Sewer Drain Clog Symptoms

By Linda Cameron

Sewer drain and sewer line clogs synonymously describe clogged plumbing. But when does a sewer drain clog become a sewer line clog? Here are comparisons, sewer drain clog symptoms and a few prevention tips.

Drain Clog vs. Line Clog 

What’s the difference between a sewer drain clog and a sewer line clog? First, there’s a difference between a sewer drain and a sanitary sewer line. A sewer drain carries waste and water through a pipeline that connects to a sanitary sewer line. When a drain becomes clogged, we think of the drain pipe attached to plumbing fixtures: sink, bathtub, shower, toilet, washing appliances and sink disposal. We notice a drain clog when something odd happens to these fixtures.

A sanitary sewer line consists of connected pipes that carries industrial and household waste to the nearest wastewater treatment plant or septic system. A sewer line clog is something only a plumbing pro can diagnose with special plumbing instruments. Drain clogs can block a sanitary sewer line. However, a sanitary sewer line clog can be structurally attached to the property. For example, older residential or commercial buildings might have tree roots that block or damage the sewer pipes. Also, basement drains can back up if enough dirt and debris fill the sewer line.

Symptoms Of A Clogged Sewer Drain  

Most of us are familiar with drain clogs in the kitchen and bathroom. Improper maintenance can cause a plumbing fixture to clog. But clogging can also originate from someone else’s kitchen or bath. In multi-family homes and multi-story commercial buildings, it’s not unusual to see a drain back up with someone else’s junk. Here are the warning signs of a clogged sewer drain:

  • Debris backs into your sink, tub, disposal or other plumbing fixture.
  • The kitchen disposal can no longer break up food particles and has a greasy residue.
  • A washing appliance retains a puddle of water after a cleaning cycle completes.
  • Water from the kitchen tap, disposal, bathtub faucet, showerhead or washing appliance struggles down the drain.
  • The toilet backs up when flushed, or water in the bowl overflows or nearly overflows.
  • Gurgling noises come from the toilet or drain(s).
  • Odors creep into plumbing fixtures.

Clogging can affect more than one plumbing fixture. For example, a clogged bathtub or shower drain can also cause the sink to clog if the two fixtures share connective lines. Multiple plumbing fixture backups at the same time or within a coincidental time frame is a strong indicator of a clogged sewer drain. In this scenario, the main sewer line might need extensive repair or replacement.

Big Savings On Draining Repairs Through Ounces Of Drain Clog Prevention 

Unclogging a sewer drain or sanitary sewer line is physically and financially draining. Unless you enjoy plumbing, drain work is downright dirty, unsightly and stenchy. You might get lucky if you want to DIY at drain dredging, but most likely, you’ll summon a plumber through a phone app or troll through an online or phone book listicle. To avoid scrambling when searching for the shutoff valves, depriving yourself of much needed water and sleep, take these precautionary measures:

  • Block debris with an external drain trap before debris blocks your sewer drain. Hardware and home improvement stores and the hardware section of local retailers and retail chains sell inexpensive drain traps that you can place over the opening in the sink(s), shower or bathtub.
  • Clean the filters in your washing machine, dryer and dishwasher.
  • Clean out the basement drain.
  • Have drainage and septic systems cleaned regularly.
  • Degrease and rinse kitchenware and cookware thoroughly before placing in the dishwasher.
  • Don’t toss these into the disposal: bones, fruit pits, citrus peels, egg shells, flour, oil, butter, margarine, cereal, pasta, coffee grounds, coffee filters, tea bags, tea leaves, meat and fibrous foods. Instead, wrap neatly (or place in jars and cans if disposing of cooking oils), and then place in heavy duty trash bags for the dumpster.
  • Don’t use the toilet as a food disposal.
  • Don’t drop solid objects, such as bottle caps and wedding rings, down into the sink, bathtub or toilet. A drain cleaning “snake” can’t snag hard objects. You might need to probe with a sewer snake if the drain is near ground level. Otherwise, you might have to go down to the next floor, break the ceiling, remove and replace the drain pipe above the ceiling, and finally do a plaster repair. A fix of this magnitude takes at least three days. Needless to say, it also costs money and causes inconvenience.
  • Don’t clog the toilet with large pieces of bathroom tissue or personal hygiene products.
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