What To Do About a Clogged Main Sewer Line?

Although some systems of your home or business function behind the scenes, when something goes wrong, it becomes immediately evident how important these support systems are to the overall well-being of the property. One of the most frustrating aspects of being a homeowner in Phoenix involves a malfunction of a major house system such as plumbing. Plumbing concerns can be difficult to diagnose and treat, especially when the culprit is a clogged sewer line. Many individuals confuse symptoms of a common clog in a toilet or interior household plumbing with a blockage in a major sewer line. Learning to identify the symptoms of a main sewer line clog, the steps toward treating the problem, and when to bring in a professional for a sewer line cleanout can help make this problem a lot less daunting.

Clogged Sewer Line Causes

Although sewer line issues can occur in any home or business building, they are most common in older homes and buildings with trees on the property. A common misconception is that most mainline clogs are caused by flushing sanitary products. Although a large amount of these products could lead to a clog somewhere within the plumbing system, mainline sewer pipes are large in diameter and difficult to clog with bulk products alone.

The most common culprit for main sewer line issues involves tree roots growing into the pipes. Tree roots are able to find small cracks in large pipes and flourish by using the abundant nutrient source found within. Once the tree roots breach the pipe, they are able to grow larger and more numerous, leading to a network of roots within the sewer system. At that point, debris such as toilet paper and other bulk products get stuck on the roots and lead to a clog large enough to block the entire pipe and cause back-up issues into the building. In other cases, what is thought to be a clogged line is actually a broken sewer line that is causing similar symptoms like a blocked one. Broken pipes cannot flow properly to the sewer system or septic tank and will lead to a backflow back into the building.

Symptoms of a Clogged Sewer Line

Plumbing issues can be caused by a variety of system issues, but a few signs can point specifically to a main sewer line blockage. It is important to distinguish between a mainline issue and a normal clog because problems involving the main sewer line often need professional intervention. Although a professional may be needed for a definite diagnosis, some specific problems can point to a major blockage in a sewer pipe instead of a superficial clog somewhere in the building’s plumbing system.

All sinks and showers are slow to drain

When one sink or bathtub drains slowly but the others are operating normally, the clog is usually related to that one particular drain and can be unclogged using conventional drain unclogging methods such as chemical clog removers or a rooter that can be found in home improvement stores. If all house or other building drains are having difficulty emptying, the problem could be the main sewer line instead.

Multiple toilets are having trouble flushing

If toilets are functioning properly but the sinks are having trouble draining, the plumbing problem could still lie within the building. When a building has a mainline sewer problem, toilets are almost always involved. One toilet could mean a clog within a nearby drain, but if all toilets are affected the main sewer could be to blame.

Different drains are affecting one another

The telltale sign of a main sewer line blockage is when one area of plumbing causes issues with another area of the house or building. The best example of this is when you flush the toilet and instead of flowing freely out of the line, the water or sewage backs up into the shower or tub. This can also happen when using the washing machine. When the washing machine drains, the toilet can overflow or a backup can come out of the shower drain. In some cases, just running water in a sink can cause the toilet to gurgle or the toilet water level to begin to rise.

If you are experiencing what you think is a simple plumbing clog and you have tried a variety of methods to solve the problem, don’t count out the idea that a main sewer line clog could be involved. If you are unsure and the problem is persistent, contacting a professional may be your best bet.

How To Unclog a Sewer Line

Sometimes a blockage is located easily within the household plumbing system. In these cases, you can often treat them yourself with a rooter snake or through chemical products that break down the clogs.

Professional drain cleaners can also come in for more stubborn superficial clogs and use a commercial-grade snake or hydro jetting to break down the clog. If you have tried conventional unclogging methods and your plumbing system is showing signs of a major clog in the main sewer line, it is possible that you are facing a blockage in the main sewer pipe instead. Even with a sewer pipe blockage, there are still some steps you can take to attempt to unclog the mainline yourself.

Release sewer line pressure

The first course of action is to drain out any standing water from your drains by releasing the pressure that has built up inside the pipe using the sewer line cleanout. Every home has a cleanout pipe and it could be located in the yard, on the roof, or in a basement if you have one.

Water should be turned off to the house completely using the main water line shutoff, then the cleanout pipe should be uncapped so pressure can be released and the back-up water or sewage can begin to drain out. The release of pressure is not a fix to the problem, but a temporary forced drainage of the immediate water backup.

View the blockage

Before deciding to tackle the clog yourself, you can choose to rent a camera that can be fed into the line to view the source and exact location of the clog. This inspection is best performed by a professional since the technician can also identify small cracks or breaches in the pipeline that should be addressed to prevent damage in the future.

A camera inspection can also identify the case of a broken pipe since the symptoms can be similar to a clogged one. Broken pipes cannot be fixed through conventional methods, so knowing about this in advance can prevent the time and effort of trying to unclog a blockage that does not exist. Another option for camera inspection is to wait until clog removal has been unsuccessfully attempted by the least invasive methods.

Attempt to chemically break down the blockage

Several chemical choices are available that can help break down roots and other debris within the main sewer pipe. Herbicide foam can be used to kill tree roots that are causing the immediate blockage, though it will not prevent new roots from growing in the cracks or loose junctions in the mainline pipe.

The foam might take some time to kill off all of the roots causing the clog. Another option is copper sulfate that can be flushed down the toilet, though this chemical is not allowed in all areas and might not be appropriate for septic systems. Conventional drain unclogging chemicals that are poured down the sink or toilet will typically not have any effect on a clog in the main sewer line.

Physical blockage removal

If your sink or toilet has clogged in the past, you may be familiar with a drain snake. Although a drain snake can get out clogs in the superficial system, it takes commercial-grade equipment to remove a clog at the main sewer line level. This equipment is often available for rent, but with the disclaimer that using it improperly can cause permanent damage to your sewer line.

The cable snake is flexible and pushes through the sewer line until it reaches the clogged area and then manually breaks up the debris to attempt to release the blockage. Another physical breakdown option is the use of commercial-grade, high-pressure water similar to a pressure washer that sends a powerful jet through the pipe and can break down the clog.

Day & Night Air Conditioning & Plumbing

As with all major systems of your house, regular cleaning and maintenance of your plumbing system can help prevent major problems down the road. Even with regular cleaning, some plumbing problems can be out of your control due to the age of your pipes or the physical aspects of your property.

A blockage in the main sewer line of your home or business can lead to real plumbing problems that cannot be ignored. Although do-it-yourself options exist, sewer issues of this magnitude are often best left up to professional help since improper use of chemicals or physical removal systems can cause costly new damage to your pipes. By properly identifying the problem, you can decide if you want to save the hassle and expense of self-treatment and instead call on the help of Day & Night Air Conditioning & Plumbing.

If you are in the Phoenix, Arizona area and believe you have a main sewer line clog, contact Day & Night Air for an inspection or to schedule a blockage removal today.

If you would like to talk to us directly, please call us at (602) 956-9404


Image Credit: Shutterstock/ Andrea Danti