Best Wet Dry Vacuum for Car Cleaning & Detailing (2018)

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What is the best shopvac for car detailing for the money?Wet vac, wet & dry vac, shop vac, they have many names, sizes, and shapes.

Vacuums are one of the most important tools in a detailer’s arsenal. They help remove the dirt and grit from the carpets, seats, crevices, and heck even the headliner. It’s simply amazing all the places that trap dirt in a car interior.

Before you can even begin shampooing carpets and upholstery they need to vacuumed extremely well. It’s important you use a good vacuum.

My personal favorite is the Ridgid VAC4010 Wet Dry Vac. I feel it has the best compromise of sound, suction, convenience, reliability, and manufacturer warranty support. It’s great for professional detailers as well as someone just looking to keep their car and garage clean.

Top Wet / Dry Vacs and Accessories for Car Cleaning and Detailing:

Why should you buy a wet / dry vacuum for cleaning your car?

Cars operate in harsh environments.

Dirty shoes, messy kids, melting snow, dumped McAllister’s Tea cups in the floorboard, you name it.

A good wet dry vac will help you overcome all of these obstacles to automotive cleanliness.

What makes a good wet / dry vacuum?

I judge a good shop vacuum on six things:

Suction, Noise, Convenience, Reliability, and Manufacturer Warranty Support.

Why didn’t I mention Peak HP rating?

Peak HP is a marketing gimmick. (Source)

Peak HP is a rating based on the current spike the motor sees when first turned on. The measurement of this rating can be manipulated as well.

Most vacuums are rated at peak HP levels that would generate enough current to blow the breaker in a home for the type of outlet that they plug into if it pulled that current continually.

There is little to no correlation between Peak HP and vacuum performance.

Instead, to compare vacuums you need to compare air speed (CFM) and vacuum pull (rated in inches of water lift).

Unfortunately most manufactures fail to list these specs so you have to resort to trying them out or trusting random reviewers on the internet. Woo crap shoot!

Best Car Wet/Dry Vac – Ridgid Model VAC4010 (WD4081)

RIDGID Wet Dry Vacuums VAC4010 2-in-1...
67 Reviews
RIDGID Wet Dry Vacuums VAC4010 2-in-1...
  • Versatile and multi-functional portable wet dry vacuum...
  • Handheld blower is easily detachable to use as a small shop...
  • Compact, yet powerful leaf blower vacuum cleaner equipped...
  • Includes storage caddy to neatly stow accessories for the...
  • Patented Qwik-Lock filter makes filter changes for the...

Key Specifications

  • Air Volume (CFM): 120
  • Amperage (amps): 10
  • Built-In Accessory Storage: Yes
  • Built-In Drain: No
  • Casters: Yes
  • Cord Length (ft.): 20
  • Filter Type: Cartridge
  • Peak Horsepower: 6.0
  • Product Weight (lb.): 18.75 lb
  • Vacuum Capacity (Gallons): 4
  • Voltage (volts): 120
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Reliable
  • Powerful
  • Easy to move around
  • Accepts automotive specific accessories
  • Has a lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Included hose a larger than necessary for car cleaning

This is essentially an improved version of the WD4070 which was a very popular vacuum in the automotive detailing community. Pretty much anything positive said about the WD4070 can be said for the VAC4010.

There are several things I love about this vacuum.

Mobility

It’s compact enough to move in and around a vehicle. It does have wheels so you are not stuck carrying it around entirely. Both of these things are important if you plan to use the vacuum often, especially as part of a mobile detailing business.

The cord is also quite long allowing you to move the vacuum around without worrying about the cord getting stuck under tires or not letting you reach all areas of the vehicle.

Accessories

It comes with a good, flexible hose. While that doesn’t sound like a big deal consider this…

When you have to wrestle a stiff hose and struggle to keep it suspended while working you increase the odds that it’s going to hang up on and drag on things. In a car that’s a very bad thing. The hose will scratch the paint on door sills and scratch the plastic trim around the vehicle. That’s simply not acceptable.

A good car accessory kit is available with a quality hose, crevice too, and upholstery brushes for another $30 or so making this setup quite affordable. In my opinion these accessories are a requirement when vacuuming a car. You need the crevice tool to get in between and under things such as the seats and console. You need the upholstery brushes to brush out the carpets and seats. You would be surprised how much more dirt you can suck up when you fluff the carpet and re-vacuum because the dirt was trapped below the nap in the carpet.

Suction

The motor is more than powerful enough to suck up most debris you’ll find in a car. This is especially true when using proper technique like using the upholstery brush attachment to rake out and fluff the carpet’s fibers and free dirt stuck in cracks and crevices.

Capacity

The 4 gallon capacity of the waste bucket is actually way more than you’ll need cleaning cars. In fact, you could vacuum several extremely dirty cars and still not fill the bucket. This is what makes it so great for mobile detailing.

Detachable Motor

You can remove the motor and use it as a mini blower for knocking water and dirt out the really hard to reach places. While it’s no leaf blower, it does have enough power to make it a perk worth mentioning.

Reliability

Reliability is excellent, with few people complaining about problems. There is a lifetime warranty on manufacturer defects to the original purchaser should any problem pop up. It’s hard to find a company willing to put a lifetime warranty on things these days.

Reputation

I know of several professional mobile detailers using the Rigid VAC4070 and are quite satisfied with it. It says a lot about a product when a person is willing to put it between them and their customer. The reason these guys (and gals) are willing to do that is because this vacuum just flat works.

What Others Have Said:

“Don’t let the small size deceive you, this little 4 gallon vac is a powerhouse. Sucks dirt and dust out of my car’s carpet with ease. Excellent for car cleaning, garage and work shop.” – Home Depot Reviewer

 

Craftsman 4 Gallon 5 Peak HP Portable Household Wet-Dry Vac

Key Specifications

  • Air Volume (CFM): 120
  • Amperage (amps): 10
  • Built-In Accessory Storage: Yes
  • Built-In Drain: No
  • Casters: Yes
  • Cord Length (ft.): 15
  • Hose Length (ft.): 7
  • Filter Type: Cartridge
  • Peak Horsepower: 5.0
  • Product Weight (lb.): 17.7 lb
  • Vacuum Capacity (Gallons): 4
  • Voltage (volts): 120
  • Warranty: 1 year

Pros

  • Powerful
  • Mobile
  • Has storage for accessories
  • Has a retractable cord

Cons

  • Not as quiet as the name implies
  • Short 1 year warranty

If you’re not a fan of the color orange this vacuum is a solid pick as well.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about this one that wasn’t said about the Ridged above.

It doesn’t come with a car specific accessory kit, though the accessories that it does come with are sufficient for cleaning most vehicles.

Unlike the Ridgid, it uses a 1 ¼” hose, which is fairly standard amongst smaller Shop Vac products, so it will fit many of the same accessories as similar sized Shop Vac brand products including their micro cleaning kit.

The cord is retractable, unlike most other wet dry shop vacs and the hose holders are actually useful and convenient.

My biggest complaint about this vacuum is the name is a complete misnomer.

It’s NOT quiet, let alone ultra-quiet. It’s not any louder than most other shop style vacuums, but it’s definitely not quiet.

It lacks a blower hole, unlike the Ridgid, so you won’t be using this as a small blower.

I also want to point out the 1 year warranty. That alone swayed me toward the Ridgid.

 

Best Budget Car Wet/Dry Vac – Armor All 2.5 Gallon Utility Vac

Armor All 2.5 Gallon, 2 Peak HP, Utility...
3,727 Reviews
Armor All 2.5 Gallon, 2 Peak HP, Utility...
  • Picks up wet and dry debris;Frequency : 60Hz. Able to clean...
  • 2.5 gallon storage tank and 2 horsepower motor with an auto...
  • Includes 6-foot hose and 10-foot cord. Cannot plug into the...
  • The hose comes inside the canister portion of the vacuum
  • Assembled product dimensions 14.10 x 10.37 x 14.36...

Key Specifications

  • 2.5 gallon storage tank
  • 2 horsepower motor
  • 6-foot hose
  • 10-foot cord
  • Auto shut-off

Pros

  • Small and light
  • Easy to store
  • Tools all can be attached to the body
  • Hose snaps in around the body
  • Top easily releases to dump the canister and clean the filter
  • Very good suction
  • Not uncomfortably loud
  • Good variety of attachments

Cons

  • 10′ extension cord is a bit short

I don’t normally recommend armor all products because there tends to be better products for the money. This is one exception. This little vacuum is actually a very solid wet dry vac for it’s size and cost.

The unit is small enough to move around inside a vehicle and light enough to carry it to and from the car out in the driveway.

The suction is good as well with it being able to suck up heavier objects like rocks and nails.

The only real problem with this vacuum is the short cord. You’ll absolutely have to use an extension cord with it. Even if your car was parked inside your garage you’d be hard pressed to use it without some degree of aggravation.

I wouldn’t recommend this vacuum for general home use but for cleaning out cars on the weekend it’s a solid pick.

To Summarize

When picking a vacuum for cleaning cars it’s important to pick one that’s powerful, mobile, and can accept the necessary accessories like a crevice tool and upholstery brushes.

Vacuums are one of the few tools that you can use for things other than your car so it’s ok to spend a little more buying a quality one. Fortunately, the Rigid VAC4010 is both cheap and great for use in cars, the garage, and even the house.

Regardless of what you go with, remember that half the task of cleaning carpets and upholstery is about the techniques. You need to rake and fluff the carpet and brush out the seems and crevices in upholstered items like seats and door inserts.

Happy detailing!

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