Most of us trust our plumbing to do its job when we flush the toilet, rinse off in the shower or grind up food in the garbage disposal. But sometimes problems — and sewage — come up. Knowing how to unclog a sewer line is a great skill in these situations.
Has the performance of your plumbing seemed subpar lately? If you’ve noticed backups, unusual noises or other indications of a blockage, you may have a clog in your sewer line. Here are some red flags and possible solutions to a sewer main problem.
1. Look for signs of a sewer line clog
Toilets have the most direct connection to your home’s sewer main, which makes them the front line of any potential problem. One of the first indications of an issue with your sewer line is toilets that back up and fail to flush properly.
Wastewater — which will have an unpleasant odor and brownish color — coming up the drains of your bathtub or shower also indicates a potentially plugged-up pipe and could mean you may have serious situation. In fact, be wary of a backup in any of your drains, including the one in your washing machine. You also may notice backups in multiple drains at the same time if you have a sewer line clog.
2. Pay attention to these additional indicators
Other signs that may point to a problem: A noticeable decrease of water pressure from your home’s fixtures, bubbling or gurgling sounds coming from drains or plumbing, a sudden unexplained increase in your water bill or the appearance of depressions in your lawn.
Water or sewage may also back up in your basement if you have a sewer line clog.
3. Try these DIY methods
If you only have a minor clog, some easy DIY methods might help to alleviate the problem. Try using an old-fashioned plunger to unclog a backed-up toilet, bath drain or even a sink. A drain stick from a home improvement store may also work for minor clogs, like those caused by an accumulation of hair. If you own a snake, try unclogging a more stubborn drain using that handy tool.
Avoid the temptation to pour chemicals down drains that are draining slowly or backing up, as those products sometimes do more harm than good. Don’t touch wastewater and wear clothing to protect your skin and eyes when using any DIY method to unclog a drain or clean up after flooding.
Unfortunately, DIY methods won’t suffice if it turns out you do have a major clog in your sewer line.
4. Enlist professional help
If your DIY efforts fail to produce the desired results, all signs indicate a bigger problem than you can handle or that a backup is causing collateral damage to your home. It might be time to call a company with experience handling major plumbing issues, who knows exactly how to unclog a sewer line. Letting problems percolate could also mean more expensive repairs. You could have tree roots growing into your sewer main, another major obstruction, or collapsed sections of pipe, which are problems better left to plumbing professionals.
Depending on the cause of your problem, a service provider may be able to auger out root incursion, unclog other debris and repair or replace sections of pipe. In some cases, a full sewer replacement may be needed.
5. Take these preventive measures
To avoid future sewer line clogs, avoid flushing anything other than organic waste and regular toilet paper. That includes feminine hygiene products, disposable wet wipes and other similar items. Use hair screens on bathroom and shower drains. Put fibrous foods, beans and rice, or eggshells into the trash instead of your garbage disposal. Don’t put solid waste or other materials that may harm your plumbing down the drain.
Finally, if you don’t know the condition of your sewer line — and especially if you live in an older home — consider hiring a professional do a sewer inspection. A video survey of your sewer can help identify any developing problems.
By learning how to unclog a sewer line, hopefully you'll be equipped to fix the problem yourself.