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How to Use a Shop Vac to Vacuum Water? – Step by Step Guide

by  Lawrence -  Last updated on May 2, 2021

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Shop vacs are extremely powerful vacuums – significantly more so compared to the ordinary vacuums you might be familiar with. Although these types of vacuums are more associated with workshops where heavy dust and debris need to be cleaned up, homes can also greatly benefit from these powerful pieces of equipment.

Having the extra added strength that the ordinary vacuum doesn’t have, shop vacs are also more versatile in the sense that it can handle jobs that ordinary vacuums simply cannot. One such job that a shop vac can effectively do is suck up water. People can clean up massive spills with shop vacs and some even use their shop vacs essentially as water pumps.

If you want to know how to use your shop vac to vacuum water, check out these steps before you start.

How to Use a Shop Vac to Vacuum Water

When using a shop vac, it’s not as simple as just going over to the spill and using the shop vac right away. There are some things that you have to do first before using your shop vac to vacuum water.

1. Remove Air Filter

Firstly, the air filter of the shop vac has to be removed. Air filters are essential components in vacuums as they act as semipermeable membranes that trap dust and debris while letting airflow in and out of the vacuums.

Technically, shop vacs will still effectively vacuum water with the air filters on. However, it is highly recommended that you first remove these air filters because once they become moistened with water, that moist environment can promote the growth of mold and mildew.

Shop vacs are all designed differently, but removing the air filter should be quite simple for most of them. Generally, all you need to do is remove the top of the shop vac. Peering inside, you’d be able to see the air filter and that can be easily removed by turning a knob in the right direction.

2. Check the Tank Capacity

With the top off, you can have access to visually inspect the tank now. For this step, you need to discern whether the tank is capable of containing the amount of water you plant to suck up.

For little spills, shop vacs are often more than enough to handle the amount of water. However, this step is necessary to ensure that you don’t fill your tank beyond its capacity.

If you feel that the tank lacks the capacity for the job, then perhaps you will require multiple run throughs. Once the tank has reached its limit, you can simply empty it out and continue the job.

3. Attach the Hose/Tool

Once the air filter is removed and the tank is evaluated, you can begin attaching the hose and the proper attachment tool (e.g., wet hose nozzle) that would be best for sucking up water.

Some nozzles that are designed for water include a squeegee at the end to help push out water from carpets and other flat surfaces.

4. Begin the Work

With the nozzle attached, you can begin vacuuming the water. Simply move the nozzle over the water and constantly move the nozzle to areas that still have water.

If you are dealing with large volumes of water, then take note of how the vacuum sounds. Modern shop vacs come equipped with features that automatically let you know if the tank has reached its capacity.

Some recommend plugging the shop vac to a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlet since working with water and electricity should always cause concern. While this is a safety measure, shop vacs can still do the work safely even when plugged into non-GCFI outlets since they are usually double insulated.

5. Empty and Clean the Tank

Once you have sufficiently vacuumed the area, you can now empty your tank. It is highly recommended to unplug the shop vac before taking off its top and accessing its internal tank now that it contains water.

After proper disposal, you should clean the tank. This job comes easier since you’ve already removed the tank from the shop vac. Soap and warm water will sufficiently clean and sanitize the tank. Afterward, you can take a dry cloth and wipe it dry as well. Cleaning and drying the tank can help prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

What Can I Use a Shop Vac On?

Whether it’s urine, a spilled beverage, or even pet hair, your shop vacuum should be well equipped to suck them up. That’s what a shop vacuum is well known for – its extreme power and capability to suck up almost anything.

In the case of flooding through your basement, for example, you can also put your shop vacuum to good use. Just be aware of your shop vac’s capacity and empty the tank out each run-through. People even use their shop vacuum to clean their fireplace, unclog their sinks or clean their aquariums.


Shop vacs are very effective at vacuuming large amounts of water – a job that would be much more difficult with a simple mop. However, there are certain things you have to do first to ensure you use your shop vac properly. Follow the steps above and you’d be vacuuming water in no time. If your shop vac has become old & unreliable, here are the potentially best wet-dry vacuums you can consider buying and keep your home clean.

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