Sewage Backup Cleanup

As you walk down the hallway you notice a seriously foul odor that seems to be coming from your bathroom. You walk into the bathroom and flip on the light and see that you are now standing in water with little pieces of toilet paper floating in it. That’s how many homeowners discover that their plumbing system has malfunctioned and they now have water from a sewer backup invading their home.

The Big Questions Concerning Sewage Backups

  • Where do I start?
  • How do I begin to clean this up?
  • What are the health risks of a sewer backup to my family and myself?
  • Should I seek professional help?

Start With Safety

In the case of any type of water loss in your home, your first thoughts should be about your safety and the safety of everyone else who resides there. The number one accident during a water loss is “slip and fall”. Statistics say that there is a 5% chance that when you fall you will break a bone. Although that seems like a small number the percentage increases with age. Also statistically, serious injury will result in 20-30% of all slip and fall accidents. So the first thing you should do in a sewage backup is to slow down, don’t get overly excited, and be careful.

sewage backup cleanupSewage backup in basement

Next, isolate the area to keep others from coming into contact with water containing raw sewage. Even though the water may seem “clear”, it is extremely dangerous because of what it may contain. Untreated sewage often contains bacteria, viruses, parasites, heavy metals, or fertilizers and pesticides. Just because the mess came up from your drain doesn’t mean it came from your house or your yard.

There are three groups of people who are more at risk during a sewage backup. The first group is young children whose immune systems are not fully developed. The next group at a higher risk is pregnant women. Besides the normal health risks associated with raw sewage, during pregnancy, exposure to sewage may be harmful to an unborn baby. The last group includes seniors and anyone with a compromised immune system. As we age our immune systems weaken and for others, such as chemo-patients or individuals who have contracted HIV/AIDS, their immune systems are already compromised.

Restoration professionals have the necessary equipment and training to clean sewage-contaminated homes. Unless you are extremely careful and the spill is extremely small, it is best to let experienced professionals handle sewage-related losses.

Where To Begin

Step 1: Get yourself protected. According to CDC (Center for Disease Control) when dealing with raw sewage you need to consider exactly what you will be dealing with and the dangers that raw sewage presents. Latex gloves are a must, and you should consider wearing a pair of heavy work gloves over them. This will help prevent the latex gloves from being accidentally split or ripped. Next is eye protection, use safety goggles that will prevent any sewage from being splashed into your eyes. One of the easiest entry points in humans for bacteria and virus is the eyes. You should also wear a respirator, or at least a facemask or splash-proof face shield. Rubber boots should be worn along with Tyvek coveralls to protect your shoes and clothing.

sewage backup basementSewage in basement

Step 2: Remove as much solid waste as possible. The easiest way to remove raw sewage is to use a shovel or a vacuum. For most do-it-yourself homeowners the vacuum will be a shop vac wet-dry vacuum. When using a shop vac, the main problems are weight, and next, where to empty the vacuum once it is full. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. A 10-gallon shop vac, when full, will weigh around 83 pounds. Add to that the weight of any solid sewage and you now have a very full, very heavy piece of equipment. The contents cannot be just “dumped” in the yard. They must be transferred into a sanitary sewer. Down the toilet is okay, provided the drain issue that caused the original problem has already been corrected.

Step 3: Mopping floors and walls with soap and disinfectant. This seems like a simple step but once again you will need to vacuum up any water you use to clean the affected areas. Use an antibacterial soap along with a disinfecting agent to clean away any remaining residual material. Again, this water should be vacuumed up and disposed of into a sanitary sewer.

Step 4: Removal of anything that may have come into contact with the sewage. This means removal, proper bagging of carpet, carpet cushion, vinyl flooring, and drywall, and then disposal. Any clothing that was affected, such as towels or personal items, should be washed in hot water or discarded. Drywall is extremely absorbent and must be cut out. Other structural materials like 2x4 studs, sill plates, and subflooring should be exposed, cleaned, and treated with a biocide to kill bacteria and viruses. An excellent product for this is Mediclean.

Step 5: Drying of structural materials and replacement of removed materials. Wood and/or concrete must be thoroughly dried to acceptable levels BEFORE replacement of walls and other finishes (carpet, vinyl flooring, hardwood, etc.). Acceptable moisture content levels of structural materials can vary depending upon which region of the United States you live in. Usually that level will be between 10-15%. If porous materials are replaced before drying is complete, the moisture can be transferred from the wood and concrete back into drywall or flooring materials. This may result in the development of mold.

Professional Assistance Is Recommended

As you can see from the steps listed above, sewage cleanup requires special equipment, knowledge, and procedures. Because of the health risks and the difficulty involved with disposing of not only the sewage, but also affected materials, professional assistance is recommended. Trained and experienced professionals have the tools necessary for the successful remediation of sewage backup problems. With personal protective equipment (PPE), a powerful means of extraction, and the proper drying equipment, they can quickly and efficiently cleanup a sewage backup in your home. You can receive immediate, 24-hour assistance by calling 877-960-0491. These professionals can answer any questions you may have about a sewage backup and design a remediation plan specifically for your unique situation.

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Written by Mark Huey.


1. CDC - Guidance for reducing health risks when handling human waste/sewage 
2. IICRC S500 - Standard & Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration