A clogged sewer line can be a severe problem that may qualify as a plumbing emergency and a potential health concern.
Without a route to the central septic field or sewer system, wastewater may have nowhere to go but to reverse up your connections or up floor drains. When encountering a sewer line drain clog, you should not use any of the pipes in the house until the blockage is fixed.
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Sewer Drain Basics
Houses with city sewer service have a single horizontal sewer drain pipe flowing underground from the house to the street. The drain pipe usually is 4 inches in diameter but can be as small as 3 inches.
This central drain pipe under the yard is attached to the main drain in the house, which allows the wastewater from the branch drains assisting each plumbing fixture, including showers, tubs, sinks, toilets, as well as the washing machine. These branch drains are smaller pipes, typically 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
If the central sewer drain is obstructed, it can eventually back up every drain, which is why such a clog can be so terrible. At the very least, a clogged sewer line may make wastewater and raw sewage to back up through drains in the basement or floor of the house.
Signs of a Central Sewer Drain Clog
Multiple Fixtures Are Clogged
A noticeable sign of a clogged sewer line is when more than one fixture backs up at the same time. Toilets are usually the first fixture to encounter problems, but any other low-lying fittings can be affected, such as a bathtub or shower on the main level of the house. If you assume that you have a drain clog, start by inspecting the toilet, followed by another fixture.
Unusual Reactions When Using Fixtures
Check for behavior or odd sounds at the next fixtures, beginning at the lowest level of the house. The central sewer drains normally become clogged someplace between your home and the street, and because backups start at clogs and move up, so the deepest fixtures and usually drains back up first.
Toilets: Toilets have the most immediate route to the central drain and use the most critical drain pipes of all fixtures, so this is where issues happen first. You may see that a toilet does not flush thoroughly, or that it gurgles when water is going down a tub, sink, or washing machine. This is a significant sign of the central drain issue.
Shower and Tub: Other drains affected by the mainline stoppage are the tub and shower.
This is because they sit at a lower level compared to sink drains. Examine to see if the shower drains and tubs are clogged. Showers and tubs may fill with wastewater as well when a backup occurs.
Piping System: Another unusual response to look for is trapped air in the piping system. If you turn water in a tub—especially a pan nearby the toilet—you may hear the toilet gurgle or notice the water rise.
Washing machine: An unexpected indication of a clogged sewer drain can occur when you use the washing machine. If the water flowing out of the washing machine makes the toilet overflow or backs up in the tub or shower, it is a good sign the sewer drain is clogged.
Checking the Main Clean-Out Fitting—Carefully
A drain clean-out is a unique fitting or a short pipe connected to a sewer pipe. It usually has a round threaded plug with a square, nut-like stub on end. It can be placed at the bottom of the large vertical soil stack or sometimes installed on the floor where the horizontal central drain pipe flows to the sewer main.
Clutching the nut with pliers or a pipe wrench lets you unfasten and remove the plug to obtain the inside of the pipe. A lot of homes have at least one clean-out on their main drain or main sewer line.
They are in the basement or crawlspace or the yard. If your issue will need assistance from a sewer professional, this is the fitting he will use to try to clean the central drain.
However, be extremely careful before removing a clean-out plug in the crawlspace or basement. If your central drain backed up in the house, there might be a lot of pressure—and wastewater—in the pipe; any water and waste in the tube above the clean-out fitting will gush out as soon as the plug is released.
If you start to see wastewater seeping out as you loosen the cap, it is a sign that you should fasten it back.
If your clean-out fitting is outside, you can try to remove the plug, but be cautious. Moreover, if water oozes out while you are loosening the cap, tighten the socket and phone a plumber or drain expert. If you can remove the plug with no spill-over, inspect the drain with a spotlight; water in the pipe means a clog in the central pipe.
What to Do If Your Central Sewer Drain Is Clogged
Do not run water or flush the toilet!
If you do not add water to the drain system, you cannot make the issue worse. As an added precaution, you can turn off the main water supply to your house, so no one turns the water on by chance.
Inform everyone in the house not to use water, then call a drain specialist or plumber to have the drain unblocked. These professionals have specialized tools, including motorized augers, to effectively and quickly eliminate large clogs in the central sewer drains.