Often, if you have a toilet backing up, it is because your local drain line is compacted with extra thick toilet paper, sanitary products, wipes, or even paper towels. This can result in water backing up into your toilet, causing an overflow.
But what if both your tub and toilet won’t drain? If you find that your toilet, sink, and shower all are draining more slowly, you may have a more serious problem – a clogged sewer drain line. This might be just a clog under your toilet or a clogged outdoor sewer line. When dealing with a toilet backing up, there are solutions that you can implement before calling in a plumber. With that in mind, let’s take a look at drain clogs, and how you can deal with them.
What Causes a Toilet to Back Up?
Hair, bits of paper products, and other waste cling to the walls of pipes and builds up over time. This happens in sinks, toilets, and other wastewater lines. You can prevent plumbing problems like a toilet backing up, but once you have a clog, here are tips to help deal with it.
How Can I Unclog a Backed-Up Toilet?
Here are a few of the ways you can deal with a toilet backing up:
Use a Plunger to Clear a Clog
You are likely most familiar with this method of unclogging drains. While it’s relatively straightforward, there are a few points to keep in mind:
- Use a flange or toilet plunger instead of a sink plunger. This type of plunger, which is usually made out of black rubber, has a sleeve-like flange at the bottom and a deeper cup than a sink plunger. These types work better for unclogging toilets.
- Make sure to shut off the toilet’s water supply valve. This will help you avoid flooding.
- Add water to the bowl if the toilet is not at least half full, before attempting to unclog.
- Have paper towels or a mop ready, and use your plunger normally: repeatedly push the plunger down while maintaining the seal over the drain opening.
Use a Toilet Auger to Clear a Clog
If a plunger doesn't work, the next step is to use what is called a snake or a toilet auger. The advantage to using an auger is that it allows you to reach much deeper into the drain line and use physical force to dislodge stoppages and waste. Use only a toilet auger, which is designed specifically for unclogging toilets. A metal snake or auger intended for a drain line can scratch your toilet.
Do I Have a Clogged Sewer Line?
It is more difficult to deal with a backed up sewer line or “main line” because this type of blockage is usually outside of your house. A backed up sewer line is caused by things such as tree roots invading the sewer line. Plumbers call this kind of clog and the one you usually use a plunger with as being a drain line clog versus a main-line clog. Evidence of a main-line clog would be multiple backups. This includes water backing up in the shower as well as the toilet overflow. When you have the toilet and shower clogged at the same time, you probably have a clogged sewer line.
What Causes a Blocked Sewer Line?
Over the years, tree roots can find their way into your outside sewer line. These roots are drawn by the nutrients flowing through a sewer line and the warmth of the water. Slowly, tree roots will wrap around the line and find their way in via small cracks or seams in the pipe. Signs of a blocked sewer line are when multiple lines back up, such as when a basement floor drain backs up when the toilet is flushed.
These signs indicate that you have a clogged main line (versus a clogged drain line):
- Backups occur in drains all over the house, as opposed to in one location. For example, both the toilet and shower backing up.
- Problems occur with the washing machine or the dishwasher as well as the drains.
- Strange gurgling occurs when water backs up.
How to Fix a Clogged Sewer Line
When your main sewer line clogs, you have a number of options you can try, without needing to dig up the actual pipes. However, typically it’s best to hire a plumber to deal with a problem with a main sewer line.
If you are handy and don’t mind DIY projects, you might be able to do this yourself. Turn off your main water supply and find the outside sewer cleanout line. It’s a short pipe (usually white) with a 3- to 4-inch screw on the cap (the cap is typically green). When you remove the cap, the pressure in the sewer line may be relieved, which then allows water that is backed up in your home to drain.
There are chemicals you can use to clean out a main line. They work by killing the roots that are causing the clog. Depending on what you use, you may need to do several treatments. It can also take months to completely flush away the dead roots. Bear in mind, many of these chemicals can be bad for the environment, so do your research.
Mechanical Drain Cleaning
Plumbers also use a powered version of the drain auger to tear up and flush away roots. Some also use high power water jets to accomplish the same thing. It is best to have a trained professional do this work as incorrect use can damage pipes.
For sewer line clogs, an inspection with a camera can be helpful. A camera inspection can help show you what is going on in a main line, such as whether or not you have roots invading the pipe. If you hire a plumber, it is a good idea to ask to see what the camera shows once the plumber has it set up.
Keeping it Clear: First American and Your Home
From a toilet backing up to clogged sewer lines, a First American home warranty is designed to protect your home’s important systems and appliances, including your plumbing.
Get a home warranty quote from us today. When you have First American home warranty coverage protecting your home's appliances and systems, you can simply request service when an unexpected breakdown occurs with your covered items.
The contents of this article are provided for general guidance only. First American Home Warranty does not assume any responsibility for losses or damages as a result of using this information.