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A vacuum pump is extremely versatile and can be used by everyone from dentists, to auto mechanics, to HVAC engineers. As you might expect, specifications can vary dramatically. Not sure which one is best for your needs? We’ve been examining what they do, and how they do it, so you’ll know what to look for. At the end of our guide, we’ve chosen a few as examples of what’s available. Our top pick, the JB Industries Platinum, offers the reliability, durability, and impressive performance demanded by busy professionals.


Vacuum pumps can be divided into two main types: diaphragm or rotary vane. The first can be compared to breathing: The diaphragm inflates to draw air in (like your lungs), then expels it. It’s quick, simple, and doesn’t require oil for lubrication, but it’s not very efficient. So they are generally found in low-power situations. The material of the diaphragm itself may be important. Cheap models frequently aren’t suitable for chemical and vapor environments. Those with a diaphragm made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) are, but the price jumps sharply. This latter type is often found in laboratory and medical equipment.

In rotary vane pumps, there’s a constant motion of vanes against a cylinder wall. It’s like breathing in all the time, so they work more quickly, and usually develop a stronger vacuum. However, their complexity makes them more expensive. Rotary vane vacuum pumps can be single- or two-stage. The latter has two sets of vanes, so it works faster — though it doesn’t necessarily create a stronger vacuum than an equivalent single-stage model.

Hybrid diaphragm/rotary vane pumps do exist, though they are not common. Their performance is similar to rotary vane models, though they are capable of handling volatile or acidic environments.

Finally, there are scroll vacuum pumps, commonly used in freeze drying applications. They are quite function-specific, and too expensive for general-purpose use.


CFM and microns

The two headline figures for vacuum pumps are CFM (cubic feet per minute) and microns (one micron is 0.001 millimeters, or 0.000039 inch). How important they are will depend on the application. In most cases you’ll know what you need either because you’re replacing an existing pump, or by the demands of the job to be done.

CFM is a measure of the flow of air or gases. Higher CFM means more flow, so the vacuum will be created more quickly. Microns is how the efficiency of the vacuum is measured. If you’re interested in the specifics, you can find more online, but for practical purposes it’s a case of the smaller the number, the more complete the vacuum. We would expect any good vacuum pump will be rated for 50 microns at most, though pro models will often hit 15 microns.

Other considerations

Exterior casings are usually finned to help dissipate heat, but they can still get very hot, so a separate handle is nice on models intended to be portable. Aluminum is frequently used to minimize weight, but these devices have to be structurally strong, so there’s little you can do about it. Thermal protection for the motor is a common and very useful feature, which will prevent damage from electrical overload.


Small diaphragm vacuum pumps are cheapest, starting at around $60. Prices tend to rise in line with performance, though two-stage pumps are generally more than their single-stage counterparts. High specification professional units can be $750 or more.


Q. Do vacuum pumps need much maintenance?

A. Very little, but the oil in rotary vane models needs to be changed on a regular basis. The operator’s manual will tell you how often. The oil cools and lubricates, so keeping it free from contamination is vital to the life of the machine.

Q. Is it safe to leave a vacuum pump running unattended?

A. It should be, but it does depend on what you’re using it for. Will the device it’s attached to be damaged by constant vacuum over the period you’re thinking of? As far as the vacuum pump itself, most can run for long periods without a break. Look for a model with thermal protection, which prevents electrical damage to the motor.


Top vacuum pump

JB Industries’ DV-285N Platinum Vacuum Pump

JB Industries’ DV-285N Platinum Vacuum Pump

Our take: Portable, high-performance unit for refrigeration and air conditioning professionals.

What we like: Two-stage rotary vane pump rated for 10 CFM at an impressive 15 microns. Gas ballast for smoother running and reduced oil use. Overload protection.

What to consider: Costly, though rivals are in the same ballpark.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Top vacuum pump for the money

Maisi’s Mini Vacuum Pump

Maisi’s Mini Vacuum Pump

Our take: Budget-friendly diaphragm model, mostly for repair/replacement purposes.

What we like: Simple oil-free design is very light and compact. Suitable for refrigeration, medical, packaging applications, etc.

What to consider: Power cord not wired in. No wiring diagram.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Worth checking out

Robinair’s 15800 VacuMaster

Robinair’s 15800 VacuMaster

Our take: A powerful two-stage vacuum pump suitable for numerous applications.

What we like: Efficient rotary vane design rated at 8 CFM and 40 microns. Thermal protection. Easy oil changes. Great value.

What to consider: Higher number of breakdowns than expected.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon


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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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