I’m just blown away by all the bad advice that fills the internet these days. I Googled “best vacuum cleaner for cars” and all I see is horrible advice to use those cheap 12-volt vacuum cleaners.
Those 12-volt vacuum cleaners are not going to cut it, and by no means the “best” vacuum cleaner for any car. Those things can barely pick up a crumb yet alone pet hair.
The best thing to use for a car, truck, SUV or whatever you got is a Shop Vacuum. If you’re using anything else, then you’re just fooling yourself.
TIP: Here is one clever trick you won’t find anywhere else for cleaning the carpets of a car – use a rubber brush like this one here* to get in the little cracks that most vacuums miss. I’ll go into more detail about why it’s so important below.
My Top 3 Picks For Shop Vacuums
- Shop-Vac 5989300 5-Gallon 4.5 Peak HP*
- Vacmaster VBV1210, 12 Gallon 5 Peak HP*
- RIDGID Wet Dry Vacuums VAC1200 Heavy Duty Wet Dry Vacuum Cleaner and Blower Vac*
Why A Shop Vacuum?
Have you ever seen the inside of a dirty car? You got leaves, crumbs, coins, and who knows what else in that carpet and between the seats. Would a dinky little 12-volt vacuum cleaner or even a dinky little battery-powered vacuum be able to handle all of that?
Nope. You need a shop vacuum.
A shop vacuum can hold up to just about anything you throw at it. You need this as it’s a good chance you’re going to suck up a penny or two, and those dinky 12-volt vacuums won’t be able to handle it.
Plus, a shop vacuum can hold up to liquids. If you spill something like coffee or milk, you can use the shop vacuum to suck it straight out of the fabric. I like to use a carpet cleaner to clean the stain and then use the shop vacuum to suck up the cleaner.
What if I’m not near a power outlet? – A shop vacuum needs to be plugged in, that’s just a fact if you want something that can pick up debris out of cars carpets and seats. Having a battery-powered or 12-volt car vacuums may seem like a logical way to vacuum your car, but it’s not. They’re not strong enough to pick up the debris and should be your last option. If the 12-volt or battery vacuum is your only option then take a look at my little trick below.
My Cool Little Trick/Tip
Above all else, you should be using a shop vacuum to clean your car, but this is not always possible for everyone. Sometimes you live in apartments with no power outlet, or a shop vacuum is too bulky.
To solve that issue you need to get a Rubber Brush* like this one here. A rubber brush will help to lift the hair, dust, and even crumbs out of the carpet in your car. Think of it as combing the carpet like you would comb your hair. When the debris is set free, you can then use any vacuum cleaner to suck it up or scoop it up by hand.
Tip: when using the rubber brush to get pet hair out of the carpet of your car use a spray bottle with half fabric softener and half water – and spray the carpet first. This makes getting the hair out so much easier. If you don’t have fabric softner then just use water.
The rubber brush method is so effective that I use it with my shop vacuum when detailing my car. This is the only way I found to get my car cleaned the way I like it – and I’m super picky about those things.
The rubber brush is great at getting into the tight corners and small areas of the car. It is even good in areas where you don’t want to scratch or scuff. If you don’t have a rubber brush then use a toothbrush, but be careful as a toothbrush can scratch or scuff sensitive areas.
Here is a good video about using brushes and vacuums to get the dirt out of your car…
What Shop Vacuum To Buy
The great thing about most Shop Vacuums is that nearly all of them are good and can take the abuse quite well. But there is one that I’m a big fan of and that is the Shop-Vac 5-Gallon model.
If you’re just cleaning a car every so often then a 5-gallon shop vacuum is all you need. If you want more power, then you need the bigger models. Beyond 5-gallons is pointless if you ask me when you combine the rubber brush with it.
One good reason why I always go with the Shop-Vac 5-Gallon above is that I know it can handle dog hair which I find plenty of in the back of my car. Sometimes I don’t need to use the rubber brush because of the power of this thing.
-If you’re vacuuming your car, you can use the shop vacuum to clean up just about any spots you want. Feel free to hit the vents and areas where dust gets trapped.
-You may notice that a shop vacuum or any vacuum cleaner may be too big for some areas. For the small areas grab a makeup brush, new paintbrush, or even a soft bristle toothbrush and brush all those areas. For even harder-to-reach areas you can use an Air Duster like this one here* to blow out the dust.
-When cleaning touch screens never use any chemicals on them. Things like glass cleaners can damage some touch screens. The best thing to use is a damp rag.
-If you have cupholders that are filthy, then using a Steam Cleaner will be the best option. The steam will heat up the gunk, and wiping it down will remove it. Make sure to avoid using the steam cleaner near electronics. Besides a shop vacuum, a steam cleaner is great for cleaning a dirty car, even the stains on the carpet. If you want to learn more about steam cleaning a car, I have a great post on it here.
-Avoid using baking soda to clean the carpets of your car. I go into more detail about that here, but to sum it up it can destroy vacuum cleaners.