Are sewage backups dangerous or do they just smell bad?

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Toilet Backup

Sewage backup

Can’t I just mop up a sewage backup and call it good?

A sewage backup is without a doubt one of the grossest issues that can happen to your house. And sometimes when it starts, it’s very hard to reverse. Entire homes have been flooded with refuse, causing carpets, floors, woodwork, and cabinets to require replacements. But what about when you only have a little bit come back up? Maybe it only made it a few feet out of your toilet and is localized to your bathroom. Can you just wipe it up and have your local plumbers come by and fix it? This may seem like enough, but the lingering problems can remain. While popular TV might show the sewer as fun or even glamorous place to live, the truth is that sewers are by nature dirty; meaning professional cleaning is highly recommended.

Toilet Backup

What causes sewers to back up?

If you haven’t had the misfortune of dealing with a sewage backup in your property, there are a few important things that you can do to make sure that your home stays pristine. Sewage backups are generally caused by one of three things: A major clog, tree roots, and a broken sewer line, any of which should be addressed right away.

Clogs are the most common of sewage issues

By far the most common culprit of sewers betraying their function is a clog. Fortunately, small clogs usually aren’t too damaging. If you have a something that’s barely obstructing your pipes, there are a few easy ways to get rid of it.

  • In your toilet, the obvious approach is to try plunging first. As long as your plunger can create a seal around the toilet hole, this will often force the obstruction through and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.
  • For sinks, getting the clog out can be a little more challenging. Generally, you won’t have a problem with sewage in your sink, although it has been known to happen. Try a drain cleaner or plumbing snake to extract it.
  • Did you know you can use the plunger on your sink too? It’s true! While it is a little more complicated than with the toilet, follow these steps and you may be able to remove more stubborn clogs on your own.

Pipes Tree Roots PortlandTree roots can stop your sewer from working properly

Something that’s more difficult to detect is tree roots causing backups in the sewer. If you try all of the conventional clog removal techniques to no avail, the problem may not be a clog at all. And often when it’s not, tree roots are the next likely cause.  But what if you don’t have any trees in your yard? Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily stop roots. Tree root systems, especially larger, taller trees, are expansive and can spread a significant distance. While you might not have any trees over your sewer line–or even in your yard–what about your neighbor? Their tall tree could have roots that eventually stretch to your yard and if you’re unlucky, grow right into your pipes!


Sometimes, the sewer line simply breaks

Sewer pipes have a long lifespan because of the material that they transport. They’re built to withstand a lot of abuse, and typical usage won’t phase them for decades. But what if it has been decades since those pipes have been put in? It’s not uncommon for some homes near Portland to have sewage lines that are 50 or even 100 years old. After functioning properly for a century, these pipes can eventually give in and collapse; leaving you to clean up the mess. Your local plumbing contractor should be able to do a sewer line inspection if you suspect a wider issue which will check for tree roots as well as the condition of your pipes.

What problems does sewage cause for your home or office?

A sewage backup is considered a significant threat to your property. It quickly damages anything it comes in contact with, and while some things can be professionally cleaned, others will need to be replaced. And while the odor of sewage is hard to deal with, the associated health effects are far more damaging.

Sewage is a category 3 water damage event

Not all water damage is equal. A tap inside your home that releases purified water that overflows is far less harmful than your sewage line breaking and flooding your house. Because there is such a difference in water damage, it is split into three categories:

  • Sewage Cleanup PortlandCategory 1 water is clean from the source. This doesn’t mean that it’s free of contaminants by the time it gets to you though, as it often goes through soil or picks up germs from the floor of your property.
  • Category 2 water comes from a source that doesn’t start clean. Water from here will also carry more germs and bacteria, and tends to move towards room temperature that promotes the growth of these microbes.
  • Category 3 water is highly contaminated and can cause serious illness or death if consumed. Sewage is one of the strongest types of category 3 water, and people can get sick easily from simply coming into contact with it.

If sewage dangerous even to touch, how does it get properly cleaned?

The most important thing when handling a sewage backup is to wear comprehensive protection. And your professional water and sewer damage restoration company knows exactly what kind of safeguards are needed. Because sewage can be so dangerous, you should leave the cleanup to your local experts. However, there are a few things that you can do in the meantime to help make the process easier and mitigate damage after calling them.

  1. First, make sure to keep everyone out of the area with the sewage backup. This includes pets as well, as they can easily become sick too.
  2. Next, if you have rubber boots and gloves, put these on. The longer these are, the better; you don’t want any splashing on your skin. Wearing a protective poncho or at least long sleeves can help as well.
  3. Keep the windows open to allow air flow. Stagnant air is one of the optimal conditions for bacteria and disease growth, so it’s important to get air circulating in the area.
  4. In your protective clothing, if the sewage is coming out of a fixture, turn off the water to the fixture if you can. You may also need to turn off the water main if that doesn’t work.
  5. Wait for the professional sewage backup cleanup to arrive and they’ll tell you what to do next.

Most importantly, make sure to keep you and your family safe!