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What To Do About Roots In Your Pipes (Without Killing the Tree)

tree roots in sewer line
Fix December 20, 2019
Arthur Brodskiy
Arthur Brodskiy


Whenever our pipes get backed up, we usually assume it’s something we did. Maybe we flushed the wrong thing down the toilet or let too much hair get into the shower drain. But sometimes, obstructions actually occur outside of our homes underground. 


One of the most common plumbing obstructions homeowners face is tree roots. Trees on our property are constantly growing both above ground and below. At first, the root invasion will be small and likely go without notice. But tree roots in your pipes can eventually grow large enough to form a complete obstruction. In this article, we’ll explain how roots make their way into your pipes and give you the rundown on how to get rid of them without doing harm to the tree itself.


How Tree Roots Get Into Your Sewer Lines


Normal, healthy drain pipes are usually safe from invasive tree roots. But over time, pipe fittings can become loose, and clay pipes (used in homes built in the 1970s and earlier) can develop tiny cracks and fissures. And just one tiny crack or opening is all it takes. 


Tree roots are naturally attracted to the water and nutrients that flow through your sewer pipes. As trees mature, their root systems get wider and wider as they seek out more nutrients. Root systems can grow up to four times the diameter of a trees crown. So even a tree that’s 10, 20, or even 30 feet away from your sewer line can still affect your pipes.  


While the roots directly under a tree are pretty large, roots at the very edge of a tree’s root system are tiny. So small, in fact, that they can easily work their way through a crack in a pipe. Once a root has made its way into a pipe, it’ll keep growing and create a larger opening in the pipe wall.   


Signs Of Roots In Drain Pipes


  • Slow or gurgling drains. If your tubs, sinks or toilets are draining slowly, it could mean that you have a clog somewhere in the drain pipe. Tree root obstructions will have the same effect, though. 
  • Strong or foul odors. If you have a serious blockage, you may start to notice rotten smells coming from all your drains. 
  • Sinkholes on your property. Since root invasions damage your sewer lines, water will begin to seep out into the soil around the pipe. Over time, the added moisture can cause the surface of your property to sink down. It’s a tell-tale sign you might have tree roots in your pipes.
  • Extra “green” areas on your property. This might be more of a long-term sign, but tree roots that have successfully invaded your pipe network will get more sustenance than the rest of the foliage on your property. The result? An area that is more green or lush than its surroundings.  


Homemade Root Killing Remedies


homemade root killer for sewers


While you probably won’t find root killing ingredients in your kitchen cabinets, there are some easily available remedies you can try yourself without calling a plumber or sewer line specialist. These treatments involve flushing different salts into the toilet to try to kill the roots in your pipe. They also work well as preventative measures, making your pipes less attractive to roots. 


Copper Sulfate


This bright blue salt-like crystal is available in most home improvement stores. Copper sulfate is a natural herbicide and will kill off the small tree roots invading your sewer pipes. Flushing half a cup of the crystals down the toilet should do the trick. One thing to note, though, is that copper sulfate isn’t safe for septic systems. 


Rock Salt


Rock salt has a similar effect on tree roots as copper sulfate. It’s also safe to use in septic systems, making it a good alternative to copper sulfate. Just don’t overdo it. One application should be enough to kill the root, but doing it on a consistent basis can poison the tree itself.


Flushing chemicals down the toilet can kill off roots and get things flowing again, but what happens six months down the road? Won’t new roots just start growing into the pipe? To really solve the problem, more permanent solutions are needed.


Permanent Tree Root Solutions


Unfortunately, when it comes to tree roots, DIY solutions will only get you so far. Root invasions are one of those situations where you’ll almost certainly need to bring in the professionals. Plumbers and sewer line specialists have some impressive tools in their arsenal to knock out invasive roots.


The first thing they’ll likely do is use a special camera called an endoscope to look inside your sewer pipes. This snake-like device will allow them to see the extent of your root problem as well as determine the exact location of the root invasion. After they’ve found the obstruction, they’ll come up with a plan for removing the roots. 


Mechanical Auger or Rooter


The most common tool professionals use for root removal is a mechanical auger or rooter. They’ll feed the auger into the pipe all the way down to the obstruction, where it can chop up the roots like a saw. After the roots have been thoroughly chopped, the pipe can be flushed out.




Hydro-jets work to clear pipe obstructions by using high-pressure water flows. Hydro-jets can shoot water at up to 4000 psi, which is strong enough to cut through and basically disintegrate tree roots. 


Pipe Repair and Replacement


After the roots have been cleared from your sewer pipe, the damaged pipe needs to be addressed in order to prevent future root problems. This step usually involves installing a protective pipe sleeve or replacing the pipe completely. Your plumber should be able to give you a solid recommendation based on the extent of damage to the existing pipe. Replacing oldclay pipes with more modern materials like PVC can be a great preventative measure. 




Tree roots are indeed invisible enemies when it comes to your plumbing health. While DIY remedies like rock salt and copper sulfate make great temporary solutions, sometimes professional root removal and pipe replacement is the best course of action.

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