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Sewer Maintenance Tips

Preventing Sewer Line Backup and Overflow

High on the list of experiences nobody wants to have is a sewer backup or overflow. Fortunately, this experience can usually be avoided by being aware of what causes backups and avoiding those causes. The two primary causes of sewer backups and overflows are grease and roots.

Grease is the most frequent cause of sewer problems. If cooking grease or oil is poured down the drain or flushed down toilets, even when followed by hot water, it eventually cools down, congeals, builds up, and hardens, eventually forming a plug in both home and District sewer lines. Over time, this situation creates backups and overflows. This unfortunate situation can be avoided if you:

  • Never pour grease down sink drains or into toilets
  • Scrape grease and food scraps from plates, pots, pans, utensils and grills into a can or the trash for disposal
  • Do not put grease down the garbage disposal. Put baskets/strainers in the sink drains to catch solids and empty into the trash.

Plant roots are another frequent cause of sewer backups and overflows. The roots of shrubs and trees naturally seek any water source. The roots probe the sewer line seeking any opening, such as a crack or a poorly sealed joint. Once the sewer line is penetrated, the roots form a ball and block the line. The best way to avoid root blockages is not to plant trees and shrubs close to your home’s cleanouts or sewer service line. However, if trees or shrubs already are growing near the line, watch for reductions in flows down the drain. If a reduction in flow occurs, have a plumber check the line and clear the blockage if necessary.

Here are some tips that can help prevent clogged lines inside – and outside of your residence:

Mind Your Cleanouts
Cleanouts are a direct line to the sewer and consequently to sewer gas smell.
The following may help with odor problems.

  • Make sure traps are full of water, since the water in floor drains and other drain traps tends to evaporate
  • Make sure all caps are on and secure
  • Sometimes a small amount of bleach poured into the drain can help

Clean Clogged Drains Carefully
Cleaning clogged drains isn’t as easy as dumping a chemical drain cleaner down and waiting. Did you know that there are separate waste removal lines that feed into a larger main line carrying waste water away from your house into the sewer system? Residences have a “soil line” which carries kitchen sink and toilet waste to the main line. They are also equipped with a “waste line” which handles showers and bathroom sinks. This means there are two opportunities for clogs before the main line, which itself can be clogged. Part of sewer drain cleaning is discovering what part of your system has the problem.

  • Use liquid drain cleaners instead of crystal drain cleaners. Crystal drain cleaners may solidify in your pipes.
  • Experts say you should never use a chemical drain cleaner to fix a “total blockage”. You’ll need the aid of a sewer jetter, which blasts away the blockage and restores the pipes to a more pristine condition. After using a sewer jetter, it’s a good idea to test the integrity of your sewer systems using a hydrostatic line tester. If there are existing leaks in the pipe system sealed up by debris, that temporary seal was washed away by the sewer jetter. The hydrostatic line tester will help you identify such leaks so you can repair and prevent further damage.
  • Try preventing the problem altogether:
    Once a month, pour one cup of baking soda, followed by one cup of white vinegar down the drain. Wait an hour and flush with warm water. The combination fizzles away most of the buildup. This typically works for showers, tubs and kitchen sink drains.

Be Kind to Your Garbage Disposal

  • Stringy foods such as celery, banana peels, etc. are very hard to grind up and can clog garbage disposals.
  • Lemon peels seem to temporarily take care of bad odors from disposals.
  • Run water while operating your garbage disposal. This will help push foods through and help keep the disposal from clogging. (Cold water is recommended.)

Take Care of Your Toilet

  • Leaking toilets are expensive! Most of the time it is a bad flush valve (the stopper at the bottom of the tank connected to the handle). Any hardware store carries flush valves. They are inexpensive and fairly easy to install.
  • Make sure the water level in the tank is where it is supposed to be. (See water line in tank).
  • Toilet water ports or jets can become plugged with calcium buildup from hard water. You will find several ports under the rim of the toilet bowl. Take a metal coat hanger and poke the end of the hanger up into the ports to clear them. Also check the main port at the bottom of the toilet stool.
  • If your toilet is clogged, don’t use chemical drain openers. Try running a cable through the shower drain (since they are connected). If that doesn’t work, call a professional plumber.


What you put down your drain or flush down your toilet can negatively impact the environment.


  • Never pour grease down the sink drain or toilet. Grease cannot be broken down effectively during the wastewater treatment process. Just like a steady diet of greasy food can clog your arteries, grease flushed down the pipes blocks sewers.
  • Grease clings to pipes and builds up over time.
  • Cold weather solidifies grease.
  • Blocked sewage (sewer backup) can surge up through sinks, floor drains and toilets and make for a very, very messy cleanup.

How to Dispose of Grease Properly

  • Before washing dishes, scrape hardened grease into the garbage.
  • Additives claiming to reduce grease may only pass grease further into the pipe.

Other Items NOT to Flush Down the Toilet or Pour Down the Drain

  • Sticks
  • Rags
  • Paper towels
  • Sanitary napkins
  • Diapers
  • Household Hazardous Waste
  • Metal objects