Making a mess is inevitable. If you think about where we as gearheads make a mess, it’s actually easier to think about where we don’t get things dirty. Grinding on metal, cutting MDF for sub boxes, spilling fluids, and cleaning up the accident the kids had in your truck are all messes we’re faced with every day. Having a quality shop vacuum is an absolute must. The problem is there are so many out there. How do you buy the best one? For this month’s Truckin Tough, we tackle this question head-on and pit four popular shop vacuums against each other to determine the winner.
Testing was conducted using the vacuums just like you would—by cleaning up big messes ranging from fine grinder dust, to loose metal shavings, to water pickup, and even cleaning the crud off of new floor mats. We also looked at cord and hose length, decibel level, overall capacity, motor amperage, suction power, included number of attachments, design features, hose and attachment organization, portability, value, warranty, and country of origin.
1. Craftsman XSP 12-gallon
Price: $79.99 (on sale at time of purchase) $89.99 non-sale price
Online reviews of the Craftsman XSP 12-gallon wet/dry vacuum show a unanimous five-star rating, and after our battery of testing, we clearly see why so many people rave about it. The Craftsman XSP ran away with this shootout by placing First in overall suction power (with a 5.5 peak horsepower motor), portability, ergonomics, included attachments, and hose/cord organization. When it didn’t come in First place in a test, it came in a close Second, as was the case in water pickup, decibel level (90 dB), grinder dust pickup, cord/hose length, and overall value. The large-diameter hose remained unclogged when cleaning up messes of all sizes, and with an as-purchased-price of $79.99, the XSP is a solid value for its impressive performance.
2. Rigid 14-gallon
Looking at only the stats, Rigid’s 14-gallon 6.0 peak HP motor with a 20-foot power cord and large-diameter hose would be the class leader. We were impressed with its powerful suction both for fine dust and water, best-in-class 88dB operating volume, and lifetime warranty. However, the crevice tool that came with the vacuum has an odd design that proved to be a weak point when getting into tight or low spots. It placed at or near the top in every test that the Craftsman XSP didn’t win, but overall, the higher price wasn’t enough to overtake the Craftsman.
3. Central Machinery 5-gallon
Price: $46.99 (sale price at time of purchase) $59.99 non-sale price
Before we get any hate mail about including a smaller vacuum that is half the price of others in this test, keep in mind many online reviews stated they no longer used their more expensive and larger vacuums due to the superior suction of this unit—we tried it out for ourselves. Remember the children’s book The Little Engine That Could? That story is a great analogy for the Central Machinery 5-gallon wet/dry vacuum. We finished the test with a great appreciation for its 3.0 peak HP performance-to-size ratio, value, and attachments. During testing, the Central Machinery excelled at sucking up metal shavings, getting into tight areas with its compact crevice tool, and deep-cleaning floor mats in the multi-pass test. Where it suffered was in its small hose diameter where large items got clogged, its poorly engineered power on/off switch, and lack of proper hose storage.
4. Shop-Vac 12-gallon Stainless Steel
When you think of a heavy-duty wet/dry vacuum, you probably think of the name Shop-Vac, and rightfully so, as it’s been a leader in this category for years. With $100 budget, we splurged on the 12-gallon stainless steel model with a powerful 6.0 peak HP motor. Things started off great—it’s made in the USA, has a three-year warranty, and it has a total reach of 26 feet. Then we turned it on, and with the metal drum resonating, the decibel meter shot to 94 dB, the loudest in the test. Add to that the small hose diameter with shavings and large debris clogging the inlet and we began to think less of the Shop-Vac. What landed it in last place was the inability to suck up water because of the paper filter. The $99.98 Shop-Vac did not include a foam filter, and for an additional $5.00, we had to purchase a foam filter. Come on Shop-Vac, just throw in the foam filter for crying out loud.