Common Causes for Drain Backups

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Drain Causes

Who thinks about what they put down their drains? Who really cares? As long as it goes down and disappears, it’s all good right? Until that fateful day when you flush the toilet upstairs and your basement starts looking more and more like a lakefront property. The water alone can cause enough damage, but the smell can make your life miserable for days and weeks to come. Many times, when I clean a drain for a customer, they ask me why the drain backed up, and what they can do to prevent it in the future.

Foreign Objects

The #1 preventable sewer backup cause is foreign objects being put into the drain. I personally have seen anything from croquet balls, broken drain covers, whiffle balls, and occasionally a broken sewer cable from a previous attempt to clear the line. These things will obviously impede the flow of waste and up the chances of the line backing up. When Clear Drain Cleaning visually inspects a line with our cameras, we’re constantly looking for things like this. Often, we can retrieve the obstruction or break it up to the point where it will simply wash away.

Paper Products

Another huge contributor to drainage backups, particularly sanitary sewer drains is what we flush.  Heavy quilted toilet paper is often the culprit. Thinner toilet paper will dissolve in water, and is light enough to flow down the line until it drops into the city’s main or septic tank. The heavy quilted paper will stay put as the water runs on ahead of it. This will eventually build up in the line causing a backup. Wet Wipes are also a no-no.

Women, this section will be directed toward you. Under no circumstances should you be flushing your feminine products down the drain. These will eventually hang up in the line and cause a blockage.  These things are the worst at causing blockages.

Plant Life

In many parts of the United States, clay tile lines are still the norm. They usually work well until your beautiful maple in the front yard decides it’s thirsty and finds your sewer line. I am amazed all the time and the distances that tree roots will go to find water. You may not think you have trees close to your drain line, but often (especially during droughts) trees and shrubs will find your drainage lines and obstruct them. Roots are very manageable though. We can cut them out and treat the line with a root killer that will keep the roots from growing into the line without injuring the plant outside. Many times, even if the roots do grow back, it is more financially economical to simply cut them out (even on a regularly scheduled maintenance program) than to reline or replace the line.

Structural Integrity

Sometimes the problem is the line itself, especially an older clay or cast-iron line. Clay lines can settle and shift over time causing offsets that can lead to blockages. If the offset is bad enough, it can be necessary to reline the drain, or when possible, dig and repair the problem spot. Cast iron lines can accumulate scaley build-ups that need to be either scraped or jetted to properly remove the buildup that has been caused over the years. While they will often remain serviceable for the life of the home, there are reasons why clay and cast iron are no longer used in new construction.

Other Causes

Interior/ smaller diameter lines will often have different issues altogether. Kitchen sink lines (especially those with garbage disposals) will often have grease accumulated in them and bathroom lines will often be blocked with hair.

Treating the Problem

While it is sometimes effective or necessary, we use chemicals to open blockages only as a last resort. Please do not dump the chemical drain opener down your slow or backed-up drain. If it does not open the line, you will have strong acidic liquid in your lines that can burn skin, demolish lines, and eventually our equipment as we try to open it.

There are many more issues that could potentially happen to cause a drain to back up, but these are the basics. If you have one of the tell tail signs of a blockage (slow draining, not draining at all, toilet gurgling when you run the shower) please give us a call. We will do our best to diagnose your potential problem on the phone, and advise you on all your options.

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