Dust Collector vs Shop Vac: What’s the Difference?

Spend any amount of time in a wood shop, and you’ll quickly realize that a dust collector or shop vac is a vital piece of equipment. Without one, you’ll end up breathing in much of the saw dust and debris that’s created during your projects.

But, should you opt for a shop vac, or a dust collector? What’s the difference between these two products? Read on and we’ll answer all your questions regarding dust collector vs shop vac and help you choose which is a better fit for you.

How is a Shop Vac Different from a Dust Collector?

Unlike shop vacs, which use high suction and a narrow hose, dust collectors have low suction and a wide hose.

Dust collectors have at least two stages, where larger particles are separated from smaller ones. This helps keep the motor from being bogged down by larger particles, which usually translates to a longer lifespan.

Dust collectors are stationary, and they hook up to a dedicated port on your power tool. This makes them an ideal choice for tools like miter saws, wood planers and bench routers.

What’s the Purpose of a Shop Vac?

Shop vacs, also known as wet/dry vacs are a type of heavy-duty vacuum that’s designed for the rigors of life in a shop.

Their motors create high suction which travels through a narrow hose, which creates a focused suction path that can make quick work of concentrated messes.

Most power tools have ports for you to hook the tool directly to your shop vac. That way, dust and debris is sucked directly into the vacuum before it ever reaches the air, or the floor of your shop.

Almost all shop vacs use a one stage system, where both large and small particles are sucked into the same collection canister. Over time, it’s common for the motor of the shop vac to bog down as a result of particles entering into the motor of the shop vac.

Beyond collecting dust, shop vacs also function just like a regular vacuum would. You can use your shop vac to tackle any of the messes that are common for a wood shop. Since these vacuums can function wet or dry, they can be especially handy if you’re dealing with flooding, or a spill.

A Third Competitor Emerges!

There’s also a third tool that blends the functionality of a dust collector with the portability of a shop vac: dust extractors.

Dust extractors function the same way that dust collectors do, but with two main differences.

First, dust extractors are portable, like a shop vac. They can be moved wherever you need them, and they attach to whatever portable or stationary power tool you’re using with ease.

Beyond portability, dust extractors also work as effective air filters. Depending on the type of air filter you add to your dust extractor, you can filter particles as small as 0.3 µm from the air, which is something you can’t do with a stationary dust collector.

Unlike a shop vac, dust extractors are designed for the sole purposes of collecting sawdust and debris, and filtering the air in your shop. So, you won’t be able to use your dust extractor to handle the other messes you’ll no doubt be contending with around your shop.

When To Use a Dust Collector vs Shop Vac vs Dust Extractor

With three tools that serve the same basic functions, it can be difficult to understand which one you should use when.

When it comes to dust collectors, they’re best used with stationary power tools that create tons of dust and debris. This includes tools like a router table, wood planer, miter or table saw. With a dust collector, you’ll be able to easily tackle the massive amount of dust these tools can generate.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking to control dust in your shop but need a bit more portability than a dust collector can provide, a dust extractor may be the best tool for you. Since a dust collector can connect to both stationary and portable power tools, they’re more versatile, as well.

While a dust collector or dust extractor are especially well suited for removing dust from your shop, there’s plenty of home craftsman out there that rarely need a dedicated tool for dust extraction.

If that sounds like you, and you only occasionally need to wrangle with dust and debris in your workspace, your best bet may be to purchase a shop vac. That way, you can use it to control dust when you need to, and it can handle all of the other messes in your shop when it isn’t sucking up sawdust.

Top Dust Management Solutions

Now that we’ve covered the differences and similarities of these products, let’s take a look at some of our favorite models.

Shop Vac – DeWALT DXV14P

As one of the top-of-the-line shop vac models from DeWalt, the DXV14P can tackle any messes you may have around your shop. Most importantly, it works like a dream when it comes to dust extraction.

This vacuum has a large 14-gallon capacity canister, wet/dry operation, a washable filter cartridge, and a drain port for emptying wet messes from the canister. It generates tons of suction, and while it’s not intended to be a dedicated dust extractor, it’s perfect for occasional to moderate use.

What We Like

  • Large capacity
  • Rear carry handle
  • Large rear wheels
  • 3-year warranty

What Could Be Better

  • Includes tons of accessories, but no crevice tool

Dust Extractor – Bosch VAC090AH

This nine-gallon dust extractor from Bosch provides high end dust extraction and air filtration while maintaining a small footprint.

This powerful dust extractor offers a powerful 150 CFM and a sustainable 97 inches of static water lift, which is impressive power from a dust extractor. The included HEPA filter removes 99.7% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns.

There are also innovative features like a power broker that allows you to operate the dust extractor with the power from your power tools, and match the level of suction for each application.

What We Like

  • HEPA filter
  • Power broker matches suction to the job
  • Built in filter cleaning system

What Could Be Better

  • Expensive

Dust Collector – POWERTEC DC5370

This dust collector from POWERTEC is the perfect blend of performance and value, and it comes in a compact size that’s ideal for small and mid-sized shops.

The powerful 1 horsepower motor operates at either 120V or 240V. It’s especially compact, which is ideal for smaller shops, or shops where you need to be able to hook your dust collector up to different tools.

This model has an impressive air flow capacity of 537 CFM and a large inlet which quickly captures dust and debris as small as 2.5 microns.

What We Like

  • Affordable
  • Great build quality
  • Portable

What Could Be Better

  • Suction is a bit weak, even for a dust collector

Final Word

While shop vacs, dust collectors and dust extractors are all able to serve the same basic function, the type of shop you have and the type of work you do will help inform you on which is the best tool for you.

The handy chart below should help you narrow down the question of dust collector vs shop vac vs dust extractor.

Type of ToolBest ForOur Top Pick
Shop VacGeneral shop cleanup, occasional dust extractionDeWALT DXV14P
Dust CollectorFull-time dust collection on stationary power toolsPOWERTEC DC5370
Dust ExtractorFull-time dust collection on any power tool, air filtrationBosch VAC090AH
About Brandon Potters

Hi, I’m Brandon and I can’t express how excited I am that you chose The Saw Guy as your resource for project ideas, tool reviews, and all-around guide to the world of DIY. I spent years in the construction industry refining my knowledge of various trades and even spent a few years working at a major hardware store. ​If there is anyone who can help you make a well-informed, unbiased, budget-conscious decision, it’s me and my team.

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