7 things you can clean with a wet/dry vacuum – that regular vacs can't quite handle

Wet/dry vacuums are powerful cleaners, capable of cleaning much more around the house than your regular vac

Before and after the depth sofa cleaning by a device.
(Image credit: Marian Vejcik / Getty Images)

It's easy to see why wet/dry vacuums are the cleaner of choice for many tradespeople and contractors. They're powerful vacuums that can clean up big messes, whether solid or liquid, and they're relatively affordable considering.

You may not have thought to opt for this more rugged type of vacuum cleaner for the home, but you'd be surprised at just how much it can accomplish. Many wet/dry vacuums can handle everything from minor spills to fireplace ash, rivaling even some of the best vacuums for the job.

With help from cleaning experts, we've listed some of the things that wet/dry vacuums can clean that regular vacuums can't quite handle.

1. Liquids

Double vanity, tile floor

(Image credit: BC Designs)

Wet/dry vacuums truly excel in their ability to clean up liquid messes. Standard vacuum cleaners can't do this (and would likely cause a lot of damage if you attempted to), but the wet/dry vacuum can be brought out any time there's a spillage.

Particularly helpful for households with kids or pets, a wet/dry vacuum can be a life-saver to quickly clean hardwood floors and carpets as soon as something is spilled, avoiding stains and scrubbing. 

You can go further than minor spills at home, too. Think: cleaning out fish tanks, emptying hot tubs, and even helping to clear flooding.

Jennie Holmes, a cleaning expert from ServiceMaster Clean, confirms this: '[They] can help in situations from a spillage to a small flood – helping to reduce damage before contacting disaster restoration professionals.' We don't advise using the vacuum while the flooding is still happening, of course, but it can be an effective way to quickly clear out some of the liquid after a minor flood has occurred.

Wet/dry vacuums will often have separate bags or buckets for dry and liquid waste, but it's important to empty the vacuum whenever you've cleaned up any liquids. 

2. Solids

Naturally, a wet/dry vacuum can also tackle dry messes, just as a regular vacuum cleaner would. But thanks to their strong suction and sturdy builds, they're capable of cleaning up much bigger messes than even the best Dyson vacuums.

This is because their high-capacity motors make them a popular choice for tradespeople and contractors. And if it's powerful enough for them, it should be able to handle pretty much any household mess you throw at them.

'You can also clean messes from larger debris that your typical vacuum might not manage. For example, DIY messes like brick dust, sawdust, plaster, and paint,' Jennie explains.

Anyone who loves a bit of DIY (but hates the endless sweeping and dusting) will see the benefit here, as well as anyone who lives in a home with frequent messy trails left by muddy, dirty shoes.

3. Indoors & outdoors

exterior of white house with balconies and mature trees around

(Image credit: Alanna Hale)

Wet/dry vacuums are incredibly robust appliances, so their cleaning power isn't restricted to inside the house. They can also clean up wet and dry messes outdoors, which can be a big help when gardening, cleaning the pool, or clearing out the gutters. 

Many wet/dry vacuums also come with a blower attachment, like the RIDGID 4 Gallon 6.0 Peak HP at Home Depot. This essentially gives you two tools in one, allowing you to blow away leaves, dirt, and light snow from walkways and patios. You can even use it to blow up inflatable objects like hot tubs and air beds.

4. Pet hair (and mess!)

Camryn's Dog next to the assembled Shark Pet Cordless Stick Vacuum

(Image credit: Future)

Unless you have a vacuum for pet hair, you'll understand the struggle of hair wrap when it comes to cleaning up after your animals. Wet/dry vacuums avoid this problem as they don't typically use a brushroll and will come with plenty of attachments for various tasks around the house.

You may not want to, but you could even clean up any accidental pet messes into the liquid compartment. You'd have to make sure to clean it out straight away, although many wet/dry vacuums can be cleaned by sucking up soapy water.

5. Unblock drains & sinks

The most powerful models will be able to help with unblocking clogged sinks and blocked drains. It's as simple as choosing the setting with the strongest suction and attaching the right-sized nozzle to the drain.

6. Upholstery

Wet/dry vacuums are excellent at sucking any spills, liquids, and moisture out of your furniture and curtains. Wet upholstery can lead to mildew and mold, so being able to clean out the moisture regularly can make a big difference in the quality of your materials. 

And you can take it a step further with a cleaner like the StainStriker from Shark, designed to lift embedded dirt and liquids from carpets and upholstery.

7. Fireplaces

Armchair in front of fireplace

(Image credit: Future)

Fireplaces and fire pits are notably difficult to clean, but the strongest wet/dry vacuums can make light work of their messiness. 'Substances like coal dust and fireplace ashes, as long as they're cooled down, can be sucked up by many wet/dry vacuums,' Jennie Holmes explains. 

The Shark MessMaster is a great choice here, but if you want to tackle hot ash, the Shop-Vac 2.0 Peak HP Ash Vacuum, available at Amazon is designed to do just that (but it won't clean up wet messes).

Wet/dry vacuums might not be the most stylish cleaner to have in your home, but they can tackle a fair few tasks that regular vacuums aren't quite able to. Wet spills, DIY messes, and fireplace ashes are some of the many reasons these powerful appliances are essential cleaning tools.

Dan Fauzi
Home Tech Editor

Dan is the Home Tech Editor for Homes & Gardens, covering all things cleaning, smart home, sound and automation across the Solved section. Having worked for Future PLC since July 2023, Dan was previously the Features Editor for Top Ten Reviews and looked after the wide variety of home and outdoor content across the site, but their writing about homes, gardens, tech and products started back in 2021 on brands like BBC Science Focus, YourHomeStyle, Homes & Antiques and Gardens Illustrated.

Dan is based in Bristol, UK with a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Magazine Journalism. Outside of work, you'll find them at gigs and art galleries, cycling somewhere scenic, or cooking up something good in the kitchen.