For cleaning up spills and messes in a garage or basement, it is tough to beat the Ridgid 12-Gallon WD1270 Wet Dry Vac.
This wet dry vac (aka a “shop vac”1) has a large capacity and a powerful motor for sucking up debris, but with 4 casters and a manageable weight, it’s not too difficult to drag through a basement or carry on a flight of stairs. The Ridgid comes with a three nozzles (general use, wet spills, and a small one for detail work) that store on the vac and out of the way, using a smarter design than competitors’ accessory caddies. The Ridgid is regularly sold on the shelves of Home Depot—where it has hundreds of mostly 5-star reviews—and extra filters, hoses, and nozzles are easy to find. Throughout a ten-year construction career, this is the vac that I saw on job sites and personally used the most often, and it’s the one I’ve owned at home for years.
If you can’t find our pick or just want a more powerful option, we also like the Ridgid WD1450 14-gallon Wet Dry Vac. This vacuum has more capacity and a more powerful motor than our main pick, but its identical hose should suck up the same debris. It’s not our pick because its weight—about 27 pounds to our pick’s 18—is noticeably heavier, especially on stairs. It’s also more expensive. Its user reviews, like our pick’s, are extremely positive.
I spent ten years in construction building high-end homes in the Boston area. On every single one of those days, I was involved in the daily clean-up. Ninety percent of the time, that meant pushing around a wet dry vac, also known casually as a “shop vac” (though that’s a brand name). I’ve vacuumed nails, water, sawdust, insulation, spilled coffee, dumped over bags of concrete, spilled paint and plenty more. I also have my own workshop at my house that I keep clean with a wet dry vac. Additionally, through my construction work and at my own homes, I’ve dealt with at least a half-dozen flooded basements and have found wet dry vacs to be instrumental in removing water and cleaning up.
Aside from any emergency situations, a wet dry vac is a great addition to any garage or basement dealing with the spills and messes that are the byproduct of a DIY lifestyle. If your kind of messes are too much for a mop and broom, a wet dry vac will earn its keep.
In our experience, it’s tough to beat the Ridgid 12-gallon WD1270 Wet Dry Vac. It offers a good capacity, comes with all of the right nozzle ends and stores them so they stay out of the way. The Ridgid is readily available on the shelves of Home Depot, where you can also get new filters, replacement hoses, and additional nozzle ends. The 12-gallon Ridgid wet dry vac was the most commonly seen vac during my construction career and it’s the one I own and use. I’ve had my current one for at least seven or eight years and I’ve never had any problems with it (other than the hose I melted on a propane heater, but that was my own fault).
The Ridgid has a 12-gallon canister, which is the sweet spot between capacity and maneuverability. Compared to smaller sizes, some of which are even handheld, you won’t have to stop and empty the vac as often. But compared to the larger sizes, the Ridgid is not too bulky to empty out or haul up a set of stairs (it has a convenient handle at the top). With this size tank, the Ridgid stands about two feet high with a diameter of around 20 inches, about the same as other 12-gallon models.
The Ridgid comes with three nozzle ends, which is all I’ve ever needed. There is a wide dry nozzle, a wet nozzle, and a small nozzle for corners and detail work. Other models might come with more options, but I’ve found they just tend to get in the way or lost over time. We especially like how the Ridgid stores the nozzles at the base of the drum, just over the casters. This keeps them out of the way while the vac is in use. Other models, like many of the Shop-Vacs, put the accessories on a caddy up at the top, which causes trouble as the hose is moving back and forth over the vac during a cleanup. Usually on construction sites I’ve seen these caddies get thrown away out of frustration—then, a month later, all of the accessory nozzles are lost.
The Ridgid has a 2½-inch hose diameter, which is standard for the 12-gallon size. A distinction of the Ridgid is that the hose actually clips to the vacuum, creating a very stable connection—some others just have a pressure fit connection, and these come loose all the time as you lead the vac around by pulling on the hose. In my experience, this diameter of hose is enough to clean up most major workshop messes, easily pulling in nails, bits of glass, sawdust, and screws.
While there are other sizes of Ridgid vacs out there (many of them great), we feel the 12-gallon sizes offers the best balance of capacity, mobility, and it usually comes in priced under $100, a price lower than some other Ridgids and more comparable to its competitors. At 18 pounds, this is more manageable on stairs than some larger, more powerful, also popular versions.
Because wet dry vacs are often needed in an emergency or for major jobs at a moments notice, availability for the vac itself and also extra filters and additional nozzles figure in to our recommendation. Even in normal use, filters get clogged over time, and I’ve found that there are only so many times you can bang the dust out of them before you need a new one. Home Depot stocks a number of use-specific filters compatible with their wet dry vacs, including HEPA filters and ones specifically designed for fine dust. Also available are additional nozzles and replacement hoses. I’ve also lost a number of nozzle ends and have irreparably damaged a hose, so easy replacement parts are important here.
Years of personal experience also informed this recommendation, and this is a vac that I’ve spent countless hours using at home and on lots of jobsites during my construction career. I’ve never had any problems with it and I’ve never found another wet dry vac that was noticeably better. The 12-gallon Ridgid hits all the marks.
If the 12-gallon Ridgid isn’t available, or if you feel like you can handle a larger sized vacuum, we also like the Ridgid WD1450 14-gallon Wet Dry Vac. This is nearly the same as our main pick, just with a higher price, a larger capacity, and slightly larger motor. It should pull up the same water, dust, and dirt, just perhaps a touch more aggressively. The main reason it’s not our pick is it’s listed at a hair above 27 pounds, nearly 10 more than our pick’s weight, about 18 pounds. Our pick is manageable up or down some stairs; this is not as easy. It has very similar accessories, a slightly different switch interface, and the same hose diameter. This got a “gold star” in a head-to-head test and review by Top Ten reviews updated in March 2017.
Although we’ve wanted to do a guide to wet dry vacs for years, we never got around to it, and didn’t have time to exhaustively look at this category before the recent hurricanes in 2017. There are plenty of other wet dry vacuums out there, most notably from Shop-Vac, a product sold at Lowe’s with reviews that are lower in both rating and quantity than our pick or most any other Ridgid option. There’s a larger 16-gallon version of our pick that was a favorite of Popular Mechanics in 2013 (we think that size is usually overkill). There’s a smaller 6-gallon Ridgid, but the reviews aren’t as stellar. There are more expensive cordless vacs like Milwaukee’s. There are also a number of high-end vacuums from Fein, Festool, Bosch, and others that focus on dust collection, but these are more of a workshop tool than a garage tool and are quite expensive.
For this guide, we wanted to quickly offer a solid recommendation should you suddenly need a wet dry vac due to weather-related events, working more off years of experience comparing tools in the field rather than the usual assessment of everything else that’s out there. We hope to do a full test in the future, in which case we can more confidently compare the Ridgid models to vacuums we have less experience with.
In the meantime, if you have been impacted by a storm, you may appreciate some of the general wet-basement advice we reported in a guide to the best dehumidifier.
(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)