What is a Shop Vac? Do you need one?

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You may have heard the term “shop vac” before, but may not be all top clear on what it actually is. To say the least, shop vacs are indeed very powerful and useful cleaning tools. Simply put, it is a vacuum intended for heavy-duty uses that normal vacuums just cannot deal with. Let’s get right to it and talk about everything you need to know about the infamous shop vac.


A shop vac is a special kind of vacuum most often used in construction and woodworking. These things consist of a high-powered motor and suction unit which sucks up dirt, debris, and chunks of material from building sites and woodworking shops. They feature a very big and tough hose, a big canister for holding the debris, and they work wonders for cleaning very dirty spaces.

Many people refer to shop vacs as bucket vacuums because, well, they look like buckets with a hose coming out of it. They usually feature wheels to make them easy to navigate around any space. Simply put, this is not the kind of vacuum that you would generally use to clean your home. It is intended for big-time jobs.

What is a shop vac used for?

Shop vacs are usually only used in constructions sites or woodworking shops, hence why they are called shop vacs. This particular type of vacuum is meant for sucking up nails, screws, other smaller metal pieces, sawdust, chunks of wood, and any other smaller objects that are often on the ground of a woodworking shop or construction site.

Sure, you can use one of these bad buys to do some home vacuuming, but that is not what it is built for, nor is it really ideal for home-cleaning purposes. Some shop vacs, the more expensive ones, can sometimes even suck up water and other wet messes. These are called wet/dry shop vacs and they are very versatile. Construction sites, especially when outdoors, can get pretty wet sometimes, so having a water-capable shop vac is often seen as quite a big bonus.

How do they differ from normal household vacuums?

There are a few certain differences between a conventional home vacuum and the shop vac, so let’s look at them.

As we mentioned before, perhaps the biggest difference is that shop vacs are intended for heavy-duty jobs with larger pieces of debris. Normal vacuums are only meant for dust, dirt, and other little particles. On the other hand, shop vacs can suck up nails, screws, and wood chunks with no problem, all things which would be way too heavy and big for a normal vacuum to handle.

Shop vacs have bigger and tougher hoses in order to handle those big, chunky, and often sharp pieces of debris. Due to their intended use, shop vacs are quite a bit bigger and bulkier than your average home vacuum. They need to be big to handle shop cleanup.

Shop vacs have a much more powerful motor than normal vacuums. This is totally necessary so that it can suck up big and heavy objects.

Shop vacs often need to be lifted up and flipped around in order to empty them of anything that has been sucked up. This is unlike a normal vacuum where you can simply remove the bag or filter compartment.

Normal household vacuums have pretty good filters to improve air quality in your home and stop small particles from re-entering the air in your home. On the other hand, shop vacs usually do not have any kind of filter. Their main purpose is sucking up and housing various objects, not cleaning the air.

Shop vacs generally come with a big tube with a wide opening, but that is it. Shop vacs usually do not come with any kind of carpet, fabric, or drape cleaning accessories as that is not what they are intended for.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to having a shop vac.


  • They are much more powerful than normal vacuums;
  • They can handle much bigger objects than normal vacuums;
  • Clogging a shop vac is not an easy feat to accomplish;
  • Many shop vacs can handle wet messes
  • They are ideal for construction sites and woodworking shops


  • They generally do not do a good job at filtering air;
  • They are often much bigger and heavier than conventional vacuums;
  • Slightly hard to maneuver;
  • They usually do not come with any accessories for carpets, drapes, or other fabrics.

Should I have a shop vac in my home?

Generally speaking, unless your house is very messy and there are often large amounts of big debris around, you don’t really need a shop vac for your home. Sure, you can use them for cleaning your driveway, veranda, porch, or garage, but for general carpet and floor cleaning, shop vacs are both unnecessary and not all that ideal.

Can you vacuum up water with a shop vac?

This depends on the type of shop vac that you purchase. Some shop vacs can only handle dry things, but there are also wet/dry shop vacs that can suck up liquid as well as dry things. Of course, buying a shop vac that can suck up water will cost you more than one that does not have this ability.


The bottom line is that shop vacs are certainly very useful tools if the circumstances call for it. While they may not be the best choice for general home floor and carpet cleaning, if you work on a construction site, woodworking shop, or want it for driveway and garage cleaning, they make for some pretty useful tools indeed.

The fact that they are so high powered and can handle such a large variety of materials definitely makes them ideal for anybody who engages in heavy-duty cleanup jobs. If you're looking to add one of these handy units to your home, check out our reviews of the best shop vacs and you will be sure to find a suitable model.

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