One thing you can be sure of at a jobsite: It will be dirtier at the end of the day than before work started, with debris and dust accumulating during daily construction.

For jobsites where a dustpan and brush won’t pass muster and it’s impractical to lug around a plug-in vacuum, a portable cordless unit can be mighty handy. Not to mention it eliminates the tripping hazard a long electrical cord can pose.

Many manufacturers of battery-operated power tools offer portable vacs with their own battery platform and a variety of vacuum sizes available, as measured by the capacity of the container that holds the dust.

The units covered here (all bagless, all with filters) include lightweight, handheld, small-capacity models (½ gallon or so) and tank- or canister-style vacs with more-generous capacity (up to 3 gallons or so).

Some portable vacs accept add-on components that enhance their versatility. Canister units, for example, often come with one or more attachments that can be connected to the end of the hose, such as an extension wand and floor brush, which can be very helpful for vacuuming up dust so you don’t track it around a room or grind it into the carpeting.

Factors to consider when selecting a portable vac include the type of battery platform; whether the unit is handheld or floor stationed; tank capacity; strength of suction (airflow), measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm); hose diameter (standard is 1¼ inches) and length; type of filter (HEPA filters must, by definition, remove 99.97% of 0.3-micron particulate contaminants); included components; weight without battery; and warranty.

Below we review some current models, all sold without a battery or charger.

Dry Vacs

Ryobi cordless hand vaccum, One Plus model line
The Ryobi One Plus for dry pickup can nose easily along baseboards.

The Ryobi One Plus P713, for dry pickup, can make short order of cleaning up small messes, poking into corners, crevices, and high cabinets or eliminating dust from a few drilled holes here and there.

The unit, which works with an 18V, 4 AH battery, features a dual-filter system that includes a short, tubular wire screen pre-filter that keeps large debris out of the flat, replaceable filter. The onboard crevice board, which mounts to the nozzle, includes a slide brush for hard-to-reach areas.

The P713 has a substantial overmold grip and feels well balanced during use. For a small unit, it offers a powerful battery.

Dimensions: 17.22 x 7.08 x 5.51 inches
Weight: 2 lbs.
Filter: Dual paper
Suction: 33 cfm
Battery: Ryobi 18V
Warranty: 3 years
Pros: Lightweight; includes brush; nice shape; powerful battery for its size
Cons: Small capacity


Milwaukee M12 Compact Vacuum, Model 0850-20
The Milwaukee M12 (above) for dry pickup offers a variety of handy attachments. 

Milwaukee’s M12 Compact Vacuum 0850-20, for dry pickup, uses a small, 12V battery and sports a high-efficiency motor; a 20-ounce canister; and a reusable filter. The model also comes with a crevice tool, a utility nozzle for larger surface-area cleanup, and an extension wand that enables users to vacuum in a standing position.

The unit has two switches: a squeezable trigger and a switch the operator can lock in the “on” position during extended use to reduce user fatigue. In addition, a 1¼-inch universal connection accepts most standard vacuum attachments.

A clear viewing window shows the canister fill level, and a light at the handle indicates the remaining battery charge.

Dimensions: 17.50 x 5.37 x 5.75 inches
Weight: 2.3 lbs.
Filter: Reusable, 42 pleated paper
Suction: 32.8 cfm
Battery: Li-Ion M12 
Warranty: 5 years
Pros: Lightweight; good for spot cleans
Cons: Small capacity

Portable jobsite vaccum with shoulder strap, by Makita.
The Makita 18V Cordless Cyclonic Canister for dry pickup offers two air-volume speeds and a shoulder strap. 

The Makita 18V Cordless Cyclonic Canister Vac DCL 500Z, for dry cleanup, is a lightweight, two-speed canister vac. The well-balanced unit comes with a telescoping extension wand, a hose, a floor nozzle, a crevice tool, a cleaning brush, and a shoulder strap.

The Cyclonic system separates large and fine dust particles and captures only the fine particles on the removable filter, minimizing clogging. The wheel and roller on the bottom enhance maneuverability.

The unit runs quietly, at just 64 decibels. Two push-buttons on the handle at the end of the hose control on/off operation and air volume (for high or low speed). LED warning lights indicate when it’s time to clean the filter or recharge the battery. A cleaning lever loosens dust on the filter without opening the unit. The translucent dust container has a fill line for monitoring content.

Dimensions: 137/8 x 77/16 x 97/inches
Weight: 9.4 lbs.
Filter: Paper
Suction: 46 cfm
Battery: Makita Li-Ion 18V
Warranty: 3 years
Pros: Powerful suction; lightweight; wearable
Cons: Low-capacity dust container

Wet–Dry Vacs

Portable wet-dry hand vacuum, DeWalt
The DeWalt 515K is a compact wet–dry vac with a detachable hose.

DeWalt’s DC515K half-gallon, 18V cordless vac can pick up debris using either the unit’s front utility nozzle or the end of its 2.5-foot hose, which can be removed from the nozzle for added maneuverability. The vacuum has a HEPA wet–dry filter that twists off for washing. A heavy-duty latch on the tank opens to enable cleaning of the tank and filter.

Though the vac lacks its own attachments, it can be used with 1¼-inch attachments from other vacuums.

Dimensions: 19 x 6.6 x 8.5 inches
Weight: 6 lbs.
Filter: HEPA
Suction: N/A
Battery: DeWalt 18V
Warranty: 3-year limited
Pros: Slides easily on a counter, floor, or other flat surface
Cons: A bit bulky for a handheld

DeWalt portable, dual-power supply wet-dry vac
The DeWalt DCV 581H wet–dry vacuum works on line voltage as well as via battery.

Capable of working via a battery (18V or 20V) or AC outlet, the 2-gallon DeWalt DCV581H wet–dry vacuum features a HEPA wet–dry filter. The unit’s 5-foot, crush-resistant hose can be inserted into the blower port to activate the blower function for removing debris from behind small spaces or to dry a damp floor.

The vac comes with a crevice tool and a wide nozzle, which store in the handle and on the side of the unit. An optional dust-extraction adaptor permits use of the vac as a dust collector for dust system–compatible DeWalt power tools. The filter twists off for cleaning.

Dimensions: 13.13 x 12.31 x 17.25 inches 
Weight: 9.5 lbs.
Filter: HEPA
Suction: 31.78 cfm
Battery: Ni-Cd 18V or Li-Ion 20V 
Warranty: 3-year limited
Pros: Very long hose facilitates vacuuming at table-saw height and reaching far corners of cabinets
Cons: Lacks a wand


Milwaukee portable jobsite wet-dry vac, Model M1.
The Milwaukee M18 wet–dry vac sports strong suction and airflow in a toolbox-style design.

The Milwaukee M18 Cordless Lithium-Ion Wet/Dry Vacuum 0880-20 is a toolbox-style (stackable) unit with a 2-gallon capacity. It comes with a 3-foot, 1¼-inch hose; a washable HEPA-rated wet–dry filter; a crevice tool; a wide utility nozzle; a built-in blower port; and onboard accessory and hose storage.

The 2.8-amp motor provides 32 inches of water lift, 57 watts of peak power, and 45 cfm of airflow. The unit’s recessed fold-down handle and flat top enable the operator to use the vac as a stool while vacuuming close to the floor.

Dimensions: 20 x 10 x 13 inches 
Weight: 9.4 lbs.
Filter: HEPA
Suction: 45 cfm; sealed suction in water: 32 inches (water lift)
Battery: Any Milwaukee 18V battery
Warranty: 5 years
Pros: Large-capacity tank reduces downtime due to emptying
Cons: Hose is difficult to attach

Cordless wet/dry vac, Ridgid Model X4
The Ridgid X4 18V Cordless wet–dry vac has a 17/8-inch–diameter hose and a 3-gallon capacity.  

The Ridgid X4 18-Volt Cordless Wet/Dry Vacuum, Model WD0318, holds 3 gallons of water, the largest capacity of the vacuums reviewed here. It also features a long-nosed, multipurpose nozzle; a blower port; and a 17/8-inch, tug-along hose—the widest-diameter hose of the units covered here—enabling the vac to pick up large debris. The hose expands from 2 to 7 feet for easy reach up high.

The unit has a variable-suction valve on the hose for adjusting the degree of cleaning power. The overarching handle is designed to make the vacuum easy to carry.

Dimensions: 15.88 x 9.12 x 16.44 inches
Weight: 7.9 lbs.
Filter: Paper
Suction: 60 cfm
Battery: Li-Ion 18V
Warranty: Limited lifetime
Pros: Powerful motor; strong suction; sturdy hose
Cons: Lacks a gasket between the tank and power head; no HEPA filter