Basement Drain Backing Up: Sewer Line Damage And Floor Drain Backups

Basement Drain Backing Up: Sewer Line Damage And Floor Drain Backups

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Basement Drain Backing Up

basement drain backing up

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Liquids always take the path of least resistance. Because the basement floor drain is the lowest opening in the home’s drainage system, sewage and water coming up from the basement floor drain backup is a sign that your home has a main sewer line clog. And the potentially expensive water damage that results is a plumbing emergency that needs to be dealt with immediately.

Clogs in any of your home’s drain lines can cause backups in your basement floor drain. That’s because, as the lowest drain in your home, the floor drain will be the first place that wastewater can go when it can’t flow to the main drain and sewer line. So, with the main drain backing up, wastewater will continue to build up in the line until it overflows and backs up out of the floor drain.

For homes that don’t have a basement floor drain, drain line clogs can cause backups in the lowest fixtures of the home, like ground-level tubs, sinks, or showers.

A basement floor drain backing up is usually due to wastewater looking for a place to escape when there is a problem with the sewer line. The drain connects to the main sewer line. The water seeks the lowest point in the home, and that is the basement. However, this backup is often not even related to the wastewater, but instead to other issues.

A basement drain backing up is almost never caused by a clog in the basement floor drain itself. In every home, the basement floor drain connects to the main drain line. Therefore, it’s a main sewer line clog that almost almost always causes the floor drain to back up. In fact, main drain line clogs cause 99% of floor drain backups.

We need to determine if it is local waste produced in your home that can’t get out due to a blockage in the main line leaving your home, or if it is waste from the sewer system coming back in (called a backflow).

As the lowest drain in the home, they serve as egress for stormwater that may seep or gush into your basement during heavy rains or when a washing machine or water heater leaks.

Most basement floor drains are in the middle of the basement floor, sloped toward the drain so that any water that enters the basement is channeled to it.

Figuring out why your basement draining is backing up takes a lot of guesswork since the root causes are usually located in the deep dark recesses of your drain lines.

A blockage can occur if a portion of the line has broken, but generally a blockage is caused by roots that have grown into the line, or by something flushed down a toilet that has lodged in the drain pipe.

When this happens, you will see evidence of your basement drain backing up as the lowest point in the system (generally the basement drain overflows) is where the evidence is visible.

Chemical products may work to open the drain, but running a snake through the line is generally necessary.  In the case of roots of invading the basement drain line, a power snake with sharp cutting blades must be used to cut through the roots

Sewer Line Damage And Floor Drain Backups Differences: Not All Basement Drain Backing Up Issues Are Equal

Floor drains can also back up when clogs lie deeper in a home’s plumbing system, like somewhere in the sewer line. Similar to drain line clogs, sewer line clogs will stop the flow of wastewater. With nowhere to go, wastewater will back up until it finds the nearest release point, which will be a floor drain or the lowest drain in a home.

Sometimes, clogs have nothing to do with floor drain backups. That can happen when:

  • A sewer line has cracks or holes.
  • A sewer line is bellied, sagging, or collapsed.
  • Tree roots have misaligned or infiltrated the sewer line.

In all of these cases, the sewer line will have a blockage that acts like a clog in that it forces wastewater to back up into a home. Unlike a clog, however, sewer line damage can require far more work to fix.


When sewer lines become obstructed, whereby preventing wastewater from flowing through drainage pipes, blockage occurs. The thick, black water that forms as sewage is a potential hazard, as it contains contaminants and viruses that can present a risk of severe illness if exposed to humans or animals. If you have a sewage backup in your basement, you will need to fix it quickly. However, knowing what causes sewer backups can help you prevent a hazardous situation in your basement or home. Here’s how to prevent and handle sewage backups in your pipes:

There’s good reason why professional sewage remediation teams look like the clean-up crew at a nuclear accident, enclosed head-to-toe in a hazmat suit with eye protection, a face mask and often breathing from a respirator. Raw sewage commonly contains pathogens including Hepatitis B virus, E. coli bacteria, as well as parasites like Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia—better known as the two most common causes of water-borne illness. Even the Poliomyelitis virus that causes polio is a frequently identified component. Direct contact with raw sewage isn’t necessary to become contaminated, just breathing the fumes may result in infection.

A sewage backup combines water damage to the house along with acute health risks to its occupants. Raw sewage is classified as Category 3 water (also known, appropriately, as “Black Water”) and is uniquely hazardous due to the presence of toxic microbes including cryptosporidium, E.coli, hepatitis and giardia, plus others. All are known to cause disease in humans on contact or when inhaled.



Occasionally, there’s a blockage in the city’s sanitary main. Typically, the symptoms present slowly over time. If you suspect seepage around your basement’s floor drain, for example, request a licensed plumber. May to assess the problem and any damage. If, however, sewage water enters your home rapidly, report the problem immediately to your public works office.


In a study performed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, (ASCE) they rated the wastewater systems in the U.S. with a D+ and drinking water a D. Why? There are more than 800,000 miles of public sewage pipes in the U.S. and the majority of water mains and pipes were laid in the early to mid-1900s. With a projected lifespan of 75 to 100 years, several are already crumbling.


Causes Of The Basement Drain Backing Up Derived From The Clogging Of The Main Sewer Line

When you have a sewage backup in your basement, it could have several different causes. The most common problem is that there is a problem with the main sewage drain line. When this happens, the sewage backs up into the basement because it’s the lowest point in the house, and those sewer drains are the easiest means of escape for the excess water.

It could also be caused by an individual clogged drain in the basement, which is likely the case if you are only getting back up in one drain.

There are, as we just described, many causes that generate a basement drain backing up. I consider that the most common one are the clogs caused by an improper flushing performed by the homeowner and the whole family, to be more precise.

And regarding those clogs, I can say that a good part of them come from toilet paper flushed that actually should not be flushed, despite the advice of the manufacturer.

Clogs, buildups in pipes from grease, or improperly flushed items, such as paper towels or single-use wipes, are common causes of sewage backup. Damage to the sewer lines can also cause a sewage backup because it prevents water from flowing correctly. A strong storm with heavy rain can also overwhelm the city sewer system with water and result in backups into people’s homes.

According to the Civil Engineering Research Foundation, the number of sewage backup incidents is increasing at a rate of about three percent. This is considered an alarming number by experts in this field. While not all basement flood damage is due to sewage backup, there are some main culprits. These include:

Adherence Of Particles Of Grease

Grease is not water-soluble and sticky, so it makes sense that it doesn’t travel through drain lines well. Over time, grease will adhere to the insides of the main sewer line, slowly accumulating and closing off the pipe.To prevent this from happening, avoid dumping large quantities of grease down the drain. You can also dump boiling water down the drain once a month to remove any grease collecting on the pipes.

Clogs Due To An Incorrect Flushing Etiquette

Basement drain backing up issues come frequently when flushing the toilet. I have an entire article explaining about basement drain backing up issues that appear when we flush the toilet. And sometimes, incredibly, it is because of the toilet paper of type 2 ply.

Objects disposed through flushing the toilet can get caught in the main sewer drain. This leads to a clog and the final consequence is a basement drain backing up.

Clogs, buildups in pipes from grease, or improperly flushed items, such as paper towels or single-use wipes, are common causes of sewage backup.

Although today’s toilets use about a quarter of the water older toilets do, putting much less pressure on the main sewer line per flush, they still can exacerbate a clog in the line since they carry solid waste with them.

Sewage can back up into your home when either your home’s drain pipes or main sewer line becomes clogged. For example, if one toilet creates a sewage backup, the drain connected to that toilet will likely be clogged. But if all toilets or bathtubs in your home create backflows, then there may be a clog in the main sewer line or the sump pump failed. Clogs can consist of hair, grease, or other solid materials that end up in the drains.

Generally, abuse is something like flushing more materials (or the wrong items) than your main drain line can handle. It’s the most common cause of floor drain backups. Here are some tips to avoid an unexpected clog:

Be careful about what you flush down your toilets. Toilet paper and most non-corrosive liquids are okay. But never flush paper towels, baby wipes, and feminine hygiene products. They’re simply too thick to dissolve thoroughly and flow through your pipes.

Make sure little ones don’t play in the toilet (hey, we’ve all been there with our kids!). They’ll often dump toys and other plastic items into the toilet bowl and flush.

Ironically, of the most common causes of floor drain and toilet drain backups, toilet paper is the number one culprit of clogged drains.

If a toy or something important is in there, scoop out the water from the toilet bowl with a disposable cup. Then, if you see the object, with gloves on, pull it out. If not, use a plunger, an auger, snake, or a de-clogger.

Certain toilet papers are better than others and we strongly encourage you to choose your brand wisely. It can save you thousands of dollars down the road.

Best Toilet Paper to Prevent a Basement Floor Drain Backup

  • Scott 1-Ply bath tissue is best for dissolving more efficiently and thoroughly in water. This makes your pipes less vulnerable to clogs.
  • If you absolutely need more cushion from your toilet paper, try Angel Soft 2-Ply bath tissue. Not quite as good as the Scott but it’s much better than most.
  • 100% recycled toilet paper is probably the most dissolvable bath tissue and therefore the safest for your pipes. If you don’t mind spending a bit more per sheet to help with the environment, then a brand like Seventh Generation is your best bet.
  • We do not recommend brands like Quilted Northern Ultra Plush or Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care. These 2-Ply toilet papers do not dissolve well in water.
  • KEEP IN MIND: 1-Ply bath tissues will prevent clogging issues better than 2-Ply bath tissues. However, it’s up to you on how to balance your clogging issues with the usually better comfort provided by a 2-Ply bath tissue.

Kitchen Sink Draining

When you pull the plug on a kitchen sink full of water, it sends about 8 gallons of water through the drain, putting pressure on that 4-inch line. If water backs up when the sink drains, it’s a good indication of a clog.

Sewage Egressing From Cleanout Pipe

A cleanout pipe is a capped pipe that gives you or the plumber access to the drain line for maintenance and clear clogs. These cleanouts are usually located in the basement on an exposed section of line.

While these lines typically have a removable cap on them, sewage water can breach this cap if the lines are backing up. If sewage flows out of the cleanout pipe, you likely have a sewage backup in the main line.

Low Lying Plumbing Fixtures

The first place you will likely notice a backup is in any showers, bathtubs or toilets you have in your basement. However, these low lying plumbing fixtures are not necessarily always the cause.

Unless you know for sure there is a clog in one of these fixtures, do not attempt to fix the backup. The root issue is probably further down the drain system.

Wash Tub Basin

Not every home has a washtub basin but if you do, this can backup. A washtub basin is in the basement or laundry room and looks like a sink and used for soaking clothes. It could be that sediment and debris have clogged the drain. A washing machine can have the same issue, but it may be in the hose.

If you are experiencing a drain backup in your basement, your wash tub basin, or laundry tub, may be the culprit. A quick fix may be to clean the strainer on the drain inlet, which you can easily do yourself.

When the trap under the basin is clogged, you can try a plunger to clear the sediment and debris. Otherwise, a snake may be required or the trap may need to be removed and cleaned.

So to put it more clear:

You can use a plunger to try to unclog it if it is possibly sediment or debris. If this doesn’t work, you may need to take out the drain to clean it and use an electric snake. This may not be easy to do and require assistance. The other thing you can do is install a strainer on the drain if you don’t have one. If none of these solutions work, contact a professional for help.

If the blockage is not easily accessible, a professional plumber can use their tools and expertise to clear clogs that are further down the system without causing further damage to your plumbing.

Washing Machine

Washing machine backups involve a lot of water but are typically easy to fix.

Turn off the washing machine and check the strainer on the drain hose. Clear out any blockage before reattaching.

A washing machine is a great indicator of a clog in the main drain line, especially if it’s located in the basement.

When a washing machine drains, it rapidly releases 20 to 30 gallons of water into your home’s main drain. Even a moderate clog will likely cause a backflow, sending water out of the drain and onto the basement floor.

When this does not correct the issue, there may be a blockage in the trap or further down the drain. Just like the wash tub basin, if clearing the trap doesn’t work, it’s best to call in a professional.

Crystallization Of Materials

materials such as sand, lint, soap scum, and urine can crystallize inside the long drain pipe that runs from the home to the curb over time, creating clogs.

Shower or Bath

The average shower lasts about 8 minutes and uses about 17 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water for your main drain to handle. If there’s an obstruction in the mainline, a shower will cause soapy water to back up into the basement.

Humans shed between 50 and 100 hairs each day, with much of that shedding taking place in the shower. This means that a lot of hair runs into your home’s drains.While shorter hairs may pass easily, longer hairs can become entangled with other dirt and debris passing through the main sewer line, creating a clog. If this is a persistent problem. Consider installing a drain cover in your showers that will catch hair before it enters your home’s main sewer line.

Flat Spots In The Main Drain Line

These dips or flat spots are called “bellies”. “Belly” in singular. How do we fix these flat spots, these bellies in the main drain line?

This is when there is a dip or flat spot in the drain line and happens when the ground settles.

The only way to fix a belly is to dig it up and replace it. This usually requires the use of a mini-excavator.

Routine preventative hydro jetting will not fix the belly but can prevent unexpected clogs and basement floor drain backups. Many people choose to go this route (using hydro jetting for main sewer line maintenance) because it is much less expensive than a full sewer replacement.

Plugging Of The Main House Trap

The main house trap is the fixture in the main drain line that prevents sewer gases from seeping into your home.

This system involves a plug on the house-end of the line and one on the street-side. Randomly removing these plugs is not recommended as it could cause sewer wastewater to enter your home. Also, the plugs are extremely difficult to put back in.

Instead, you can open (without removing) the street-side plug then the house-end plug to allow the backup to drain away from your home.

However, even this procedure is risky and should be left to an expert plumber.

Breakage In The Home Main Drain Line

A break or separation in the main drain line is worst case scenario. This is by far the most expensive and requires a costly pipe lining or replacement. The broken section is the only part that needs to be replaced, but many times homeowners will choose to replace the entire line.

Floor Drain

All right, this cause is clearly related with other causes of the basement drain backing up, so you will find some similar points here.

The floor drain connects to the house drain that is located under your basement. Since it is there to drain excess water in your basement, it typically stays pretty dry.

However, clogs and excessive rain water may cause the drain to backup. In the case of a clog, the blockage could be located in the drain, the house trap or the sewer main.

If the clog cannot be easily removed, contact a sewer technician to investigate the cause and location of the blockage.

Recent figures indicate that sewage backups in the U.S. are increasing by 3% every year. That’s no surprise: the age of residential sewer pipes now averages over 30 years, a major factor in the increasing incidence of sewage flowing back into houses instead of away.

Common causes of household sewage backups include:

  • Obstructed sewer line. Often due to tree root intrusion over years. However, washing grease down the sink or flushing non-degradable materials down the toilet also contributes to blockages.
  • Sewer line deterioration. Aging sewer lines often collapse, stopping free flow of sewage.
  • Heavy rain. A severe rainstorm may temporarily overwhelm the municipal sewer system, causing sewage to backflow into houses connected to the system.

Water damage is bad. Sewage damage is worse. Sewage may enter your house as part of generalized widespread flooding as water on the move becomes contaminated by the contents of swamped municipal sewer systems, overflowing septic tanks and other sources. Or, it may result from a blockage in your household sewer line triggering a backup into the house.

Water damage professionals appropriately call it “black water.”  Noxious sewage-related microbes may be viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic and pose a very high potential risk of disease to occupants. Once sewage is flowing into your home, risk factors escalate rapidly:

  • When soaked by sewage for an extended time, absorbent materials incorporated in home construction including wood, gypsum board, insulation and even concrete may become permeated and pose a continuing source of contamination. Standard water damage remediation techniques are not sufficient to neutralize the health threat.
  • In addition to risks due to contact with sewage, airborne hazards proliferate, too. Within a short time frame, aerosol contamination accumulating within the enclosed confines of a sewage-inundated house can reach levels that pose potential disease threat due to inhalation.
  • The same conditions present during sewage inundation by flooding or backflow—wetness, high indoor humidity and the presence of organic matter—also trigger the proliferation of non-sewage microorganisms, most frequently toxic mold growth. These consequences typically begin within 48 hours.

Pipeline Diameter Cannot Handle Large Waterflows

Quite related with other basement drain backing up causes, it happens that simply there is a large waterflow and the pipeline system in the property cannot handle it.

Most main sewer pipes are 4 inches in diameter and can handle more than 160 gallons per minute, which is much more than a home can produce even when a full washing machine is emptying and several water faucets are open.

Other factors can decrease that capacity, such as older pipes with narrower diameters, partial clogs, and build-up, all of which can decrease the pipe’s flow rate and cause backflow when too much water is drained at one time.

Causes Of The Basement Clogging Of The Ventilation Pipe

Ever wonder what all of those pipes sticking out of the roof of your home are for? One of them is a vent for your home’s plumbing system. It helps to regulate the air pressure in the plumbing system to keep things flowing while at the same time allowing odors to escape.

Unfortunately, these pipes also make an ideal nesting spot for birds, which can close off this vent, throwing the air pressure in the home out of whack and resulting in slow drainage and bubbles in drains and toilets. If the main sewer drain isn’t the problem, climb on the roof and check the vent pipe.

Causes Of The Basement Drain Backing Up Derived From A Sewer Line Damage

Sometimes, but not the majority of cases, the basement drain backing up is not caused by the utilization of the system by the homeowners but by external situations. Sewer linear assets can become damaged or simply worn out.

Due to the nature of a damaged line, it must be dug out and replaced, as well as fixed, which requires excavating thru the basement floor or burrowing beneath the backyard, based on the area of the breakage. This is a time-consuming and complex repair that should be left to the professionals.

Disconnection Between Main Drain Line and Basement Pipe

A broken drain line is perhaps the worst-case scenario when it comes to the causes of a backed-up basement drain. If the basement pipe and main drain break apart, you’ll need to hire a plumber to repair them.

Damaged Sewer Lines

In the past, pipes were made of cast iron and clay piping which don’t last very long. Aging sewage systems can break down and crack, causing sewage backups and flooded basements. Plastic sewer lines have now become the norm.

Older homes with galvanized drain pipes are prone to rusting over time. Rust can grow inside the pipe, eventually closing it off.

While there are temporary ways to fix a rusty pipe, it will eventually need to be replaced with PVC, which, unfortunately, means a costly upgrade that is best left to the pros.

Your main drain has an expiration date just like anything else in your home. As it gets closer to that expiration date, you can experience more frequent main sewer line clogs and, therefore, more basement floor drain backups.

The piping material that the sewer lines are made of can accumulate rust and can shrink. When they shrink, it is more difficult for the water and other sediments in the water to get through. Some older homes may have clay or concrete piping and these will start to fall apart over time.

Over time, scale and debris builds up on the inside of the pipe’s walls. If the main drain is made out of cast iron, it will rust. As the inside walls of the pipe rust, the pipe becomes smaller and smaller. This decreases the amount of liquid that can flow through the pipe.

If the main drain is given more than it can handle, the liquid will up up through the basement floor drain.

The rust and build-up on the inside of the pipe is extremely rough. So anything soft, like toilet paper, has the possibility of getting caught on the pipe’s walls, kind of like Velcro.

What are the solutions to fix, replace, or clean out a deteriorated pipe that’s causing a main sewer line clog?

Utilization Of A Hydro Jet

A hydro jet is a piece of plumbing equipment (designed specifically for drain clearing and cleaning) that uses high-pressure water to blast the scale, rush, and other debris off of the main drain’s walls.

The high volume of water helps flush all of the gunk and nastiness out of the main drain line, eliminating your problem with basement floor drain backups.

Once the pipe has been cleared, your emergency plumbing and drain specialist will also use his or her equipment to clean the inside of the pipe’s walls.

Pipe Lining Or Pipe Replacement

Pipe lining – or trenchless sewer replacement – is a good way to replace the pipe without digging.

This is a great solution when digging is not feasible or desired by the property owner.

Keep in mind, digging up and replacing the pipe is usually less expensive than pipe lining. However, it requires digging a large trench on the property

basement drain backing up
A basement drain backing up caused here indirectly by a broken sewer pipe. It was determined after this picture that a heavy rainfall helped to overflow all the network. The homeowner decided to change the entire pipe but he could have changed only a segment if he wanted to.

The city is responsible for some of the repairs. The city is responsible for the ones that start at the main underground sewer pipe and are past your property boundaries. This is the main sewer line.

Heavy Rainfall

Water backflowing into the basement through the drain may not be a problem you can fix because it may not be your problem. Some municipalities in the U.S. are dealing with the consequences of decades of not upgrading their sewer systems.

Many city sewers are crumbling as old pipes erode and tree roots work their way into the system. Heavy rains put more pressure on these sewer systems to deal with stormwater as well as wastewater. This can cause these lines to clog and backflow into homes.

If sewage is backing up into your basement when it rains, this could be the problem. If the problem is with the city sewer system, you’re likely no alone. Check with your neighbors to see if they’re experiencing the same problem when it rains.

Can heavy rain cause sewer backup?  Yes, large amounts of rain can overburden your city’s sewer lines. If the public sewer can’t handle excess rainfall, the water can make its way into connected sewer lines. This puts your home at risk of water backflows.

A strong storm with heavy rain can also overwhelm the city sewer system with water and result in backups into people’s homes.


Some municipalities combine stormwater and raw sewage pipelines. During heavy rainfall, the volume exceeds the pipe system’s capacity. As a result sewage backup flows into basements and other low-lying drains.

Tree Roots

Roots naturally grow towards any moisture. So, if there are any cracks or weak points in your drain line, roots will find their way in and cause a basement floor drain backup.

Trees can grow really long roots that intertwine with your sewer line. Roots can grow into a pipe and cause holes or crush the sewer line by growing around it. Even if the roots in your yard are not the problem, roots from nearby trees can reach your sewer line and damage it.

As they seek moisture and nutrients from organic material, tree roots wiggle into service pipe joints and cracks. These tree roots in the sewer line quickly grow into a major clog and sometimes, destroy the pipe. If you have (or your neighbor has) mature trees or those with invasive root systems, watch out for this problem. Usually, a camera inspection is the first step to verify if tree roots in the sewer line are the source of the problem. The tree’s owner is commonly responsible for the cost of clean up and repair.

drain cleaning machine, such as the Ridgid 55808, may be able to help clear the roots away as well by blasting away all the sediment and other gunk. In addition, you may need to relocate a tree or two and the professional will give you solutions to keep it from happening again.

Process To Clear Tree Roots

  • Cleaning your sewer line with a hydro jetter is always your best bet. The hydro jetter keeps the roots away for 5 to 7 years.
  • The auger is also a great tool for removing roots from your home’s sewer main. However, the auger doesn’t get all of the roots out of the drain line. Because of this, they will come back much faster.
  • Roots can damage the home’s main drain line. These roots can crack and eventually collapse a sewer line.

Freeze Of Drainage Lines

Unlike water supply lines that constantly hold water and are therefore susceptible to freezing and bursting, drains lines typically don’t freeze as they only hold water that is flowing and are empty when not in use.Drain pipes are usually below the freeze line. That said, unseasonably extreme cold can cause the normal frost line in the ground to descend to the pipe, freezing any water sitting in it. Over time, this can accumulate, eventually damaging the pipe.

Basement Drain Backing Up Due To A Clog In The P Trap

Sometimes a backed-up basement drain has nothing to do with the main sewer line. It could mean that the basement drain is clogged. The P trap that prevents sewer gasses from entering the home through the basement drain is an ideal place for clogs to occur because of the tight bends in the pipe (hence its name.)

This P-shape creates an ideal place for debris to collect and clog. Clearing this clog with a simple plumbing snake may be all you need to get eliminate backflows. If this is the problem, the backflowing will only occur when water is dumped directly into the basement drain. There should be no clogging when using other plumbing fixtures in the home.

Diagnosis: Calling In A Professional

Improper investigation of drain blockages can cause further problems and potential damage to your drain lines.

Leave the diagnosing to the professionals, who will use a high-tech camera snake to perform a visual inspection of your basement drains. They can then clear out the clogs or carry out necessary repairs.

Contractors utilize camera systems to provide accurate and detailed information to customers regarding drain blockages and back ups.

A plumber will ask how long the problem has been going on, whether it’s happened before, whether the backup has a foul odor, and whether it gets worse when you’re using plumbing fixtures. The answers to these questions can help narrow down whether you’re dealing with a drain line or sewer line problem.

Testing your plumbing fixtures: Turning different fixtures on and off can give a plumber firsthand information about how your system is acting (or acting up) as water flows through the drain and sewer line system.

After this diagnostic process, a plumber will be armed with the information necessary to recommend the most appropriate repairs. Depending on the findings, the best repairs to stop basement floor drain backups could include:

  • Drain cleaning and clearing service
  • Sewer line repair
  • Sewer line replacement

Home Remediation For A Basement Drain Backing Up

You don’t want to leave the water backing up too long in the basement as it can be contaminated, smell, and cause mold or other things to grow in the area. If you do find mold, you will want to make sure the backup is fixed first. Then put on protective gear to clean up the area if it is less than 3×3 feet. If it is a bigger area, call a professional.

Materials Required

Plunger: A drain plunger (such as the Luigi’s Sink and Drain Plunger) removes clogs by creating suction that puts pressure on the clog, dislodging it and pushing it through the pipe. Plungers will work for minor clogs caused by wads of toilet paper or objects that may be clogging the drain.

Baking soda and vinegar: This simple home remedy is a great option for removing mild clogs if you don’t have a plunger on hand. 

Coca Cola: Although it may seem strange given that it’s a beverage, Coca-Cola is loaded with phosphoric acid, which is perfect for breaking down buildup in a clogged drain. You’ll have to give it some time though.

Drano: This is one of those products that’s controversial among plumbers. Although it includes powerful chemicals that can dissolve even tough clogs, those chemicals are so powerful that it can also, over time, melt pipes and break down the glue that holds PVC piping together. For these reasons, many plumbers advise against using Drano to clear a clog. It’s also very toxic

Manual drain snake: A manual drain snake consists of a long flexible metal cable with a coil on one end and a rotatable handle on the other. 

Power Auger: We can rent a POPULO Electric Drain Auger. Although these augers are much more powerful than a standard drain snake, there are a few things to keep in mind before going this route. You’ll need to rent one of these machines, which can cost $50 or more per day. While this is far cheaper than hiring a plumber, it is more expensive than the other solutions on this list

A pair of gloves: Gloves are necessary. Have a pair always at home.

Step 1: Safety Precautions

 When dealing with a basement drain backing up, you need to take a number of essential safety precautions.  

If you have standing water in the basement, begin by taking the proper safety precautions. There are live power lines running through the entirety of a home, making standing water a significant electrical shock hazard. Begin by shutting off power to the basement at the circuit breaker box.

Since backed-up sewer water could very well contain pathogens and bacteria, protect yourself by wearing gloves, goggles, and a face mask.

Wear protective gear like a facemask and boots if you have to walk through sewage water.

Avoid using your toilets and sinks for the time being to prevent toilet overflowing and further sewer backup.

Step 2: Shutoff The Waterline

Don’t flush any toilets, run water down drains, wash clothes, etc. If you know where your sewer cleanout port is located—it’s a capped pipe in the ground along the route of the buried sewer pipe out in your yard—removing the cap may allow backed-up sewage to pour out through the cleanout. Relieving pressure in the pipe this way won’t resolve the clog, but it may greatly reduce the volume of sewage backflowing into your house.

Step 3 Shutoff The Power 

If sewage has already contacted electrical outlets, extension cords, appliances, etc., call an electrician and stay out of that part of the house for your own safety. If the area around your main electrical panel is still dry and you can access the panel without contacting any sewage, shut off the power to rooms affected by sewage or to the entire house. If there’s basement flooding, (standing water, or overflow) turn off the electricity in the flooded area.

Step 4: Ventilation Of The House

While biohazards present in raw sewage are generally not airborne, the fumes are caustic, noxious and may trigger allergic reactions in individuals. Sewage has a particularly penetrating odor, as well, that may persist if it is absorbed by household materials. Open as many windows as you can safely reach and, if power is still present, run fans to flush the home with fresh air and reduce infiltration of sewer fumes as much as possible.

Step 5: Removal Of Stagnant Water

If the backup is severe enough that you have a significant amount of standing water on the floor, you’ll need to get rid of that water before you can address the clogged drain.

First, make sure that the water level stops rising by shutting off your home’s water main. Remember, if the main drain is clogged, any running faucets or flushed toilets will add to the problem. You won’t be able to use any of the home’s water until the issue is resolved.

Use a portable pump with a hose that can run through a basement window to pump the water out of the basement. If finding a way to remove the water from the basement is difficult, you can try plunging the drain out to see if you can get the drain working again.

Wearing protective equipment, remove residual water using a wet dry vacuum. If there isn’t too much standing water, you could also use old towels that you’re willing to throw away afterward or even paper towels.

Make sure to remove as much sewage water as possible as this will help prevent mold. If the basement drain is backing up and there is a sump pump, hopefully, it will capture all of the water and the basement will dry out.

However, you will probably need to mop up the mess or use a shop vac. In addition, depending on what is in the backup, you will need to sanitize the area. If you have a sump pump, make sure the sump pump is draining efficiently in the yard.

The water should be flowing away from the home and not sitting in the yard. If you find that it is not, there may be issues with the grading and drain system. This will require a professional to look at it.

Step 6: Perform The Cleaning Of The P-Trap

Once the water has subsided and you can access the drain, start by cleaning out the drain’s P-trap. Remove the grate cover and pry out the backflow preventer if there is one. Use a wet-dry vac or a short plumbing snake to clear out the P trap. If the clog is in the P trap, this will solve the problem.

If the clog still exists, locate the cleanout plug and remove it with a pipe wrench or crescent wrench to access the drain line.

Step 7: Pouring Materials Down A Sewer Drain

We are going to pour some materials down the sewer drain to see if we can solve the issue of the basement drain backing up ourselves.

Pouring Drano or similar products down a sewer drain can actually damage pipes or the glue holding them together, causing more sewer system problems in the future.

The acidity in Coca-Cola can help clear a sewage backup but may leave a residue itself.

Use Baking Soda And Vinegar

Begin by letting hot water run into the pipes. Drop 1/2-cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by a cup of vinegar. Seal the drain and wait for 10 minutes.

The fizzing reaction that occurs when the two combine is vigorous enough that it can break apart clogs. After the solution has had time to work its magic, pour hot water down the drain.

Use The Plunger

Plunge the drain by pushing the handle in and out until the clog is removed. Keep in mind that this will only work for minor clogs. Since most main drains are 4 inches in diameter, the plunger may not produce enough force to dislodge the material clogging this large space.

For a plunger to work, you must create an air-tight seal around the drain. You might consider adding enough water to create a small pool around the drain that will allow you to place the lip of the plunger underwater and around the drain to achieve that seal.

Using Bleach

Bleach kills the bacteria in sewage and after an initial cleaning with hot water and dish soap, use a bleach solution. Leave it for 20 minutes, then wash it away.

Using Coca Cola

To use this method, dump an entire 2-liter bottle into the drain, then allow it to sit for at least an hour to give it time to work through the clog. Then flush with boiling water.

Utilization Of Drano

Drano is far more effective than the home remedies mentioned above, largely because of its ability to melt clogs. Using Drano is easy. Simply open the bottle, dump the contents into the drain, wait about 20 minutes, and rinse with hot water.

Step 8: Utilize A Manual Drain Snake Or An Auger

If the chemical materials that we have poured in the last step do not solve the basement drain backing up, then we have to use a manual drain snake and possibly an auger. An auger is quite expensive, so you can rent one for a day. However the auger will be used only if the manual drain snake is not sufficient.

If you do not have a manual drain snake, you should employ a hose or a plunger to unclog a blocked drain just as I recommended already above.

A manual drain snake consists of a long flexible metal cable with a coil on one end and a rotatable handle on the other. To use, thread the coiled auger end into the drain and push it through the P trap. Using the handled end, begin unwinding the metal auger into the hole. Rotate the auger at an even speed until you feel it hit the clog.

Once you feel the clog, rotate the head back and forth and move it around to attempt to break it up. Continue snaking until you don’t feel the obstruction. Should the tip become stuck, attempt to pull it free along with whatever is clogging the line.

If the drain snake doesn’t work, then you likely have a tougher clog on your hand. If you call a plumber, they’ll bring out a power auger to clear the drain. This consists of an electric motor that spins a metal snake, driving it through the line.

Although these augers are much more powerful than a standard drain snake, there are a few things to keep in mind before going this route. You’ll need to rent one of these machines, which can cost $50 or more per day. While this is far cheaper than hiring a plumber, it is more expensive than the other solutions on this list.

A power auger is also very heavy, weighing as much as 200 pounds, so you’ll need help if you plan on getting it into the basement. You’ll also need to take safety precautions. These machines spin a metal line using a powerful motor as you feed it into the drain with your hands.

Drain cleaning augers come with a variety of different heads for cutting through different types of clogs. These include a head for cutting through grease, a saw tip for cutting through roots, a retrieval tool for removing objects, and a standard drill bit.

Once you’ve attached the tip, begin pushing the head of the auger into the line. Once it’s a few feet in, start the motor. A foot pedal lets you engage or disengage the motor. This allows you to keep both hands on the line or cut the power quickly if you lose control.

Keep running the line until the drainpipe reaches the obstruction. Once you feel the cable hit, stop the machine and reverse it slightly to release the tension on the cable before driving it forward.

You’ll need to feed the cable slowly forward to allow it to chew through the clog without putting too much tension on the cable, which can cause the cable to wrap around your arm. When done, retract the cable and reattach the lid to the cleanout.

Step 9: Disposal of objects in contact with blackwater

After removing the water, Gather any solids with a broom or shovel and dispose of them, along with any unsalvageable items, in a thick garbage bag. Items like books and soft toys that came into contact with sewage should be thrown away. In most cases, a carpet that has been covered in sewage water will need to be completely removed

Sewage backups are more than just unpleasant smelly messes. They can also be dangerous. Your family (including pets) should leave your home until the sewage removal is complete.

Step 10: Clean Carefully The Area

Once the clog has been repaired and the crisis is over, get to work cleaning up. Sewage presents a bevy of health risks, some of which are serious. Exposure to sewage can cause dysentery, Hepatitis A, and salmonellosis. Even the gases created by sewage are enough to make one ill.

For this reason, it’s crucial to conduct a deep cleaning once the clog is fixed. Begin by removing any items that were damaged in the backflow. Soft items such as pillows and towels should be thrown away.

Clean the area thoroughly using soap and water and finish by coating the floor in a bleach solution as the bleach will kill any bacteria left from the sewage.

Probably at this point, you have solved completely the problem of the basement drain backing up quite cheaply. Your time and some simple chemical materials were all the costs. In a difficult scenario, you have probably rented a power auger for a day or two.

If you have not solved the problem, we would have to call a drainage specialist. I would prefer a drainage specialist than a plumber, but this selection depends on the severity of the basement drain backing up issue.

Professional Remediation Techniques For Recovery

So it seems that if you are reading here is because you could not solve the basement drain backing up issue by yourself.

Professional remediation techniques after a sewage backup are more complicated than methods utilized for clean water from a ruptured plumbing supply line.

  • Professional remediation includes complete removal of all contaminated water using deep-cleaning wet extraction machines, removal and sanitary disposal of sewage-soaked carpet and other materials, and continuous dehumidification of the interior of the house.
  • In some cases, highly absorbent building materials that have been thoroughly soaked with sewage may need to be removed and replaced.
  • A range of disinfectants may be applied to affected surfaces, formulated for the specific purpose and the type and absorbency of the material.
  • Technicians at work on the project will wear respirators, rubber gloves, boots, splash goggles and a protective suit to prevent illness from contamination
  • Extraction of raw sewage from a house is a job for qualified, experienced technicians equipped with full safety gear for protection from contaminated water and vapors.
  • In addition to removing sewage, all areas contacted by it must be cleansed and decontaminated with disinfectants formulated to neutralize the biohazards.
  • Absorbent materials such as carpeting and padding, drapes, clothing and paper products contacted by sewage must be removed from the house and disposed. There is no cost-efficient way to effectively decontaminate these items.
  • Semi-porous materials like wooden furniture, cabinets, wood building materials and some sealed or painted drywall can usually be disinfected if properly treated immediately.
  • In addition to extraction and decontamination, sewage also poses the same risks of mold contamination that ensues after any type of water damage. Professional mold remediation techniques must be applied within 48 hours to prevent toxic mold growth.

Preventive Measures To Avoid Basement Drain Backing Up

Maintain the basement drain as well as other drains in the home. This can be done by scheduling drain cleaning maintenance with a professional.

Following repair service, the best way to avoid future backups in your floor drain is with regular drain cleaning maintenance service. If your sewer lines are in good shape, routine drain cleaning service will keep your lines clear, free of the buildups that can clog and stop up your system.

Don’t pour grease down the drain

Cooking oil can harden within your pipes; it gradually stops debris from draining, creating a clog. To properly dispose of grease or fat, pour it into a heat-resistant container and throw it in the trash after it cools off.

Clean The Basement Floor Drain Frequently

Unfinished basements typically have debris and dirt on the floor, much of which ends up in the drain. Keep the basement floor drain clean by periodically cleaning out the grate covering the drain and trap below. To clean the trap, open the grate and run a plumbing snake through the P trap. Enzyme cleaner will also keep the trap clean.

Improve the toilet flushing etiquette

A much more straightforward and cheaper solution to do is adjust your family’s behavior to avoid clogged drains altogether. Avoid flushing wet wipes (even ones that are labeled as flushable), paper towels, and feminine products down the toilet. . Flushing hygiene products such as paper towels, diapers, or feminine products down the toilet can easily clog your sewer line. Save yourself some trouble and discard paper products in the trash.

Improve the usage of the kitchen sink drain

Pour unused grease and oil, left over from cooking, into the garbage or in a disposable container rather than washing it down the kitchen sink drain.

Install a new plastic pipe or cut tree roots

Install new plastic pipes. If the problem that caused the basement drain to clog in your basement was damaged pipes, installing new durable plastic pipes will solve the sewage backup issue and make it much less likely to happen again in the future. This is an expensive option, but a very effective investment to make on behalf of your safety and health.To prevent tree roots from damaging your sewer lateral (the line buried in your yard),replace it with a new plastic pipe. If tree roots still grow in your sewer lateral, cut the roots occasionally.

While this may not always be possible, once you identify where the main sewer line travels through the yard, avoiding planting any trees or shrubs near the line to prevent roots from growing into it.

Sewage pump maintenance

Ensure your sump pump doesn’t sit on debris such as silt or gravel, which could be sucked up into the pump, ruining the motor. Instead, place it on a steady flat brick. Also, ensure the sump basin has a filter fabric around it to stop debris from coming in.

  • Use ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of distilled white vinegar.
  • Pour these in the drain.
  • Put a stopper over the concoction and keep it there for 30 minutes while a foam forms.
  • Once 30 minutes is up, take the stopper out and use a plunger.
  • Create a seal with the plunger and move it up and down several times to try to get the clog out.
  • Then, run warm water in the drain for a couple of minutes.
  • Repeat the steps of the plunger and the water if the clog remains.

Effective sewage backup prevention definitely beats the alternative: noxious sewage flowing backwards into your house. A sewage backup complicates normal water damage recovery because raw sewage—officially categorized as “black water”— is a toxic biohazard that requires professional clean-up and specialized decontamination procedures.

Household sewage may reflux back into the home due to obstructions in your underground sewer pipe leading to the main municipal line at the street. Alternatively, sewage may also flow into your home if the municipal sewer backs up, such as when heavy rain swamps the local system. Here some sewage backup prevention strategies to avoid these messy, unhealthy scenarios.

Clean The Main Sewage Line At Least Once A Year

If you have a main sewer line that is susceptible to clogs, then it’s best to clean it about once a year as a preventative measure. Invest in a manual plumber snake and run it through the line following the method described above. Running the auger through the line will help break up any build-up that is beginning to form before it has the chance to create a clog and cause backflow.

Another preventative measure is to use enzyme cleaners to keep the drain clear by dumping it directly into the drain. Enzyme cleaners help prevent build-up in the lines and are much safer for the environment than chemical cleaners.

Frequent Inspection Of The Sewer Line

Have your sewer line inspected. Tree root infiltration is a major cause of blockages in original clay or cast iron sewer pipes with seams between segments. The only way to know for sure whether your line is affected is professional inspection of the internal pipe with a video camera. If tree roots are discovered, a high-speed cutter run through the length of the pipe every few years can maintain proper flow.

Collapsing segments are another fact of aging sewer pipes. As the pipe gradually deteriorates and deforms underground, sewage flow is increasingly obstructed until backup into the house occurs. As with tree roots, only video inspection can determine internal condition of the sewer pipe and locate potential blockages.

Municipal Sewer Issues

Heavy influx of water into the city sewer may exceed system capacity and cause sewage to flow backwards into your house. Installation of a sewage backflow device in your sewer line prevents backwards flow of sewage. The most typical type is a sewer check valve that incorporates a flap that permits only one-way flow of sewage in your main pipe. If sewage flows backwards, the flap closes and prevents flow into the house.

Installation Of Backwater Valves For Basement Drain Backing Up Prevention

The best way to prevent a basement drain from backing up is to install a reverse valve that prevents water from coming back through the drain. This simple device consists of a floating ball. When water is flowing through the drain, the ball stays out of the way.

This fixture called backwater valve allows sewage to leave but prevents it from backing up into your home. Backwater valves are typically installed into a sewer line and sometimes into a drain line in the basement.

Should a backflow occur, the ball floats into the drain hole, blocking the line and prevent sewage from passing through the drain and onto the basement floor. Keep in mind that a ball check valve can catch dirt and debris, making a drain easier to clog. If you install one, make sure to clean the drain regularly.

In this case, usually due to high levels of rainfall temporarily raising the overall water table, the system will be overwhelmed.  If the lowest drain in your basement (or other shower drain or toilet) is lower than this temporarily raised water level, you will find your basement drain backing up.  In some cases the pressure created by the raised water level is so great that water raw sewage will be spewing several feet into the room from basement drains.

There is only one way to prevent this particular condition of your basement drain backing up; the installation of a gate to keep the unwanted reverse flow out.  Some of these gates are manual and must be manually inserted or manually turned closed.  The best are automated solutions called “Backwater Valves” or “Backflow Preventers”

A Backwater Valve automatically senses a reverse flow (water flowing the wrong direction and back into your home) in your main line and completely closes it off from the sewer system outside.  This prevents your basement drain backing up.

Some people simply insert a plug into their basement drain in an attempt to stop a basement drain backup, but in a case where groundwater comes in when there is not a mainline backup, the end result is also flooding.  Additionally, the force of incoming water can simply push these plugs up and out of the way leaving you unprotected.   A good automated backflow valve is the best solution to avoiding a basement drain overflow that lets water in the basement.

When properly installed with a required minimum slope of 2% (or more), water and effluent leaving the dwelling works to continuously self-clean the gate, keeping it free and ready to seal when you need it most.  There are hundreds of cheap normally closed valves on the market that are destined to fail as debris accumulates at the sealing point. 

Note that we still recommend inspecting your backwater valve every 3 months and every time you believe it might have worked to protect you.  This is quite easy to do with the clear plastic lid design.

DIY Remediation Not Recommended With Basement Drain Backing Up Issues

I recommended to follow a DIY approach in many cases, where you can completely DIY, as when you install a vapor barrier, spray lime powder, or partially, when you, for example, can do a joist sistering by yourself, but we endorse that an inspection should follow later on.

However, when dealing with basement drain backing up, I am against any DIY approach, because of the health risks and other issues you can face.

Confronted by raw sewage cleanup, you’d probably rather not do it yourself in the first place. Still, some homeowners may attempt the job on their own to economize, or because they’re simply unaware of the hazards. Also known in the industry as “black water,” raw sewage is classified as Category 3 on the toxic water hazard scale (there’s no Category 4.) Environmental experts warn all persons exposed to raw sewage to assume that potentially dangerous pathogens are present. Cleanup is a job for trained professionals, properly equipped with safety equipment and disinfectants specifically designed for the job.

Raw sewage cleanup imposes all the complications of indoor water damage but adds substantial serious health hazards, as well. Sewage backflow into your house from a number of causes including a blockage in your own sewage line or a widespread problem in the municipal sewer system such as inundation due to flood water. Once your home has been contaminated, raw sewage cleanup is a specialized process that doesn’t belong in the DIY category. Here are some reasons why it’s a job for professionals with the knowledge, training and specialized equipment to do the job competently and completely.

  • Sewage is a toxic biohazard. Raw sewage contains harmful bacteria including fecal coliform and E.coli, viruses and any and all other toxic substances including chemicals and poisons that may have gone into the municipal sewer system. Crews that specialize in raw sewage clean-up often look like any other toxic clean-up professional, fully clothed in resistant protective garb including eye shields and high-quality breathing protection designed specifically for the purpose. A pair of overalls and a dust mask from the hardware store are not sufficient equipment to ensure personal safety.
  • Contamination is on the move. During clean-up, a major concern is limiting the spread of contamination. Specific precautions are required to prevent toxins present in sewage from migrating to other areas of the house, including sealing off the contaminated area and fully ventilating to the outdoors.
  • Deep decontamination techniques are required. Just as water penetrates to the deepest recesses in a house, sewage does, too, along with the pathogens it contains. Simply mopping up or disinfecting surface evidence of raw sewage is not effective cleanup.
  • DIY disinfectants may not be sufficient. The do-it-yourself disinfectant of choice—household bleach—may not always be the most effective option against infectious microorganisms found in sewage and/or may not provide lasting disinfection potency.
  • Odor matters, too. The pungent, penetrating odor of raw sewage is difficult to clear from any enclosed structure. Special odor absorbents and high-volume ventilation equipment are usually required.

Raw sewage can contaminate your home in more than one way:

  • A clogged sewer line between your house and the municipal sewer main at the street or septic tank can reflux sewage back into your premises.
  • Sewage may reflux into residences if the local municipal sewer system or treatment facility is inundated with water, such as in general flooding.
  • Floodwater originating from an overflowing river or lake, or an ocean storm surge, may pick up raw sewage as it spreads through populated areas, swamping septic tanks and sewer pipes. By the time that floodwater reaches your house, it may be dangerously contaminated.

Here are some reasons why experts advise contacting a qualified water damage recovery expert if raw sewage cleanup is required:

  • Untreated sewage is commonly grossly contaminated by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and other disease-causing microorganisms.
  • Hazardous sewage-borne pathogens may infect an inexperienced and inadequately protected person by simple contact with bare skin, inhalation, and accidental transfer from hands to mouth or eyes.
  • Shoes or clothes may transfer toxic sewage residue from the affected areas to silently contaminate “safe” parts of the house.
  • DIY clean-up methods with consumer-grade disinfectants may be inadequate to thoroughly decontaminate the premises. Contaminated residue from sewage that soaked into building materials and infiltrated the structure of the house may form an ongoing source of potential infection and disease.

Sewage Backup Symptoms

It’s important to understand that all the toilet, sink, and tubs drain in the home run to this main drain line. When there’s a clog in this line, the water and waste from these drains backflow out of the lowest exit, which is the basement drain.


If you notice water bubbling from other drains, this is a clear sign something is wrong with your sewer line. Are you running the washing machine and hear a gurgling in the kitchen sink? Do you notice water in the basement after you take a shower? Take note of these symptoms and call a licensed plumber to take care of the problem. 

We notice frequently that there is a basement drain backing up problem when we see bubbles forming in drains or toilets.

These bubbles are created by negative air pressure caused by a clog. Instead of the air flowing through the line with water and waste, it’s hitting a clog, causing the air to go back through the lines, creating these bubbles.

This could mean that the main drain line is clogged, the toilet drain is clogged, or the vent stack for your home’s plumbing, located on the roof, has something blocking it. If you have this problem in more than one plumbing fixture and the vent stack is fine, then the culprit is probably a clog in the main sewer line.

Unpleasant Odors

Stenches are also a clear sign something is wrong, especially if the smells linger. Odors indicate sewage isn’t draining properly, and could potentially be coming in through your drains, which is a major health hazard. 

A foul odor in the basement is another indication that something is wrong with the basement drain line. A sewer smell means that the line backs up, causing sewer water to backflow into the basement. If it’s a slow drain as opposed to a completely clogged one, this water may back up into the basement, then drain without you knowing it.

In this case, the telltale sign will be the smell that the sewage water leaves behind. Keep in mind that foul odors are also signs of a much easier problem to fix–a dry basement drain trap.

If you’re not sure which, run some water into the basement drain. Adding water to a dry trap should take care of the odors by refilling the trap. If the odors persist, you may have a clog.

Slow Drainage And Some Standing Water Near Drains

If you’re your bathtub starts filling up during a shower or your sink begins to fill while brushing your teeth, then you’re dealing with a slow drain problem. Slow drains are typically caused by a buildup of hair and soap in bathrooms, grease and fat from the kitchen sink or wads of toilet paper in the toilet.

All of this material ends up flowing through your home’s main drain. Although a home’s 4-inch main sewer pipe is twice as wide as the 1-1/2- or 2-inch drains that run throughout the home at 4 inches in diameter, it must handle a greater flow of liquids and solids, making it susceptible to clogs.

A slow drain in a single sink, toilet or shower, likely indicates a clog in that particular receptacle’s 2-inch drain pipe. However, if all the drains in a home are slow, it’s a good indication that the basement sewer line is clogged.

Does water take a while to drain after a shower or a bath? Do you notice sitting water around drains? If so, a sewer line clog is a likely cause.

Sewer Backup Property Damage

You may also experience property damage because of a sewer backup. It is very likely that your pipes will be damaged and you will need a sewer repair. If the sewage water remains in your home for an extended period, you may experience even more damage to your property. This can include the traditional signs of water damage on your walls and floors, as well as insulation and flooring materials that are rendered entirely unusable.

A more pressing issue can be the uninhibited growth of mold and bacteria. Left untreated, mold and bacteria can grow, and reach multiple floors in your home.  If the problem is extreme, walls and other articles have to be completely demolished and replaced.

Any other personal possessions that have been soaked will not be salvageable either, like mattresses, leather furniture, paper products, and stuffed toys. Washable fabrics and furniture that can be deep-cleaned can be retained, but that is expensive. Every other object you decide to keep will need to be disinfected with chlorine bleach, rinsed thoroughly, and dried.

Sewer Backup Fire Hazards

Fire hazards are also a common sewer backup risk. If the water level has risen to the height of any electrical outlets, plugs, extension cords, or gas-burning equipment, refrain from touching anything and get out of the building as soon as possible. Call a professional to handle this problem, as the risk of starting a fire is tremendous.

If your electrical equipment is still above the water level, turn off your power when you first notice the issue. Safety should always be your number one priority. Make sure you are wearing rubber boots, standing on a dry surface and not touching any metal objects like ladders and pipes.

What to Do Immediately After a Sewer Backup

Calling a professional restoration company is the best way to deal with sewage backup in the basement. However, here’s what you can do to mitigate the damage in your home before the restoration team arrives:

  • Evacuate the flooded area. Sewage contaminants are hazardous to pets as well.
  • Turn off electrical power in the flooded area. Electrical wires or appliances might come in contact with standing water or wet materials.
  • If the main circuit breaker is in the basement, be careful. If you can’t safely turn off the power, don’t go near electrical devices.
  • Wear protective clothing like a facemask, eyeglasses, gloves, and rubber boots before walking through sewage water.
  • Shut off the valve for the main water line of your home. Check out how to shut off utilities during a disaster.
  • Notify your insurance company about the sewage backup. Remember that sewer backups are not covered by standard homeowners insurance, unless you’ve purchased extra endorsements for sewers and drains. Learn more about homeowners insurance and water damage.
  • Notify your municipal authority or sewer department if your home is connected to a public sewer.
  • Don’t use the water supply system in your home until the backup problem is fixed – don’t flush toilets or drain tubs and sinks.
  • Open windows or doors to let fresh air in and ventilate the area.
  • Add some chlorine bleach to the standing water to help disinfect.

The very first thing you should do when you notice sewage leaking into your home is to call a reputable drain cleaner. If there is structural problems with your drain system, then you’ll need a sewer repair company. It is crucial that you handle this problem quickly to minimize the risks to your health and your home. Let a professional handle the sewage leak; you worry about staying safe, healthy, and protecting your property. Avoid coming into contact with sewage in any way, even inhalation. If you need to cross a sewage spill to leave your home, wear rubber-soled shoes and put on a breathing mask. Then remove any shoes and clothing that came into contact with the sewage.

Sewage Remediation Costs

The cost of cleaning up sewage in the crawl space averages between $10 and $25 per square foot. You can also expect these factors to affect the final cost.

  • Difficulty of access to contaminated spaces
  • Length of time between initial spill and cleanup
  • Extent of repairs needed for broken sewer pipes and drain lines
  • Mold removal, remediation and restoration services
  • Any necessary structural tear-out and reconstruction


There are two options for replacement: traditional trenching and trenchless repair.


Otherwise known as the “open cut” or “trench” method, traditional trenching requires a backhoe or other heavy machinery to open the work area. This allows our technicians to access the damaged portion of the pipe. This may be a large disruption of your yard, but it may be less expensive for you. We make every effort to keep the area as clean as possible while working.


Also known as a pipe bursting or no-dig excavation, this method causes less damage to your yard than traditional trenching. Instead of opening up the entire area, our technicians open a small access hole where the damaged parts start and end. Then, they use a hydraulic machine to pull a replacement pipe through the old path. This method costs more but causes considerably less damage. They may end up saving you money in the long run.

Camera Inspection

A licensed technician performs a camera inspection. During a camera inspection, the plumber feeds the line through the main sewer line. The camera captures video of the inside of your sewer line. With a transmitter to pinpoint the location of a blockage, licensed plumbers confirm the exact location of and reason for the sewage backup. This process eliminates the need for guesswork which saves time and money.

A camera that can be used in these cases is the SeeSnake Compact2 Video Inspection System. In my opinion, this is the camera more frequently used by drainage experts.

Basement Drain Backing Up Costs

So how much does it cost to unclog a main sewer line? These services will generally cost between $200 and $500, but if damaged pipes need to be replaced, the price may increase into the thousands.

Given that basement drains often present a more complex clog removal than sink, toilet, or bath clogs, that price is typically on the high end. But don’t open up that checkbook just yet. There are plenty of ways to clear that clog without forking over all that money for a plumber.

Insurance Coverage For A Basement Drain Backing Up

Your homeowners insurance does not generally cover sewage backup. Extra insurance coverage for sewage damage is available for an additional cost. Check your policy for more information or check out the Insurance Information Institute.

However, many insurance companies offer sewer backup endorsements that can cover $10,000 worth of damage, which is enough for moderate damage but not extensive damage to the structure of the home.

This is significant, given that municipalities generally aren’t liable for any sewage backups caused by blockages in the sewer lines unless they are grossly negligent in maintaining the lines.

While city sewer backups that cause catastrophic damage to people’s homes are rare, they do happen, so it’s important to consider outfitting your home with a valve that prevents sewage backups from occurring.

Functions Of Basement Drains

As with other plumbing fixtures in the house, once water enters the drain, it goes through a P trap that serves as a vapor barrier to prevent sewer odors from entering the home before traveling down a drainpipe that leads to either a city sewer or a home’s septic system.

Floor drains also have cleanouts located just under the grate that bypasses the trap, allowing you or a plumber to access the line in the event of a clog. A cleanout typically has a cap on it that is removed for servicing.

Some floor drains have valves that prevent water from backflowing into the basement if the city sewer system backs up.

Health Risks During a Basement Drain Backing Up

I have discussed thoroughly the health risks using CDC documentation and arranging it together to make it more readable in this article and in this one also discussing other types of risks.

Deep cleaning the affected area of a clogged sewage drain is essential to making your home livable and safe again. There are health risks associated with sewage leaks including exposure to Dysentery, Salmonellosis, and Hepatitis A.

Electrocution is also a major concern when dealing with the flooding associated with sewage backups. Make sure that you have shut off the gas and electricity before entering a flooded basement.

Sewage water is nothing to mess around with, and should be taken seriously. If you find a sewage backup in your basement, it’s crucial to deal with it in a timely fashion.

The pungent odor of sewage can actually make you sick. There are toxic gases in sewage that can cause anything from skin irritation to organ damage and death.

But if you take the proper safety precautions by wearing the right gear and work on solving the problem immediately, your risk of illness is much lower.

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BY M. Kogan

Hello, I am Marcio. I am an architect and designer, alma mater is Mackenzie. Retired in theory, but an architect never retires completely. Along with architectural projects, I am a filmmaker and have completed some short documentaries. Filmmaking and design are my passions. In HomeQN I write about home decoration and foundations. The goal is to teach homeowners to DYI as much as possible, and when this is not possible, enable them through knowledge, to evaluate service quotations and choose the best service technicians.

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