A sewer backup is a nightmare for homeowners and commercial property owners alike. Not only does it cause a massive disruption in the normal flow of the day, but it can also pose a very serious health hazard. Not to mention the very real costs that go into cleaning up a potentially toxic mess that no one is going to forget any time soon. For commercial properties, this can pose an even more serious liability concern.

If you are dealing with a sewer backup in your home, business, or commercial property, you can use the following guide to help minimize problems and speed the cleanup process.

Discovering & Dealing With A Sewer Backup

Despite what Hollywood movies depict, a lot of sewer backups are not geysers of effluent sewage spraying out into the street. A lot of sewer backups that aren’t linked to local weather events or flooded streets start out seemingly small.

This might be a blocked pipe that cracks in a home or office building’s wet wall, or a gate valve with a faulty seal that leaks a small amount of sewage. Most start in the lower portions of a building or in a home’s basement, which means they can sometimes buildup out of sight until someone notices a foul odor and goes to investigate.

Turn Off The Water And Evacuate The Surrounding People

Time is of the essence after discovering a sewer backup. Turning off your home or building’s water supply will go a long way toward reducing the spread of the problem. Less water going into toilets and sinks will ultimately reduce the volume that comes out of the upper plumbing system.

This might be somewhat futile though if the sewer backup is coming from a failure in the municipal sewer system. Though every reduction of liquid into the system will certainly help.

You also need to evacuate everyone from the area and block off any areas like bathrooms or basement sumps where the effluent liquid is building up. Beyond the obvious pathogen concerns, sewage can also release toxic gasses that can spread quickly to cover a great distance in a relatively short amount of time.

If possible, try to open as many windows and turn on as many vents in the area as possible. This will help reduce the buildup of toxic gases and dissipate them.

Contact A Plumber & Cleanup Specialist Or The Municipality

If the sewage backup is caused by a problem in the municipal sewer system, you need to contact the local authorities as soon as possible. They may be able to close off valves, divert system flow, or help remedy the problem with their own equipment.

If the sewer backup is caused by a plumbing fault in your home or office building, then you need to contact an emergency plumber to have the plumbing component of the problem dealt with as soon as possible. Your very next call should be to a professional cleanup specialist like Building Services. This way the plumber and the cleaning technicians can work hand in hand to affect the best possible solution.

Can I Handle A Sewer Backup On My Own?

If you are a homeowner with a minor sewage leak caused by a fault in your own plumbing system, you might be able to handle the cleanup on your own. Though you will still be putting yourself and others at serious health risk.

The level of sanitizing and the equipment needed to safely remove all traces of effluent sewage liquid can be challenging with the products that are available at the consumer level. What you might be left with is a home that looks relatively “Back to Normal” but still has foul odors, and is at high risk for dangerous indoor mold problems.

A more significant sewer backup in a home or one that affects a commercial property certainly needs to be dealt with by trained professionals. Commercial properties also have much higher levels of liability as well as health and safety codes that need to be met. Professional sewage cleanup ensures that these stringent requirements are met and that you have all the necessary documentation to prove it.

What Do I Need To Clean A Sewer Backup?

Right off the bat, you need to ensure that everyone entering the affected area has the proper personal protection equipment. This includes:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Rubber boots
  • Protective eyewear
  • A high-quality facemask

While cleaning up you need to make every effort to ensure that your skin doesn’t come in direct contact with any wastewater, which can cause a serious infection. You also need to close any doors between the contaminated area to prevent accidental access and reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Once all the safety issues have been addressed, you can start pumping out the sewage with a sump pump or a large wet-dry shop vac. Make sure that all effluent liquids are pumped out to safe systems or properly operating pipes. Any wastewater that is pumped into the surrounding environment can be a serious threat to the local watershed, the groundwater and could result in a major EPA violation.

Any sewage-soaked materials like upholstered furniture and carpeting need to be removed and properly disposed of. If you have any concerns, it’s best to throw them out.

Once you are done with wastewater removal, and you’ve removed all soaked materials, you can start the process of thoroughly drying the area. This might call for the use of fans, dehumidifiers, and high-strength desiccants as well as the strategic use of baking soda. The goal is to remove all traces of moisture to prevent future mold colonization.


Dealing with even a minor sewage backup can be a major problem. If you don’t feel that you are up to the task at hand, you should strongly consider recruiting the services of a professional company like Building Services Inc.

Not only do we have the highly trained and experienced staff to handle all manner of sewage backups, but we also have access to the kind of commercial-grade equipment as well as state-of-the-art cleaning products needed to sanitize the area.

Afterward, we can help you understand the things that need to be done to prevent mold from developing in the affected areas. For a commercial property or a home that might soon go up for sale on the real estate market, we can also provide you with any necessary documentation to affirm to all parties that the problem has been dealt with according to the highest professional standards.