum. Apart from its 6.5 Peak HP, which provides extra power when working on large projects, it also has a built-in oversized drain for convenient emptying of liquid.

Its dual-flex technology improves kink resistance, and the built-in blower port makes it easier to quick cleaning sawdust, grass, and leaves clipping. This Craftsman model is a reliable cleaning tool after working in the shop or doing home renovations. 

Besides, it can be outdoor power equipment due to its array of accessories to fit your vacuum needs. 

What We Like

What We Don't Like

3. Ridgid WD4070 4 Gallon Portable Vacuum

This medium-sized vacuum weighs more than other models on this list, but the suction power makes up for the heavyweight. There are compartments for the parts, and the portability is excellent enough to hold its massive power. So, it’s a small vac that you can use even for huge construction projects. 

The Ridgid WD4070 also has a large carry handle providing impeccable mobility when sliding on carpets and rough floors. Also, this Ridgid Vacuum has a 3-layer fine dust filter that can easily absorb sawdust and drywall dust. 

Although you might find this vacuum cleaner on the pricier side but given its powerful feature, it’s worth investing for. 

What We Like

What We Don't Like

4. Armor All AA255 Mini Wet/Dry Utility Shop Vacuum

Another cheap and powerful option is this Armor All Mini Wet/Dry Vacuum. Although it’s designed for garage and car cleaning, you can use this equipment for workshop and home cleaning. 

The 2-peak HP motor makes it decent enough for sucking on small particles, so you can clear out even the tiniest and clumpest debris. You won’t have to worry about overflow as well, as this machine comes with an auto shut-off function. 

Moreover, it’s cost-effective since the bags are reusable and washable too. This machine’s 10ft cord length is also long enough for this compact shop vacuum, allowing you to move around your space easily.  

What We Like

What We Don't Like

5. Porter-Cable PCX18301-4B Wet/Dry Vacuum

If compatibility matters the most, we recommend this Porter-Cable PCX18301-4B Wet/Dry Vacuum cleaner. With its compact design, this tool easily fits anywhere around the shop. It’s equipped with a swiveling caster allowing easy movement, and a ten-foot power cord wrap for a wider clean range.  

This high-performance machine has strong suction capabilities and a quick-lock hose for ease of use. With its 4-gallon capacity, you won’t have to worry about cleaning out medium-wide spaces and emptying the bin after or venting your dust collection outside.  

However, the hose is slightly short, and this model contains fewer attachments. But if you don’t mind, and can work around this, then this Porter Cable Vac is worth considering. 

What We Like

What We Don't Like

6. DEWALT DXV04T Portable Small Wet/Dry Vacuum

If you’re looking for the best small shop vacuums that are relatively small and lightweight, then this portable wet-dry vacuum from DEWALT is the standard. 

It’s portable and very handy, with a toolbox shape design that allows easy handling. This DEWALT DXV04T comes with a dust cartridge filter–designed for cleaning wet materials and dry debris. 

It’s water-resistant, with a huge switch button for quicker and safer access to the machine. This vac model also has an ultra-flexible hose to cater to almost any cleanup needed, plus a 20-inch power cord adding up to its mobility. The vac accessory storage ensures all attachments included won’t be easily lost.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

7. Stanley SL18910P-3 Small Wet/Dry Vacuum

Cleaning tasks around the shop or house are made easy with Stanley SL18910P-3‘s 11-liter large dust canister. With its cleaning capacity, you won’t have to worry about emptying the bin, especially if you use it for large cleaning tasks. 

This multi-surface wet-dry vacuum is equipped with a hose of overall diameter, making it ideal for industrial work. We liked the elegant-build quality, which gives comfort when using it around. 

However, since there’s a foam filter that stops the exhaustion port from absorbing liquids, it’s a little high maintenance. But with its efficiency, it shrugs off the expense.

What We Like

What We Don't Like

8. RYOBI 18V ONE+ Small Cordless Wet/Dry Vacuum

As common small shop vac models are corded, Ryobi 18V One+ is different – it’s a cordless vacuum unit. It has built-in onboard accessory storage, which holds the floor nozzle, an extension wand, and the crevice tool. 

Besides, this mini shop vac has a collapsible carrying handle and four 360 caster wheels for easy transport and mobility. 

Basically, this RYOBI 18V is a holy grail for space-saving storage, and although it’s a small cordless shop vac, you’ll be surprised with its 80 CFM feature. So, you can expect a good cleaning performance, and you can bring it anywhere you work.  

(But are Ryobi products really worth it? Know more about Ryobi and where their products are made!)

What We Like

What We Don't Like

Small Shop Vacuum Buyer’s Guide

Before deciding the best small shop vac to purchase, you must understand the important metrics to consider. 

Size

When looking for a mini shop vacuum, it’s probably because you want to save costs or you don’t want to occupy a lot of space, especially for storage. Compact models are cheaper than larger shop vacs, and it’s one factor that you need to consider. 

Hence, small models are still diversified, and depending on the size you need, you should always consider the extent of use and where it will be used. 

Portability

Shop vacs typically have wheels. In cases where they do not have wheels, the best shop vacs are usually handy and can be carried easily, so you won’t have problems moving them around. 

If it’s heavy and has no wheels, moving it may be troublesome. So, you should check the weight of the machine before purchasing.  

Durability

The durability of your small shop vac depends on where you use it and the maintenance or storage procedures you make with your machine. All our recommendations are durable enough if you use them accurately for your preferred cleaning needs. 

Power

If you want a shop vac model that can suction heavy debris and wet spills, opt for one with a robust motor and suction power. A good measure of how powerful a shop vac can be is its horsepower. 

If you’re only thinking of using it to suction small pieces, then a one or 2-HP mini shop vac can be good enough. But if the work requires suctioning bigger debris, we recommend going for a 4-5 HP model. 

You can also check for a shop vac model’s CFM or airflow. The higher CFM, the better the suction power [1].

Cleaning Duration/Range

How long you can take your small shop vac varies depending on the hose’s length. However, the longer the power cord and the hose are, the more expensive they will be. 

Don’t expect a small shop vac to have extensive cord length; instead, invest in extensions if you have limited power sockets. Look for a shop vac model that has the features of power and hose that you need.

Storage

Smaller shop vacs are more compact, making them easier to keep. Despite the size,  mini shop vacs come with a storage feature, serving as a compartment for cords, wraps, and accessories.

Many shop vacs offer different tank sizes, so choose one depending on your needs. An average shop vac model caters to one to six gallons, so if you’re expecting more than that, we prefer you go for larger vacuums. 

Also, if you’re after durability, go for vacuums with a stainless steel tank.  

Battery-Powered or Corded?

Are you thinking of a cordless model? While new portable shop vacuums offer battery-powered models, the drawback here is the limit in terms of the overall range. 

Besides limited battery life, battery-powered shop vacuums also have lower motor capacity. At some point, you’ll still want one with a power cord because it’s more efficient and quality-wise.

Dry or Wet Cleaning

A vacuum cleaner can usually perform wet and dry cleaning. However, there are models made for dry cleaning only.

If you need both features, then opt for a wet/dry shop vacuum. But if you think you’ll never need the wet feature, go for a dry vacuum. 

But we recommend purchasing wet and dry vacuums because they’re versatile and don’t differ much in price. Just remember to remove the dry filter, to avoid ruining your vacuum.  

Attachments/Accessories

The best small shop vacs come with different accessories and attachments depending on your model. But here are some of the accessories that you need to consider when purchasing your small shop vac:

Price

Since shop vacs have bigger capabilities, they are pricier than normal vacuums. The price difference varies depending on the model and horsepower. 

The bigger your unit is, the more powerful and expensive it becomes. When looking for the best small shop vacuums, you need to opt for a high-quality one with the price you can afford.  

How Does a Small Shop Vacuum Work + Essential Components

Shop vacs are purposefully designed to do specific cleanings. It’s meant to clean larger areas than those of the regular vacuum. They’re capable of picking up larger dirt sizes and wet particles that are difficult for normal vacuums to clean. 

Large factory or workshop areas find small shop vacs ideal as they can penetrate through stubborn debris, even wet dirt.  

The best small shop vacuums have essential components, such as power, a dirt storage system, and a fan. You’ll want to find these common components when deciding on the cleaning tool to purchase.

woodworking shop

What Small Shop Vacuums Do?

The best small shop vacuums can perform tough cleaning jobs like heavy debris, wood chips, dry defuse, sawdust, and drywall dust. A variety of small shop vacs differ mostly in size, but it doesn’t make such any less powerful.

The general idea with vacuums is to create suction through the motor spins. Compact shop vacuums are the same but only mounted on a bucket-style canister. 

Upon reaching the canister, the air slows down, diminishing the vacuum effect, so the debris falls to the canister and not onto the motor. Here are the tasks a small shop vacuum can perform:

Differences Between Small Shop and Traditional Vacuums

Shop vacuums are almost the same as traditional vacuums. It’s used for sucking up messes around your home, workshop, or car. 

What sets these two apart is the suction capabilities. Shop vacs have more powerful motors and can handle heavier messes than traditional vacuums. Their deplete power is enough to whip dry messes and debris that are difficult to clean for a traditional vacuum. 

The best small vacuum cleaners are more compact, making them more portable and versatile. 

Do You Need A Small Shop Vacuum?

If you’re looking for a vacuum that can fit a small space, then procuring a small shop vac may be the best option. Before purchasing anything, know where you will use it and review its features accordingly to assess whether it’s best suited for your cleaning needs.

Reasons Why You Don't Need a Small Shop VAC

Avoid a small shop vac if you need to clean big messes frequently. It may be powerful, but with this cleaning need, you’ll want to take it a little easy because the small shop vac still has limited capacity. You’ll be required to empty it regularly, and the cleanup process will be longer.

Also, sticking with a standard vacuum cleaner is ideal if you think you won’t be cleaning heavy debris.   

Is it Worth Buying? And How Long Does it Last?

Most smaller shop vacs can last from 500 to 700 usage hours. Hence it’s best to consider how much you are using your compact shop vac in a week to know how long it will last. [1]

Generally, the best small shop vacs can last up to eight years. A corded shop vac can last long, too, provided that you operate it appropriately to prevent damage.  

FAQ

How can I make my small shop vacuum stronger? Are they strong enough?

To improve the performance of your shop vac and make it powerful, change filters as often as needed. Dirty filters can hamper shop vacs from performing well. Thus it’s best to always check on your filter and the exhaust port when it starts to degrade in power. 

Are small shop vacuums noisy or quiet?

Small shop vacuums produce less noise than the larger versions. Since they have smaller motors, they’re quieter. Even a high-performance motor can be very quiet. However, there are versions typically louder than others, so you should evaluate them meticulously.  

Can I use my shop vacuum for liquids?

Yes. A small shop vac is best for cleaning wet messes and liquid spills. It has substantial power enough to clean dry and wet debris. Still, you should also check the water lift capacity since every unit varies, and it can only consume as much as the tank capacity is concerned. 

Can I use my shop vacuum at home as a regular vacuum?

A portable shop vac can be used instead of a regular vacuum. It can cater to a great amount of dust and water but ensure that you install a filter to prevent dust from spreading and littering throughout your house. The best mini shop vac should include washable or replaceable filters. 

Will I use a small shop vac for wet and dry cleaning?

Yes. The perfect small shop vac should be able to double as a wet-dry vac. Small shop vacs have dust cartridge filters and large dust canisters to accommodate wet and dry cleaning for any job site. You should get all the accessories you will need to maximize its efficiency. 

Our Top Pick For a Small Shop Vac: Vacmaster VHB 305M

We picked Vacmaster VHB 305M as the best small shop vac for its cost-efficient price and the maximized features it delivers. It’s portable and has a justified HP motor for its price. The storage space for dust is also convenient for any user and has enough power cord length for increased mobility. 

And after collecting sawdust, don’t throw it right away. Did you know that sawdust has uses in your garden, house, and various crafts? Learn more here!

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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