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How to Choose a Wet/Dry Vacuum

November 9th, 2007 · No Comments

My husband called and told me that we needed a wet/dry vacuum. Why, I asked him? Well, he said, for the new truck. We just got a brand, spankin’ new 2008 Toyota Tacoma and I guess we need a wet/dry vac for it? Hmmm, now I’m not the one who ever needs an excuse to buy a new tool but our new truck is too new to even vacuum! But like I said, I don’t need an excuse to buy a new tool and this is a great reason to research the various Wet/dry vacuums that are out there.

My first step was to find the right size for our needs. We are in the process of remodeling our house – – on the 5-or-so-year plan. So, we would use the wet/dry vacuum for cleaning up remodeling debris when we knock down walls, drywall dust, nails, and such. I am clumsy as well as being a bit of a neat freak and could use it to vacuum my garage and clean up spills and maybe I could even attach it to my Miter saw? Then, there’s the car and the truck to clean. But we live in a 1100 Square feet, not-so-sprawling ranch home, so we don’t have much storage for a large unit.

We need a wet/dry vacuum that will be small and portable, yet powerful and durable. Wet/dry vacuums come in a variety of sizes, from 1/2 gallon capacity to 15 gallon, 3-stage motor capacities. One feature I was looking for was something that could suck up small bits, wood chips and other sharp debris without putting holes in the hose or filter. I also want a wet/dry vac that will attach to my sander, miter saw and other power tools. Maybe the vacuum could even sweep my new bamboo floors. I’m looking for something that has a durable hose that won’t kink and also accessory attachments for corners and upholstery. I don’t need an enormous tank but I want a vacuum with powerful suction.

First, I looked into the DeWalt DC515 Heavy Duty 18v 1/2 gallon cordless/corded wet/dry vacuum. One very cool feature of this vac is that it has a cordless option. The 12v or 18v battery NiCad or Nano from your DeWalt power tool will power the DC515 vacuum. This feature makes it convenient for use in attics and areas where there is no power, and also useful for cleaning your vehicle. Plus, it small enough to store on your truck. The downside with this vacuum is the low Suction pressure rating, how far up a glass tube a vacuum motor will lift a column of water. For the DeWalt CD515, the suction pressure is rated at about 40-inches. Priced at around $140, the DeWalt DC515 is like an expensive dust buster. DeWalt also makes a 2 gallon cordless/corded wet/dry vacuum, the DC500. A Factory Reconditioned version can be purchased for around $80. The DC500 has a Gore wet/dry filter that traps 99.7% of drywall dust. I couldn’t find a suction pressure rating on this one which probably = not good. The DC500 is cordless however and can run off either a 12v or 18v DeWalt Nicad or NANO battery.

I decided to explore the omnipresent Shop-Vac. Shop-Vac’s have been around for over 40 years and are sold in pretty much every hardware store imaginable. There must be something to their popularity. The Shop-Vac 971-03-00 is a 3HP/2gallon wet/dry vacuum. Horsepower rating is the maximum output horsepower of a motor determined from a laboratory dynamometer test. But peak horsepower is outside the normal operating range of a vacuum cleaner, so it is not really a factor that determines how much air a vacuum can suction. The Shop-Vac 971-03-00 has a 60-inch suction pressure rating. That’s pretty good for a $60 wet/dry vacuum. Shop-Vac’s range in sizes from small, cordless dustbuster type wet/dry vacuums to 55-gallon, commercial versions.

These options are fine but can I also attach the wet/dry vacuum to my sander and other power tools as I’m working in the garage? Standard hose diameter’s seem to be 1.25″. I searched and found the Fein 9-11-55 TurboI wet/dry vacuum. The Fein vac features a cloth filter that will screen dust particles up to 5-microns (perfect for the workshop). It also has an onboard panel mounted outlet. You can plug your sander into the vacuum and when you turn your sander on, the vac starts automatically. Nice! When you shut your sander off, the vacuum continues to run for 3 seconds to clean the hose.The filter is removable for wet applications and with 16 feet of flexible hose and a sturdy rubber adapter, it can easily attach to power tools for dust collection. Compared to the others, the Fein 9-11-55 Turbo I has a suction pressure rating of 90-inches, quite a bit more suction than the DeWalt DC515 or the Shop-Vac. And this baby is QUIET! (aka: you could use it as your household vacuum) The Fein 9-11-55 TurboI comes with an upholstery and a crevice tool but the floor brush attachment has to be purchased separately (the floor brush has wheels but not a beater brush for carpeting). With a standard hose diameter at 1.25 inches though, I wonder if you couldn’t use a floor brush from an old vacuum? I have a Fein Multimaster and I know that Fein manufactures tools of exceptional quality. I’m sure for $240, the Fein 9-11-55 TurboI wet/dry vacuum wouldn’t disappoint.

Of course, these four vacuum options just touch the surface of what is available in a wet/dry vacuum. DeWalt makes larger versions and other manufacturers such as Festool and Porter Cable, to name a few, also make high quality wet/dry vacuums.

The basic features to look for in a wet/dry vacuum come down to:
1. suction pressure rating (be concerned if it doesn’t show a rating)
2. tank size (in gallons)
3. quality components (flexible rubber hoses that won’t bind or kink)
4. length of cords and hoses
5. what attachments are included (for upholstery and extensions for floors)
6. filtration system (the smallest particles that it has the capacity to filter)

Remember that a vacuum’s performance is rated by the amount of work performed by the vacuum cleaner and the size of the particulate matter that it has the capacity to filter. Air power is a combination of suction and air flow. Particulate size is determined by the filter rating. Air power will be reduced by dirty filters, leaks and poor quality attachments. A dirty filter system will reduce the suction and air flow. Vacuum filters need to be cleaned regularly and replaced as necessary to facilitate peak performance in your vacuum.

Written by Jude Herr

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