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Clogged Sewer Lines: Symptoms and Solutions

clogged sewer line
Fix February 12, 2020
Arthur Brodskiy
Arthur Brodskiy

Clogged sewer lines are something that every homeowner dreads. There’s nothing more chilling than the though of dirty sewage backing up into your home. The good thing is, most sewer line clogs give you plenty of warnings before they get too out of hand. You just have to know what to look out for. After that, it’s a matter of quickly taking care of the problem. 


What Causes Sewer Lines to Clog?


There are plenty of ways your drain pipes can get clogged up. Hair and soap clog up the drains in bathroom sinks and bathtubs. Cooking grease and oil can clog up bathroom sink drains. And all sorts of foreign objects make their way into toilets, leading to clogs all up and down a home’s drain system. 


But most of those clogs don’t go beyond the walls of your home. The drain pipes throughout your home lead from their parent fixtures and all feed into a main sewer line. The main sewer line has about twice the diameter of your home’s drain pipes. If any obstruction makes it into the main line, the clog usually goes away. 


In almost every case where the backup is in the actual sewer line, the cause is tree roots. Tree roots work their way through the ground, following moisture from tiny cracks in old sewer lines. A small root works its way in, and over time more and more roots get into the line. Hair, waste and other debris can get caught up in the roots, leading to a complete obstruction. Once that happens, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll start to notice symptoms throughout your home. 


Symptoms of Clogged Sewer Lines


sewer line repair


Multiple Clogged or Slow Drains


One of the telltale signs of a clogged sewer lines is having slow draining or clogged drains all around your house. You’ll notice it in the kitchen sink and in the bathroom sink. Your washing machine might take forever to drain as well. 


Running Fixtures Affects Other Fixtures and Drains


Another thing you might notice is fixtures seeming to have an effect on other fixtures. For example, running your bathroom sink might cause water to start backing up in your bathtub. Likewise, running the bath might cause you toilet to make gurgling or percolating noises. Running your washing machine could cause a backup in one or more drains. 


Water in the Sewer Cleanout


The sewer cleanout is the access point to clean out your sewer line. It’s usually located near the main drain pipe near the inside perimeter of your home — perhaps in the basement — or on the outside of your home on the other side of the wall. Wherever it’s located, you’ll know it when you see it. It’s a short, wide, lidded pipe. 


When you find your sewer cleanout, carefully open it by turning the nut counterclockwise with a pipe wrench or channel locks. You want to loosen the nut slowly because if you do have a sewer main clog, there could be a lot of pressure buildup in the pipe. If you notice any water starting to seep out while you’re opening it, close it up again by tightening the nut.


If you manage to get the cover off without any troubles, that doesn’t always mean you’re in the clear. Take a look in the pipe opening. If you see any standing water in there, you definitely have a blockage.   


How to Clear a Clogged Sewer Line


cleaning sewer line


Your first step is to decide if you want to go about this on your own or bring in the professionals. If you have a substantial blockage and you can’t even remove the cleanout lid without water seeping out, you’ll probably have to bite the bullet and call up a sewer cleaning specialist. Professionals will be able to feed a camera into your sewer line to get a clear look at the blockage and determine the best way to go about it. 


If you think you can handle it on your own, there’s a couple methods to try. The first involves flushing various chemicals down your toilet to attempt to kill the infiltrating root. The other involves renting an electric drain snake or auger to break up the roots and remove the clog.


Chemical Solutions


If you have a clog that hasn’t gotten too serious yet, you can try to clear it on your own. The most common home remedy for clogged sewer lines is to use one or more chemical solutions. 


Copper Sulfate is a tried and true substance for breaking down tree roots in sewer pipes. You have to flush the copper sulfate down the toilet to get it into your main sewer line. The process has to be repeated several times, but over time it should start to eat away at the tree roots. Copper sulfate can’t be used in septic tank systems, and depending on where you live, local codes might also prohibit its use.


Tree-killing foam is another solution you should be able to order online or pick up in a home improvement store. It’s applied the same way as copper sulfate. Keep in mind that both of these methods take time and are not guaranteed to completely remove the roots. Depending on how close the tree is to the sewer line, using chemicals can also do damage to the rest of the tree. 


Mechanical Solutions


Your local hardware store should be able to rent you an electric or mechanical auger. These are powerful cables that feed into your sewer line and rotate using an electric motor. On the end is a bit with teeth that can cut through roots and break them down. While you’re using the auger, make sure there isn’t any slack in the line between the cleanout opening and the auger. The line can suddenly whip out, so be cautious if you’re using this option. 


Wrapping Up – Sewer Line Repair


Once you’ve cleared the roots from your sewer line, you should plan on getting your sewer line repaired or replaced. Sewer line replacement is way beyond the scope of DIY work, so call a few local professionals for quotes or get a consultation. If you don’t get the line repaired, it’s just a matter of time before roots work their way back in.

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