If your cleanup needs go beyond what can be accomplished with a regular vacuum, it may be time for a wet/dry vac. Because it sucks up both liquids and large debris, a wet/dry vac is great for things like broken glass and spills or the mess that comes if you do a lot of DIY, but it’s also great for less obvious things like cleaning out a fireplace, clearing a drain, inflating pool toys, cleaning rain gutters, and even clearing snow. Not to mention that with the world’s increasing propensity for flooding, having something on hand that can clear away water does provide some peace of mind. But while a wet/dry vac can be indispensable in the event of a basement inundation or other minor flood, experts caution that cleaning up after a large-scale disaster is better left to professionals. “If the water is pumped out completely in a short period of time,” explains Stephanie Fox of the American Red Cross, “pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse.” And just removing surface water may not be enough, says Brent Calvin, business development director at Disaster Kleenup Specialists in Monterey Bay, California. “Water can carry dangerous contaminants and seep into porous materials like drywall and flooring,” he explains. If you must remove water from your home, Fox advises that you wear protective clothing like rubber gloves and rubber boots and discard anything that can’t be cleaned or disinfected. “When in doubt, throw it out,” she says.
When choosing a wet/dry vac, says Luca Major, owner of LM12 Cleaning Services in New York City, you should first figure out what sort of messes you’ll be using it for and then “select a wet/dry vac with the power and capacity to easily tackle those messes.” Calvin considers a five-to-15–gallon tank a reasonable capacity, but, says homesteader Morgan Rogue of Rogue Preparedness, “even a four-gallon one will get the job done” as long as you don’t mind emptying it more often. Calvin also says to look for something that can suction up around 100 cfm (cubic feet per minute), and “if you’re using it primarily for dust or other small-particle extraction, a HEPA filtration system is a must.” One thing that doesn’t matter so much? Cord length. “Most companies will advertise the cord length,” says Major, “but in reality, an extension cord can always be connected to increase distance.” Even with these guidelines, there are still a ton of options to consider when looking for a wet/dry vac, so we asked six experts — from cleanup and restoration professionals to disaster-preparedness specialists — to tell us about their favorites.
Best small wet/dry vacs
DeWalt wet/dry vacs come highly recommended by both Major and Calvin, whose company keeps them in its trucks for smaller jobs. For the average homeowner, he says, this one’s a great choice. It’s got a five-gallon canister, and, at under 16 pounds, it’s light and easy to use. Its 4.0 peak horsepower engine sucks up liquids and solids and has a blowing function.
For household use or a small commercial space, Major strongly recommends machines by Karcher. “They’re reliable and lightweight,” he says, “and perfect for any chore around the house.” He especially likes the NT 30/1 Tact L model. It does cost a little more, but just look at it! It’s sleek and very powerful for its size (150 cfm), has a great filter, is easy to maneuver, and comes with tons of tools.
Our experts unanimously love Craftsman. “We have a Craftsman, and it works like a charm,” says Rogue, who suggests you choose a size that fits your needs from the wide variety the brand offers and get some extra filters, too. Another fan is former Special Forces captain, survival instructor, and author Mykel Hawke. He has seen his share of natural disasters, and while he acknowledges that you can’t prepare for Mother Nature, “we can all do something more, so focus on that,” he says. He likes having a powerful little Craftsman like this around for small jobs.
Best medium wet/dry vacs
Hawke also likes DeWalt wet/dry vacs for bigger jobs. This model has a 12-gallon tank, 5.5 peak horsepower, rubber casters for smooth swiveling, a blower port, and a built-in accessory-storage bag that keeps everything organized and right where you need it.
Hawke, Major, and Calvin are also fans of the wet/dry vacs from Ridgid. Calvin takes them on jobs and recommends this one for the average homeowner. It’s made of extra-durable material and has a blowing feature, and its accessories lock together so nothing falls off while you’re using it.
Best large wet/dry vacs
With its 16-gallon tank, 150 cfm, and HEPA filter, this wet/dry vac by Vacmaster meets all of Calvin’s criteria. Plus, it has a blower function and a kink-free hose.
For a larger model, Major likes this one by Ridgid, which comes with extra filters, lots of accessories, and a lifetime guarantee. “But keep in mind,” he says, “the larger the tank is, the heavier it will get as it fills up.”
The Michigan prepper and homesteader known to her loyal YouTube following as Prepper Potpourri says she relies on her 16-gallon Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 for all kinds of situations, like “pipes breaking in the basement, a faulty sump pump, and a water-heater leak.” It’s a bit of a mouthful, but the CMXEVBE17595 has 6.5 peak horsepower, a highly maneuverable hose, a built-in blower port, and lots of accessories.
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