How to Use Shop Vac for Water

how to use shop vac for water

Project Overview
  • WORKING TIME: 15 – 30 mins
  • TOTAL TIME: 15 – 30 mins
  • SKILL LEVEL: Beginner
  • YIELD: 10 square-foot area

A wet/dry shop vacuum is the perfect tool for your workshop or home. But with so many settings and filters, it’s sometimes a little scary to know where to start.

It’s time to ditch the squeegee and learn to master a shop vac. Unlike normal household vacuums, these handy bits of kit can suck up water as well as everyday messes on the floor.

We’ll talk you through everything you need to know on how to use a shop vacuum in this helpful guide. From suction to drainage, you’ll feel like a pro in no time.

What to Look For in the Best Wet Dry Vac

It’s best to consider what you want to use your wet/dry vac for first of all. This will determine the size and weight of the shop vacuum cleaner you need.

A large 10-gallon shop vacuum has a huge capacity, but it won’t fit in your home hallway closet. On the other hand, a compact model will store well, but it won’t be of much use for large amounts of excess water.

So you should choose one to suit your needs and storage space. A smaller one is fine for everyday home use. But if you want one to suck up more water from your pond or pool, a wet/dry vac with a larger canister is better to save you from emptying the tank all the time.


If you need to carry it up the stairs, a lightweight model would work well. The vacuum itself can be weighty, plus there’s the added weight of water to factor in. And seeing as a gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds, it’s not light (1).

Before You Begin

A wet/dry vac is perfect for cleaning up all kinds of mess around the house, from dirt in the garage to water collected from a broken pipe. It can save you from expensive water damage in your home. For example, this Stanley wet/dry vacuum comes in a range of sizes to suit any task.

This is why each machine has two filters: a dry cartridge filter and a foam filter to suck up water. There’s also a disposable filter bag for when you’re cleaning up dry dust.

Although some wet/dry vacs, like this Bissell, only have one filter and don’t use bags. You use the special attachment for liquid spills instead, so it saves you from having to swap filters and bags around.

But you should make sure your vacuum cleaner is assembled correctly and ready to go. You don’t want to use dry paper filters to vacuum water.

Now let’s dive into our guide on how to use a shop vac for water.

What You’ll Need


  • Wet filter (optional)


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Empty the Tank

Make sure the vacuum cleaner is unplugged from the power before you start. You don’t want it to start up by accident and cause any injuries!

If this is the first you use a shop vac, simply skip this step. Empty the collection tank and get rid of any dry dirt and debris that may have been sucked up previously. It’s important to dispose of all the dust in the canister before you start your vacuum up again.

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Replace the Filters

If there’s a dry filter in place, take it out and replace it with a foam filter. Your user guide will explain how to do this for your shop vacuum model.

You can still use a dry filter for small amounts of liquid, but it’s better to use the wet filter for larger quantities of standing water.

If you use the dry filter for removing water, make sure it’s completely dry before you use it again for dry pick up. Otherwise, the filter will clog quickly and you’ll find it hard to clean.

You should also never use the wet filter for cleaning dry mess with a shop vacuum. It doesn’t offer enough protection and it can damage the motor.

When the foam filter is fitted, remove the dry dust bag from your shop vac.

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Plug the Vacuum in

This sounds simple, but the wet/dry vacuum needs to be grounded. It provides a safe path for electric current to pass through. So this reduces your risk of electric shock if the vacuum malfunctions.

Plug the vacuum into an appropriate power outlet. Make sure it’s properly installed and grounded as per regulations.

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Vacuum the Liquids

When your shop vacuum is plugged in, turn it on and switch it to the right setting for liquids.

Time to start vacuuming!

You can use the floor nozzle to vacuum water from flat surfaces, like spilled milk or a wet carpet. But in a flooded area with large quantities of water, the level is too high for this tool.

In this case, you can use the crevice nozzle instead. It’s best if the end of the nozzle isn’t fully submerged, so you can make sure there’s still good airflow through the hose.

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Empty the Water Tank When Full

Pay attention to when the tank is getting full.

You might notice the motor gets noisier, which isn’t a good thing. This is generally caused by the float regulator covering the motor when the tank is at maximum capacity. It makes the motor work harder, so you want to avoid this happening.

Some models have a float mechanism that automatically cuts off the airflow when the collection tank is full. You might notice a high pitched sound as the motor speed increases, and the suction will also cease.

Keep In Mind

When these things happen, turn your shop vacuum off and unplug the power cord. Otherwise, it can damage the motor and be expensive to fix. So act fast!

Then, raise the hose up to drain any excess liquid back into the tank. Pour the water down then drain. Then it’s important to check the dust tank and empty any debris that’s collected in there.

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Clean Your Appliance

You want to keep your wet/dry vac looking its best. So use warm water and dish soap to dampen a soft cloth, and then wipe the outside of the vacuum cleaner.

It’s simple to clean the tank, too. Empty out any dust, debris, or pet hair in there, then wash it using warm water and dish soap. After this, wipe it down with a dry soft cloth.

Finally, you should check the foam filters or cartridges for any damage. Any tears or small holes could cause issues with dust coming out of your shop vac. If you notice any problems, replace the filter straight away to prevent damage.

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Store Your Vacuum

Make sure the collection tank is clean and empty before you store your wet/dry vacuum cleaner.

Then, wrap the cord and hang it on the unit, or in the hose holder if it has one. Some models will have storage for the accessories, so make sure they’re clipped onto there. It makes them easy to access the next time you want to use your shop vac.

You should store vacuum cleaners inside to help keep them safe and extend their lifespan.

Tips To Keep Your Shop Vac in Top Shape

  • It’s important to have the correct filters in place on your shop vac. Use a foam filter for wet surfaces, and a dry cartridge and dry dust bag for non-liquid spills.
  • Never use a wet/dry vac without a filter. It can cause dust to blow out of the port, which can damage the motor.
  • Baking soda and other powder-based carpet deodorizers or refreshers shouldn’t be cleaned using your shop vacuum.
  • If you need to use an extension cord, stick to approved 10 amp versions. For cleaning a liquid spill in wet mode, you need to use a weatherproof extension cord.
  • Arrange the extension on a flat surface in such a way that it’s not a trip hazard.
  • Keep your shop vac upright at all times. This prevents any water from running from the hose and into the motor.
  • Never use shop vacs on their side or upside down.
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