Everything You Need to Know About Vacuum Trucks

Everything You Need to Know About Vacuum Trucks


Whether you’re clearing debris or excavating underground infrastructure, you want to have the right tools for the job. When your worksite involves maneuvering around fragile pipes, collecting tough debris or simply cleaning up after a larger project, the machines you use should be powerful yet precise.

Vacuum trucks are the accurate solution you need. Combining the strength of pressurized water with the power of pneumatic suction, these machines can help you get the job done safely, neatly and efficiently.


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What Are Vacuum Trucks?

Vacuum trucks are innovative machines used to break up, collect and haul away soil and other debris. Their basic design includes a truck with a large collection tank that’s hooked up to a vacuum hose. Putting pressure inside the tank allows the vacuum to suck materials into the tank to complete jobs such as clearing roadways of debris. 

Many vacuum trucks also come equipped with a pressurized water hose attachment. When spraying the water wand, the water pressure can break apart packed ground soil and other tough materials as an alternative to digging. The water hose and the vacuum work together to simultaneously break apart debris and remove it from a work area. 

Since the vacuum systems are attached to trucks, these machines are also useful for clearing waste from sites and transporting it to places for safe and proper disposal.

What Are the Types of Vacuum Trucks?

When you’re deciding what type of vacuum truck to use, you have several options with different specifications. Choose a truck based on the needs of your jobs. Vacuum trucks come with different tank sizes, hose lengths and suction strengths. Some are designed to transport hazardous materials, while others should only be used to collect non-hazardous debris.

Hydro Excavator Trucks

Most vacuum trucks fall under this category. Hydro excavators use a strong, precise stream of water to break apart debris and carry it away with the vacuum component. 

Hydro excavators have many applications in a variety of industries. Many are used specifically for flushing and cleaning sewers, which, for public health reasons, often need to be emptied or unclogged. While not always required by certain municipalities, regularly cleaning sewers and septic tanks can be an asset to communities and ensure clean, reliable sewage systems. 

Hydro excavators are also commonly used to dig holes and trenches in the ground to install, replace or repair pipes and wiring. Working near delicate utilities can pose costly risks, but these tools provide an accurate touch so you can get the job done quickly, cleanly and with little to no damages to the surrounding area.

Different water jet heads serve different purposes, from breaking down dirt surfaces to fighting through tough debris buildup. 

Some hydro excavator trucks can accommodate a water recycling system to make sewage cleaning operations even more efficient and environmentally friendly. As the truck vacuums water from sewer lines, the recycler filters it and then uses it in the water jetting process. To ensure a clean workspace, trucks with a water recycling system also include a separate clean water tank for final rinsing after the space has been excavated.

Dry Vacuum Trucks

Another type of vacuum truck, dry vacuum trucks don’t use a pressurized stream of water to break up dirt and debris, and instead use their vacuum component to collect dirt, small rocks and stones, asphalt pieces, and leaves.

Often seen in street cleaning operations, dry vacuum trucks conveniently clean up debris from curbs, ditches and other places where waste commonly collects. 

Though they’re called dry vacuum trucks, many vacuum truck models can still collect wet substances, slurries and even water in addition to dry substances such as powders, dirt and other loose debris. The term “dry” refers to the waterless method of collection. 

What Are Vacuum Trucks Used For?

Vacuum trucks have most likely played a role in many aspects of your life. From the street signs you follow on your way to work, to the electrical and water services your company uses every day, the successful implementation of these services most likely included a vacuum truck. 

Some of the most common uses for vacuum trucks include:

1. Maintaining Sewers and Septic Tanks

Over time, septic tanks and sewers fill with waste that, if left for long periods of time, can become viscous and difficult to collect. Waste can also clog sewer pipes and disrupt the sewage flow in an area. 

Vacuum trucks break down thick layers of waste and mix them with water to facilitate easy removal. Once the tanks and pipes are cleared out, they’re hosed down to eliminate as much residue as possible. The trucks then transport the collected sewage waste to treatment plants, leaving behind clean pipes and tanks. 

2. Performing Underground Installations and Repairs

One of the primary uses for hydro excavator vacuum trucks is removing dirt from an area to create holes in the ground for underground maintenance work. Much of the infrastructure that powers our everyday lives is buried underground, and vacuum trucks provide a convenient way to access these systems. 

Prominent underground access work for hydro excavators includes: 

  • Installing plumbing: Most plumbing structures and sewers are underground. To install new pipes or access existing ones, vacuum trucks can efficiently remove soil from the area without damaging nearby utilities in the ground. Most buildings, from houses and office buildings to stores and schools, require plumbing installation. Vacuum trucks provide a quick and easy way to lay the foundation for these new utilities or repair old ones. 
  • Fixing water main breaks: When water mains break, their leaks can cause a worksite to fill up with water and obstruct the view of the damages. Vacuum trucks provide a convenient way to remove water from an underground leak source to accurately identify and fix the issue. 
  • Drilling holes: Many features of everyday life rely on proper installation, whether fully or partially underground. Telephone poles, street signs, traffic lights, streetlights and more all require excavation to create foundational holes. Vacuum trucks can easily dig these precise holes to lay new underground utilities or access existing ones. 
  • Potholing: Potholing or daylighting is the process of digging a small hole in the ground to check on or repair a section of underground utilities. When using larger, less-precise equipment, you risk damaging the facilities while uncovering them. Vacuum trucks let you carefully access the exact area you need for quick checks on existing infrastructure.
  • Slot trenching: When digging narrow trenches to install pipes, cables, posts and other utilities, accuracy is key. You want to create trenches that are even in width and depth for the entirety of their length. Vacuum trucks allow you to dig narrower and neater trenches than you can with other equipment and in much less time. 

3. Excavating Large Areas of Land 

While precision for small-area work is a key benefit of vacuum trucks, you can also use these machines to clear away larger areas of soil. 

During construction projects, such as breaking ground and laying the foundation for houses and other buildings, hydro excavation trucks can quickly and efficiently remove soil from these areas. Vacuum trucks are especially useful when you’re breaking ground in an area that already has underground pipes or wires you need to work carefully around. 

Landscaping projects also require precision when laying the details of a carefully designed outdoor space. Vacuum trucks can create specific holes or excavate exact areas for plants and other additions without disturbing the surrounding plants or structures. Careful work the first time around results in less cleanup after you've completed the job. 

4. Removing Debris

After major construction or landscaping work, you may have a large amount of excess debris left over. To ensure the space is entirely clean, you can use a dry vacuum truck to clear the area of remaining waste. 

Removal of debris is also important after large storms or other weather events. Vacuum trucks can help provide emergency relief to roadways and properties hit hard by flooding or the effects of strong winds and rain.

5. Collecting Hazardous Materials

The tanks of vacuum trucks provide a secure place for waste and debris to collect. Many vacuum trucks are designed to safely collect and transport substances that pose hazards to the surrounding area. For most communities, increased tank security when gathering and moving regular sewage waste matters in waste management. However, vacuum trucks can also aid in the disposal of other hazardous substances.

In the fuel industry, hydro excavation vacuum trucks are often used to safely and gently uncover oil and gas lines. The pressurized water system can even clean out oil and gas tanks, while the vacuum sucks away the remaining fuel to dispose of it properly. 

Additionally, across any industry, working with poisons is a risk. When a hazardous material spills, cleaning it up thoroughly should be a top priority. Vacuum trucks can swiftly collect spilled substances and store them in their secure tanks to transport them away from sites where they could cause harm.

How Do Vacuum Trucks Work?

Vacuum trucks use pneumatic suction, meaning they get their suction power from compressed air. Industrial vacuums work similarly to other types of household vacuums and shop vacs. The truck's power source moves a fan or a pump, which pulls large amounts of air out of the tank. As the air particles move out, their density increases inside the tank and decreases outside of the tank, creating a vacuum force. 

The vacuum truck tank has two valves. Once you open these, the compressed air inside the tank will leave the tank to equalize the inside pressure with the outside pressure. As this happens, the suction end of the vacuum will pull the nearby materials into the tank. 

Hydro excavator vacuum trucks use a combination of an air vacuum and a high-pressure water system to break up and form a slurry from the debris to be cleared away. Then, the truck sucks the debris into a tank to dispose of it elsewhere. 

When using the hydro excavator, you’ll have two components to keep track of--the water hose and the suction hose. First, the truck pressurizes water enough for it to break through layers of soil when released. The pressurized water acts as a digging agent, breaking down the soil. 

You spray the soil or debris with the water wand to precisely hit the spots you want to clear. As the soil loosens and mixes with the water, the air vacuum sucks it into the debris tank. 

Proper maintenance is critical to ensure the tank, hoses and valve connections are leak-free to create as strong a vacuum as possible inside the tank.

How Do You Use a Vacuum Truck?

While the exact operating instructions may vary for different vacuum trucks and the jobs you use them for, here are some basic steps to keep in mind: 

Park the truck as close to the worksite as possible. Different trucks have different vacuum operating lengths you'll want to adhere to. Many trucks can still operate at a distance from the worksite, but you’ll want to follow your truck’s specifications for best results.

  1. Clear the site of people and obstacles, and inspect for any hazards that could obstruct your operations. 
  2. Secure the truck in its parked position using wheel chocks or another stabilizing method. 
  3. Connect the vacuum hose to the tank and lay it out until it reaches the worksite. Inspect the hose to make sure it’s in good condition and that its connections will lock properly. 
  4. If necessary, uncover the worksite by removing any concrete layers or access port covers. 
  5. Turn on the truck engine or the dedicated pump engine, depending on your truck's vacuum power source. 
  6. When operating a hydro excavator, using the pressurized water wand, break down the soil or other waste in the area you want to work with until it forms a slurry. 
  7. Increase the vacuum's suction level by keeping its valve closed, lower the suction end into the area to be emptied, then open the valve once it's reached optimal suction levels. 
  8. Occasionally closing the valve throughout the process can help rebuild the vacuum’s suction strength.  
  9. You can simultaneously water the area and vacuum the slurry to efficiently remove waste from the spot you need to reach or clean.  
  10. Once you've cleared the area, you can continue with the job, whether that’s inspecting an empty septic tank, repairing underground infrastructure or digging a hole for construction or installation.  
  11. After you’ve finished using the vacuum truck, secure the tank lid and carefully pack away the hoses. Clean up any spillage using the appropriate measures, which may vary by substance.

What Are the Benefits of Vacuum Trucks?

When you want to complete a digging or cleaning job, vacuum trucks can help you run all operations smoothly. Vacuum trucks give you the advantage because they are:

  • Accurate: The small, movable vacuum equipment can break up large areas of soil in small sections at a time, so you only excavate what you need and can easily maneuver around underground pipes and other structures. The vacuum’s accuracy can also result in smaller holes and minimal ground disturbances, decreasing the amount of backfilling you'll need to do at the end of the project.  
  • Efficient: Rather than digging away soil with manual labor or labor-intensive heavy machinery, vacuum trucks use the strength of water pressure and air suction to easily break up substances and remove them from the site. The space around underground utilities such as pipes and electrical wires includes a tolerance zone, which is a buffer zone intended to protect utilities from being damaged by nearby work. Digging machines are prohibited within tolerance zones, meaning as you get close to utilities, you must use slower manual digging methods instead. Vacuum excavation is a safe, low-impact, timesaving alternative to manual labor within tolerance zones.
  • Cost-effective: Vacuum trucks require less labor than heavy equipment, saving you the costs of hiring many workers and using multiple pieces of equipment. And, if you rent your vacuum trucks, you'll save even more money. The accuracy of the vacuums also decreases the potential for costly damages to the surrounding area.
  • Temperature-controlled: In colder climates where soil and other underground materials are likely to freeze, using hot water in a vacuum truck lets you work all year long. In addition, you can adjust the water’s temperature to provide safe operating conditions for any pipes, wires or any other materials you’ll come into contact with during the job. 
  • Environmentally friendly: Since vacuum trucks are suction-based, using only water and air, they produce less dust and other emissions during operation. They also don’t use harsh chemicals, unlike other forms of drilling and digging, which can contaminate underground water reservoirs. In addition, vacuum trucks can remove toxic waste buildup that is potentially harmful to the environment. 
  • Space-saving: While vacuum trucks are large, the length of their hoses allows you to position them at a distance from the actual worksite, making them useful for avoiding overcrowding while you’re clearing an area. 
  • Non-destructive: Instead of large, clunky machines, vacuum trucks clear your worksite using just water pressure and a powerful vacuum, both hand-operated and monitored by members of your crew. The vacuum truck’s precision allows you to maneuver around fragile obstacles and clear surrounding dirt and debris with minimal risk of breakage. 
  • Portable: Because the water system and vacuum are installed on a truck, you can bring powerful vacuum suction to any worksite where you can drive a vehicle. Vacuum trucks are typically smaller and easier to maneuver than other construction equipment, making them ideal for remote projects you can only reach via narrow roads or wilderness areas. 
  • Agile: With vacuum trucks, you can easily perform detailed work. Flexible vacuum and water hoses allow you to maneuver right up to your excavation or cleaning site and work with small, precise water nozzles and vacuum heads. Once at your site, you can easily move the hoses exactly where they need to go. 

When Should You Rent a Vacuum Truck?

Renting equipment is your convenient and cost-saving solution. You can rent a vacuum truck for as long as you'll need it for a specific project, making renting an attractive alternative to buying a machine you may only use a handful of times. When you rent, you also only pay the rental fees, without being responsible for repairs, maintenance and insurance. 

If you want to use a vacuum truck but don't have access to regular storage space, renting can also help you do your job without investing in long-term storage solutions you would only use for a few pieces at a time. The convenience of renting allows you to take on occasional projects that require a vacuum truck, so you have the freedom to take on more jobs whenever you want. 

Additionally, if you already own a vacuum truck that's currently out of commission for repairs, renting another one is a way for you to continue with projects and meet your deadlines while reducing your downtime. Keeping up with routine equipment maintenance should be prioritized just as much as finishing jobs, and renting additional equipment lets you do both.

Rent Vacuum Trucks and More From The Cat® Rental Store

Vacuum trucks help you get the job done with accuracy and efficiency, whether you’re performing routine maintenance, clearing an area of debris or laying the foundation for vital utilities. 

At The Cat Rental Store, our highly skilled team is ready to help you. We offer rental products from over 70 trusted brands, making The Cat Rental Store your one-stop shop for all your company needs. Improve your productivity with rental equipment featuring the latest technology, and talk to our experts to find the machines that work for you. 

See the difference a powerful and precise machine can make in your work. Get a quote from us today to learn more about renting vacuum trucks and more!

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