What Should You Look For In A Car Detailing Vacuum?

As I’m setting up my dream garage, I’m starting to look at buying a dedicated vacuum cleaner for my car. I’ve got a shop-vac that I use to clean up spills and clean my garage floor. But I want something that’s a little better for detailing.

Garage vacuums may mean different things to different people. Some people thing of heavy-duty wall mounted vacuums. Others think of handheld vacuum for quick cleaning. Many people think of a shop-vac for general use.

It all depends what you need it for.

Let me say this right off the bat: i am NOT a detailer. I appreciate what those guys do, but I don’t have hours to spend cleaning my car each week. I like it to look nice, so I try to vacuum it out regularly, especially after taking my dog for a ride.

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What should you look for in a car vacuum? Garage car vacuums come in several shapes, sizes, and suction strengths. When choosing a new model, the most crucial aspect to consider is the vacuum’s type. Some of the most common types of garage car vacuums are:

  • Wall-mounted
  • Handheld
  • Wheeled
  • Upright

There’s more to buying a garage vacuum than just deciding on what type to get. We’ll get into some of those factors below.

It may seem like a lot of information, but finding the ideal vacuum for your garage and car can actually be pretty easy, once you know what you’re looking for.

Who Needs a Garage Car Vacuum?

But first, why buy a dedicated vacuum for your garage and car in the first place?

Most of us have a Shop-vac or some other brand of canister vacuum, so let me start there.

Think you think about all the ways you use it. In the past few months, I’ve used it to clean up drywall dust, clean out my water softer tank, and to clean up cobwebs and leaves.

When I’m trying to clean dog hair out of my car, I don’t really want the possibility of all that stuff potentially falling into may car’s clean interior.

Wet/dry vacs that are specifically designed for garages can handle almost anything, but they can still get damaged if they . In the same way, if you need a compact model to get into the nooks and crannies of your car’s interior, a handheld vacuum may be the best option.

Types of Garage Vacuums

The first step is understanding the different types of garage car vacuums. This is going to drive your decision process. Understanding your options and choosing the right type can potentially save you a lot of money up front and a lot of frustration down the road.

For our purposes, garage vacuum cleaners fall into four major types: Wall-mounted, canister, handheld and upright.

Canister or wall-mounted vacuums will probably work best for most garages. Smaller handheld vacuums might fit if you’re short on space. I don’t recommend upright vacuums for car use, but they’re included here for completeness.

People will often buy more than one type, usually because their first vacuum didn’t do something they needed it to do.

Let’s address some of the most common types of vacuums that are used to keep garages and cars looking their best.

Wall-Mounted Vacuums

Wall-mounted vacuums feature a powerful, stationary body that secures to a wall coupled to an extremely long hose – sometimes up to 50 feet long.

These heavy-duty vacuums are typically the most powerful garage vacuums. While they are generally more expensive than handheld models, they’re easier to use and more convenient to store. 

Several of the major models of wall-mounted vacuums aren’t wet\dry vacuums. So if you have a spill in your garage or need to clean out your water-filtration system, you’ll need another vacuum for that.

In many ways wall-mounted garage vacuums act exactly like a professional vacuum and are best-suited for detailed automotive detailing. However, if you’re looking for a general purpose or wet\dry vacuum, you may want to look elsewhere.

Handheld Vacuums

At the opposite end of the spectrum are handheld vacuums. When they first came out, they were commonly called DustBusters after the popular Black & Decker model, even if they were made by other brands.

Today, dozens of different brands make some form of handheld vacuum cleaner. While they’re not as flexible as wall-mounted vacuum cleaners, they’re incredibly small and lightweight.

While handhelds are the least expensive garage vacuum cleaner, they’re usually paired with another type of vacuum that can take care of bigger jobs.

Handheld vacuums typically suffer from a lack of power, especially the cordless models. Personally, I find that the rigid design of the nozzle limits where it can go and what it can pick up.

They’re perfect for quick cleanups or spills and can be stored cabinets and shelves easily.

Canister Vacuums

Canister vacuum cleaners are often referred to as “shop vacs” or simply “wheeled vacuums.” They have a large body that houses a powerful motor. Most feature the same kind of flexible tube as wall-mounted vacuums, although significantly shorter.

They’re are considerably less expensive than wall-mounted vacuums, often under $100. However, it’s common to find industrial canister vacuums that can cost $300 or more.

Because they’re so versatile, canister vacuums are often the only vacuum many people buy for their garages. They’re portable, powerful and usually have the ability to be both a wet-vac and a dry-vac.

However, because canister vacuums are good at everything, they’re not usually great at any one thing. Handheld vacuums are more convenient and wall-mounted vacuums are more powerful.

Still, if you can only have one vacuum for your garage, go with a canister vacuum.

Upright Vacuums

Most households have at least one upright vacuum. In fact, even my grandmother had an upright vacuum back when I was growing up.

They work great on carpeted or tiled interior floors and often come with a set of attachment options.

However, they’re not designed for the level of dust and debris that’s in most people’s garages.

Most upright vacuums don’t have the suction power to pick up a dropped screw or nut. They also typically can’t pick up any liquid spills.

Upright vacuums are fine for inside your house, but they’re not recommended for the garage.

What Vacuum Do Professional Detailers Use?

Most professional detailers choose a portable canister vacuum, so they can travel to their customer’s home to detail the car.

Because they need portable vacuum cleaners, professional auto detailers usually go with one of these two vacuums: the Ridgid WD4070 or the VacMaster Beast VFB511B.

In independent tests, both have been shown to be more powerful than the commercial vacuums you find at your local car wash.

I’ll go into a little more detail on each below.

Vacmaster Beast

The Vacmaster Beast is…well…a beast! It’s one of the most powerful vacuums you can buy. It even outperforms some commercial models, which you can see in the video above.

The Vacmaster costs a little more than the Ridgid below. But for that extra money you get a more powerful motor and a larger capacity drum so you can go longer between emptying it.

Drum Size (Gallons)5
Cord Length18 ft.
Hose Length7′
Weight15.6 lbs.
Peak HP5.5
Air Volume (CFM)102
Vacmaster Beast Professional - 5 Gallon Wet/Dry Vac
  • 5 Gallon Polypropylene Tank
  • 5. 5 Peak HP High Efficiency Motor
  • Integrated Hose Storage
  • 18' Cord with Cord Storage
  • Easily Converts to Blower
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03/24/2023 09:04 am GMT

Ridgid WD4070

The Ridgid is hands down the most popular vacuum with professional detailers once you add their 6-piece auto detailing accessory kit (link to Amazon).

By itself, the WD4070 is less expensive than the Vacmaster and slightly less powerful. However it does give you wheeled casters so you can easily move it around the floor. It also has built-in accessory storage which the Vacmaster does not.

Drum Size (Gallons)4
Cord Length20 ft.
Hose Length8′
Weight12 lbs.
Peak HP5
Air Volume (CFM)110
Ridgid WD4070 4 Gallon Portable Vacuum
$121.20 $106.00
  • 5.0 Peak HP motor
  • Lightweight vac with large carry handle for extreme portability
  • 1-7/8" diameter locking hose won’t pull loose during use
  • 20' power cord
  • Converts to blower
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03/24/2023 10:59 am GMT

What To Look For In A Car Vacuum

The type of vacuum might be the most important factor, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one to consider.

No matter which type of vacuum you choose, there are other important questions to ask. Depending on how important these are to you, it may even steer you towards one type of garage vacuum or another.

Consider these questions. :

  • Does it have the attachments you need?
  • What capacity vacuum do you need?
  • Do you need a cordless vacuum?
  • Do you need to clean up liquid spills as well as dirt?
  • Is noise a factor?

Once you can answer those questions, you’ll have a better idea of which garage vacuum cleaner is right for you.

Let’s go into a little more detail on each.


With vacuum cleaner attachments, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality.

With the exception of handhelds, most vacuums will come with a wide variety of attachments. What you need to look for, however, are attachments that fit how you’re going to actually use your vacuum cleaner.

Common attachments include crevice tools, plastic brushes and nozzles for cleaning floors.

However, you can also get specialty attachments that fit most vacuums (again, except for handhelds). Some of their attachments include heavier-duty hoses, horsehair brushes for cleaning your car’s vents, and different shaped crevice tools to get in tight spots.

Vacuum Capacity

Capacity is simply a measure of how much dirt the vacuum can store before you need to empty the bag or canister. Obviously, the larger the better in most cases.

However, with that added capacity comes additional size and weight. You’re going to want to balance the two. Most vacuums should be able to clean several cars before they need to be emptied. It’s still worth considering how often you intend to use your garage vacuum cleaner and what you intend to use it for.


I go cordless whenever I can. It keeps me (or my dog) from tripping over the cord or pulling it out of the wall. Cordless options in vacuum cleaners are usually found in handheld or upright vacuum cleaners. You won’t find any cordless canister vacuums yet. And a cordless, wall-mounted vacuum just doesn’t make sense.

When looking at a cordless vacuum cleaner, check the milliamp hours (mAH) of the battery. The larger the number, the longer the battery will go between charges.


Wet/Dry vacuums are almost always either wall-mounted or canister vacuums. So if you need to clean up liquid spills, you’re limited to one of those types of vacuum cleaners.

As the name implies, Wet/Dry vacs are capable of cleaning dry messes and wet ones. However, they normally have to be configured for one or the other.

For example, my canister vacuum has a filter bag for general dry operation. But if I wanted to clean up a liquid spill, I just remove the bag.

Wet/Dry vacuums are usually very powerful and are great for homeowners who use their garage as a workshop. 


As much as we want a vacuum cleaner with powerful suction, we don’t want it to sound like a jet engine.

Both canister and wall-mounted vacuum cleaners tend to be noisier than upright vacuums. Due to their large metal bodies, the vibration from the motor is amplified. Handheld vacuums tend to have higher revving, smaller motors. While they’re not as loud as canister vacuums, they will never be accused of being quiet.

Most vacuum cleaners will have a decibel rating in their specs. Look for something that’s around 60 decibels. That’s the equivalent to normal conversation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s the section where we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about garage car vacuums.

Hopefully, this information can help you to find solutions to any lingering questions you may have.

Do I Need a HEPA Filter In My Vacuum?

In addition to the five factors we just covered (wet\dry, cordless, capacity, noise and attachments), you may want to consider a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are special filters that can filter out at least 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns in size. That covers most allergens, pet dander and tobacco smoke. Vacuums with strong HEPA filtration sacrifice a little suction power, but do a much better job at improving your air quality in the room.

Can You Vacuum Your Car With a Regular Upright Vacuum?

Technically, yes, you can vacuum your car with a standard household upright vacuum cleaner. However, I wouldn’t want to try.  

Because of their design, upright vacuum cleaners aren’t designed to tackle car interiors or garage floors.

The hose length of an upright vacuum cleaner is usually only a few feet long. That means you’d be constantly moving the vacuum from one side of the car to the other in order to reach tight spots.

As we mentioned earlier, upright vacuums aren’t designed to handle the large debris that’s common in garages, like screws, leaves or small stones.

Still, if you already own an upright vacuum, you may be able to use it temporarily while you look for a better option.

How Often Should You Vacuum Your Car?

I’m guilty of not vacuuming my car as often as I should, but I’m trying to get better about it.

At the bare minimum, you should be vacuuming your car at least once a month. Even if you don’t use your car that often, dust and other small particles can get in through the vents and windows and begin to accumulate. The next time you drive drive your car, you’ll be breathing in those particles, which contributes to allergies.

Industry professionals recommend vacuuming once a week. It’s a a great way to keep your interior clean. In addition, you’ll likely spend ten minutes per week vacuuming instead of an hour every month.

Can You Vacuum the Garage Floor?

Absolutely. In fact, vacuuming your garage floor is far more efficient and effective than sweeping it.

Your garage is already one of the dustiest rooms in your home. While brooms tend to collect dirt and grime while pushing it into the air, vacuum cleaners remove dust particulates from surfaces.


Of the four common types of garage car vacuum cleaners, most homeowners go with either a canister vacuum or the more powerful wall-mounted vacuum cleaner.

They’re usually more expensive than other types, but they’re also the most powerful and easiest to use in your garage.

Handheld models are affordable and lightweight. They make great secondary vacuums to clean up quick spills and get into small areas. They’re also easy to store out of sight.

Whichever type you choose, decide which features are most important to you and you can’t go wrong.

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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.