How To Suck Up Water With A Shop Vacuum

Ever wondered how to tackle liquid spills like a pro? Whether it’s water, soda, wine, or even less pleasant substances like urine or feces, a shop vacuum or wet/dry vacuum is your go-to hero.

In this post, we’re diving into the art of using a shop vacuum to suck up water and other non-flammable liquids. It’s a handy skill to have in your cleaning toolkit, and we’re here to guide you through the process. Stay tuned for a step-by-step guide to handling liquid mishaps like a champ!

What Is A Shop Vacuum?

A shop vacuum, also known as a wet/dry vacuum or a shop vac, is a type of vacuum cleaner designed to handle heavy-duty cleaning tasks, particularly in workshop or construction settings. It is equipped with a more robust and stronger motor with a larger storage capacity compared to traditional household vacuum cleaners. It’s because of this, that many homeowners are opting to use shop vacuums more than their regular vacuum cleaner.

Shop vacuums are specifically designed to handle a wide range of materials, including both dry debris (such as sawdust, dirt, glass, screws or other small objects) and liquids (such as water, spills, or floods). They are often used in environments where regular vacuums would be inadequate or prone to damage, such as workshops, garages, construction sites, or everyday homes due to kids, pets and other constant messes.

How To Suck UP Water With Shop Vacuum

To suck up water and other non-flammable liquid messes is basically the same as sucking up dry messes, expect you need to change or remove the filter.

1. Open Shop Vacuum, Remove Paper Filter

Open the dust canister of your shop vacuum to reveal the paper filter. The paper filter is often white, like in the picture above. The filter may not be white, especially if you use it a lot, but it’s almost always the hanging part below the lid.

To remove the paper filter from the shop vacuum to suck up water requires you to unscrew it, often a slight turn to the left, not a lot of force is needed. Once the filter is unseated, the filter pulls down and off the shop vacuum.

If your shop vacuum has a bag, you must also remove it too.

2. Install Foam Filter Or No Filter

When you remove the paper filter you will see a ball float, if you have a foam filter you can place that over the ball float outer housing.

Not every shop vacuum comes with or can get a foam filter, my batter-powered shop vacuum pictured above did not come with one, and that is okay. If you’re sucking up liquids, you don’t need a filter, what protects the shop vacuum is the ball float, so make sure it can move freely.

Trying to suck up water with the paper filter still attached will cause it to clog up quickly and stop working. The goal of the paper filter is to keep the dust you’re sucking up from going back into the air, but if you’re sucking up liquids, there is no dust to worry about. The little bit of dust will just stick to the water instead of being blown back out, so it’s not needed for wet messes.

3. Plug Into A GFCI Plug

If you don’t have a battery-powered shop vacuum, it’s ideal you plug it into a GFCI Plug.

Even though most shop vacuums are double insulated, it’s still a good idea to have the protection in place since you’ll be dealing with water.

4. Suck Up The Water

When the shop vacuum cleaner is ready, you can start to suck up the water and other wet messes like you would with dry messes.

You’ll know to stop when the shop vacuum stops sucking the water up and makes a louder and higher pitch sound. This is the ball blocking the suction because the water level is too high, and you need to dump the water.

5. Dump The Water

When done or when the shop vacuum is full of water, you must turn it off and then unplug it from the wall or battery before you empty it.

Bigger shop vacuums have a drain port at the bottom, but the rest you take the top off and dump the water.

Make sure to let the shop vacuum dust bin dry out before closing it up after you’re done and before putting the paper filter back on.

Sucking Up Wet & Dry Messes Together

Since a shop vacuum can be used for dry messes and wet messes, just by changing the filter, it makes many wonder if you can suck up both messes at the same time?

One example of a wet and dry mess I run into is cleaning my gutters with my shop vacuum. The leaves and gutter gunk are mostly wet, but you have many dry pieces and dust, so what filter do you use?

When sucking up both wet and dry messes at the same time with a shop vacuum, you use the foam or no filter, basically treat it like sucking up a wet mess.

Sucking up a wet mess when you still have the paper filter installed will destroy the paper filter and cause the shop vacuum to not have enough suction. But you need that paper filter for PURELY dry messes, or else the dust will get flung back into the room.

Water & Electricity Don’t Mix!!!

Water and electricity don’t mix, but you can use a shop vacuum to suck up water.

What you should not do is soak the shop vacuum with water from a hose, tub or any forceful outside water source.

If you need to clean the shop vacuum, you can remove the motor portion and clean the bottom with a hose as there is no electronics, but the top motor part must be cleaned carefully with a dry rag with it disconnected from power.

If you left the shop vacuum out in the rain, you’ll need to take the top lid off and the hoses, so it can dry out before trying to use it. Wait at least 24 hours before using and plug it into a GFCI plug.

No Filter

You can use a shop vacuum without a filter, and often it works better without the filter.

The purpose of the filter on a shop vacuum is to keep the dust that you’re sucking up from going back into the room.

You must take off the filter or use a foam filter when sucking up water and other nonflammable wet messes. If the mess is dry and small, you need the paper filter. If the mess is dry but large, like a bolt, the filter is not needed, and you may get more suction power by not using the filter.

No Bag

Just like with the filter, it’s best to use a bag if you’re sucking up dry things. It’s a must to remove the bag if you’re sucking up water.

If you suck up dry things without a bag, then it will just make a mess in the canister. It can also clog the filter sooner and even leak back out of the vacuum cleaner.

Here is a great video that goes into more details about this here…

You can make your own basic bag for your shop vacuum from trash bags.

What You Can Suck Up

I’ve lost count of all the things I’ve sucked up with my shop vacuum cleaner, it’s basically everything that I would not use my normal vacuum cleaner for and was nonflammable.

Here is just a short list of things I’ve sucked up and cleaned up with my shop vacuum.

  1. Sawdust.
  2. Water.
  3. Nails.
  4. Dog poop.
  5. Urine.
  6. Glass.
  7. Socks.
  8. Rings stuck in the sink.
  9. Bugs.
  10. Rat’s nest.

Best Shop Vacuum For Around The Home

Here lately, the best shop vacuums for homeowners I’m finding are battery powered ones.

You can’t beat the ease of use with a shop vacuum that runs on batteries, especially as I find I’m in a rush because the kids spilled something or glass is everywhere, or you name it. Getting the cord out, the weight of the plugged in ones, and more has me reaching for the cordless shop vac.

I currently use a Bauer Cordless shop vacuum, but it may not be available for everyone. It requires the Bauer batteries and chargers, but if you’re already in another tool line, they often have a cordless shop vacuum.

Below is a list of more cordless shop vacuums that I recommend to homeowners.

  1. Wesco Cordless Shop Vacuum Cleaner. (Amazon Link Ad)
  2. DEWALT 20V MAX Cordless Wet-Dry Vacuum. (Amazon Link Ad)
  3. Milwaukee 18-Volt Cordless Wet/Dry Vacuum. (Amazon Link Ad)

Shop Vac For Cleaning Ponds

Using a Shop Vacuum to clean ponds or large bodies of water is not recommended. There are several reasons for this, primarily due to the rapid filling and clogging issues caused by the debris present in ponds.

If you attempt to clean that much water using a shop vacuum, you’ll find yourself emptying it every 20 seconds. I’ve personally tried it, and I can assure you it’s not worth the effort.

Alternatively, you can consider utilizing a submersible pump to redirect the pond water into a container if you intend to reuse it. This provides a more efficient solution for managing the water and reduces the burden on the shop vacuum.

They also make liquid transfer pumps (Amazon Link Ad) made for moving liquids to a different location, and many of them are battery powered.

Or there are stick transfer pumps like in the video above for moving a lot of water to somewhere else.



Hello, I'm Lee from ""! Launched in 2016, my site addresses the online information gap about "robot vacuums" and "vacuum cleaners," areas where I have hands-on experience. Got questions about a post or topic? Feel free to comment or contact me (contact)!

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