nico’s blog

why everyone should own a shop-vac

I don't generally profess to be a purveyor of "life pro tips" or "life hacks" but now that I've been thinking about it, I've learned a lot of such tips and hacks from a lot of people. Perhaps a blog is the place to share them.

Here's your first one. Get a shop-vac.

what's a shop-vac?

Shop-Vac(the company), lucky them, have gone the Band-Aid route and become a household name synonymous with the actual product - the wet/dry vac. Usually they can be found in the garage or on the job site, and sold in such places as hardware stores and Home Depots. For the sake of not sounding like a brand enthusiast I'll say "wet/dry vacuum" for this post, although I call them shop-vacs in daily use.

Of course, there are many. The "original" or household name here would be Shop-Vac. They're made by most tool companies - DeWalt, Milwaukee, Rigid. They even come in cute British variants. Vacuum cleaner companies are here too - Dyson, Vacmaster, etc.

what about it?

What would strike fear into the household upright vacuum, the wet/dry vacuum chuckles mildly. What the handheld vacuum couldn't dream of cleaning, the wet/dry does effortlessly.

A wet/dry vacuum is essentially a wide hose(usually 1 1/2 inches diameter) made of strong plastic that connects to the motor unit. Attachments can be relatively pedestrian, such as a crevice nozzle or brush attachment. They usually make use of a metal or plastic bin that the motor attaches to the top of, making for easy disposal of whatever you've cleaned up.

However, compared to household vacs, they're strong. Motors are measured in horsepower, and usually make no effort to be quiet or efficient. The bin that they dump into is measured in gallons and is tough as they come. They're the big, bad, loud threat to large messes everywhere.

what's it used for?

In my small apartment home, it does regular duty cleaning up cat litter. We happen to use sawdust pellets for cat litter here, and the Dyson upright that I use for carpets can barely take one or two pellets without coughing. The wet/dry vac, on the other hand, reduces my cat's mess to zero in mere seconds. Efforts to convince the cats the litter should stay inside the litter box remain unsuccessful.

I've vacuumed up broken glass out of the kitchen that I'm sure would cut or slice the bag of a regular vacuum, or not fit in the hose(just make sure you have an appropriate filter, so you don't risk damaging the motor or ejecting tiny glass shards out of the exhaust). I've got a car kit that has a stiff brush and flexible crevice tool perfect for the dashboard and between the seats, respectively. It's vacuumed up spilled bags of flour and entire bathroom messes without complaint.

the wet, of wet/dry vac

However, the real reason to keep one on hand is the wet part. If your bathtub overflows, or you end up with a gallon of water on the kitchen floor, what's your plan? A bunch of towels? Big fan and open window?

Nah, don't bother with that. With a wet/dry vac, usually you just remove the filter(which prevents smaller dry objects from flying back out the exhaust) and it can vacuum up wet liquids, too. Now that 5 gallon drum can be your 5 gallon cleanup crew for that major liquid spill in nothing flat.

the exhaust port

Incidentally, in a really smart move, most wet/dry vacs are also reversible. The hole that you mount your hose in for suction, on the front of the motor, usually matches the exhaust port on the back of the drum. With just a second to move the hose, your wet/dry vac is now a powerful whatever-horsepower-yours-is blower. Take that, air mattress!


I've seen some awesome attachments for wet/dry vacs as well. Since they're all but a 1 1/2in hose, or 2 inch sometimes, attachments are pretty universal between brands. I've seen entire carpet cleaners that just attach to the hose, I've seen dusters, mattress inflators, scrub brushes, crevice tools, angled around-the-corner bits, the whole nine yards. And you don't have to bother with some overpriced handle from the brand that made yours, sporting some completely unnecessary proprietary attachment mechanism. Looking at you, Dyson. Glaring at you. Fuck off with your stupid button-and-notch bull shit.

difficult messes

Better yet, if all that didn't sound good enough, there's usually multiple filters available, and they're cheap. For just $5 I got a fine filter rated for ash and fine particles, compliant to some professional standard, and I'm able to clean out the ash in the fireplace just as effortlessly as anything else. Replacement filters for daily use are cheaper than dirt and readily available. Imagine that - vacuuming out the fireplace.


So there you have it, all the reasons why a wet/dry vac is "absolutely goated", as the kids say(Greatest Of All Time). It's a standby in my household and that's why I think it should be a standby in yours, too.

See you next time.


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