How to unclog or replace a home sewer line



The sewer lines for your home play a critical role in ensuring your home is a clean and healthy place. Your drain lines take the wastewater away from all the drains and toilets in your home, preventing the waste from contaminating your water system. If these lines get clogged, however, it can cause tremendous plumbing problems. You might even have water backing up throughout your fixtures.

Knowing what to do when facing this problem can help you respond calmly and resolve the issue. We will explore what you need to know about unclogging sewer lines and what you should do if you experience a blockage in your home sewer line.


What causes a clogged sewer line?

A clogged sewer line often results from significant damage to the pipe, as most lines are between 4 and 6 inches in diameter. With that width, the pipe can withstand considerable disruption before the blockage becomes significant enough to cause problems for the home’s main drain. However, clogs can occur due to the following reasons:

  • Damage to the sewer line, such as from construction and heavy machinery used near the pipe
  • Natural damage to the sewer line, such as from tree roots growing above or below the sewer line
  • Significant buildup in the drainage lines from depositing things like grease and fats down the drain (which eventually cool, harden and stick to the inside of the pipes)
  • Sending things down the sewer system that should not be disposed of in the pipes, such as paper towels or sanitary pads
  • Corrosion within the pipe or the pipe gradually sagging over time (creating bends and bumps in the line and making it easier for buildups to occur)

There are some common signs of a clogged sewer line. Here are some indications that you may have a clog.


Telltale signs that your sewer line may be clogged

If you see one of the following symptoms, it is a good indication of a problem in your sewer line. These warning signs tell you to investigate potential causes of the issue before it becomes even harder to correct. Letting a clogged sewer line go untreated can quickly lead to deteriorating and unhealthy conditions. 

Dark water

A clog in your sewer line creates a situation where draining water has nowhere to go. 

When you have a clogged drain, the water from your dishwasher and drains will go back up the line and likely pool in the lowest entry point. For this reason, you will often see this symptom in the sink drains of basement bathrooms, floor drains or other water sources on the home’s lowest level.

Keep in mind that the color and smell of this water will be your biggest indication that this is not just flooding water. Unlike water that gets into the home because of flooding, this water will be dark and putrid. It can contain raw sewage, which calls for the necessary precautions when cleaning it up.

Gurgling sounds

The clog in your sewer system means that water might struggle when you use your sink drains, washing machine or tubs, creating gurgling noises as it tries to get past the other water in the pipes. Depending on where the clog is in relation to the plumbing fixture you want to use, you might not hear strange noises in the bathroom or kitchen as you use the water. Instead, it might sound like it’s coming from the walls or floor as water and air bubbles mix and the fluid tries to move toward the drainage lines. If the clog is particularly severe, you might notice noises even after turning off the water.

Slow-moving drains

If you have a clog in your central drainage lines, you will also notice that the water fails to move through the system efficiently. Slow drains might cause water to pool as you try to use your various appliances, such as a bathtub or kitchen sink. 

Note that you often first see this specific symptom with your toilets. Since they connect directly to your sewer line, they are often the first to slow down in their drainage. Soon after, you will start noticing it in other areas of the home.


What to do when your sewer line is clogged

If you notice that your sewer line shows signs of a clog, taking swift action can help prevent the problem from worsening. Take these steps right away to protect your home from a main sewer line clog and solve the problem. 

Turn off the water

Turning off the water in your home will help stop the clog in its tracks. It will help prevent you or someone else in the home from accidentally turning on the water and sending more drainage water rushing toward the clog. Adding more water to the clog can quickly make it worse. Even if you only turn on the faucet in your shower, you could end up causing raw sewage to back up through your basement drains. Turning off the water will prevent these types of catastrophes. Know where your main water line is and close it.

Call a professional plumber

The best way to deal with clogged sewer pipes is to call a professional plumber. Significant issues, such as broken pipes, usually cause most clogs, which makes it hard to complete a DIY project successfully. Unless you are a plumber, you likely lack the necessary tools to clear major clogs or repair broken pipes. 

Plumbers have the experience necessary to determine precisely what happened to your drainage line and how to fix the issue permanently. They can do a camera inspection to closely examine the pipes. Rather than simply putting a bandage on the problem, such as dumping drain cleaner down the drain, they will address the source of the problem and fix any damage to the pipes.


How to unclog a home sewer line

Take a few steps to begin the drain-cleaning process while waiting for the plumber to help with your sewer cleanout. These steps can begin to dislodge the clog and protect your home. Some ideas to try include:

  • Check your sewer line cleanout cap. You can find the sewer line cleanout either in your basement or just outside your home. It will look like a large pipe and have a cap on the end. Remove the cap to access your main sewer line. You may find your clog washed against your cleanout, which means you can pull it out yourself.
  • Run a plumber auger through the sewer line. A plumbing auger may help break up some of the clog or debris. In most situations, the auger will not suffice to clear the clog completely — but it might help a little so you do not have as much backup.
  • Use a drain snake in your sewer line. Snaking your sewer line can also help. Like the plumbing auger, it generally will not clear the clog completely. Even if you just break up the clog a little, you can get some of the water moving in the right direction to sufficiently clean up any backflow.
  • Try a chemical cleaner. A chemical cleaner is what many homeowners turn to first when they realize they have a clog. It will not solve major clogs; however, it can make some of the lines clear enough to get some water through and clean up any messes.

Thoroughly cleaning out your blocked sewer line requires the assistance of a professional, but taking steps to minimize the damage while waiting for the plumber can keep your home safe and livable. 


Sewer line repair and replacement

If you have a damaged sewer line, a professional will need to help you repair it. You need to complete this type of job accurately and carefully, which means working with a professional is your best option. A plumber may use one of two common strategies: pipe lining or pipe bursting.

  • Pipe lining: Pipe lining involves inserting an inflatable tube into the sewer line. The tube contains an epoxy that hardens around the inside of the pipe to fix the damage. This system works best when the pipe damage is minimal.
  • Pipe bursting: If the pipe has had more damage than a pipe lining can fix, trained technicians can move a cone-shaped piece of pipe through the sewer line to replace the broken piece of pipe.

If neither of these methods works, the plumber might have to do a yard excavation to access the damaged pipe.


Sewer line FAQ

When homeowners encounter clogged sewer lines, they often have a variety of questions and concerns about the process. Let’s explore some frequently asked questions.

Can I unclog a sewer line myself?

Most people cannot fully unclog a sewer line themselves. You will need the help of a professional plumber to find the source of the sewer drain clog and completely fix it. 

A clogged sewer line generally means significant damage to the pipes, such as from tree roots or a large compilation of debris. Without proper plumbing equipment, homeowners cannot clear the clog themselves fully. However, you can take steps to minimize the damage of the clog and clean up your home while waiting for the plumber.

How long will a sewer line last?

The life span of your sewer line will depend on its material. Specifically, Orangeburg pipes will last about 30 to 50 years, clay pipes will last 50 to 60 years, and PVC pipes will last about 100 years before you need to replace them. 

You can often guess the type of material your sewer line is made from based on when your home was built. Orangeburg pipe, made from wood pulp and pitch, was often used between 1860 and 1970, so you might see it in older homes. Before 1980, clay pipes were very common. Generally, PVC has been used in sewer drain lines since the 1980s. Check your home’s information to see if you can determine the material used. 

Does homeowners insurance cover sewer line damage?

Homeowners should familiarize themselves with their specific insurance and warranty plans to determine what will and will not be covered by their homeowners insurance and home warranty plans. In most situations, homeowners insurance will not cover sewer line repair or replacement. However, home warranties do often cover your septic and plumbing systems. 


You can protect your home’s plumbing system with a Cinch home protection plan

Turn to your Cinch Home Services Built-in Systems plan to help you care for your plumbing and sewer system. If your plumbing system experiences a problem, all you need to do is reach out to Cinch. We will connect you to a vetted technician who will come out to diagnose your problem and get you started on the path toward resolving it.

Experience the peace of mind that a Cinch home protection plan can offer. Reach out for an instant quote today! 


Do you have a clog in your home sewer line? Here is how to recognize and resolve this common problem.