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What Is A Shop Vac? Where and How to Use? | Powerful Carpet Cleaners

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The average household vacuum cleaner is good for dust, fur, and food particles here and there. It is perfect for your home. But what if you needed one for a woodwork workshop or a garage? It would simply be out of its depth in such a place.

This is where shop vacuum cleaners, or shop vacs, come in. they are big, and they are tough industrial-grade vacs that can handle any type of work. From wooden chips to grease and oil, to little metal debris, they can take it all, literally.

Video Explainer

What Is A Shop Vac Used For?

In general terms, a shop vacuum is used to suck up large debris. Wherever you can find large pieces of debris in high amounts, or where you need especially high amounts of suction force, this is where shop vacs come in.

Despite the name, they are not strictly for shops only. You can also use them on driveways, the porch or verandah, among other areas. They’re however not ideal for household work.

Shop Vac Vs Vacuum Cleaner

If you were to put a household vacuum cleaner with a shop vac, you would immediately notice some things:

  • Shop vacs are bigger - In fact, they’re usually called bucket vacs because of it.
  • They use a larger and tougher hose - they need it for the tough debris they suck in.
  • They are more powerful - Shop vacs use a much more powerful motor to take up all the big pieces of dirt.
  • Shop vacs lack air filters - Household vacs will usually have air filters to prevent dust from seeping into your home. Shop vacs lack these as they are meant for big jobs.
  • Shop vacs lack accessories for carpets and the like - They consist simply a large hose with a large opening.
  • They have no bag for collected dirt - Unlike common household vacuum cleaners which have a bag that you can simply take out, shop vacs need to be flipped to toss out collected debris.

How A Shop Vac Works

A shop vac works on the same principle as a common household cleaner. However, there are a few design changes incorporated to help it to deal with the larger and tougher particles.

A shop vac looks like a trash can on wheels, and that's not far from what they are. Most feature a large cylindrical body for ease of dumping collected dirt. It has a large motor at the top which, when it is on, spins the fans attached to it.

These fans create a low-pressure environment inside the vac, which is then focused to the outside through the hose attached. With the higher pressure outside, a suction force is created that pushes all debris in its path inside the body of the vac.

The debris sucked in is stored in the main body of the shop vac, and the larger surface area allows it to hold much larger debris.

Can Shop Vacs Vacuum Water

Many models of shop vacs are specially designed to pick up liquid particles as well. This is a handy feature that also allows you to mob up patches of spilled liquid just as easily as you would some dust. Such are known as dry-wet vacuum cleaners.

Not all models can handle water, however. There are still shop vacs that are only for dry surfaces. Using such with water could be very dangerous for you and harmful to the vac.

You need to make sure of what type yours is. Generally, wet/dry vacs cost more than the usual types.

What Size Shop Vac Do I Need

Shop vacs also come in sizes depending on the specific application. There are three major types.

  • Small shop vacs - 2-6 gallon bucket.
  • Medium capacity - 6-14 gallon bucket.
  • High capacity - 14-18 gallon bucket.

The bucket size also determines what power the motor has, and usually, the highest capacity shop vacs have the most powerful motors.

The size of the shop vac you need will be determined by water you will be using it on. If it involves a lot of large particles like in a woodwork shop, you will need one with a large bucket capacity. If it involves a lot of water, then a high powered motor is essential.

If you just want one to use outdoors or in other not very demanding situations, the smaller the better. Some of the smaller shop vacs can also be used at home, but due to their power, they can damage carpets and other fabrics. Therefore you need to choose a shop vac depending on your needs.

How To Use A Shop Vac To Pick Up Water

A shop vac that is designed to suck up water can be used to dry a patch of water, or even clear up a real deluge. Below are some steps you will need to follow to use a shop vac to pick up liquids.

  1. Take the top off and remove the air filter if it is paper-based. Some have foam versions that can be left on. Make sure to read the manual for this.
  2. You can attach a water extraction tool if you have one for the best action.
  3. Put it on, and put the hose end on or in the water as the case might be.
  4. The shop vac will have a flotation device that closes off the air intake once it's full.
  5. When it fills up, empty the bucket, but first make sure to switch off the power. This can be done by the use of an outlet valve at the bottom of the bucket, or by removing the top and pouring it off.

Here is a YouTube video that shows you how you can go about this if you are not familiar with it.

Most Powerful Shop Vac

Shop vacs can have some seriously powerful motors, and we’ll take a look at three of the most powerful ones available.

  1. The 6.5HP motor - Available on the 16-gallon Vacmaster Beast Series and the Shop Vac 12 gallon option. They can reach a suction capacity of up to 2.2 gallons a minute.
  2. 6HP peak power - Available on the Ridgid 14 gallon shop vac, it packs the second highest peak power in the list.
  3. The 5.5HP peak power motor - Found on the Craftsman XSP 12 gallon variety, it still packs a hefty punch.

These are the three most powerful pumps currently available on the market. This gives them the power to suck up amazing quantities of water and debris at a go.

Can You Vacuum Water With A Shop Vac

Absolutely. So long as the pump is designated for wet vacuuming, you can use a vacuum cleaner to suck up water and other liquids such as soda, oil, even urine.

There are a few guidelines you need to follow that we have set out above, which you need to follow when vacuuming water with a shop vac. However, if follow these you don’t have to worry about endangering yourself with electric shock or harming your machine.

With a dry vacuum, however, do not attempt to vacuum water with it because it will have no safety features against water.

Do You Need A Shop Vac For Your Home

Looking at the capabilities of the shop vac, you might be wondering whether they’re appropriate for your home. Most people love the water suction feature and use them to dry carpets, among other things.

Shop vac, especially the smaller models, can be used at home also, however they need to be used with caution. This is because they lack most of the safety features found in common household vacs. They include air filters, carpet accessories and noise dampeners.

While it is completely safe to use a shop vac to clean up the porch, garage, basement or even pick up grass and leaves from the lawn, taking it inside is a bad idea. The massive suction power can ruin your carpet and rugs, not to mention sucking up everything that is not securely held down.

How Much Does A Shop Vac Cost

The price of a shop vacuum cleaner can vary greatly depending on factors like the capacity of the bucket, suction power of the motor, whether it is a wet vac or not, among others.

For example, a small 5-gallon shop vac with 4.5HP peak suction power can cost you the whereabouts of $85. A 10 gallon one with 5HP costs slightly more at $90.

The real beasts, such as the 14-gallon Ridgid with 6HP max suction power will cost you up to $180. These are not the only factors that affect pricing. Others include materials (e.g. plastic vs stainless steel), accessories, among others.

Prices vary from brand to brand also, which is why it is always advisable to look around first and see what best fits your needs.


Shop vacs are awesome tools for those heavy-duty vacuuming applications. However, they need to be used as stipulated because they are made specifically for the tougher jobs.Shop vacs can suck up water, wood, even metal, due to their tough build and powerful motor. This is where they differ mostly with the common household vacuum cleaner.

Shop vacs are ideal for any place where a lot of loose waste is generated, and while they cost more, they are worth every cent.

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