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We purchased the 8 most promising cordless wet dry vacuums available and exhaustively tested them side-by-side in our lab. We evaluated their vacuum power on materials ranging from nuts and bolts to sawdust to puddles of water and more. We weighed them, measured hose lengths, and tested batteries. We scrutinized attachments, measured suction, and evaluated the ease of use. Eventually, we narrow performance down to four main metrics: dry work, wet work, battery life, and convenience. With this information, we can recommend the top vacuums for your needs.
With the suction power to move two gallons of water in just 9 seconds and the airflow to suck up heaps of sawdust, the Craftsman CMCV002B is a true wet dry vacuum. Though smaller in size, the 2-gallon canister still offers more than enough space for most non-professional applications. The unit runs on a 4 Ah battery (not included), boasting a relatively lengthy 34 minutes of runtime. Due to spring-like coils that lay flat when weighted, the hose is crush-resistant, and it provides self-retracting elongation from 26 to 94 inches.
The main pitfalls with this machine relate to its exterior design. Unlike the toolbox-style models which store hoses, attachments, and batteries internally, Craftsman attaches all these items to the outside. Additionally, the handle sits proudly on the lid of the canister. These design features make it difficult to stack this vac on a shelf. Still, the standard HEPA filter and the float ball shut-off make this a premium machine in the class, and it's our favorite overall.
The Milwaukee M18 0880-20 is a slick little cordless wet dry vacuum. Its two-gallon canister is shaped like a toolbox, with its tube and all attachments stored neatly in the lid. This well-designed machine is a beast at sucking up all types of debris, from nuts and bolts to buckets of water to sawdust. It also features one of the longer tubes of the vacs we tested, and it self-retracts like a spring — long when you need it and short when you don't.
While the M18 is indeed a great cordless wet dry vacuum, it does have a few downsides. It's somewhat heavy, weighing in just over 10 lbs. It's also one of the noisier models we tested. And despite its five amp-hour battery, a fully charged cell would only power the machine for 23 minutes — not particularly impressive. That said, the conveniences that this machine offers overshadow its performance shortfalls.
The Ryobi P3240 is a high-performance cordless wet dry vacuum at a reasonable price. It picks up wet and dry materials like a boss. It is also relatively lightweight, and its self-retracting hose and effective attachments store on the outside of the machine in convenient in-line slots.
While this model's self-retracting hose design makes for easy storage, the hose is among the shortest of those tested. Additionally, the hose diameter poses some problems when attempting to pick up larger, rigid materials. However, some may see these negatives in a positive light — with the short and narrow hose, there was an improved ability to move smaller heavy objects. We think this compact cordless wet dry vacuum will satisfy most people's needs and budgets.
The economical Kobalt KWDV 0124B-03 is a thoughtfully designed, toolbox-shaped machine. The hose stores in the lid, along with the attachments, making it fuss-free. It includes a HEPA-rated filter, and the hose is among the longest of the models we tested. It's also self-retracting, so you don't pay a storage penalty for the extra reach. Perhaps most importantly, this machine really sucks (in the good sense of the word!) It draws up wet and dry materials like a twister has taken them.
We don't like that it has a shorter runtime than other models. Additionally, the Kobalt is not great at pulling liquids off hard surfaces, and its suction rating leaves something to be desired. Nonetheless, this machine performs at a level superior to many of its higher-priced peers, making it more than worth the money spent.
The Ridgid WD0319's large hose diameter makes this model unique and provides both positive and negative attributes, depending on the type of work you're doing. The hose dimensions are great for picking up wet and dry sawdust and accommodating large debris. This machine will be helpful in a shop or for smaller construction jobs.
While we like the large hose for picking up piles of sawdust, it definitely struggles with liquids and small, heavy items. The vac could pick up large washers without issue but was less successful with small screws. We also wish this machine had a storage system for the hose and attachments. As it is, the hose just hangs out there, and one of its attachments is stored on the end of the hose. Still, for moving big piles of debris, this tool shines.
The Bosch GAS18V-3 has features akin to traditional plug-in shop vacuums. It has a rigid hose with extension tubes that allow the user to stand up while using the tool. The hose is also quite sturdy and can hold its shape while bearing the user's full weight. Additionally, you never have to fight the spring-like action of a self-retracting hose.
Some of the Bosch's strengths can also be seen as weaknesses. The hose and extension tubes are stored on the outside of the machine, making the unit a bit cumbersome. Also, the hose doesn't retract — it has a fixed length of 72 inches, which means you won't get the increase in airflow that comes from a shorter or retracted hose. That said, in the right scenario, this is an excellent machine.
Our expert review team is comprised of Senior Research Analyst Austin Palmer and Senior Review Editor Nick Miley. These two bring to bear more than 15 years of combined experience in the trades (heavy equipment maintenance and custom carpentry).
We pulled 16 gallons of water through these machines and took dozens of water lift measurements. We sucked up heaping piles of wet and dry sawdust as well as an array of heavy hardware items. We also tested the runtimes on each battery cell. Additionally, we measured and cataloged 18 unique features on these machines relevant to convenience, ease of use, and general performance.
Our testing of cordless wet dry vacuums is divided across four rating metrics:
Dry Work (40% of overall score weighting)
Wet Work (30% weighting)
Battery (20% weighting)
Convenience (10% weighting)
We perform multiple qualitative and quantitative tests within these metrics to compare and contrast each product. The result is a dialed-in overall score that gives better performing vacuums a top rank in our lineup.
Analysis and Test Results
We selected some of the most popular cordless wet dry vacuums and put them through a rigorous testing process. Our results reveal which products are best for specific situations, as well as which vacuums are all-around crowd-pleasers. We include info that will help you make the best decision for your needs.
If a model costs the same amount as other products in the class but performs better, it is considered a value product. If a less expensive product performs at the same level as more expensive machines, it also has value.
The Kobalt and Ryobi models perform at the highest level in both wet and dry work, comparable to some of our favorite steam mops and vacuum cleaners respectively, yet they ring up for significantly less than the average price for these tools, making them both a great value.
We focused a good deal of our effort on the dry work evaluation. Whether you just finished cutting wood for your latest DIY project, or are just trying to get some of the fur out of the dog bed, a dry mess is the most common reason to pull out any vacuum cleaner. Performance in this area accounts for 40% of the overall score. The evaluation consists of three sub-metrics of dry suction power: heavy debris (i.e., washers, nuts, bolts, screws, and 100-gram cylindrical weight); large sawdust pile (9 cups); and crevice cleaning. The first two do not use attachments on the end of the hose, while the crevice test uses the crevice attachment to pick up rice from a narrow slot.
The Kobalt and Ryobi models thrived in the heavy debris assessments. They both feature a highly effective combination of narrow hoses diameters, high airflow, and decent suction. In the timed sawdust pickup, the Ridgid inhaled the pile in only eight seconds, closely followed by the Kobalt and the Milwaukee M18 at 13 seconds. As was confirmed in the wet sawdust tests (discussed below), the Ridgid's wide diameter hose (combined with the lack of an elbow at the connection point with the canister) played a big part in this machine's success.
The crevice test assesses both the crevice tool itself and the reach of the suction produced by the vacuum motor. Here too, the Milwaukee, Ryobi, and Kobalt proved themselves to be top-notch. Their attachments all penetrated eight or more inches and at least another half-inch of suction reach. Overall, Kobalt and Milwaukee lead the class in dry work.
Wet work contributes to 30% of a product's overall score, and we evaluate through a combination of 5 different tests. We began with a water drawing test, removing the filter and sucking two gallons of water from a height of 14 ½ inches — the height of a five-gallon bucket. Having replaced the filter, we then ran a wet sawdust pickup evaluation that is identical to the dry sawdust test with six cups of water mixed in.
Next was the hard surface puddle test, where we employed the floor attachment to slurp up three cups of water off a linoleum floor. Of course, no wet work assessment would be complete without sucking water out of a carpet. We dumped two cups of water onto a floorboard mat, allowed it to soak in, and measured how much we could pull back out. Finally, we measured each unit's suction with a water lift gauge.
We were surprised at the degree of variability in these machines' performances across the tests. The Craftsman, Ryobi, and Ridgid were the best. However, none of these machines excelled in every category. The Craftsman and Ryobi came out on top by moving two gallons of water in just 9 seconds in the water drawing evaluation. As for the wet sawdust assessment, the Ridgid led the class at 15 seconds, and the Bosch a distant second at 31 seconds.
The puddle tests proved to be a measure of the floor attachment design. Because they allow air to flow continuously, attachments with channels through the contact surface did best. The Ryobi and Craftsman came in at 25 and 27 seconds, respectively. In the wet carpet test, the Makita finally got into the fray, as well as the Ryobi and Craftsman; all of these models essentially sucked the carpet dry. Lastly, the water lift/suction test registered the Ridgid at 29 inches of lift, Bosch at 28, and Milwaukee at 25.
Battery life is arguably one of the most critical factors in any cordless product and accounts for 20% of the overall scores. We ran a timed battery test on each product, compared the battery type, and noted if a battery life indicator was present on the machine.
The DeWalt, operating with a 5 amp-hour cell, had the most impressive runtime of the group — just under 40 minutes. The Makita, also working with a 5 amp-hour cell, clocked in at 33 minutes 45 sec. Similarly, the Craftsman ran for 34 minutes.
Here's the twist. The Craftsman uses 4 amp-hour batteries. So, if we look at these outcomes in terms of runtime per amp-hour, the Craftsman ran for 8 mins 30 sec, whereas the DeWalt and the Makita ran for 7 min 56 sec and 6 min 33 sec, respectively.
Weighted at 10% of the overall score, convenience is not the most crucial aspect of a vacuum, but it plays a part in how easy it is to use a product. We measure the outer dimensions of the machine, the hose length (both retracted and at its maximum stretch), the weight, and the noise level at 3 ½ feet. Finally, we look at the filters.
The Makita makes a solid effort to check all the boxes. This model's toolbox design offers compact storage and below-average weight (8 lbs, 13 oz). It's HEPA filter is washable, and there's a prefilter option available for purchase. This model is also relatively quiet, registering well below average at 74 dBa. The only ding against this machine is its below-average hose length, 82 inches when fully stretched. Other notably convenient models are the Ryobi, Bosch, and the Milwaukee.
The production of this review required weeks of research and testing. We ran these machines through every conceivable test and measurement for cordless dry/wet vacuuming, battery life, and convenience. If you still aren't sure what to purchase, you might find a different vacuum style is better suited to your lifestyle. However, in the end, we're hoping that our research helps you to easily and confidently select the right machine for your needs.
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