Got a rainwater tank? Thinking of getting one? Well, you'll want to keep mozzies, sludge and fecal matter out of them - and here are the 5 tips for how.
The humble rainwater tank sits silently, dutifully doing its part for the environment - and your wallet. Image: Michael Coghlan
The humble rainwater tank sits silently, dutifully doing its part for the environment - and your wallet. Image: Michael Coghlan

The humble rainwater tank sits silently, dutifully doing its part for the environment – and your wallet. Image: Michael Coghlan

Australia is the driest populated continent in the world, and yet our water consumption per person is among the highest on the planet. For Australians, water is scarce and how we manage this resource is a concern for us all.

It’s no surprise that people are looking to install some form of water catchment for their property. Recent data shows that 26 per cent of Australian homes have already installed a rainwater tank and an overwhelming majority reported that they are positive about the tanks.

From saving money on your water bills to the conservation of a valuable natural resource, there is a lot to like about the humble rainwater tank.

They can even have other positive flow-on effects for the community. For example, the use of rainwater tanks in urban areas can relieve pressure on public infrastructure because of reduced stormwater runoff. We’ve also seen the popularity of rainwater tanks increase year on year, with the ABS reporting that the total storage capacity in Australia has gone up by 30 per cent between 2006 and 2011.

This is all very encouraging news for the environment – but, it’s not all drinking water and skittles. Just like buying a puppy dog or a Tamagotchi, owning a rainwater tank comes with its own responsibilities.

A recent study we conducted with the Smart Water Fund has shown that households may not be aware of some of the maintenance requirements that come with rainwater tank ownership.

In the report, Survey of savings and conditions of rainwater tanks, we conducted extensive research into rainwater systems across Melbourne, looking at the efficiency of the tanks and the water savings that can be generated at an individual household level.

One of the most interesting findings was lack of awareness around maintenance. Only 58 per cent of Melbournians indicated that they have conducted some form of maintenance on their system.

It’s important to know that the installation of a rainwater tank isn’t a set-and-forget scenario. There are some maintenance tasks that are unavoidable if you want to keep the tank healthy and efficient.

So here are our top tips for rainwater tank owners, or those considering a purchase in the near future.

Top 5 tips for maintaining your rainwater tank

  1. Get your mind (and the leaves) out of the gutter – every 3 months 
  • Cleaning out the gutters is a simple way to improve the water quality and the efficiency of the tank.
  • 4 per cent of tested households were found to have faecal matter in the gutters. In addition, 31 per cent of sites inspected were found to have half or completely full gutters.
  • Look into installing gutter meshing.

  1. Mozzie mesh – every 3 months
  • A rainwater tank is a great place for mosquitoes and pests to set up shop and thrive.
  • Of the tanks reviewed in the study 91.1 per cent had mosquito meshing, but more than 10 per cent were in a condition that would allow pests or vermin into the tank.
  • Poorly maintained mesh can pose a risk to the health of the community, particularly if populations of disease carrying insects are free to multiply in the rainwater tank hotel in your backyard.

  1. Spend some quality time getting to know your water quality – every 6 months
  • A majority of households use rainwater for the toilet or the washing machine so cleanliness of the water is less important. However, for those properties that use the water for showers, drinking or cooking, checking the water is crucial.
  • We found 57 per cent of tanks had discoloured water and 19 per cent had odorous water, while 25 per cent of tanks had medium or high concentrations of sediment.

  1. Pump it real good – every 6 months
  • The condition of the pumps and outlets will affect the quality of the water and the efficiency of how the household can access and use the water. A well-maintained system can also protect against long-term damage.
  • Our report found that in homes with pumps installed, 5 per cent were not functioning and 18 per cent of properties inspected were reported to have leaky pipes.

  1. It’s time to desludge
  • Standards Australia recommends that households organise the removal of sediment with a qualified contractor once every two to three years.
  • You probably don’t want to be dealing with this water.

The report also advises should check to make sure tank foundations are even, and that the tank has a reliable water switch.

If you would like to review the report in full you can find it here.



  1. I am glad I was able to read this post. We have one at home but we don’t really have a frequency and consistency when it comes to maintenance. The gutter and mesh condition is a must, at least for me, and I prefer to have our tank checked more frequently.

    Overall, a very informative post. Thanks for this!

    1. The majority of people forget all about cleaning and maintaining their rainwater tanks really. I’ve been in the gutter cleaning business for well over a decade and the people who’ve asked me to perform a cleaning/maintenance of their water harvesting systems can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

      it’s good to see that people actually use rain harvesting, but neglecting the proper maintenance is dangerous to say the least.

  2. Great tips for maintaining your water tank. Regular maintenance will extend the life of your tank for sure. Thanks for posting.

    1. I am not sure this is for Drew, or who. In the early 1960s there was a flurry of papers linking the hardness of municipal water to deaths from heart attacks. I think the research started in the UK. However, the general results were that hard water was good for you and soft water was not. (You can change the water intake of populations by varying the source of water). The comparison between Brisbane (hard) & Melbourne (soft) did not fit the picture, till some one pointed out that the place with the second largest number of people of Greek ethnicity (& presumably mediterranean diet ) was Melbourne.SO it may be unhealthy to drink rainwater??

  3. In the fifties and sixties, most of the population of Adelaide (of which I was one) had a rainwater tank and would often drink the rainwater rather than the tap water. Add the thousands who live in the country and had (and still have) nothing but tank water to drink. No first flush devices, no filters. Plenty of wrigglers, bird droppings, sludge etc. I personally don’t know of anybody who got sick from drinking tank water, but I’d be interested to see a study that demonstrates otherwise (if it exists).
    I suspect that much of this concern about rainwater is a symptom of the hyper-vigilant, risk averse society we have become. My great-great aunt, who was born around 1900, spent most her 95 year life in Clare, South Australia and drank nothing but tank water, straight off the roof. She would wonder what all the fuss was about.

    1. John
      I worked as an environment health officer in rural Queensland for just on 40 years. We regularly tested the water quality of rainwater tanks at small railway sidings as they were the only source of drinking water supply for the traveling public.

      It was extremely rare to get a failure from a rainwater tank, confirming your observations. I like your description of ‘hyper-vigilant risk adverse society’, I can’t think of a better description for Community 2015

  4. Hmmm. Nobody mentioned the regular use of Potassium meta bisulphite as a bug killer.
    We do not use it but I have wondered if it would be advisable. We use rain water throughout the house and have done so for years without ill effects (so far as we know!)

    Ken W.

  5. We rely on rainwater for all our household needs. I would ask that the authors of the very useful information to extend their survey into the backwoods where we actually drink it. (Visitors get bottled water!) Seriously, it would be good to get some informed information on where to get water tested and what bacteria & protozoa should be tested for.

    1. Robin
      Drinking water quality guidelines that tell you all you need to know about drinking water are published by the National Health and Medical Research Council. You can down load a FREE copy here []

      A full list of accredited water testing laboratories in Australia than can test for the parameters cited in the Guidelines can be found here [, ]

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