Nothing makes my car feel less appealing than a messy interior. That includes the carpet, under the seat, and those tiny crevices on the sides. I notice them as soon as I open the door and the unpleasant feeling sticks with me throughout the drive. The worst part is not knowing how crumbs, dust, sand, and hair even got there in the first place. They seem to reappear moments after removing them, despite my efforts to keep them out.
The truth is they don’t reappear right away. It feels that way because, for most of us, vacuuming is a chore. Let’s be honest. I know I’d rather be doing anything else. Contorting my body like a pretzel and trying in vain to hit those hard to reach places drives me nuts. But I do it every Saturday morning.
I’ve built quite an enjoyable routine around it. I look forward to it. I love waking up early, having my coffee, and spending a quiet morning with my vehicle. If the sun is shining I take a drive and set up shop at the local coin wash. I learn by mingling with other car owners and seeing which products they use. It’s how I get a lot of the feedback I use for this website.
I realize a lot of you don’t have the time or get the same enjoyment out of this kind of weekend routine. After all, you could sleep in, go on a run, walk your dog, go fishing, and more. Or you dedicate your weekend to family and friends. Accomplishing your car detailing as fast and efficiently as possible is more important. We will discuss your best options when it comes to car vacuums and even find out which is the best vacuum for pet hair.
The Vacuum Benchmark
Vacuums come in all shapes and sizes. Some are large shop vacs that you wheel around. Others are of the small hand-held and often cordless variety. So how can you easily compare them when making a purchasing decision? Is it power and suction you’re after? Is the most expensive one the best? It’s not that simple. Here are the characteristics I used when comparing the most common models.
Suction is of course one of the biggest advantages when it comes to a vacuum. But not in the way you’re thinking. You see, the biggest and most powerful motor is rather useless if you don’t have the proper attachments to reach the desired area. Suction is important because, without it, all the other attributes will suffer. Along with them, so will your expected results.
There are two key metrics when it comes to suction. There is the measured suction at the hose tip and the suction power at the body of the vacuum. When comparing two specification labels, factor in the hose length difference between them. The longer the hose the less suction you will have available at the tip if power is equal. It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to shorten the hose to make their model appear more powerful.
Another determining factor for me is the power cord length. Once again, suction will not do you any good if you can’t find a plugin to power up the unit. I know it seems far fetched and a bit dramatic but it’s true. Some of you live in condos and might have to try and reach the power outlet on your balcony from below. Or steal power from the elevator lobby in your building. I’ve had to do both. They love me in this building. So keep that in mind.
Embedded Sand and Water Test
These two are performance metrics. The water suction test measures the time it takes for the vacuum to suck up a 10-gallon bucket of water. I performed the test with shop vacs only. Do not try and suck up water with a hand-held portable unit. That would be silly.
The embedded sand test is the ultimate test as it relates to auto detailing. Carpets sometimes feel like velcro. Anything that touches them seems nearly impossible to vacuum. For the test, I got half a cup of sand and rubbed it into the carpet. Once satisfied it was in there good, I saw which vacuum was best at getting it out. Simple.
Best Budget-Friendly Shop Vacuums
The Stanley vacuum provides maximum suction power for heavy-duty pickup. It has a powerful rear blower port that instantly converts the vacuum to a power blower. Swiveling casters provide ease of movement in any direction. Comes equipped with a built-in 10-foot power cord with cord wrap. If you are looking for a versatile shop vac that can be used for more than just auto detailing, this is it!
The Shop-Vac All-Around easy is my pick for the best budget-friendly car detailing shop vac. Although it finished second to the Stanley in suction power, it has some significant advantages. The Shop-Vac power cord is 3 times longer at 18 feet. It also has a hose that’s 3 feet longer than the Stanley, making it extremely easy to work with. It also comes with the biggest and best selection of attachments straight out of the box.
The Armour All came in second in this category. It also has a longer power cord and suction hose than the Stanley and I found the attachments really well made. The suitcase design made it really portable and perfect for smaller vehicles where space is a consideration. It’s also great for storing in an RV or in the back of your truck should you need it.
Best Premium Shop Vacuums
The Vacmaster was by far the most powerful vacuum I tested. The suction was extremely powerful and better than anything you can get out of a household vacuum cleaner. I know this is to be expected out of premium shop vac but I was pleasantly surprised. The Vacmaster has sufficient power cord length, a strong suction hose, and would handle itself well even on a job site.
The Rigid finished second in the premium category by a nose hair. It’s also an extremely powerful vacuum and has a very durable design. What sets it back for me is the lack of attachments out of the box. It only comes with one, albeit very useful, attachment. I included it on my list because with the purchase of its premium auto detailing accessories kit, it truly is the best vacuum for the job. If you are a professional detailer or looking to start a mobile detailing business, the extra cost would be a terrific investment.
Best Handheld Vacuums
Finding a reliable handheld vacuum that was also powerful was more challenging than I thought. This Black + Decker has excellent battery life, great attachments and is able to fit in tight spots better than the rest. It did a nice job on the carpet as well as cup holders and seats. It has a durable design and feel to it that I can appreciate.
This Bissel handheld model was given to me as a gift. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. The attachment design seemed awkward and bulky. It has quickly become my go-to for one reason. It has a power cord. I like knowing that I can take my time and get the job done right. I don’t have to worry about battery life. The extra power is also nice!
Best Car Vacuum For Pet Hair
The Vacmaster is by far the most capable of handling pesky dog hair straight out of the box. Either of the handheld models above will also get the job done. But if you want the fastest most efficient way, this is the vacuum cleaner to get.