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What are Common Causes of Sewer Backup?

Sewers are often overlooked until problems arise in our homes, such as difficulty flushing toilets or clogged kitchen sinks, prompting concerns about potential sewer backups. These backups pose significant plumbing issues, allowing sewage and wastewater to overflow into living spaces through various outlets like toilets, sinks, and drains, which potentially cause extensive damage and health hazards for inhabitants.

Despite being primarily designed to manage wastewater circulation, sewer systems are intricate and vital components of urban infrastructure and are crucial for maintaining a safe environment by preventing flooding and the spread of water-borne diseases. Recognizing the common causes of sewer backups is essential for implementing preventative measures, but in cases where issues arise, seeking assistance from professionals like USA Water Restoration ensures effective resolution of any sewer-related problems, regardless of their scale.

What are Sewer And Main Sewer Lines?

The sewer line refers to the underground pipe that connects a property’s plumbing system to the main sewer system of a city or municipality. It serves as the conduit through which wastewater and sewage from toilets, sinks, showers, and other drains flow out of the property and into the municipal sewer system for treatment or disposal.

The main sewer line, on the other hand, is the larger pipe that collects and transports wastewater from multiple sewer lines within a neighborhood or city and carries it to a treatment facility or a designated disposal site. Both the sewer line and the main sewer line are critical components of the sanitation infrastructure, ensuring the safe and efficient removal of wastewater from residential, commercial, and industrial areas.

Types of Sewer Pipes

Sewer pipes come in various types, each with its own characteristics that can affect future maintenance needs. Here are the four most prevalent types of sewer pipes:

Cast Iron Pipes

Cast iron pipes, commonly found in older homes, possess durability but are susceptible to corrosion over time. As they age, these pipes can develop cracks, particularly underground, leading to leaks and sewer backups. The corrosion weakens the structural integrity of the pipe, making it prone to failure and necessitating replacement. Timely inspection and maintenance are crucial to identifying issues early and preventing extensive damage to the plumbing system.

Clay Pipes

Clay pipes, known for their longevity, are highly vulnerable to tree root infiltration and sewage backups due to their porous nature. Unlike other materials, clay does not offer an effective barrier against water infiltration, leading to leaks that attract tree roots seeking moisture. These roots can penetrate the pipe joints and cracks, causing blockages and structural damage over time. Consistent maintenance and proactive measures, such as root barriers or pipe relining, are essential for mitigating the risks associated with clay sewer pipes.

Orangeburg Pipes

Orangeburg sewer pipes, made from bituminized fiber, were once favored for their lightweight construction and adaptability. However, they are highly prone to brittleness and deterioration, leading to increased risks of sewer backups and structural failure. Due to their shortcomings, Orangeburg pipes are no longer utilized in modern residential plumbing systems. It’s imperative for homeowners with Orangeburg piping to prioritize replacement with more durable materials to avoid potential plumbing disasters and ensure the integrity of their sewer system.

PVC & ABS Pipes

These pipes are extensively utilized due to their remarkable flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and robust durability. Their flexibility allows for easier installation around obstacles and in challenging terrains, reducing labor costs and installation time. Additionally, their affordability makes them a preferred choice for various plumbing applications, especially in residential and commercial projects. Furthermore, their inherent durability ensures long-term performance, minimizing the need for frequent repairs or replacements and offering reliable functionality over time.

Signs of a Sewage Backup

When a sewage backup happens, it indicates a blockage or obstruction in your home’s main sewer line, that prevents water from flowing freely. Consequently, water begins to reverse its flow and starts to enter your home through sinks, toilets, and drains. If you observe any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to promptly seek assistance from a qualified plumber.

Bubbles Near the Drain

When a drain is obstructed, air becomes trapped as water attempts to pass through the blockage. This trapped air can manifest as bubbles when flushing a toilet or draining a sink, indicating potential issues with sewer flow. The presence of bubbles suggests that sewage may not be effectively moving through the pipes, possibly due to a blockage further downstream. Observing these bubbles should need immediate attention from a professional to assess and address potential sewer backup concerns.

Multiple Clogged Drains

While a single clogged drain is not uncommon and can typically be attributed to various factors like toilet paper or grease buildup, the simultaneous clogging of multiple drains across the home suggests a more serious issue. This widespread occurrence often indicates a potential blockage within the main sewer line, hindering proper drainage from all connected fixtures. Addressing multiple drain blockages promptly is crucial as it may prevent a complete sewer backup, minimizing the risk of extensive damage and health hazards within the property.

Toilets that Don’t Flush

A noticeable decline in toilet flushing effectiveness, especially when traditional plunging methods prove ineffective, is a typical indicator of a potential sewer backup. When sewage cannot properly flow through the main sewer line, toilets may struggle to flush efficiently due to the obstructed drainage system. Persistent issues with flushing, despite attempts to clear blockages, signal the need for immediate inspection and intervention to address potential sewer backup concerns before further complications arise.

Gurgling Noises

The development of air bubbles in toilets and the emergence of gurgling sounds from drains are significant signs of a clogged sewer drain pipe. As the blockage impedes the flow of sewage, air becomes trapped and escapes through the water, causing bubbles to form during flushing. Similarly, the gurgling noises result from air attempting to pass through the obstructed drain, disrupting the usual flow of wastewater. These symptoms indicate potential issues with the sewer line that warrant immediate attention to prevent further complications such as sewer backups.

Bad Smell

The presence of sewage odors or visible signs of sewage within the home unequivocally indicates a sewer backup. Such indicators suggest that sewage is not properly draining and is instead backing up into living spaces through drains, toilets, or sinks. These odors are unmistakable and typically signal a significant plumbing issue that requires immediate attention. Addressing sewer backups is crucial to prevent health hazards, property damage, and further complications within the household.

Wetness Around Floor Drains

Basements, garages, and laundry rooms often feature floor drains, which serve as initial points for sewage backup before affecting toilets or showers. If wetness is observed around these floor drains, it may indicate impending sewage backup. Calling a plumber quickly is essential to assess and address the issue before it escalates, preventing potential damage to the property and mitigating health risks associated with sewage exposure. Early intervention can help avoid extensive cleanup and repair costs associated with sewer backups.

Slowly Moving Drains

The simultaneous slowing down of multiple drains throughout the home suggests a potential blockage forming in the main sewage line. As wastewater struggles to flow freely due to the obstruction, various drains experience reduced drainage capacity. This occurrence typically indicates a systemic issue within the plumbing system rather than isolated drain blockages. Addressing this early warning sign is crucial to prevent a complete sewer backup, minimizing the risk of property damage and sewage contamination within the household.

Water Backup in a Tub or Shower

Water backing up in a bathtub or shower typically indicates a blockage within the drain line. In normal circumstances, water should flow freely down the drain without any backups or delays. The presence of water backing up suggests an obstruction hindering the proper drainage of wastewater, potentially leading to sewer backup issues if left unaddressed. Prompt attention to resolving the blockage is necessary to restore proper drainage and prevent further complications within the plumbing system.

Common Causes of Sewer Backup

The main sewer line can experience backups due to various factors, contributing to plumbing issues in your home. Pinpointing the specific cause of the sewer backup is essential for addressing and resolving the problem.

Blocked or Clogged Pipes

The main sewer line in your home is susceptible to clogs or blockages, much like individual drain pipes. It’s designed to handle human waste and toilet paper, but flushing or disposing of other items down the drain can lead to backups. When a backup originates from an individual drain clog, problems are typically isolated to that specific drain. However, if the backup stems from the main sewer line, multiple areas in your home will encounter plumbing issues, affecting various toilets or drains. Identifying the source of the backup is crucial for determining the appropriate course of action to address the problem effectively.

Damaged Sewer Pipes

Sewer pipes, particularly those in older homes with iron or clay systems, face threats from ground movements and insufficient support, making them susceptible to fractures or collapses. These structural issues can lead to sewage backups if the integrity of the line is compromised. Moreover, iron pipes are prone to corrosion over time, heightening the likelihood of deterioration and subsequent backups. Regular inspection and maintenance are essential for identifying and addressing these vulnerabilities before they escalate into significant plumbing problems, safeguarding both property and inhabitants from potential hazards.

Tree Roots

Sewer lines, being underground, are susceptible to external factors like rocks and tree roots. Tree roots, with their extensive growth, can infiltrate pipes seeking moisture, particularly through small leaks. Once a root reaches a pipe, it can penetrate it, causing damage or growing around it, eventually leading to blockages and sewage backups. Even if your property lacks trees, neighboring trees can still extend their roots underground, potentially affecting your sewer lines. Proper maintenance and root control measures are essential to mitigate the risk of tree root intrusion and prevent sewer backup issues.

Heavy Rainfall

Public sewer systems are typically designed to manage significant volumes of water, but excessive rainfall can overwhelm the system, resulting in sewage backups. During periods of heavy rain or flooding, the influx of water can exceed the capacity of the sewer system, causing backups into residential properties. The saturated ground from excess water further exacerbates the issue by increasing the volume of water in the sewer line. This scenario is particularly common during intense rainfall events or in areas prone to flooding, highlighting the importance of proactive measures to prevent sewage backups during such circumstances.

Sewer System Age

Older sewer systems with cast iron, clay, or even PVC piping are prone to deterioration over time, leading to potential issues such as sewage backups and basement flooding. While these materials are initially durable, they have finite lifespans and are susceptible to corrosion, cracks, and collapses with age. As these pipes degrade, they become less effective at carrying wastewater away from the property, increasing the likelihood of backups and overflows. Regular inspection and appropriate maintenance are crucial for identifying aging sewer infrastructure and implementing necessary repairs or replacements to prevent disruptive plumbing problems in older homes.

Municipal Sewer Systems Issues

Sewer backups in basements can often stem from municipal sewer problems, such as city sewer blockages or issues. While these problems are usually addressed immediately by municipal authorities, they can still affect residential sewer lines in the vicinity. Unfortunately, homeowners have limited recourse for such sewer issues and should contact their local city or municipality for assistance and resolution. Although sewage backups from municipal sewer problems may occur without warning, any sudden influx of water into the basement should prompt immediate communication with the public works office to address the issue swiftly.

Why Sewage Backup is Dangerous?

A sewage backup has the potential to inflict significant harm to your residence and present a severe health hazard to you and your household. Among the risks associated with a sewage backup are:

Health Risks

Exposure to sewage poses a significant health risk due to the presence of harmful bacteria and viruses, which can lead to severe illnesses. Direct contact with raw sewage or inhaling its fumes can expose you and your family to dangerous contaminants. Diseases such as Hepatitis A, Gastroenteritis, and E. Coli are among the potential health threats associated with sewage exposure. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid any contact with sewage and take immediate steps to address and remediate sewage backups to safeguard against health hazards.

Property Damage

A sewage backup has the potential to inflict extensive damage to your home’s structural elements and contents. It can seep into flooring, walls, and furniture, causing staining, warping, and deterioration. In severe cases, prolonged exposure to sewage can compromise the integrity of the building, leading to structural collapse. Immediate action is crucial to mitigate damage, prevent further deterioration, and ensure the safety and habitability of the property.

Mold Growth

Sewage contains nutrients that mold thrives on, facilitating rapid growth when it enters your home. The presence of sewage creates a conducive environment for mold and mildew to flourish on various surfaces. Mold growth can spread quickly throughout affected areas, compromising indoor air quality and posing health risks to occupants. Addressing sewage backups rapidly is crucial to prevent the proliferation of mold and mitigate potential health hazards associated with exposure to mold spores.

How to Prevent Sewer Backups?

While it may not be entirely preventable, there are measures you can take to minimize the likelihood of experiencing a sewer backup in your home.

Regular Inspection of Sewer Lines

Regular inspection of your sewer line by a professional every few years is essential. This proactive approach enables early detection of any potential issues, such as blockages or deteriorating pipes, before they escalate into a sewage backup. Timely identification and resolution of these problems can help prevent costly damage to your property and minimize the risk of health hazards associated with sewage backups.

Don’t Pour Grease Down the Drains

Grease is a prevalent culprit behind sewer backups due to its tendency to solidify and obstruct pipes. Pouring grease down drains should be avoided to prevent blockages in the sewer line. As grease cools, it solidifies and adheres to the inner walls of pipes, gradually restricting the flow of wastewater and increasing the risk of backups. Proper disposal methods, such as collecting grease in a container and disposing of it in the trash, can help prevent sewer blockages and subsequent backups.

Don’t Flush Anything Other Than Toilet Paper

Flushing items such as sanitary products, baby wipes, and paper towels down toilets can lead to blockages in the sewer line. These items do not break down as easily as toilet paper and can accumulate, causing clogs and backups. To prevent sewer line blockages, it’s crucial to only flush toilet paper down the toilet, as it is designed to disintegrate quickly in water and minimize the risk of obstruction. Proper disposal of other items, such as sanitary products and wipes, in the trash rather than flushing them can help maintain sewer system functionality and prevent backups.

Sewer Line Cleaning

Having a professional clean your sewer line is essential to eliminate any blockages or buildup that could potentially lead to a sewage backup. Professional cleaning involves specialized equipment and techniques to thoroughly clear out debris, grease, and other obstructions from the sewer line. By addressing these issues proactively, you can significantly reduce the risk of sewage backups and associated damage to your home. Regular sewer line cleaning can also help maintain the overall health and functionality of your plumbing system, ensuring smooth wastewater flow and minimizing the likelihood of future backups.

Replacing Old Sewer Lines

Replacing an old sewer line with plastic piping is advisable as it can help mitigate potential damage that might result in a sewage backup. Plastic piping, such as PVC, is highly durable and resistant to corrosion, minimizing the risk of deterioration over time. Unlike older materials like clay or cast iron, plastic piping is less prone to cracking, root intrusion, and other forms of damage, enhancing the reliability and longevity of the sewer system. Upgrading to plastic piping can offer long-term protection against sewer backups and associated plumbing issues, providing peace of mind for homeowners.

What to Do If You Have a Sewer Line Backup

If you experience a sewer line backup, it’s crucial to take immediate action to mitigate potential damage and health risks. Here’s what to do:

Stop Water Usage

Halting all water usage in your home is essential to prevent exacerbating the sewer backup and potential flooding. Continued water usage can overload the already compromised sewer system, leading to increased backups and flooding in your home. By ceasing water usage, you reduce the volume of wastewater entering the sewer line, helping to alleviate pressure and minimize the extent of the backup. This proactive measure can also aid in containing the damage and facilitating effective cleanup and repair efforts.

Call a Professional

When faced with a sewer backup, it’s crucial to seek assistance from a licensed plumber or sewage cleanup service immediately. Professionals possess the expertise and equipment necessary to assess the situation accurately and implement effective solutions. By contacting them promptly, you can mitigate further damage, ensure the safety of your property, and expedite the restoration process. Their timely intervention can help restore normalcy to your home and minimize the inconvenience caused by the backup.

Ensure Safety

Direct contact with sewage and contaminated water should be avoided to minimize the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria and pathogens. These contaminants can cause serious illnesses and infections if they come into contact with your skin or are ingested. If necessary, use appropriate protective gear such as gloves, masks, and boots to prevent direct contact and ensure personal safety during cleanup and remediation efforts. Promptly wash hands and any exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water if contact occurs.

Evacuate if Necessary

If the sewer backup presents a substantial threat to health or safety, it’s advisable to evacuate the premises and find temporary accommodation elsewhere. This precautionary measure ensures the well-being of occupants and minimizes exposure to hazardous conditions. Evacuation may be necessary if there’s a risk of contaminated water spreading throughout the property or if the backup has rendered the home uninhabitable until professional cleanup and repair services can address the issue.

Document Damage

Capturing photographs or videos of the affected areas and damage is essential for documenting the extent of the sewer backup insurance purposes. These visual records serve as crucial evidence to support your insurance claim and facilitate the claims process. Providing comprehensive documentation, including timestamps and detailed descriptions, strengthens your case and increases the likelihood of receiving appropriate compensation from your sewer backup insurance coverage.

Follow Cleanup Procedures

It’s imperative to adhere to the guidance provided by the professional plumber or cleanup service for effective sewage cleanup and sanitization of affected areas. Their expertise ensures that cleanup procedures are conducted safely and efficiently, minimizing health risks and preventing further contamination. Following their recommendations, which may include thorough disinfection, drying, and restoration efforts, helps restore the affected areas to a safe and sanitary condition, ensuring the health and well-being of occupants.

Prevent Future Incidents

Introducing preventive measures like scheduled sewer line inspections, correct waste disposal practices, and routine maintenance is crucial for mitigating the risk of future sewer backups. Regular inspections can identify potential issues early on, allowing for timely repairs and preventive actions. Proper waste disposal, avoiding flushing non-flushable items, helps prevent blockages, while routine maintenance ensures the optimal functioning of the sewer system, reducing the likelihood of backups and associated damages over time.

Coordinate with Authorities

In cases where the sewer backup extends beyond private property or poses a broader public concern, it’s essential to collaborate with local authorities or the municipality for assistance and resolution. They have the resources and expertise to address widespread backups and mitigate community-wide impacts effectively. By coordinating with relevant authorities, prompt action can be taken to identify the root cause, implement necessary measures, and restore normalcy to affected areas, ensuring the safety and well-being of residents.

Why You Should Call USA Water Restoration for Sewer Backup Cleanup

When you choose our team at USA Water Restoration for sewer backup cleanup in Camas WA, you’re selecting highly skilled professionals with extensive experience in restoring properties affected by sewage backups. We employ cutting-edge equipment and advanced techniques to ensure thorough and efficient restoration, addressing all aspects of cleanup and restoration seamlessly.

From the initial assessment to the final cleanup, our comprehensive services cover every step of the process, providing you with peace of mind throughout. With our commitment to prompt response times, we prioritize mitigating further sewage and water damage and minimizing disruptions to your daily life. Your safety is our utmost concern, and we adhere to strict safety protocols to create a secure environment during cleanup and restoration efforts.


How do tree roots contribute to sewer backups?

Tree roots can infiltrate sewer pipes seeking moisture, especially in clay or older pipes with small cracks. As roots grow, they can penetrate the pipe walls, causing blockages and ultimately leading to sewer backups.

Can improper disposal of household items lead to sewer backups?

Improper disposal of items like grease, wipes, and paper towels can cause blockages in sewer pipes, leading to backups. These materials do not break down easily and can accumulate, obstructing the flow of wastewater and causing plumbing issues.

What role does aging infrastructure play in sewer backup occurrences?

Aging infrastructure, characterized by deteriorating pipes and outdated systems, increases the likelihood of sewer backups due to cracks, collapses, and reduced capacity. Over time, these aging components become more susceptible to blockages and failures, leading to disruptions in the sewer system and potential backups.


Sewer backups can stem from various factors, including aging infrastructure, tree root intrusion, improper disposal of household items, and heavy rainfall overwhelming sewer systems. Aging pipes made of materials like cast iron or clay are prone to deterioration, leading to cracks and collapses that impede the flow of wastewater.

Additionally, tree roots seeking moisture can infiltrate sewer pipes, causing blockages and backups. Improper disposal of items such as grease, wipes, and paper towels can accumulate in pipes, further exacerbating the risk of backups.

Addressing these causes through regular maintenance, proper waste disposal practices, and infrastructure upgrades is essential to mitigate the occurrence of sewer backups and ensure the reliability of sewage systems.

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