How would you rank all of the different factors that go into the average wet/dry shop vacuum?
In no particular order, yet, here are some of the different features and specs that are inherent to most shop vacuums and dust extractors.
How much debris, sawdust, water, or other stuff can it hold? A smaller vacuum might be more portable, but a larger vac can hold more before needing to be emptied. Larger vacs are also heavier when they need to be emptied, and can be a little clunky to move around.
Often going hand in hand with capacity, do you need the vac to be a particular size? Does the vac need to fit underneath a workbench, or in another specific space? Does it need to be portable across rough terrain? For indoors use and travel, caster wheels work well. For transporting a vac outdoors, large wheels are a must. A lot of little things, such as vacuum shape (tall and narrow, or short and stout), caster style, and handles, can affect how easy or frustrating a vac can be to move around.
More power often means greater suction and faster cleanup. More premium dust extractors have adjustable suction control.
This is another feature of some dust extractors, which can turn on and off depending on the state of a connected AC tool such as a sander.
How big (or small) is the hose? Dust extractors often have longer and smaller diameter hoses. Smaller shop vacuums often have shorter and narrow hoses.
You can buy different sized hoses separately, but whether or not they’re a good idea is a different story. If your vac came with a 2-1/2″ hose, it’s often okay to go down a size if you have a reason for it. Cleaning a car? A smaller diameter hose will be easier to maneuver and use with accessories. But stepping up in size? A 6 gallon vac that comes with a 1-1/4″ hose likely won’t have the power to perform well with a 2-1/2″ hose, which has 4X the cross section?
Even though you’re not supposed to, everyone pulls wet dry vacs along by their hoses. Is there a locking connection to help prevent pull-out, especially if the vac’s wheels snag on a wall or corner?
Is the vac easy to carry from the top? Sides?
How easy is it to empty the vac? Is there a bottom drain for when the tub is fill of dirty water? At ~8 lbs per gallon, you don’t want to have to lift a full tub of water to empty it.
Can you buy replacement filters easily? Dust bags? What kinds are available?
For general cleanup, any filter will do. But for specific uses, maybe you want a fine particulate filter, or a washable filter.
It might not sound important, but you want to have a large and easily toggled power switch. It should easy enough to activate that you could do so with gloved hands, but also protected and placed so as to avoid unintentional shut-off by the weight of a hovering cord or hose.
How long is the cord? If it’s too short, having to find an extension cord, or switching between different outlets, can make a cleanup task longer and more frustrating to get through.
How loud is the vac? What kind of noise does it give off?
Lower frequency sounds can be easier on your ears than higher-frequency sounds.
Generally, wet/dry vacuums are LOUD. Some are quieter than others, but I have yet to find one that is quiet.
Do you need to wear hearing protection? If not, will you still want to?
This is a tough one. Noise levels is one of the reasons why I bought a Festool dust extractor so long ago. But it’s a reason for switching between classes of vacs. Comparing different models of the same product category is often better (or complementary) done by subjective means, instead of going by published noise rating.
The ideal vac will have on-board storage for the power cord, hose, and accessories such as extension wands and nozzles. It’s the rare vac that can store everything perfectly.
How much will it cost? For vacs or dust extractors that have dust bags, how much will it cost to maintain?
A blower function can come in handy, where you take the hose from the inlet and instead connect it to the motor’s outlet. But for some vacs, it adds to the cost and complexity. On my vac, it’s a nuisance since there’s no functional top handle.
Cleanup Vac or Dust Extractor?
This is going to be a much longer post for another time. In general, a wet/dry vac is designed for cleanup tasks. You use it with a cylindrical filter and bare tub, or maybe a filter and a disposable bag. A dust extractor has a filter – HEPA-rated on most models these days – and a filter bag (usually), and is designed for connecting to tools, such as saws, sanders, and routers.
Dust extractors often come with narrower hoses that are easier to move a tool around with, and the higher velocity can help with particulate collection efficiency.
Shop vacuums often have larger hoses that are less prone to clogging.
You can often use the two vacuum types interchangeably, although sometimes other accessories or add-ons are needed.
Country of Origin
Where is it made?
Plastic or Metal Tub?
Most wet/dry vacuums and dust extractors have plastic collection tubs, some have metal.
Read Also: Why Buy a Stainless Steel Shop Vacuum?
Shop Vac says that: Our plastic tanks are lighter and won’t dent. Our stainless steel tanks are more durable and easier to clean.
Unless you have a reason for going with a metal tub, go with plastic.
My father’s shop vacuum lasted an incredibly long time, and so when it was time to replace it, he went with the same brand. These days, you have a lot of choices, but maybe you favor a particular brand over the others.
What are Your 3 Most Important Considerations?
Maybe around 12 years ago, I bought a small shop vacuum, focusing on 1) price, 2) size/capacity, 3) the ability to fit it with easily-found disposable dust bags and a Cleanstream filter. I was renting, and it was a perfect fit under my workbench and then on Metro-style wire shelving.
When I bought my next vac, my priorities were a little different. I wanted a 1) dust extractor that was 2) much quieter than my shrill shop vacuum, and 3) featured auto-on and adjustable power. That’s when I went with a Festool dust extractor.
2 years ago, I bought another vac, with attention paid to 1) capacity, 2) price, and 3) hose size. I wanted a general purpose shop vacuum for household cleanup tasks and all kinds of things like that.
If I were to replace that general purpose wet/dry vacuum now, my priorities would be 0) price, 1) capacity, 2) portability, 3) hose size.
For a dust extractor, quietness would be less of a consideration than it used to be. Usually, it doesn’t matter how quiet the extractor is, because when used with a power tool, the combined noise necessitates hearing protection.