How clean is your water tank?

We speak to an expert after a body was found in a tank

Area Guides
Area Guides
Area Guides

Reports of a body recently being pulled from a water tank in one Dubai building are bound to have left plenty of hairs standing on end across the city. Though it’s unlikely there will be something that gruesome lurking in every tank in every high-rise apartment block or on top of every villa, it has forced people to question when their own tanks were last checked for contamination. And 48-year-old James Day, the British general manager of Dubai’s Smashing Cleaning Services, reckons it’s really about time they did. ‘A big part of the problem is public awareness – that’s the first issue. The second is whose responsibility it is to make sure it gets done,’ he tells me. ‘I think you would know if your water tank was being cleaned, so you have to presume it’s not. In a villa, there would be someone in your house, on your roof or in your garden, whereas in most apartment buildings there would be notices telling you work was taking place,’ he continues.

‘[There is] a guidance document called Local Order Number 11, 2003, and that stipulates that the landlord or the owner of the building has a responsibility to clean their tanks and the water distribution networks, but it doesn’t say how often,’ Day explains. His personal recommendation is to clean it every six months. Day acknowledges that some places, such as schools and hotels, are keen to do this even more often – around every three months – yet there are also landlords who don’t clean their tanks at all. ‘There are so many buildings in Dubai, even with the best will in the world, [it’s] very difficult to get around and inspect every single one, and catch errant landlords who don’t clean their tanks. Generally tanks in the five-star, four-star properties are being done because they follow the guidance rules. [But some hotels with fewer stars] are not being cleaned as regularly, and if it is done, it’s done on an ad-hoc basis,’ Day states.

As well as layers of slime, sludge and alarmingly high levels of bacteria (of which, Day explains, he often ‘can’t even identify a cause’), things found in water tanks range from the sinister to the bizarre. ‘Probably the worst [thing we find are] dead birds, and that’s quite stomach-churning because when you find one in a tank it’s typically just the skeletal remains and a lot of feathers, that’s quite bad, and, of course, the water smells terrible. We find smaller creatures, insects, occasionally rats, small snakes, lizards and geckos,’ he says, adding that they’ve been to buildings years after they’ve been built and found evidence of construction debris in the tanks – suggesting they have never been cleaned before, ever.

‘We’ve found construction workers’ boots, even plastic bags with chicken biryani floating around inside...’ he trails off, and I’m grateful. But next the questions are turned around, and Day asks me when my tank was last cleaned in the villa I have been living in for almost five years. ‘I, erm, I’m not sure...’ He announces that in all likelihood, it has never been cleaned, as I would have noticed the men working on it. ‘Do you clean your teeth?’ ‘Yes’ ‘ Wash your hair?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Wash your vegetables?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Wash your children?’ ‘I don’t actually have any.’ ‘And that’s probably a good reason not to,’ he surmises, with surprising force. I feel awkward. And with a shiver, I wish furiously that hadn’t had a shower this morning. If reading this has made you feel a similar sense of dread about that bath you were planning tonight, you know what you need to do. I, for one, will be relieved if the worst I’ve got to contend with is a biryani.
Smashing Cleaning Services do a free initial inspection. Tank cleaning and pipeline disinfecting starts from Dhs500. For more information visit or call 050 759 0496.

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