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3 Types of Car Vacuums

Woman cleaning car using handheld vacuum.

Car vacuums are an invaluable cleaning tool to keep that new car smell and look in the interior of your vehicle.

Regardless of how careful you are, dust and dirt will always accumulate during regular use, coming from pets, backpacks, toolboxes, shopping bags, and any other items that ride with you.

Car vacuum technology continues to improve and has manifested into powerful devices that can reach every nook and cranny for efficient and quick removal of hair, debris, and dust.

Car vacuums can make a world of difference in keeping your automobile clean and bacteria-free. Also, since regular vacuuming eliminates dust, the air inside your car will be cleaner, which is critical for those with asthma or allergies.

If you’re in the market for a new car vacuum, then keep reading to learn more about these products and the different types.

Types of Car Vacuum

While many car vacuum units overlap, they can be divided into three types: handheld, shop, and wet and dry vac.

1. Handheld

THISWORX Car Vacuum Cleaner - Portable, High Power, Mini Handheld Vacuum w/ 3 Attachments, 16 Ft Cord & Bag - 12v, Small Auto Accessories Kit for Interior Detailing - Black

Handheld units are small, portable versions of a traditional vacuum used to quickly clean small areas of your vehicle. Handheld car vacuums have gained considerable popularity because of their practicality and portability.

Most vehicle owners don’t want to spend a significant amount of time vacuuming their car, so they turn to corded or cordless models. Both are excellent options depending on your need for mobility and willingness to charge your vacuum.

All handheld units are small enough to place into a bag and store in your trunk to quickly clean up a spill while on the road or use in your driveway.


One of the biggest advantages of a handheld car vacuum is maneuverability, which is even easier with the cordless version.

Corded handheld units plug directly into the automobile’s adapter socket and feature a long cord to move around the car’s interior. Also, most handhelds have smaller attachments to help access even the smallest areas.

Another advantage is they are small and lightweight, which makes them simple to operate. Handheld car vacuums are simple to carry and store, while still offering powerful suction.

Best of all they are affordable and easy to maintain, so you don’t need to stockpile or purchase bags. When you finish vacuuming, you simply dump the contents of the handheld in the garbage.


One of the greatest downsides of a handheld vacuum is many don’t work well on the carpeting of your vehicle. It’s powerful to pick up small particles in-between the seats but doesn’t do well with the carpeting.

Also, while handhelds are maneuverable, you can only reach as far under the seat as the vacuum will fit.


Handheld units are highly maneuverable and lightweight with some models being corded and others cordless. Some have high-efficiency HEPA filters to trap even the smallest dust particles that can irritate those with allergies.

The purpose of the handheld unit is for easy storage and access when you choose to vacuum your car.

2. Shop Vacs

Armor All, AA255 , 2.5 Gallon 2 Peak HP Wet/Dry Utility Shop Vacuum , Orange

A shop vac is a specialized vacuum with a high-powered motor and suction unit that picks up chunks of material, debris, and dirt in your car.

The unit tends to be large with a durable hose, a large canister for holding debris and works wonders in dirty spaces. Many refer to shop vacs as bucket vacuums since they have the appearance of buckets with hoses.

Shop vacs commonly have wheels to allow for easy mobility and while shop vacs are commonly used to clean large spaces, they make smaller models that can also be used for vehicle cleaning.


One of the greatest benefits of using a shop vac in your car is they are incredibly powerful. Given the small square footage of your vehicle, a shop vac can clean quickly and eliminate large objects from your car efficiently.

Also, if you have large particles in your car, a shop vac won’t clog easily like a handheld unit. Some shop vacs also can effectively clean wet messes.


The most obvious disadvantage of a shop vac is it is not portable, so you can’t keep it in the trunk of your car. That means you must keep the shop vac in your garage and can only use it while home.

Also, despite having a long hose, shop vacs can be difficult to maneuver compared to a handheld model. Furthermore, shop vacs don’t come with specific accessories for carpets, seats, and other fabric types.


Not all shop vacs are created equal, so when you go to purchase a unit, you don’t want to buy a model just for car use, you also want one for home use. One major feature to look for is horsepower.

While this is not critical for interior car maintenance, you want a unit with at least 1.5 to 2HP for home use. Another important feature is the cord must be long enough to plug into an outlet in your home and move the shop vac around your car.

Also critical is the hose length, which must be able to reach all areas of your vehicle.

3. Wet and Dry

Vacmaster VOC508S 1102 5 Gallon Stainless Steel Wet Dry Shop Vacuum and 3 Gallon Ash Tank Combo

Wet and dry vacs are slightly different from shop vacs in that they can clean up wet debris and liquid spills, along with dry dirt, dust, and grime.

Waste is sucked into a two-bucket system instead of a single bucket or bag, and the unit separates the liquid and solid into two chambers. This is the perfect home vacuum for your car if you have water, spills, or leaks into your automobile.


One of the primary advantages of a wet-dry vac is flexible cleaning. A wet-dry vac will allow you to clean the wet and dry areas of your automobile with efficiency. Given the power of these units, cleaning time is reduced, especially in vehicles.

Another pro is those waste products are easy to drain and dispose of. Also, wet-dry vacs have powerful suction, so they can pick up the smallest and largest particles from your car.

Furthermore, most wet-dry vacs are equipped with dry and wet filters to reduce harmful bacteria, which will help with breathing inside your vehicle.


Like a shop vac, even the smallest units are large and heavy. Therefore, it won’t have much mobility or portability so you will have to vacuum the interior at home, instead of on the go.

Another issue is the vacuum may begin to smell like dog urine or a wet dog over time since it  


There are many features to consider when searching for a wet-dry vac for your home and automobile.

First, you want your model to be versatile. Given that the wet-dry vac can clean different types of messes, they are already versatile, but you want them to be able to effectively scoop up large and small particles.

Second, if you’re planning to solely use the wet-dry vac for your car, then you only need the smallest size possible. That will make it more mobile and maneuverable.

Third, your wet-dry vac is safe from electrical hazards since none of the waste ever passes through electrical currents.

Finally, your unit is a dual purpose in that you can plug the hose into the exhaust port to create a strong blower. This will help dry recently wet and vacuumed areas of your automobile quickly and efficiently.


How long does the average cordless handheld vacuum take to charge?

While the charging time varies between models, the standard time is four to six hours to fully recharge the unit.

How long does a handheld car vacuum last?

On average, a handheld unit could last two to three years, depending on the usage, maintenance, and brand.

Why is my car vacuum losing suction?

Anytime a vacuum loses suction, which means you must empty the container. All vacuum units have mesh or foam filters which can become clogged over time if not replaced or cleaned properly. This blocks the air, which impacts suction.

Can a car vacuum overheat?

All vacuums are designed with internal cooling systems which prevent overheating during normal use. However, when exposed to external conditions, vacuums can fail from overheating.

What’s the primary difference between a shop vac and wet-dry vac?

The main difference between these two types of vacuums is a shop vac has an internal collection bag and a wet-dry vac does not.

The shop vac requires the bag because fine dust will navigate through the filter and blow out the exhaust into your automobile.