News & Updates

How Does a Vacuum Truck Work to Unblock Soakwells

PBR Plumbing
Published June 19, 2024

With winter in full swing, we are experiencing the heaviest rainfall of the year, putting our soakwells and drainage systems to the test. If your soakwell is blocked or malfunctioning, you will notice rainwater failing to drain properly, which can become hazardous if left unaddressed.

As a commercial or strata property manager, ensuring that all drainage systems are functioning correctly, especially during periods of heavy rainfall, is a key part of your responsibilities. Having the right commercial maintenance partner is crucial for protecting your property and tenants while providing peace of mind.

This month, we will explore a key technique we use to unblock soakwells—the pipe vacuum method. We will discuss how it works, why it is so effective, and why hiring professionals to perform this service is essential for a proper resolution.

How do soakwells work?

Soakwells are essential components in commercial properties, serving as underground tanks designed to manage stormwater. A soakwell is a perforated tank, usually made from concrete, which contains drainage slots. They capture and gradually disperse rainwater into the surrounding soil, preventing flooding and water damage. 

Soakwells are part of a broader underground stormwater management system which connects to surrounding interconnecting pipes.

Over time, particularly if not maintained, soakwells can become blocked with debris such as sand, silt, leaves, and other particulate matter. These blockages hinder their functionality, leading to inefficient water drainage, potential flooding, and increased maintenance costs. 

Several factors contribute to increased blockages in soakwells: the time elapsed between maintenance, the industrial or commercial nature of the area, the level of activity in the vicinity, and the presence of trees and vegetation.

Addressing any soakwell drainage issues promptly is crucial for maintaining the integrity and safety of commercial and industrial properties.

To read more: Guide to Soakwell Maintenance

soakwells maintenance

What are vacuum trucks used for?

Vacuum trucks are specialised vehicles designed to suction waste and blockages from pipes and water systems, ensuring efficient and thorough removal of debris and obstructions. Equipped with powerful pumps and large storage tanks, these trucks are essential for maintaining the cleanliness and functionality of commercial plumbing systems. 

They play a critical role in the regular maintenance and emergency response services for commercial properties, ensuring that drainage and sewer systems remain operational and free from potentially hazardous blockages.

Regarding blocked soakwells, the water drain vacuum method is a modern and highly effective technique for removing buildup and debris. This process uses specialised vacuum equipment connected to a vacuum truck to clear blockages, restoring the soakwell’s capacity to efficiently manage stormwater.

Equipment used to unblock a soakwell

Key equipment used in the water drain vacuum method includes:

  • Vacuum truck: This system consists of a vacuum truck equipped with a long hose and specialised nozzles designed to reach deep into the soakwell. The vacuum truck generates a strong suction force, capable of extracting a wide range of debris, from fine silt to larger objects.
  • Flexible hoses: Long, durable hoses that can navigate the interior of the soakwell.
  • Specialised nozzles: Attachments that help dislodge and remove various types of debris.

How does the pipe vacuuming process work?

The pipe vacuuming process begins with an assessment of the blocked soakwell to determine the extent and nature of the blockage. 

Soakwells are part of a larger underground stormwater management infrastructure, so as well as checking the actual soakwell for build-up, its interconnecting pipes must also be assessed for blockages. 

Two operators are involved with the process, one with a high-pressure water jetter to dislodge any build-up in the soakwell and/or interconnecting pipes, while the other deploys the vacuum pipe to suction up the waste.

Here is a breakdown of the steps we undertake at PBR Plumbing for unblocking soakwells:

  1. Inspect the soakwell for debris and buildup, assess its capacity, and calculate the required volume of water for water jetting.
  2. One operator uses a high-pressure water jet to loosen the build-up. If any interconnecting pipes are blocked, they will also be jetted. Another operator uses a vacuum hose to remove the debris, simultaneously cleaning the walls and holes of the soakwell and refurbishing the concrete liner.
  3. The debris and waste are vacuumed into the truck. Once the truck leaves the site, it transports the waste to a facility for decontamination, where the waste is registered with a ticket.

pipe vacuuming process

What are the key benefits of the pipe vacuum method over other approaches?

The pipe vacuum method offers several benefits, making it an ideal solution for unblocking soakwells in commercial properties.

Efficiency in removing debris and blockages

The powerful suction generated by the vacuum truck can efficiently remove all types of debris, ensuring the soakwell is thoroughly cleaned. This method is faster and more effective than manual cleaning or traditional unblocking techniques.

Minimal disruption to property and operations

Unlike other methods that may require extensive digging or dismantling, the pipe vacuum method is minimally invasive. This means that the surrounding property and ongoing operations are not significantly disrupted, which is particularly important for commercial properties that need to maintain regular business activities.


The efficiency and speed of the pipe vacuum method translate to lower labour costs and reduced downtime. This makes it a cost-effective solution for commercial property managers looking to maintain their soakwells without incurring excessive expenses.

Environmentally friendly approach

By effectively removing debris and restoring the soakwell’s functionality, it helps in proper stormwater management, reducing the risk of contamination and waterlogging. 

vacuum truck unblock- soakwell

Why PBR Plumbing uses pipe vacuuming 

The pipe vacuum method is significantly faster, allowing for quicker resolution of blockage or contamination issues. This efficiency reduces labour costs and minimises downtime for commercial properties, resulting in overall cost savings. 

Additionally, the minimally invasive pipe vacuum method reduces the risk of damage to the soakwell or surrounding infrastructure, as it doesn’t require major excavation. This approach helps maintain the longevity and integrity of the property’s stormwater management system.

blocked soakwell service maintenance

Got a blocked soakwell? Leave it to the professionals

The pipe vacuum method is a modern, efficient, and cost-effective solution for unblocking soakwells in commercial properties. 

PBR Plumbing’s expertise and extensive experience with large-scale soakwell jobs enable us to deliver reliable, high-quality drain maintenance services, regardless of complexity. If you are facing issues with blocked soakwells, contact PBR Plumbing today.

Our team is ready to help you maintain a functional and efficient stormwater management system all year round.



commercial plumber - PBR Plumbing