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Sewage Backup: Causes, Fixes and Prevention

Sewage Backup: Causes, Fixes and Prevention

Plumbing problems such as sewage backups are not something that can be ignored. If you have an issue with your home’s sewer line, it needs to be repaired promptly to prevent the slow flow from blocking all drainage from your home. Total blockage of your sewer line can cause wastewater to overflow into your home, creating health hazards and a cleanup nightmare. Learn how to recognize when you have a problem, how to fix it and prevent future backups.

What Is a Sewage Backup?

Sewage backups occur when the outgoing waste water line becomes blocked or breached. These lines move used water from your toilets, tub, shower, sinks and washing machine out of your home. When the line is blocked, wastewater will backup into your home. This will cause contamination, water damage and mold.

Signs of a Sewage Backup

Sewage backups often begin with subtle signs. The best option is to look for early signs of a backup so you can treat it before it becomes an emergency.

Slow drains within the entire house are a critical sign that there is a problem with your sewer line. If only one drain has a problem, it can usually be repaired with a plunger or hair remover. However, when all drains appear to be draining slowly, the problem is with your sewer line.

Another common sign of a sewage backup is when waste backs up into another pipe when you flush the toilet or use a washing machine. When waste overflows into your home such as in the bathtub, you have a serious issue.

Signs of a Sewer Line Emergency

Being able to identify signs of a sewer line emergency is crucial in order to have it repaired before the consequences become worse.

Emergency backups cause hazardous wastewater to flow into your home when the drains back up. If your toilet backs up and sends waste onto the floor of your bathroom; you must act quickly. The wastewater is a biohazard and you must not use the area until it has been cleaned and disinfected. You must prevent anyone from using the plumbing in your home until it has been repaired.

What Causes Sewage Backup?

The causes of sewage backups may be factors that you can or cannot control. Sometimes, the city sanitary sewer line fails, which can cause backups in your home. City lines could clog or drain slowly because of flooding, clogs and soil settlements.

You can tell if the sewage problem is caused from the city line by checking the sewage cleanout near your home. If it is full of water, the drainage problem is from your home to the city sewer. An empty cleanout indicates that the problem is closer to your home. If you suspect a problem with the city sewer, you should contact the city water department.

Sewage backups that you can control include tree roots, age, poor design and inappropriate disposal of waste/clogging.

Tree Roots

Tree roots can grow into older sewer lines and cause blockages. You can prevent damage from tree roots by installing updated plastic drain lines outside of your home or trimming tree roots.


The age of your pipes can be a factor in blockages. Older pipes made of clay or cast iron are more susceptible to breaking. Modern plastic pipes are less likely to be damaged.


Pouring fats, oils and grease down the drain can cause backups when they solidify as they cool down. Any items other than human waste and toilet paper should never be flushed, such as wipes, paper towels and feminine products. Even when products claim to be flushable, they may still clog your sewer line.

Poor Design

Poorly designed sewer systems can cause more backups. French drains and sump pump discharge should never connect to your main sanitary drain line. Accumulated dirt can cause a blockage in your sewer line.

What to Do When Your Drain Backs Up

If you have a sewage backup, you must act quickly.

For slow drains, liquid drain cleaners and chemical treatments are not recommended. These may cause further damage to the pipes and the plumber when they perform repairs. Instead, try using a plunger or snake tool to remove hair from pipes. If neither of these works, you should call a plumber to repair the problem.

For severe backups that send waste into your home, you should shut off the water to prevent it from going into any drains. If wastewater is near electrical outlets, you should turn off your electricity. Prior to entering the contaminated area, you must wear safety gear such as a face mask, goggles, boots and heavy-duty rubber gloves. Use a shop vacuum on the wet-dry setting to remove liquids and solids. A disinfectant should be used on the floors, walls and solid surfaces. If areas with absorbent materials such as carpet and wood have been affected, you will have to remove and discard the material. If the water reached high up on the walls, you may need to pull out the wall paneling to prevent mold. You will need to contact your city to determine the proper method of disposing of contaminated materials.

Until a plumber fixes your sewer line, you must not use the toilets, showers, tubs or sinks in your home. Every time you use one of these, more water will back up into your home. Because using water is essential, you must get a plumber in to perform repairs as soon as possible.

After a plumber has cleaned your sewage line, have an independent sewer camera inspection and get a copy of the inspection video. The inspector needs to locate the line and mark it with depths. The inspection video will identify any problems that need to be fixed. Once you have an inspection video, you are ready to contact us for a quote to have your sewer line repaired.

How to Prevent Sewage Backup

You cannot control a backup when it is caused by the city sewer line, but problems under your control can be prevented entirely.

Old Sewer Lines

Older pipes are made from materials such as clay or iron which are more prone to breakage. If you have old drain lines, replacing them with modern plastic pipes can prevent plumbing issues.

Disposal of Waste

Properly disposing of waste is an excellent method of preventing sewage clogs. You should never pour warm oil or grease down the drains. Oils solidify as they cool, causing a physical mass that clogs the drain. If it clogs in the main sewer line, it can create a backup. You should not flush anything other than toilet paper and human waste down a toilet. Wipes, diapers, paper towels and feminine products can easily clog a sewer line. Keep a trash can in your bathroom to properly dispose of these items.

Correct Drainage Problems

Connections such as French drains and sump pumps draining into your sanitary line can cause flooding and backups. These illegal connections can be issues if you ever plan to sell your home. It is best to have a plumber bring your system up to code to prevent flow reversals into your drains and backups.

Tree Root Problems

When tree roots grow through your pipes your sewer line can become damaged. Upgrading your system to modern plastic piping will cause trees to grow around the pipes, rather than through them. If you are not ready to replace your sewer pipes, you can contact a tree professional to cut the roots that are growing near your sewer line.

Contact Ed’s Sewer and Water Repair

Sewer problems can cause a lot of stress and impact your day-to-day life. If you need sewer line repairs, contact us. We have the experience and specialized equipment to resolve your problem in a timely manner. Call us at (303)513-1233 or visit our online form to get a free quote.