In this comparison article we are going to look at some of the most powerful wet/dry shop vacs on the market, and with the help of some tests present what we think is the best 6.5 HP wet/dry shop vac you can currently buy.
The best 6.5 HP wet/dry shop vacs
Craftsman 6.5 HP 16 Gallon
Best 6.5 HP Shop Vac
Ridgid 6.5 HP 16 Gallon
Vacmaster 6.5 HP 14 Gallon
3rd & Budget Car Vacuum Pick
For this review, we bought five of the most popular and powerful (6.5 peak horsepower) wet-dry vacuums and put them through all kinds of tests to identify top picks in two categories: best overall and best value. Interestingly, when all the test scores were in, the wet/dry vac that won best shop vac overall took the best value position as well.
With our testing complete we arrived at our winner. The best shop vac is the Craftsman 6.5 HP Shop Vac (Amazon). In addition to being the overall winner, the Craftsman 6.5 HP model was also the most powerful shop vac based we tested.
Our top three picks for 2023
For the second time in our cross-brand shop vacuum competitions, a Craftsman model came out on top – the other competition was for Best Car Vacuum. This time, the winner was the Craftsman 6.5 HP wet/dry shop vac, model CMXEVBE17595. It was closely followed by a model from Ridgid and third place went to a steel-tank Vacmaster.
Tip: Shop Vacs and Water Pick Up
Almost every shop vac can pick up water as well as dry debris. Be sure to choose a shop vac which states that it is capable of vacuuming water and read the manufacturer’s instructions.
Vacuuming water may require removing or adding a bag, filter or other accessory to prevent damage to the shop vac.
#1 Craftsman 6.5 HP 16 Gal Shop Vac
Best 6.5 HP Wet/Dry Shop Vac & Budget Pick
The Craftsman has the most power, all the tools you need for the most common jobs, and each tool is well-designed. It has many basic design issues worked out, such as good tool holders and both cord and hose management. It’s not particularly loud and did admirably on the water and pickup tests, and it was the best with heavy debris, too.
- 6.5 HP (Peak)
- 16 Gallon Capacity
- Wet/Dry Capable
- Power Score: 303
- 20’ Cord
- 7’ Hose
#2 Ridgid 6.5 HP 16 Gal NXT Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum
Ridgid’s 6.5 HP 16 Gallon wet/dry shop vac made a strong showing, finishing just behind our best overall pick. It performed well in all the tests, including being the best in our Water Pickup Test. It had plenty of suction power, a good set of attachments, and is worthy of its second place finish.
- 6.5 HP (Peak)
- 16 Gallon Capacity
- Wet/Dry Capable
- Power Score: 276
- 20’ Cord
- 7’ Hose
#3 Vacmaster Professional Series 6.5 HP 14 Gal Wet/Dry Vac
Rounding out the top three was the Vacmaster Beast 6.5 HP wet/dry vac. This was the vacuum in this test that was a 14 gallon unit. It is also the only one with a steel drum with all the other shop vacs tested being plastic.
The advantage to steel drum construction is that it is more durable and can be easier to clean, too. While it took third, it is worth noting that it wasn’t the best with water pickup on floors. So, if that is what is driving your buying decision, consider our first or second place choices.
- 6.5 HP
- 14 Gallon Capacity
- Wet/Dry Capable
- Power Score: 250
- 20’ Cord
- 7’ Hose
How we chose, tested, and rated these wet/dry shop vacuums
Wet/dry vacuums typically come in different sizes and power ratings. For example, a couple of years ago we did a similar test but for smaller shop vacuums. In this competition, we wanted to test the most powerful wet/dry vacuums.
In looking at the most popular models and brands, the most common high horsepower shop vac rating we found was 6.5 Peak HP. Looking at the most popular 6.5 HP shop vac models, we ended up with five vacuums from four brands: Craftsman, Ridgid, Vacmaster, and Workshop.
The 6.5 HP wet/dry shop vacs we tested
The five wet/dry shop vac models we chose for this competition were (in alphabetical order):
- Craftsman 16 Gallon 6.5 Peak HP Wet/Dry Vac (CMXEVBE17595)
- Ridgid 16 Gallon 6.5 Peak HP NXT Wet/Dry Shop Vacuum (NXT)
- Vacmaster Beast Professional Series 14 Gal. 6.5 HP Steel Tank (VJE1412SW0201)
- Vacmaster Beast Professional Series 16 Gal. 6.5 HP Black (VJH1612PF0201)
- Workshop High Capacity Wet/Dry (WS1600VA)
Things all five vacuums had in common
Beyond their shared horsepower rating, they have three other things in common. First, they all had the same hose length of seven feet. Second, they all had a cord length of 20 feet. Third and finally they all use two-and-a-half-inch attachments. This means you can order different types of accessories online fairly easily as long as they are two-and-a-half-inch attachments.
Test methodology and notes
Suction and airflow
How much horsepower a shop vacuum has doesn’t translate into them all having the same airflow and suction power. To be sure, all of the vacuums we tested were pretty powerful.
For comparison, in our upright vacuum reviews and tests we have measured an average airflow rating of 83 CFM at the hose. The average of the five wet/dry shop vacs tested in this round-up was more than twice that number at 197 CFM.
We added the readings we got for maximum airflow and suction to arrive at a Power Score. Finishing first was the Craftsman, followed by the Ridgid with the Workshop close behind. The steel drum Vacmaster wasn’t far behind the Workshop but the black, plastic Vacmaster trailed by a significant margin.
Heavy Debris Test
In our Heavy Debris Tests we put each of the 6.5 peak HP wet/dry vacs up against increasingly heavier nut-and-bolt combinations. The test results mirrored the Power Score results, with the Craftsman 6.5 HP finishing first and the black Vacmaster shop vac again performing the worst.
Water Pick-Up Test
One very good reason to own a wet/dry vac is for picking up water. To do so effectively, it’s critical to have a good water attachment such as a wide squeegee tool and two extensions. All of the shop vacs we tested were equipped in this way, but some performed better than others.
For example, when using the squeegee tool that came with the two Vacmasters, it was difficult to remove water from the floor. In our Water Pickup Test, the Ridgid was the best with the Craftsman putting in a very close second-place performance.
Hard Floor Debris Pick-Up Test
Another important test was the ability to pick up debris on hard floors. This test was inspired by the thought of having to clean up sawdust and other fine material on shop floors. Again attachment design is critical to perform well on this test.
Each 6.5 HP shop vacuum had two accessories for this job. The first was the Water Squeegee Tool, which worked exceptionally well with the Ridgid, Craftsman, and Workshop but not well at all with the two Vacmasters. The challenge the Vacmasters had was that the diameter of the holes on the squeegees was too small.
The other tool they all had for picking up debris was a kind of utility tool. This tool would be best for picking up larger bits of debris mixed in with smaller debris. It wasn’t quite as easy to control, since the attachment was prone to get stuck on the floor if you didn’t maintain a bit of space between it and the floor surface. Regardless, all of the vacuums performed about the same when tested with this type of attachment.
Claw Tool / Car Tool
Another important test is a shop vacuum’s ability to clean cars. For this, we look for a Claw Tool, also known as a Car Tool. This type of tool is the most used tool in car detailing.
Here again, the Ridgid, Craftsman, and Workshop had one, each of which performed about the same. The Vacmasters did not come with a Claw Tool, forcing us to use their Utility Tool, which turned in sub-optimal performances.
Ergonomics / Usability
All of the 6.5 HP wet/dry vacuums we tested had the same general form factor; a cylindrical drum design with the motor attached to the top of the unit. There were a few differences to note, however, which made a difference in real-world use.
The Vacmaster Beast 14-gallon with a steel tank and the Ridgid both have two large wheels in the back. We liked the large rear wheel approach for moving from one place to the other, but they didn’t follow us around when in use quite as easily as the other shop vacs we tested, which all had four caster wheels.
We did like that you could lock a wheel on the Vacmaster 14-gallon to keep it in place. It was the only one of the five shop vacs with this feature.
Tool Storage, Cord Management, and Hose Management
The Vacmaster 14-gallon was also the best for tool storage, having a place for every tool. It was also good with cord and hose management. The worst of all these in terms of design was the Workshop, which did not have a place to wrap the cord and it barely had enough room for all its tools.
All of the 6.5 HP wet/dry vacuums were all about the same with noise level, with the notable exception of the Workshop, which was both louder and had a higher pitch than the others. It was so pronounced it was almost a deal breaker by itself.
We tested each vacuum’s filtration and found no real difference between the five though some advertise slightly better filters than others.
The last characteristic we figured in was the price. All of the models we tested are very close to the same price. At the time of testing, the Vacmaster with the steel drum was the most expensive, the Ridgid was second, the black Vacmaster next, followed by the Craftsman and the Workshop.
6.5 HP shop vac comparison table
Specifications and scores from our independent tests are below.
|Craftsman CMXEVBE17595||Ridgid NXT||Vacmaster VJE1412SW0201||Vacmaster VJH1612PF0201||Workshop WS1600VA|
|Peak HP||6.5 HP||6.5 HP||6.5 HP||6.5 HP||6.5 HP|
|Type||Wet/Dry Shop Vac||Wet/Dry Shop Vac||Wet/Dry Shop Vac||Wet/Dry Shop Vac||Wet/Dry Shop Vac|
|Airflow||248 CFM||219 CFM||162 CFM||131 CFM||225 CFM|
|Water Pick-up Test||2nd||1st||4th||5th||3rd|
|Capacity||16 Gal||16 Gal||14 Gal||16 Gal||16 Gal|
After putting all the test data and specifications together, we found the Craftsman CMXEVBE17595 model to be the best 6.5 HP shop vac overall and the best value. It also happens to be one of the most popular and well-rated wet/dry vacuums online.
Second place goes to the Ridgid 6.5 HP and the third place finisher is the Vacmaster Professional Series 6.5 HP Wet/Dry Vac.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends up on what it will be used for. Higher horsepower generally means more suction. Normal around-the-house jobs like vacuuming up dirt and other standard debris can be done with a 1 to 3 HP shop vac. For constant use with heavier debris, look for a shop vac with 4 to 6.5 HP (or higher).
A strong shop vac will have 5 to 6.5 HP (or higher). Shop vacs with motors of this size are often also equipped with larger tanks, longer cords and more accessories.
If the shop vac is a wet/dry vac it can vacuum both water and dry debris.
Peak HP is the maximum power the motor can put out in horsepower. For example, the maximum output of a 6.5 peak HP shop vac is 6.5 horsepower.