3 Common Sewer Backup Causes & Quick Fixes

inside a large sewer drain pipe with a small amount of water in it

A sewer backup is never a fun thing to deal with. Not only are they messy, but there is also a multitude of different sewer backup causes that you will have to consider. This article is going to explore three of the most common sewer backup causes. It is also going to offer some inexpensive, quick fix options that can clear most blockages at home.

#1. Clogs

One of the most common sewer backup causes by far is clogs. Clogs are the result of a type of material causing a blockage in one of your drain pipes within your house. They generally develop over time and have a variety of different causes.

Some of the most common causes of clogs include:

  • Hardened grease.
  • Hair.
  • Feminine hygiene products.
  • Baby wipes.
  • Small toys (Legos and small action figures are prime examples).
  • Dental floss.
  • Cotton swabs.

One of the first signs of a clog is when your drain begins working very slowly. However, some clogs that are caused by things like small toys and non-flushable baby wipes may cause a sudden and complete blockage.

the inside of a bathroom after a backup sewer clog

#2. Roots

Another one of the most common sewer backup causes is tree roots. With time, tree roots can begin to enter your home’s plumbing lines. They can even begin to wrap around pipes and crush them in an attempt to get the water that flows inside.

This process is known as root invasion. It most commonly occurs when there is a small fissure within the pipe transporting water. Once this small crack develops, the tree aggressively begins sending roots to the water site to try to take in nutrients.

One of the most important things to remember about tree roots and plumbing is that prevention is key. Many people recommend using the overall canopy size of a tree as a way to estimate the overall width that the roots are growing. However, this method of estimation is not as accurate as was originally thought.

A better method involves using the diameter of the tree’s trunk. A 2009 study found that the root radius to tree trunk diameter was roughly 38:1. With this ratio in mind, it is possible for a developing tree with a six-inch diameter trunk to have roots that extend out almost 19 feet. Keep this fact in mind when trying to decide where to plant new trees on your property.

an illustration of a sewer backup clog

#3. Sewer Main Blockages

Sewer main blockages are another one of the most common sewer backup causes. These types of issues can occur as a result of clogs that build up over time much like the typical clog you may experience in your household line. The difference between the two is that a sewer main blockage occurs in the portion of piping that your city or district maintains.

With household clogs, you will generally have an issue with specific drains in the house. For example, your toilet may not flush correctly, or your kitchen sink may be draining slowly. With sewer main blockages, the majority of your plumbing will not be draining throughout the house.

It is also common for water to be flooding back into your home from drain openings. Remember, the first thing you should do to minimize damage is to shut off all water supplies of your home and attempt to block all the drain openings. For larger drains like toilets, a string mop is a good solution to help seal the drain.

In addition to being caused by clogs, it is also possible for sewer main blockages to be caused by inadequate system capacity. As cities grow, the stress that the sewage system is placed under grows with it. During times of increased rainfall, it is more likely for the sewage system to encounter problems if it is not adequately developed.

a plumber working to fix a drain pipe

Quick Fixes for Common Sewer Backup Causes

1. Bring Out the Plunger

Nine times out of ten, the plunger should always be your first choice when dealing with sewer backup causes. It can be used on virtually any drain opening including toilets, bathtubs, and sinks.

Try to purchase a plunger with an extension flange. This will resemble a smaller flap that is at the end of the typical bell shape. These are better suited for toilet use, and the flange can be folded in for other drains like sinks.

2. Liquid Drain Cleaners

Liquid drain cleaners have been around for quite some time and can prove to be quite effective when dealing with kitchen sink and bathtub clogs. The most important thing to remember is that liquid drain cleaners cannot be used for toilet clogs. It will eat through the wax seal on the bottom of the toilet and create a leak that is difficult to fix.

For bathtub clogs and sinks, the first step is to focus on the type of clog you have. The two most common types are slow moving drains and complete blockages. For complete blockages, you will want to stick with a gel type drain cleaner. Remember to follow the directions on the label very carefully to minimize the risk of injury. Gels are able to sink through the water to reach the drain and help clear the clog. For best results, remove as much of the water from the sink or tub beforehand as possible.

For slow moving drains, foaming type cleaners are often the better bet. They work much the same way as gel cleaners but have much greater reach. This makes them an ideal pick for garbage disposals, kitchen sinks, and more.

a man's hands repairing a sewer drain

3. Augers

Augers are the perfect way to clear stubborn drains. While generally used by professionals, there are several options available at your local hardware store that are perfect for smaller scaled projects at home.

An auger works by twirling and cutting through clogs that may be in a pipe further down. The best type of auger for basic home use is the hand-cranked variety. These types are more than sufficient for most basic clogs in hard to reach areas. Avoid the electric ones that are designed with professionals in mind.

Bottom Line

Keep in mind that there is a variety of different sewer backup causes to consider. Most are caused by typical day to day use and are very easy to repair on your own. Feel free to try out some of our solutions for yourself and let us know how they worked for you. If you have any plumbing tips worth sharing, then tell us about them in the comments section below.

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