A little bit of construction and renovation around the house can be exciting, but the drywall dust build-up lingering afterwards is anything but. The fine slippery dust can – and will – get everywhere, making it a nightmare to clean up no matter how hard you go at it with broom, bucket and mop, or even a regular vacuum cleaner. Nothing short of a shop vacuum – alternatively known as a wet/dry vacuum – is going to cut it, and that only if it meets certain specific requirements. Wet/dry vacuums pack greater power and capacity than a standard vacuum, but in order to get at drywall dust without the fine particles jamming your motor or spilling out in the recycled air, you’ll want one with additional features like filters you won’t have to clear out too often, capable of capturing the fine dust, and long enough hoses for maximum reach. Take a look at our picks for the best shop vacuums for taking down drywall dust.
Shop-Vac 5873410 Right Stuff Wet/Dry Vacuum
Shop-Vac is a name you’ll find inevitably turning up in any list of the best shop vacuums around, but we’re going for this particular model because of its drywall dust-specific features, along with its extremely efficient functionality as a wet/dry vacuum. Packing an airflow of 195 cubic feet per minute (CFM) – compared to the standard 50-100 CFM airflow of regular vacuums – and a capacity of 10 gallons ideal for vacuuming up small or compact areas, this vacuum comes with a disposable paper filter bag specifically to capture the miniscule particles of drywall dust. This means the dust is automatically bagged up in a way that makes disposal much easier later. The Ultra Web Cartridge Filter sieves the minutest of particles without letting dust leak into the air discharged with every CFM of air being cycled, or choking up filters so frequently that you constantly need to keep washing them down or replacing them.
The compact design of this vacuum is also an attractive feature, making it easy to store away and maneuver in tighter, narrow spaces. The dolly makes for easy, smooth mobility, while detaching it from the vacuum lets you carry the device around like a handheld cleaner for additional flexibility of reach and movement. The 11⁄2″ x 12′ hose also gives you greater reach, with several attachments available at your disposal for various cleaning functions, such as crevice tools for hard to reach nooks and crannies.
KEN’S BUDGET PICK
Vacmaster VBV1210 Wet/Dry Vacuum with Detachable Blower
This heavy-duty giant can easily transform from a wet/dry vacuum packed with a 12 gallon tank to collect everything from the finest of dust particles to chunks of metal, to a handheld, high-powered blower you can use to clear out leaves or sawdust. Though fitted out with a standard, re-usable cartridge filter, it also works with HEPA dust filters you can purchase separately, to keep the pressure off the motor. Nonetheless, the filter included will do you just fine, remaining unclogged even after several passes of cleaning. With 8 versatile attachments from crevice and upholstery tools to extension wands that improve your reach, the 7-foot long hose and 12-foot cord allow you to move the vacuum, sitting atop durable rubber casts, to give you maximum maneuverability.
A rugged powerhouse of a machine, it also comes with a noise diffuser to muffle the otherwise jarring cacophony of a large vacuum running, as well as an extra-large drain port and foam sleeve filter to vacuum up water or spills, making it a great ‘wet’ vacuum as well.
Dustless Technologies 16003 Wet/Dry Vacuum
The name says it all – capable of filtering out dust particles as infinitesimal as 0.5 microns, this vacuum comes with a patented two-step filtration system to completely sieve out every last particle of drywall dust, without clogging the filters up. The synthetic fabric of the filters let you throw them into the wash when you need to wash them out after a cleaning session, an agitator rod included to let you dislodge any dirt which might get stuck to the primary filter without having to detach it from the vacuum and washing it out when in use.
This easily makes the 16003 a favorite for its convenience of use, made even more thorough with the optional Wunderbag micro pre-filter bags, a budget dupe for HEPA filters capable of capturing particles as fine as 0.3 microns, should you feel you need another layer of filtration. With a massive capacity of 16 gallons, its 12-foot hose and 15-foot cord, you get to move this heavy-duty tank of a vacuum easily on its resilient, rubber-tired wheels. The machine’s versatile in its usage too, allowing you to switch from dry to wet functionalities without having to swap out the filters, equipped with various attachments like crevice and floor tools to switch up depending on your cleaning needs.
DEWALT DCV581H Wet-Dry Vacuum
Whether you only carried out a minor renovation job, or only need a shop vacuum for a one-off occasion of a little drywall dust vacuuming, this is the option for you. A compact, portable vacuum with a capacity of two liquid gallons (roughly 1.7 dry gallons), the device comes with HEPA filtration rated at almost 99.97% efficiency in capturing even the finest of dust particles out of the air. The filter can be easily removed and washed out for re-use, with a five-inch hose and carry-handle to let you use this as a handheld shop vacuum. The vacuum is also versatile in its power usage – you can plug it into an AC outlet, or use it as a cordless device powered by a 18-20 volt battery, meaning you don’t have to be bogged down in one location when you’re vacuuming.
The Harm and Danger of Breathing Drywall Dust
Our lungs are designed to help filter and get rid of harmful material like dust particles from our system – but when it comes to activities like drywall sanding and joint taping, and the excessive amounts of dust generated, it becomes too much for our lungs to cope with. Workers in the construction business and homeowners exposed to the dust cloud by-products of a home remodelling project may be inhaling harmful inorganic dusts like silica, asbestos, gypsum and/or even sulfur in some imported materials. Short-term exposure can cause discomfort, irritated and watery eyes, scratchy, sore throats and coughing, whilst long-term exposure can lead to potentially irreversible damage to your health.
Drywall itself is safe enough to use, but sanding and joint taping are a different matter. To break down how inhaling excessive amounts of drywall dust without the proper protection is a very bad idea, let’s take a look at the types of conditions it may lead to if care is not taken.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA), up to 2.3 million people in the USA are exposed to silica at work. Crystalline silica particles are described as ‘respirable’ – nearly 100 times smaller than particles of sand and very easily breathable, this by-product of drywall sanding can be responsible for a range of diseases, including silicosis, a lung disease which may be life-threatening and is incurable. Silica particles, once they’ve entered the lungs, generate scar tissue, which reduces the lung’s elasticity and makes it difficult for them to draw in oxygen. This can result in anything from shortness of breath to, at later stages, acute chest pains and respiratory failure.
Silicosis also affects the immune system, making you even more susceptible to disease and infection, including lung infections like tuberculosis. Lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease are also potential conditions individuals may develop due to excessive and long-term exposure to silica.
Prior to being identified as a dangerous material, asbestos was broadly used in many industrial applications including ship-building and producing heat-resistant construction materials, insulation and fireproofing for homes and commercial spaces. The extremely deadly effects of asbestos have since been exposed and the material removed from industrial and commercial use, but if you’re working with old drywall you may still be exposed to drywall dust bearing these scent- and tasteless fibers, which may take decades to show symptoms, but can manifest as anything from less life-threatening diseases as asbestosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to more life-threatening conditions like lung cancer and peritoneal mesothelioma. Asbestos remains the biggest cause of occupational cancer to this day, and it’s highly dangerous at any level of exposure to the substance, particularly so for workers handling drywall containing the material and even workers who happen to be nearby. Talc, a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen, contains asbestos in its natural form.
A mineral consisting of calcium sulfate, gypsum can cause irritation to your eyes, nose, skin and upper respiratory system if consumed improperly. If you’re sanding drywall and find yourself coughing and sneezing, or experiencing nosebleeds and a runny nose (a condition called rhinorrhea), chances are this is a symptom of gypsum inhalation.
Clearly, inhaling drywall dust is a recipe for disaster toward your health and wellbeing, not just for construction workers constantly exposed to the materials but to individuals around the area as well, including homeowners involved in the construction and renovation processes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) specifies Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for worker safety, but findings by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicate that typical worker exposure can be up to ten times this limit.
To minimize the risks, it is important to invest in proper protective gear as well as adapt sanding techniques to those healthier for you in the long-run. NIOSH certified N95 masks are far better equipped than cheap and ineffectual filter masks, since they’re designed to block up to 95 percent of airborne particles, so long as you follow the directions and use them correctly. In fact, this is another facet of the argument – a lot of the time protective gear is casually and improperly used, rendering them obsolete. Educate yourself on the most effective ways to use your protective gear, to make the most out of them and to keep yourself safe from potentially life-threatening health risks. Another highly effective option is to opt for full or half face silicone respiratory masks, with replaceable filters, to keep the amount of silica you’re exposed to down to a benign degree.
The equipment you use for sanding also comes into play. If not properly contained, drywall dust can get everywhere – and we mean everywhere. The fine particles can seep into the very corners of your home, difficult to sweep out of nooks and crannies. The best way to go about it is to try and keep down the amount of drywall dust generated in the first place. Sanders with vacuum attachments or shop vacuums (also known as wet/dry vacuums) can help suck up the drywall dust generated from sanding before it gets a chance to get everywhere and on everything. Depending on the machine you use, you can reduce airborne drywall dust by anywhere from 80 to 90 percent.
We also recommend against hand sanding, because this method creates clouds of drywall dust and requires you to be quite close to the source of it – if you’re hand sanding, make sure you’re wearing a heavy-duty mask, have a powerful vacuum on hand with removeable filters to catch the particles so your motor doesn’t end up jamming, and/or have placed a box fan at a nearby open window to expel some of the dust.
Another option is wet sanding. A damp drywall sponge can be used to sand down drywall, capturing the dust on the sponge. What isn’t captured by the sponge falls to the ground, heavy with the moisture of the sponge, and is easier to collect than if it were to be airborne.
- Sciencing: http://sciencing.com/wetdry-vacuum-5105934.html
- Do It Yourself: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/5-advantages-of-using-a-wetdry-vacuum-cleaner
- Dustless Tools: http://www.dustlesstools.com/
- Vacuums Guide: http://www.vacuumsguide.com/best-vacuum-suction-power/