How to Use a Shop Vacuum to Its Fullest Potential

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, we may earn a small commission for qualifying purchases.

Updated on November 16, 2022

You’ve probably owned a shop vacuum at some point, own one now, or heard plenty of recommendations to buy one, but few people know how to use a shop vacuum to its fullest potential.

A shop vacuum (or wet/dry vacuum) is commonly referred to as a “Shop Vac” which is actually one brand of shop vacuum. Unlike a regular vacuum cleaner, it can perform a wide variety of cleaning tasks. Here’s everything you need to know about the function and maintenance of this useful cleaning tool.

Shop Vacuum Uses

There are quite a few uses for a shop vacuum beyond basic cleaning. This makes them insanely versatile around the house. The following are some common everyday uses and some uses that you might not have thought of.

Dust Collection

shop vacuum dust collection

Obviously, this is where a shop vacuum truly shines. Use it for basic dust, clearing ashes from the fireplace, rodent droppings in the garage, collecting dust when sanding concrete or drywall , sucking up pet hair from your carpet and couch, and cleaning out the car.

You can even use it to clean up food spills in the kitchen or suck up spider webs and dead (or live) bugs. There’s really nothing a regular push broom can do that a shop vacuum can’t.

Pro Tip: Use the shop vacuum in the workshop to collect sawdust, making sure the tank’s clean first. Dump the contents into a container afterwards. You can use some types of sawdust for home smoking meat, as well as many hobby projects.

Water Pickup

wet dry vacuum water collection

That large container isn’t just for dirt and these vacuums are known as wet/dry vacs for a reason. Thanks to their design, a shop vacuum can also pick up water. Use it to help clean up a flooded basement, or dry off inflatable water craft, toys, and swimming pools. You can also clean up random liquid spills around the house.

To convert for water pickup, most wet/dry vacs will allow you to move the standard paper filter but leave a foam sleeve in place. When done, simply dump the water. The ability to pick up both debris and liquid makes your shop vacuum perfect for cleaning out the gutters, as well.

As a Blower

shop vacuum blowing leaves

One of the most underappreciated features of these vacs is the ability to attach the hose to its exhaust port. This turns your vacuum into a blower that can perform a range of chores that normally require extra equipment.

For example, your shop vacuum can be effective against leaves or snow. You can also get an attachment that allows you to inflate toys, air mattresses, and many other items. Where a small air compressor would struggle to inflate good size inflatable pool, a shop vacuum would get it done quickly.

Thus, your vacuum can save space and money by replacing the need for additional air pumps or even larger air compressors.

Object Retrieval

Shop vacuums are very powerful and the range of attachments and hose sizes make them excellent for picking up items. Collecting those LEGO bricks and loose change from the couch cushions is a breeze when you use your vac.

Just make sure the tank is clean first, and you can then easily retrieve or dump the collected items afterwards.

This trick also works well when you need to feed wires through a pipe. Once you get the wire started from one end, use the suction from the shop vacuum on the other end to easily pull the wires through.

See Also: How to Use a Pole Saw

Fun and Games

You can enjoy some fun with your vacuum. In addition to its ability to inflate toys, you can also use the blower settings to play fetch. Simply stick a ball on the end and tap the power to shoot the ball. For once, your dog will get tired before you do.

How to Clean and Maintain a Shop Vacuum

how to clean a shop vacuum

Keeping your shop vacuum running smoothly requires more than just emptying the canister occasionally. The following tips will help you get the most out of your vac every time you use it.

Air Vents

There are air vents located above the motor that allow heat to escape and cool air to flow over the motor when it’s running. Check occasionally to ensure there is no dust or debris cluttering these vents.

Canister/Tank Cleaning

Due to the wide range of materials your shop vacuum picks up, it is important to keep the canister clean. Begin by wiping off any dust from the outside with a damp cloth. Then wash the inside with warm, soapy water. Rinse and dry thoroughly with a cloth.

Disinfecting the tank should be done occasionally and especially right before putting the vac into storage. Simply pour in a gallon of water and add one teaspoon of chlorine bleach. Allow the canister to soak for 20 minutes, swishing every few minutes to ensure the entire interior gets coverage.

At the end of the 20 minutes, dump the bleach water and rinse until you can no longer smell bleach. Wipe dry with a cloth. You can also use vinegar to clean it although you’ll need at least a cup of it.

filterCleaning a Shop Vacuum Filter

You will want to handle the filter carefully to avoid damaging it. Large debris can be removed by gently tapping it while it remains in the housing. For removal of dust and other fine particles, however, it is best to rinse the filter under gently running water. Allow the filter to completely dry before replacing.

Tubes and Attachments

Sometimes things can get stuck while you’re vacuuming. These obstructions can interfere with suction and reduce the efficiency of your vac. Check these components after using them to pick up any larger objects to ensure they’re clear of debris.

vacuum bagsVacuum Bags

While collection bags are highly recommended when collecting dust, dirt, or drywall dust, they are not necessary for standard debris. But if you want extra protection for the motor and to make for easier cleanup, use a collection bag that’s sized right for your model of shop vacuum.

Make sure the bag isn’t full or the performance of your vac will suffer and it may even lead to the motor overheating. Simply replace with a new bag (don’t attempt to empty it out and reuse) since they are fairly inexpensive.

19 thoughts on “How to Use a Shop Vacuum to Its Fullest Potential”

  1. This article mentions vacuuming rodent droppings—however, vacuuming fresh droppings can easily create a SERIOUS health risk. Rodent droppings should be handled with extreme care due to the risk of hantavirus, and they should be soaked in bleach or disinfectant first. Your shop vac should also be equipped with the correct filtration and bag for this task. PLEASE research proper rodent clean-up and do NOT simply vacuum droppings.

    • Correct. Many shop vacs have both a paper filter and foam sleeve. Manufacturers usually recommend to remove only the paper filter but you can often also remove the foam sleeve for quicker pickup. That said, the foam sleeve may help regulate the speed of the motor so you’ll want to leave it in place to reduce the risk of motor burn up on bigger jobs.

  2. Hi!

    I usually use the one at home to suck up spider webs and days a go I found out that it keeps stopping in the middle while using and became so heating up. Not sure if there’s something wrong to the filter? My husband took it out to check and it still looks normal.


    • The motor is likely getting overheated and it’s protecting itself by shutting off. Empty the tank, clean any filters, make sure there’s no blockage in the hose or nozzle. Also, make sure the lid is shut tight.

  3. What do you think about using a shop vac in the spring to vacuum up small dead leaves from winter among the base and branches of rose bushes??? Would seem to be easier than using a regular leaf blower/vacuum. Thanks. Bob

    • It’s worth trying. But even a 10 gallon vacuum would fill up pretty quick since those leaves won’t be compacted in the tank. Also, depending on the hose opening and size of leaves, you may be dealing with the hose jamming up at times.

  4. Hi
    I have inherited a deck which does not drain properly. Instead of using a broom to get rid of the water I wonder if a shop vac will do the job……a small bucket of water is the amount collected after a medium rainfall…….as this is a rental home I cannot reorganize the drains so…….will the vac probably work and if so…….will a small vac work???

    • Absolutely. A wet/dry vac would make quick work of it, especially if the water tends to pool in one area. Make sure you get a large enough tank so you’re not having to dump the water out of the tank more than you need to.

      • Thank you very much for your help. Purchased SHop Vac from Canadian Tire this morning…… well.
        Take care and thanks again.

  5. Digging post holes! I use my shop vac to remove the dirt, the post hole digger always drops. My husband thought I’d gone crazy, when returning from work; witnessed me “shop vacing the pasture”? It works so well, I haven’t dug without it since that day. 5 years ago now. Oh and still the save shop vac! Thank you for the tips.

    Wife of a logger ????

      • For this dirt, did you use a bag and the normal filter or just the foam sleeve into the cavity? I have to vac up some dirt from my crawl space. It’s damp because it was from a heavy rain a long while back and also think some pipes may have dripped into It. But it’s definitely dirt with a bit of dampness not mud. Think I should treat this as a dry pick up? And with or without a bag? I have the small 5 gallon with 1.5 (1,25) hose. Thanks!

        • I would treat it as dry pickup with a bag. The biggest issue I see would be clogging in the hose or bag opening if it’s slightly damp. This is especially true with a smaller diameter hose like you have. But I’d still give it a shot.

  6. Mine is a shop across brand unit. I use it to clean dust and cat hair in my sailboat. I do not use it to pick up liquids. My question is filtration. It has both 1) a cylindrical sleeve of pleated paper thick fits around the motor and 2) approved sized paper bags designed to hold dust and hair etc. but there is not a lot of room for the bag to fit and expand around the outside of the sleeve. And I have experienced dust being blown out of the unit through the exhaust air hole.
    For dry use only, should I use both sleeve and bag, and if not, which one is better. And why is this so? Thank you.

    • You should still use both for dry pickup. The pleated cylindrical filter is there to protect the motor and keep particles from being expelled through the exhaust. It may not catch very fine particles from being expelled but some manufacturers have different levels of this filter to catch drywall dust or other super fine particles. Without a bag, the cylindrical filter would clog within seconds.

  7. I actually have a question my shop vac model is 16RHT650C model, is it possible to vacuum up water out of carpet without hurting the vacuum cleaner?

    • Absolutely. It’s made to pick up both dry or wet. You’ll need to open up the vacuum and remove the collection bag. You may also need to remove or replace the filter. Specific instructions will be in your user manual.


Leave a Comment