Sewer backup

What to do after a sewer backup has occurred in your home?

If you compare the frustrations of a flooded basement to those of a backlit sewer, the sewer would probably win by the tip of the nose!

Backing up a sewer is not a pleasant task, given the foul smell and the potentially hazardous materials to your health. Wastewater includes organic and inorganic matter, a mixture of water, human waste, mineral salts and waste that can be discharged into a home as a result of a problem with the underground piping intended to drain the water.

Backflows can occur for a variety of reasons: blockage in pipes; broken, collapsed or cracked sewer lines (especially in older homes); and tree roots entering or having crushed your sewer lines.

Water back-up and sewer backup

Organic matter in raw wastewater can emit odorous gases and contain pathogens that are dangerous to human health. If the sewer is backing up in your basement, or elsewhere, you need to clean the place where it is without delay.

Once you realize there is a backflow of water, check all your sinks, toilets, and sewage pipes to determine if and where there are obstructions. If you can, unblock the obstruction; otherwise, a plumber can take care of it. Try not to use your sinks or toilet until the obstruction is resolved. A blockage in the water mains could result in water backing up in your bathtub or basement.

Never enter your basement when there is standing water until the electricity is cut off! Electrocution can occur through the combination of electricity and water. If you need to turn off the power yourself and can do so safely, take precautions:

  • Wear rubber boots, safety glasses and a face mask;

  • Make sure you don’t come into contact with anything metallic that could conduct electricity;

  • Wear rubber gloves or use a wooden stick to cut off electricity.

Open a few windows in the flooded area to allow fresh air to enter the rooms and vapors to escape. You can also add a little bleach to any standing water to get some disinfection. Be sure to keep children and pets out of the affected area.

Also, document the damage by taking photos with your cell phone or camera. Your insurance could cover water damage and you’ll want to be able to illustrate the initial impact and the resulting damage. Don’t forget to call your insurance agent to report the problem.

Cleaning a sewer backup in your home

Once the obstruction has been removed and/or the pipes have been repaired, the water should recede and you can then proceed with the remediation. This is a thankless task that you can choose to entrust to professionals, but that you can certainly tackle it yourself. After cleaning, wash the clothes you wear and take a shower or bath to avoid any damage to your body.

During cleaning, start from the top and descend by spraying the furniture and walls with a water jet to remove any sticky dirt. Wash all surfaces, including floors, with warm or hot water and a low-foam detergent.

To disinfect these surfaces, mix four volumes of water, one volume of bleach, and a small amount of ammonia-free dishwashing liquid to clean all surfaces. Never use ammonia with a chlorine bleach, as the mixture produces toxic fumes. Rinse thoroughly and repeat as needed. Be careful not to leave traces of dirt in unaffected areas of the house.

Clean or throw away following a backflow?

After sewage has invaded your home, you’ll wonder which of your belongings you can safely keep and which should be discarded.

As you conduct your inspection, consider the porosity of surfaces or elements and their permeability factor, which is the rate at which a surface allows moisture to spread to it, if any. The more porous the product, the higher the permeability factor and the more necessary it is to throw away to prevent it from contaminating your home.

Items that should not be kept include carpet upholstery, carpets, cardboard boxes, books, mattresses, laminate floors, unpainted drywall and upholstery fabrics. Clothes and toys should be discarded unless they are cleaned and disinfected.

Semi-porous materials can usually be recovered if you process them without delay. These include cabinets, vinyl siding, wall coverings and painted drywall.

As for non-porous materials, they can almost always be spared, depending on how long they have been soaked by raw wastewater. If wastewater is present for a while, the risk of black mold formation is higher. Take care of these materials within hours of the damage, otherwise they cannot be recovered. The list of these materials includes tiles, concrete, formica and linoleum.


It goes without saying that the most important thing is to prevent this disaster from happening again. Prevention can be as simple as installing a non-return water valve or a sewer check valve. The latter is installed on your sewer line and is designed to prevent sewage from entering your home. While no one wants to deal with a sewer backup and subsequent cleaning, if it does, it’s important to take the necessary steps to restore your home to its former glory.

Yes, sewer backups are odorous, horrible and terrible phenomena, but not unmanageable. A river of droppings spreading around his feet seems like a nightmare, but the possibility is all too real. If such a misfortune were to happen to you, it is essential, despite the horror of the situation, to show discernment, prudence and responsiveness.