Sewer backup is a troublesome incident that causes a lot of hassle and disruption to daily life – it may not be as destructive as a fire or a tornado, but it presents a variety of health hazards and sanitation issues and may result in considerable property damage and serious personal injury. Therefore, sewage backup has to be dealt with quickly and efficiently – in the event of a sewage spill in your home, you need to evacuate everyone, turn off the power and water supply to the building, and call a plumber and a cleanup specialist to fix the problem.
Depending on the severity of the situation, you may be able to take some steps to limit the damage, salvage your belongings, or even handle the problem yourself. Have in mind though that sewage cleanup is a laborious and dangerous job, so do not undertake the task unless the spill is small and easily manageable.
What to Do After Sewage Backup
Regardless of whether you intend to use professional sewage cleanup services or attempt DIY sewage cleaning, there are some important precautionary measures to take as soon as you notice the problem:
- Evacuate children, seniors, and pets and do not allow them in the affected area until it is restored to a safe condition;
- Contact the utility companies that service your area and have them shut off the electricity, gas, and water supply to your home. If the spill is small and there’s no danger to you, you can turn off the power and water supply yourself (only if the power distribution panel and main water valve are safely above water!) – just make sure you wear appropriate personal protective equipment;
- Open windows to ventilate the area;
- Take any dry, uncontaminated items away;
- Add small amounts of chlorine bleach to standing water – this will ensure some disinfection and prevent bacteria from spreading;
- Notify your insurance company that there has been a sewage backup in your home and make sure you take several pictures of the spill, as well as the water damaged items and structural materials before the cleanup begins (you will need them as proof for your insurance claim).
Do not attempt to unclog drains at this point – the sewage water must be removed before the cause of the spill can be addressed.
If you decide that you can handle the problem yourself, start the cleanup without delay:
How to Clean Up Sewage Backup
As already mentioned, cleaning up sewer backup is a difficult, unpleasant, and risky task. Calling professional cleaners is highly recommended. Keep in mind that you should only consider a DIY sewage backup cleanup in case of a minor spill – one that is confined to a small area of your home (bathroom, part of a kitchen, etc.) and has recently happened. Major spills require professional help. You need to know exactly what to do to safely deal with the problem:
- Wear personal protection gear – rubber gloves, rubber boots, protective eyewear, and a facemask. Make sure your skin doesn’t come in direct contact with the wastewater (or any contaminated items) as sewage spills contain contaminants that can cause serious infections;
- Close the doors between the contaminated area and the other rooms in your home to prevent tracking sewage water and debris into clean areas and to ensure that airborne sewage-contaminated dust won’t be blown into other spaces;
- Remove the sewage water as soon as possible – use a pump if there is a lot of water or a wet-dry vacuum with an appropriate filtration device if the spill is small;
- Shovel dirt, soil, and debris into strong plastic bags and dispose of them immediately;
- Take all items from the affected area to an isolated space with a concrete or tiled floor that can be easily sanitized afterward and keep them there until the plumbing problem is fixed and you can address them properly. Discard anything that has been soaked with contaminated water right away;
- Remove any saturated carpeting, flooring, insulation, wall paneling, baseboards, etc. and dispose of them in a safe and appropriate manner;
- Wash down all the walls, floors, and surfaces in the affected area with hot water and appropriate bactericidal disinfectants. Follow up with a deep-cleaning using quality household detergent and plenty of water. Take extra care when cleaning the floors – scrub them well with a brush dipped in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and four parts water. Rinse thoroughly with clear water;
- Remove the excess water and let the area air-dry (open the windows if the weather is dry and sunny or run dehumidifiers in the room if it’s cold or rainy outside). Keep in mind that it’s very important to dry out the wet area within 24-48 hours after the accident in order to reduce the risk of mold growth;
- Inspect your property for mold – the increased level of indoor moisture in the event of a sewage backup may result in mold growth throughout your home, even on surfaces that have not been in contact with the wastewater. If you find any visible mold, use EPA-approved mold cleaners to kill the spores and disinfect all adjacent surfaces. Call mold mitigation specialists if the damage is extensive;
- Take care of the contaminated items:
- Discard any consumable goods (foods, drinks, spices, etc.) and porous materials (rugs, curtains, upholstery, mattresses, clothes, stuffed toys, books and other paper products, etc.) that have been in direct contact with sewage water;
- Have contaminated items of high sentimental or monetary value professionally inspected – the experts have advanced equipment, specialized cleaning products, and rich experience in dealing with contaminated content, so they will be able to sanitize and restore any salvageable belongings of yours;
- Have upholstered furniture and carpets that have been only slightly affected by the wastewater professionally cleaned;
- Wash all affected items (including furniture and appliances) with antibacterial cleaning products, rinse them well, and take them outside to dry in the sunlight;
- Add one cup of chlorine bleach to the water when washing clothes and linen that have been in minor contact with the contaminated water;
- Place all items from the affected area outside to air out;
- Have the electrical and plumbing systems, as well as any appliances that have been in the contaminated area, professionally checked and repaired, if necessary.
These steps will ensure that your home is properly sanitized and restored to a safe living condition.
When to Call for Professional Help
While professional sewage backup cleanup is always the better bet, it is absolutely necessary if:
- The spill is not confined to a single room of your home;
- The backup occurred more than 24 hours ago (or has been sitting for an unknown number of hours) – bacteria and viruses will have already spread by this point, posing severe threats to your health and making it very risky to deal with the sewage;
- The spill is caused by a sewer or septic tank backup;
- There’s any possibility that sewage water may have come in contact with your home’s air-conditioning system (in this case, professional duct cleaning will be required to ensure the good air quality in your home);
- You or a member of your family have health concerns that may be aggravated by the contaminants in the wastewater.
Keep in mind that the longer the contaminated water sits in your home, the greater the risk of disease and water damage:
- Health hazards – As already mentioned, sewage spills contain contaminants that can cause serious disease, so you need to take care of the problem before bacteria and viruses spread throughout your property and compromise its safety. Sewage cleaning, however, requires handling infectious waste, which makes it dangerous to your health. Wearing personal protective equipment is a must, but it may not be enough to ensure your safety – especially if the sewage has affected large areas of your home (and cannot be dealt with quickly enough) or difficult to clean spaces or equipment, such as your air-conditioning system (and cannot be dealt with efficiently enough), or has remained inside for many hours (and harmful bacteria has already spread). In these cases, you need professional help;
- Property damage – A sewage spill can cause severe water damage to your property and result in mold growth. You will not only need to repair or replace water damaged structural materials (flooring, baseboards, drywall, insulations, etc.) and household items (furniture, appliances, etc.), but you may also need to deal with a mold problem. (And mold can further damage your property and create more issues for your family’s health.)
Using professional sewage cleanup services will help you avoid all the above hazards and have your property restored to its pre-accident condition as quickly as possible. The experts will respond to your situation in a fast and efficient manner – sewage cleanup companies have the specialized cleaning products, advanced equipment, and technical know-how to:
- Remove sewage water and solid waste in a safe and appropriate manner;
- Clean and sanitize the area (and decontaminate the entire home, if necessary);
- Ventilate and dry the area with the help of professional dehumidifiers, air scrubbers, and/or grade air movers;
- Perform water damage restoration throughout the home, including any necessary repair works;
- Clean carpeting and upholstery with steam cleaners or appropriate cleaning products;
- Restore salvageable content to its original condition;
- Remove mold and mitigate mold damage (if necessary) and/or take efficient measures to prevent mold growth in the future.
Depending on how big the sewage spill is (and how severe the damage), sewage cleanup services can cost between $2,000 and $10,000.
Since most sewage cleanup specialists offer not only water extraction, but also quality repair works, odor removal, and content cleanup, they can completely clean, sanitize, and restore your home – they’re your best bet in the event of a large sewage spill in your home. Yet, you may also need the help of:
- Septic specialists – If the spill is caused by a backed-up septic tank, you’ll need a septic specialist (the same company that regularly empties the tank or a plumber that provides emergency drain cleaning services) to fix the tank and prevent future sewage backups in your home. Your septic tank may just need to be pumped and cleaned, or it may need a new pipe or total replacement. Pumping out a septic tank costs about $250, but tank repairs can range from $150 (to replace a pipe) to $5,000 (to replace the entire tank);
- Plumbers – If the spill is caused by a clogged sewer line, you’ll need a drain cleaning specialist to fix the problem. A plumber will typically charge $150 to $300 to clear the line;
- City sewer workers – If you’re tied into a city sewer system, you need to call the sewage department as the backup in your home may be a part of a citywide problem. If it is, the city will handle it.
Either way, the quick and efficient intervention of experienced professionals will save you a lot of time and effort and will provide the most appropriate, safest, and cost-effective solution to the problem. The experts will quickly restore your home to normal, preventing further troubles and helping you get your life back on track as soon as possible. And you may not even need to pay for their services – oftentimes, insurance covers the cost of hiring professional help in the event of a sewage backup.