There are a few devices that come into play during any home renovation project that make you say "Wow, I don't know how I could even begin to take on this project if I didn't have one of these." Saws, drills, and sanders are often a given necessity, and ones that make me feel lucky to live in the age of power tools and electricity. Though I didn't realize it early on, another such staple tool is your run-of-the-mill wet/dry vacuum. Honestly, other than divorced, I don't know where we'd be without it.

To the newbie home owner or DIYer, Shop-Vacs are loud, cumbersome, and a pain to deal with. Their filters clog, they blow dirt around as much as they suck up, and they are extremely loud...did I mention they're loud? But to the DIYer among us, they are a workhorse godsend, just waiting to pick up your sawdust, spilled dirt, demolition debris, or pretty much any other mess you've decided to throw at it.

Quite honestly, I've put my vacs through the ringer, calling on them to do everything from draining the pond in the back yard, to being my primary dust collection mechanism while wood working, to being my plaster/drywall dust vac during my attempts to smooth out my bumpy mud jobs. I've been so hard on my Shop-Vacs that I'm actually on my third one, having burned up the motor on the first two (you know you're vac is dead when the smell coming from the motor is a mixture of burning wires and a sweet odor.  

Since I've now purchased three Shop-Vacs, and have received a gift of a fourth (you can't have enough), I hope my experience can be your benefit and will help guide you in your Shop-Vac and accessories purchase.

First, let's take a look at our main vac. I opted for and really like the 10 gallon vac with 4 HP motor. The one I'm using handles the smallest or biggest messes without issue and is able to do double duty as primary cleanup device and dust collection system for woodworking. 

I chose the 10 gallon version since it seemed large enough to pickup and store enough debris that I wouldn't be constantly emptying it, but still small enough to be adequately portable. The larger vacs seemed to take up too much room for our modest home.

The 10 gallon decision I made has worked out really well. It's easy enough to cart up and down the stairs, inside and out, and wherever I need it to go, but is large, stable, and able to go for quite a while without being emptied.

Next we'll look at a few of our sucky accessories.

After an early attempt to sand some joint compound, and using the standard filters that came with the shop vac, I was left with a slightly less than desirable result. Well, I actually ended up looking a little like "Powder." And let me tell you, the dust was not confined to the room where I had been working, it was EVERYWHERE! Wendy was not pleased.

It was shortly after this event that I learned of two key items necessary for just about any major job, especially that one involves vacuuming fine dust particles. The first involves the replacement of the supplied filter with a HEPA filter. And the second was the use of drywall filter bags inside of the shop vac. These two items together have been invaluable in the fight against dust. This dust fighting duo is actually so effective that I can sand entire walls of skim coat, an amount that would normally induce a blizzard like cloud of fine and chalky dust, with little more than a fine layer left on the floor under the wall I'm working on. 

I'm not kidding you, buy these two items if you have any fine particles to vacuum up. The best part, after we're done vacuuming and the bag is full, I just remove the old bag, throw it away, put a new bag on, and I'm ready to go on another project.

Last Christmas Wendy surprised me with a very unexpected gift. The more work I'd been doing upstairs that involves sanding or demo, the more annoyed I kept getting about dragging the Shop-Vac upstairs and then back to the basement. I probably complained for a few months until Wendy had the ingenious idea to purchase a second Shop-Vac. Seriously, that basically didn't even occur to me. 

Wendy bought me a smaller model that would be perfect for the small rooms or projects I had been complaining on. This brilliant idea has been an amazing thing for me. I've been able to easily use this super portable vac on the vestibule and bathroom projects without the worry for dragging the big boy and hoses all around. And the drywall filter bags I mentioned earlier, they have a five to eight gallon model that work well in this smaller vac. 

Take it from me, I've been doing this for years, don't skimp on the Shop-Vac. If you use filter bags and a HEPA filter you'll save yourself a ton of time cleaning up after you're done cleaning up. There's no sense in vacuuming with something that's just making your area a mess all over again. And there's not much I can do about how loud the Shop-Vacs are, but if you keep them working right, they are well worth all of their noise.

How about you? Do you have a Shop-Vac that you'd be lost without? Maybe you have two or more in your house, or perhaps you have a great trick or accessory that works well for you. Let us know, we always love to hear your stories of what does and doesn't work for you.

Did you enjoy reading this post? Want to learn more about our first-hand experiences with other tools, devices or items used throughout our renovation? If so, check out our complete list of product reviews in our Toolbox Tuesday section. 

Note: We weren't compensated for this review. We simply want to share good products when we see them, and hope that learning from our mistakes can help save you time, money and frustration.

Comments 6


9/20/2011 at 3:06 PM
I love my shop-vac. I've used it when ripping up old carpet -- it's great for sucking up the dust and nails.
9/20/2011 at 3:24 PM
LOVE my Shop-Vac (I'm on number three as well, but my late husband is responsible for the untimely demise of number two - if you use them to suck up water, you must empty them before the canister gets rusty!!!) They aren't as heavy as the apparent size would suggest; I can lift one into the back of a truck easily.

Thanks for the tip on the drywall bags - I'm going to see if I can find those for both my (smaller) size and my son's bigger one. We are both own 80+ year old houses - so the plastering thing is always ongoing.
9/20/2011 at 8:14 PM
My hubby loves the shop vac too - especially when our washing machine would overflow all over the basement. Yuck! He also recently installed a dust collection system and he swears it has been his best shop investment in a long time. Feel free to stop over :)
We have used it for flooded basements as well, either due to the washing machine or to our overflowed well, it always saves the day. I've long looked into a good dust collection system, but just feel like we don't have the room. Might have to come check out yours at some point.
9/20/2011 at 9:14 PM
LOL Alex you look just like a little kid who got all dirty. Too cute. I've actually been meaning to buy a Shop Vac. I've never bought one, but I keep eying them when they go on sale. The Mastercraft ones (which is a "house brand" carried by Canadian Tire stores here in Canada) are crap, so I've avoided getting one of those. I think the "Shop Vac" name brand ones seem to be decent, but do you have any particular favourites? I also think that the 10gal size is about the most useful. It's the same size as the one we use at work (rarely, since we have a HUGE $$$ dust collection system).
9/21/2011 at 10:29 AM
Please make sure to remind people to make sure the filter is always on your shop Vac. I decided to clean our fireplace after a long cold winter with alot of fires. After about 30 minutes of through nonstop ash cleaning I noticed my family room/kitchen was covered with all the ashes from the fireplace. After a long cry, I am still cleaning up months and months later
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