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Best Small Shop Vacs in 2023

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Products Updated January 24, 2023
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What are the features that make the best vacuum cleaner? For starters, portability and flexibility are essential. The best compact shop vacuums can go anywhere with you, so you should consider an option with features that extend your range, such as long power cords, lots of battery life, or a carry handle for easy transportation.

The top small shop vacs also give you plenty of power to clean up most messes. While they won’t perform as well as larger vacuums, these compact models still offer a peak horsepower (HP) high enough to clean heavy objects and liquid spills.

Finally, you should purchase a small shop vac with the attachments necessary to clean up in a wide variety of different scenarios, similar to what you’d see in the Dewalt 20V vacuum review. This way, you won’t be stuck in a situation where you can’t reach a tight spot or clean up carpet and bare floor at the same time.

Keep reading to learn more about the best small shop vacs and how you go about finding the right one for your needs.

Top Small Shop Vacs

 #1   Vacmaster VOM205P Portable Vacuum Cleaner


WHY WE LIKE IT: This vacuum cleaner comes with a highly potent motor that helps deliver excellent suction power right out of the box without any modifications. In addition, it features an actually usable blower mode that is very useful for cleaning outdoors. It comes with a separate car cleaning mode, and the required tools are included in the box.

  • Excellent suction power
  • Highly compact and lightweight body
  • Includes a competent blowing mode
  • It might blow sucked up dust right back out from the exhaust port
  • Somewhat shoddy build quality
  • Non-modular design

If you combine the Vacmaster VOM205P Portable Vacuum Cleaner’s long attachments and even longer power cord, it offers up to 14 feet of cleaning reach, which is among the best you can get in its range. On top of that, its compact and lightweight body can easily be carried and stored anywhere without any issue. And it even comes with a detachable wall mount that securely holds this vacuum and all its accessories. However, its build quality does leave a lot to be desired.

Despite not feeling very premium in hand, it has a capable motor that continuously provides up to 65 CFM airflow without slowing down. It also has a 2.5-gallon dust tank, which should be more than enough to hold the entire dart of a large place. In addition, it also acts as a wet vac. And that means it can suck up both solid materials and liquid from the floor without creating a mess, as long as you use the included foam filter.

 #2   Armor All AA255 Vacuum Cleaner


WHY WE LIKE IT: We love this vacuum cleaner for its high suction power and automatic modes. And it makes good use of its large body, as it comes with a ton of different accessories that are attached and stored right inside. It also includes a blower mode for blowing away leaves outdoors, doubling as a leaf blower. On top of that, it features a 10-foot-long power cord.

  • Exceptional suction power and dust capacity
  • It has an auto-shut-off feature for preventing overflow
  • It comes with an included 10 ft hose
  • The large body might be difficult to store in a small cabinet
  • The trash collector ejects dust in a very messy manner
  • Its included hose isn’t very wide to pick up large particles

The Armor All AA255 Vacuum Cleaner sports a 10 feet long 1-¼ inch diameter hose along with a 10-feet-long power cord. So, all in all, it provides an almost 20 feet long cleaning diameter which is hard to beat. Moreover, it has onboard accessories that are attached inside its body for easy access, despite including a large dustbin for liquid and solid pick up. But its hose isn’t wide enough to suck up large debris and leaves, and that can be a dealbreaker for some users.

It also comes with a built-in powerful motor (2 HP peak) that somewhat makes up for the narrow hose. And almost everything inside this vacuum cleaner’s body is retractable (including the hose and the long power cord). As a result, it can be cleanly stored inside a large cabinet without different accessories hanging out from its body. Furthermore, it has a competent blower function for outdoor cleaning, and it converts to a blower very easily, thanks to its modular design. It has an auto shut-off mode as well.

 #3   Stanley SL18910P-3 HP Vacuum Cleaner


WHY WE LIKE IT: It features an extremely powerful brass plated motor that provides superb suction power on a continuous basis. In addition, its exquisite build quality helps give a premium feel in hand, and it should last a long time without degrading. Moreover, its 11-liter dust carrying capacity is very useful for cleaning an extremely large area, as the user doesn’t have to empty it frequently to prevent overflow.

  • Exceptionally large dust tank
  • Extremely powerful brass plated motor
  • A ton of included accessories
  • The included hose is only 4 feet long
  • Pretty heavy and not very portable
  • The canister form factor might be a dealbreaker for some

Just like most other models in its range, the Stanley SL18910P-3 HP Vacuum Cleaner has a versatile 2-in-1 function, as it can effortlessly pick up both liquid materials and solid dust effortlessly without malfunctioning. On top of that, despite being pretty short, its included hose has a wide diameter for industrial workloads. It even includes a large dust canister. However, its 11-liter carrying capacity can be a double-edged sword, as it adds a lot of heft to this vacuum’s body.

Even though it weighs a lot, this vacuum cleaner includes a carrying handle on top. And it also has a foam filter that prevents the exhaust port from gushing out the liquid that got sucked in. And best of all, other than cleaning this vacuum cleaner and its accessories frequently, it does not overbear the user with maintenance costs. In addition, it sports a lot of different upholstery accessories for above-floor cleaning, and it has a lot of brush tools for dust saw cleaning, best for shops.

 #4   Shop-Vac 2021000 Micro Vacuum Cleaner


WHY WE LIKE IT: This vacuum cleaner has excellent build quality. And as a result, it feels very premium and lasts a long time without breaking down. But, despite the durable materials, it does not weigh much. And that makes it easy to carry anywhere without almost any effort. On top of that, it works very well as a shop vacuum with its long hose.

  • Extremely long included hose
  • Superb durability and build quality
  • Includes a 6-foot long retractable power cord
  • Low suction power
  • 1 HP low-powered motor with only 50 CFM airflow
  • It does not support dual voltage

The Shop-Vac 2021000 Micro Vacuum Cleaner comes with an extremely long vacuuming hose that is very well built to last long. And doubled with its 6 feet long power cord, it offers an extensive cleaning area to the user. On top of that, its lightweight body can easily be carried anywhere with minimal effort. However, its 1-HP motor might not be powerful enough to provide a strong suction power through its long hose, as it can only deliver a measly 50 CFM airflow at its peak.

Its 1-gallon dust bag should be enough for a small shop, and it has an easy emptying process. So even if you have a large area to clean, emptying this vacuum cleaner multiple times is not a big hassle. And it even has various foam and paper filters built in. As a result, it effortlessly cleans up both spilled liquid and solid dirt from any surface. In addition, despite coming with a long hose, it can carry large debris and food, and they all go to the dust bag.

 #5   Sun Joe Ultra-Portable Vacuum Cleaner


WHY WE LIKE IT: We adore how tiny this vacuum cleaner is, despite packing a powerful punch. It has a powerful 7 amp brass plated DC motor, which provides ample suction for cleaning up even the most stubborn dust particles. And despite coming with a small body, it has a large dust tank that holds a lot of dirt.

  • Excellent compact design
  • Small and lightweight body
  • Incredible suction power with 3 HP motor
  • Poor build quality
  • Short and non-retractable power cord
  • Hard to use, especially for a first-time user

Despite being a small vacuum cleaner, the Sun Joe Ultra-Portable Vacuum Cleaner comes with a powerful 7 amp brass plated DC motor that delivers superb suction power for sucking up basically everything from any surface without slowing down. And it also has a washable and reusable filtration system, which drastically cuts down the maintenance cost over a substantial time period. But it might be a bit difficult to use for first-time users, as it does not come with a detailed manual inside the box.

However, its disassembly and maintenance process is relatively easy to follow. And it comes with many accessories inside its box for cleaning different surfaces. As a result, it can be used as a versatile multi-purpose vacuum cleaner, and it can clean both shops and a large home pretty well on the same suction setting. Best of all, even its crevice tool also includes a brush for dislodging stubborn particles like wet sawdust from soft surfaces.

 #6   WORKSHOP WS0255V Compact Vacuum Cleaner


WHY WE LIKE IT: This vacuum cleaner has an excellently modular design which makes it easy to transport. In addition, its minuscule body features a strong DC motor that provides exceptional suction power, which should be good enough for virtually every surface. And its dust tank is also fairly large, as it requires less emptying while cleaning a large house. Its noise level is also relatively low at only 84 decibels.

  • Superb suction power
  • Exceptionally low noise levels
  • Lightweight and compact body
  • It might blow dust out of the exhaust port
  • It does not include a HEPA filter
  • Short power cord

The WORKSHOP WS0255V Compact Vacuum Cleaner is one of the leading quiet vacuums, as it only reaches 84 decibels even at its max setting. But that does not mean it lacks in terms of its suction power, far from it. However, its non-retractable short power cord massively hampers its cleaning area.

It does have a carrying handle, which makes it very easy to move around between different rooms. And just like its competing models, it comes with a ton of accessories that easily attach to this vacuum cleaner for deep cleaning different surfaces. And it has separate nozzles for cleaning crevices without having to reach with its wide attachments. Its powerful DC motor also helps deliver a strong suction power that is ample for both hard and soft flooring materials.

Beginner’s Guide to Small Shop Vacs

What Are Small Shop Vacs?

Small shop vacs are specialized vacuums made specifically for tackling tough jobs. They can more easily pick up heavy debris like wood chips, drywall dust, and other dry refuse. Depending on which model you purchase, these powerful vacuums can also be used to clean up liquid spills.

Although small shop vacuums are smaller in capacity than standard shop vacs, they are typically no less powerful.

Small Shop Vacs vs. Traditional Vacuums

The core functionality of shop vacuums is the same as traditional vacuums. They are both intended to suck up messes around your home, car, or workshop. The differences, however, come into play when you consider the powerful suction capabilities of a compact shop vac.

In general, a shop vacuum features a more powerful motor than a traditional dry vacuum cleaner. This allows them to clean up heavier messes that a normal one couldn’t handle.

Dry messes like wood chunks, nails, drywall debris, and sawdust are no problem for a shop vac. On top of that, unlike traditional vacuums, certain models are capable of handling wet messes.

The best small vacuum cleaners also feature a more compact design than regular vacuum cleaners. This way, they are more portable and versatile.

How Small Shop Vacs Work

All vacuums follow the same general idea when it comes to base functionality, which is to create a vacuum by lowering the air pressure. Vacuums create this effect with an electric motor and a fan. Once powered on, the vacuum’s motor spins the fan to create a vacuum effect, providing the strong suction power needed to pull debris into the intake hose.

Compact shop vacuums use the same basic principle with a slight adjustment. Typically, the fan in a shop vac is mounted on a wide, bucket-style canister. Once the air reaches the canister, it slows down and diminishes the vacuum effect. This way, the debris falls into the canister before it gets into the motor.

This configuration is crucial for the operation of shop vacuums because they don’t typically use a bag or filter to prevent debris from going anywhere other than the canister.

Do You Really Need a Small Shop Vac?

Due to their name, most people think that you should only use a shop vacuum in an actual workshop. This isn’t necessarily true. While they do perform well in workshops with heavy debris, they aren’t limited to that one scenario.

Small shop vacs are perfect for cleaning messes in tight spaces, regardless of whether it’s in your home, car, or workshop. They’re also much more portable, meaning you can easily take them with you wherever you go. Unfortunately, they’re not great pond vacuums, for that, you’ll need another device.

If you need something portable with more suction power than you’d get from a standard vacuum, then a small shop vac is the way to go.

Is a Small Shop Vac Worth Buying?

  • You Need Powerful and Portable Cleaning: The thing about small shop vacuums is their portability and power. If you find that you constantly need more powerful suction capabilities while you’re on the go, then a compact shop vac is an excellent choice for you.
  • You Only Need to Clean Small Messes: If your heavy-duty messes come in small quantities, then a compact shop vac should do the trick for you just fine. If you work on small projects every so often, one of these units can help you get cleaned up without a large investment or the need for a lot of storage space.
  • You Own a Car Detailing Business: Small shop vacs are perfect for detailing and cleaning up cars. If you own a car detailing business, then a small shop vac can provide all of the power and convenience you need to get your jobs done quickly.
  • You Own a Household Cleaning Business: If you own a household cleaning business, a great vacuum will be invaluable to you. You may also consider buying a self-propelled vacuum to help you complete your cleaning tasks quickly and efficiently.

Why a Small Shop Vac May Not Be For You

  • You Frequently Need to Clean Big Messes: If your garage, home, or workshop is constantly full of large-scale dry and wet messes, then a small shop vac probably isn’t right for you. Due to their limited capacity, it will need to be emptied more regularly. This may prolong your cleanup process and cause more frustration than convenience.
  • You Don’t Need to Clean Up Heavy Debris: If you don’t need to clean up heavy debris of any kind, then you’re likely okay using a standard vacuum cleaner.

How Long Will a Small Shop Vac Last?

Most shop vacuums from major manufacturers, like Ridgid, are meant to last anywhere from 500 to 700 usage hours. But, of course, the number of years this translates to ultimately depends on how often you use your small shop vacuum. According to Consumer Reports, though, most vacuum cleaners will last you around eight years.

Shop vacuums are built to handle tough jobs, so the types of things you clean with these products shouldn’t affect their lifespan. However, you should always take care to operate your compact shop vacuum appropriately to prevent damage.

How to Choose the Best Small Shop Vac

When it comes time to purchase your shop vac, there are a number of key factors to consider. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to buy a wet and dry vacuum that provides enough suction power, capacity, and versatility to match the jobs you do.

Keep reading to learn more about all the factors and features you need to consider before purchasing a small shop vacuum.

Small Shop Vac Key Factors to Consider

1. Do you need a small shop vac with both wet and dry cleaning?

Wet-dry vacs tend to be the most popular form of small shop vacuums, but that doesn’t mean you have to purchase one that does both. If you don’t foresee yourself ever needing to clean up a wet spill, then a dry vacuum may be all you need.

In general, though, there isn’t much of a price difference between wet-dry vacs and dry vacuums. As such, we’d recommend purchasing a small shop vacuum that can do both. This way, you’ll be prepared to tackle any mess in your way.

If you opt to purchase a small shop vacuum that can handle both types of messes, it’s important to note that you’ll need to remove the vacuum’s dry filter when handling wet spills and replace it when tackling dry debris. This added step isn’t too inconvenient, but if it’s not done properly, your vacuum could get ruined.

2. How big of a canister do you need for your small shop vac?

Most compact shop vacs offer a tank size of anywhere between one and six gallons. This is the perfect size to clean up smaller messes and still keep the vacuum portable. The exact tank capacity you purchase will ultimately depend on the types of messes you clean up frequently.

If you’re just cleaning your car with your portable shop vacuum, then something on the lower end of that range is usually fine. On the other hand, if you’re cleaning up your house, then you’ll want something with a larger tank size. On average, most people find that the 2.5-gallon tank size fits their needs.

Of course, it’s also important to note that a smaller canister doesn’t prevent you from using the shop vacuum for larger jobs entirely. It just means that you’ll need to empty it more often. This can be inconvenient, but there are many instances in which the more portable size of the vacuum outweighs the inconvenience of regular canister emptying.

3. How powerful do you need your small shop vac to be?

The power of your shop vac’s motor is important when considering the types of messes you want to clean up. For heavy debris and wet spills, you’ll want to purchase a shop vac with a more powerful motor. This way, you’ll be able to get it all in one go.

The power of a shop vacuum’s motor is measured in horsepower. Most small models offer an average of three horsepower. However, you can purchase models with motors on either end of that average.

4. Do you need a corded shop vac or a battery-powered shop vac?

Newer portable shop vacuums are starting to offer battery-powered options. This increases their overall portability and versatility since a corded shop vac is limited in overall range. However, even the best cordless shop vacuums do have their downsides, as well.

You’ll need to think about battery life with cordless shop vacuums, whereas you won’t have that concern with corded options. Battery-powered shop vacs also tend to offer lower motor power when compared to corded vacuums.

All in all, cordless models are an excellent choice for short and easy cleanup jobs. If you regularly deal with big messes, a corded option may be your best choice.

5. What kind of accessories and attachments do you need?

Small shop vacs come in all shapes and sizes, and they also offer a wide range of different accessories and attachments. The specific accessories you get with your shop vac are largely situational, but some common examples include:

  • Utility nozzle for all-purpose cleaning.
  • Crevice Tool or crevice nozzle for cleaning in tight spaces.
  • Gulper nozzle for picking up large messes.
  • Wet nozzle for wet spills.
  • Floor nozzle for cleaning floors of any kind.
  • Dual surface nozzle for cleaning bare floors and carpets.
  • Accessory storage to keep all of your nozzles and attachments in place.

You may also want to consider shop vacs with long power cords or included extension cords to extend your overall range, a stainless steel tank for added durability, and a carrying handle or circumference dolly for easier portability.

Small Shop Vac FAQs

Can I vacuum water with a shop vac?

Yes, you can vacuum water with your portable shop vac, as long as you purchase a model that is specifically labeled as a wet/dry shop vacuum.

Can you use a shop vac as a regular vacuum?

Yes, you can use your shop vac as a regular vacuum to clean up dry debris around the home. In this case, it’s important to ensure some kind of filter is installed in the shop vac to prevent dust from being spread throughout your house. Many shop vacs include a washable filter that you can use.

What is the best horsepower for a shop vacuum?

For larger shop vacs, a peak HP of around four or five horsepower is plenty. For smaller shop vacs, a peak HP of approximately one or two horsepower should be good enough.

Are shop vacuums better than traditional vacuums?

Shop vacuums aren’t necessarily better than traditional vacuums. They simply serve a different purpose. Shop vacuums are great for cleaning up dry and wet messes outside of the home. In contrast, traditional vacuums are good for household use since they filter dust out of your air while vacuuming.
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