What is a Vacuum Truck and What Do They Do?

by City Wide
by City Wide
Vacuum Truck

Vacuum trucks have been around for quite some time, and they play an essential role in maintaining proper sanitation in our communities. Vacuum trucks, also known as vacuum tankers, vactor trucks, or vac-con trucks, are specially designed tank trucks with powerful pumps that help to pneumatically suck liquids, sludges, slurries, and other materials into the truck’s tank. These materials are then transported via road to another location for disposal or treatment.

The primary objective of vacuum trucks is to maintain proper sanitation by removing various materials that would otherwise pose a risk to human health. Common materials that vacuum trucks transport include septage (fecal sludge from septic tanks and pit latrines), sewage sludge, industrial liquids, and slurries from animal waste from livestock facilities with pens. Vacuum trucks can also be used to prepare a site for installation or to access underground utilities.

In this article, we will delve deeper into what vacuum trucks are, how they work, their common uses, and the benefits of using them.

What Are Vacuum Trucks?

A vacuum truck is a specially designed tank truck with a powerful pump that creates a negative air pressure to help suck up various materials. These materials are then transported in the truck’s tank to another location for treatment or disposal. Vacuum trucks are used to collect and transport different types of materials, including liquid, sludge, and solid materials.

Vacuum trucks come in various shapes and sizes, depending on their specific applications. Commercial vacuum trucks that collect fecal sludge usually have a volume of 10–55 cubic metres (350–1,940 cu ft). However, smaller versions for specialized applications or low-resource settings can be found with tanks as small as 500 litres (110 imp gal; 130 US gal).

How Do Vacuum Trucks Work?

Vacuum trucks are designed to create negative air pressure, which enables them to suck up various materials into their tanks. The truck’s tank is specially designed to hold various materials, and it’s connected to the pump system that creates the negative air pressure.

Vacuum trucks use different types of pumps to create negative air pressure. The most common types of pumps used are low-volume sliding vane pumps or liquid ring pumps. While diaphragm mud pumps are also used, they are less common. The advantage of diaphragm mud pumps is their simpler design and lower overall costs. However, they have the disadvantage of mechanical parts coming into contact with the sludge, which is not the case for the more common vacuum pumps.

Pump System

The pump system can be mounted in two different ways: either directly on the truck with the vacuum drive powered by the truck motor or on the trailer with an independent motor. The second option with the independent motor is more complicated and not commonly used. However, it has the advantage of potentially having the pump closer to the septic tank. It is also able to use the negative pressure suction side of the pump as well as the positive pressure side to pump sludge over longer distances or lift it higher into the tank.

Suction Hoses

Suction hoses are an essential component of vacuum trucks. They are typically 2″ – 4″ (or 50mm to 100mm) in diameter, with 3″ (or 75mm) being the norm. The possible length depends on various factors mainly related to the lift and other pressure losses. It is usually impossible to extend it beyond 50 metres (160 ft).


An inherent suction limitation of all suction pumps is that they can only lift a liquid through utilizing atmospheric pressure. For pure water, the theoretical maximum lift is approximately 10.3 metres (34 ft). However, due to the viscosity of fecal sludge, it is possible to mix air into it either by sucking close from the surface or by adding air with a compressor through a separate hose.

Benefits of Using Vacuum Trucks

Now that we have discussed what vacuum trucks are and how they work, let’s explore some of the benefits of using them.

Efficient and Effective:

Vacuum trucks are designed to quickly and effectively remove liquids, sludges, slurries, or the like from underground locations, eliminating the need for manual labor or other more time-consuming methods of removal. This efficiency also means that vacuum trucks can complete jobs faster, saving time and resources.


Vacuum trucks can be used for a wide range of applications, from cleaning out sewers to preparing a site for installation. This versatility makes vacuum trucks a valuable asset in many different industries, including wastewater management, construction, and agriculture.


Vacuum trucks are an environmentally-friendly way to transport and dispose of liquid waste. By using a vacuum system to collect the waste material, there is less risk of spills or leaks that could harm the environment. Additionally, many vacuum trucks are equipped with specialized tanks that can separate solids from liquids, allowing for more efficient and eco-friendly disposal methods.

Safer Work Conditions:

Manual removal of waste material can be a dangerous job, exposing workers to hazardous conditions and contaminants. Vacuum trucks eliminate this risk by providing a safer, more efficient method of waste removal.


By using vacuum trucks, businesses and municipalities can save money on labor costs, equipment, and disposal fees. The speed and efficiency of vacuum trucks mean that jobs can be completed faster, reducing the need for additional equipment or labor. Additionally, vacuum trucks are equipped with specialized tanks that can separate solids from liquids, reducing the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of and lowering disposal costs.

Vacuum Truck Services by City Wide

From cleaning out sewage lines to prepping sites for construction activities, these vehicles offer adaptable solutions across various job types – while maximizing resources such as time and money. Vacuum trucks have become critical implements both in businesses and cities nationwide.

At City Wide, we provide services for septic and sewer systems using our fleet of vacuum trucks. Our team is knowledgeable in all aspects of proper wastewater management and can assist with commercial and industrial building maintenance needs. We have a variety of vacuum truck sizes to fit any job requirement, ensuring that your project is completed quickly and efficiently. Contact City Wide for all of your vac truck needs.

About the author

City Wide
City Wide Environmental Cleaning, a trusted name in the Greater Vancouver area, is a leading authority in commercial and industrial cleaning services. With a solid reputation built on an established local presence, City Wide is known for its experienced team, dependable service, and unwavering commitment to quality. Specializing in complete parkade maintenance, City Wide caters to a diverse range of clients, including commercial plazas, hospitals, strata buildings, institutions, hotels, airports, and retail stores.

Schedule parking lot cleaning and maintenance today with Greater Vancouver’s #1 Parking Lot Cleaners, City Wide.

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