Ultimate Garage - Home & Shop Vacuums
Note- there are literally thousands of home and shop vacuums being sold today. I can only comment on the ones I've owned and used over the years.
Home and Shop Vacuums - Personal History .........I purchased my first shop vac in 1970 (51 years ago). A 16 gallon Sears behemoth that made a lot of noise and spewed out 10% of what it sucked up. Sears was my "go to" place for tools back then. The Craftsman brand was all I knew, it was readily available, and frankly it's all I could afford. The popular home vacuums, at least in our household, were upright units from Hoover and Eureka. These were great for vacuuming the thick wall-to-wall carpeting that covered the floors in most homes in the 60's. With the exception of Electrolux, there weren't a lot of canister vacuums back then.
It wasn't until the early 90's that I discovered a super-quiet canister vacuum, a yellow R2-D2 shaped machine made in Germany. This was the Wap Turbo....a popular vacuum among discerning contractors and rental houses. It was expensive by Sears standards with a retail price of $700+ depending upon the model and packaged accessories. Wap also private labeled this vacuum for Festool, Fein and Stihl. I purchased a basic Wap Turbo model in 1995 and this was my new "go to" vacuum for auto detailing and job site cleanups. I still used the old 16 gallon Craftsman machine for nasty cleanups, especially anything involving water, so I wouldn't ruin the expensive Wap filter or bag. For our home with a mix of carpeting and hardwood floors, my wife and I splurged on a Miele White Pearl, also made in Germany. Noise levels and suction were comparable to my Wap Turbo.
Pair of classic Wap vacuums - the SQ10 and Turbo. The SQ10 is my favorite of all time from this company in terms of size, performance and portability. Discontinued in 2004, I still own and use a pair of these in 2021
Around 2005-2007, I became a Festool dealer and quickly became a fan of the CT22 and CT33 dust extractors. Before the CT22/CT33 models, Festool was selling a rebranded Wap Turbo. The new Festool CT extractors took Wap engineering to a higher level.........12 gauge power cords with 20a NEMA plugs, separate filters and containment systems for wet vs dry work, standard anti-static hoses with tool triggered autostart, etc. The Wap SQ10 (the replacement for my Wap Turbo model) was still my vacuum of choice for most projects as it was easier to lug around. However, for any work involving a Festool sander or saw, the CT22 was dragged out of the shop and put to work, keeping the airborne dust created by my tools to a minimum.
Festool lineup of vacuums from 2012...I still own a CT MIDI, CT36 and CT48. The MIDI is my favorite because of its compact size/footprint and has the same spec performance as it's larger brothers.
Fast forward to 2021. Despite all of the new machines from Wap (which became Alto and then Nilfisk), my only personal vacuums from this brand are a pair of classic SQ10's (one with autostart, the other a basic with HEPA) and a SQ19AE flood recovery vacuum that I use to clean out our pond. For home improvement projects, a compact Festool MIDI is my vacuum of choice. I also own and use a Festool CT36 in my basement office and a have a large CT48 (still in the box) that I'll probably sell. And the Sears Craftsman 16 gallon is still around ....just in case. For home cleanups, we're on our 4th Miele vacuum. Hoping to switch over to the new Numatic/Nacecare HEPA NVR170H "Covid vac" (more on that later) once I've had a chance to evaluate it's performance and features.
A pair of shop vac workhorses from over the years- Festool CT36E & Craftsman 16 gallon
Using an Attix 19AE to clean out our pond
Home Vacs vs Shop Vacs........You can research this online but I'll offer my opinion on the subject.
1. Home vacs should be used for dry and smaller debris (ie, objects less than 1" in diameter). Most home vacs come standard with a 32mm hose (1 1/4" inside diameter) although Miele uses a 35mm hose (1 3/8" inside diameter). If your hose diameter is too small for the job at hand, it will clog constantly.
2. Shop vacs can be used for dry and wet extraction and can be used for debris up to 1 7/8" in diameter (with a 2" ID hose). Most shop vacs have a 2" inlet port into the canister and can accept hoses of different diameters.....1", 1 1/4", 1 1/2" and 2" are common. For general purpose use, a 1 1/4" (32mm) or 1 1/2" (36mm) hose is recommended. For cleanup of larger construction "demo", go with the 2" ID hose.
3. If you're using your shop vac as a dust extractor with power equipment, select a vacuum model with tool triggered autostart, speed control, and an anti-static hose. Go with the smallest ID hose (typically 1") to minimize weight and fatigue as this hose will be tethered to your power tool while in use. For pet groomers, a 1' hose is also recommended although it need not be "anti-static".
4. If you're a painter or general contractor, you may have to opt for a vacuum that meets the EPA's RRP standards (their lead Renovation, Repair & Painting program). This means a HEPA certified machine (there should be a HEPA sticker right on the canister) and the use of an air-powered turbo floor nozzle for carpet extraction. HEPA filter should be Class H (for hazardous materials). And using a quality factory approved filter bag is a MUST.
5. For auto cleaning and detailing, either home or shop vac will work fine. You'll need a decent long-reach crevice tool, a soft bristle round hand brush, an upholstery brush and a claw nozzle or compact air driven power nozzle for the carpeting.
Home Vacs - Central or Canister.........My wife and I have been using Miele canister vacs for 20+ years and keep a separate vac on each floor of our home for convenience. I'm not a fan of central vac systems because of the need to store one or more 30-40' hoses. VacuFlo makes an interesting "Retract Vac" system which sucks the hose back into the system's piping when not in use. Unfortunately, the surface mount wall unit for this system is rather large and not something I'd want to see in my home. I would consider it for garage or basement use where aesthetics are not as important. The townhouse we recently purchased had a 30yr old central vac system but I removed the motor unit in the basement and will go with separate canister units on each floor of the home.
I feel that the engineering, performance, and tools/accessories are of better quality with high end canister units compared to what you get in most central vac systems. The "top vac" lists for canister vacs include models from Miele, Sebo, Numatic/NaceCare, Nilfisk and Kenmore. With Sears recently going out of business, I'd wait and see who buys the Kenmore brand to ensure future service and support. For home vacuums, I'd look for a unit with low noise (less than 65db), great filtration and suction (at least 85" of water lift), a long retractable power cord, and quality hand and floor tools. Many vacuum manufacturers offer a combination nozzle as standard for both hard floors and carpeting. This is fine for the concrete floors in your garage and basement. I prefer a dedicated tool for hardwood floors with soft thick bristles as to not damage or scratch the surface and a swivel neck for maneuvering around furniture. And for carpeting, a power nozzle attachment is best. Electric power nozzles are often integrated into high end home vacs (eg, Miele) which can easily drive the fully packaged model to $1000+. An air driven ("turbo") floor attachment is the popular choice for use with shop vacuums. I suspect we'll start seeing rechargeable battery power heads in the near future that can be used on any canister vac (shop or home).
HEPA Vacs ........As pet owners and occasional allergy sufferers, vacuum cleaners with excellent filtration are important to my wife and I. Our Miele home vacs all have HEPA filters (capable of removing 99.7% of all particles down to 0.3 microns in size) and my Festool and Wap shop vacs offer the same level of performance. I'm starting to see more vacs with 3-stage HEPA filtration....a filter bag, pre-filter and HEPA filter element. I currently offer the Nilfisk Attix 33/44 HEPA shop vacs and the NaceCare Henry series vacs with 3-stage HEPA filtration. NaceCare now has a 3-stage H13 (hospital grade HEPA) vac for under $400 that will remove asbestos, insecticides, tobacco smoke, all bacteria and even virus carriers (including Covid*) from solid and carpeted surfaces. That's an impressive price point for such a capable machine and I'll be stocking these beginning next week.
*Manufacturers are already starting to market their 3-stage HEPA vacs as "Covid vacuums". Years ago, it was "Bedbug vacuums". Both meant to catch the consumer's eye and capitalize on their anxiety.
HEPA 13-15 is considered medical grade. H13 is typically used in better quality HEPA vacs
Nilfisk Attix 33 & 44 Models - with optional 3-stage HEPA filtration
NaceCare/Numatic NVR 170H....a 3-stage HEPA vac for under $400
Coming May 1, 2021
Don't let their cute looks fool you. These are serious HEPA home vacuums, strong and quiet, that rival the performance of Miele. Half the price and twice the warranty. Made in England by Numatic and imported by NaceCare to North America.