Clogged sewer line? Here’s what a tenant should do

Saad Iqbal | 🗓️Modified: December 7, 2022 | ⏳Time to read:10 min

Blocked sewer sys are very common annoyance in old homes, especially those built decades ago. Besides damaging your home, this glitch can be hazardous to your health.

If you have signs like toilet backing up into shower or basement drain backing up or you have toilet backing up into tub; here’s how you can go about unclogging main sewer line.

The sewer line carries sewage from your house to your septic tank or treatment plant. When a sewer line gets clogged, wastewater backs up into the house through cracks in the foundation or basement walls. This causes flooding and other problems.

When you have a sewer line that has become blocked, you must act quickly to prevent sewage damage.

Table of Contents

Clogged Sewer Line, what to do?

When a Tenant Is to Blame for a Sewer Blockage

As a tenant, you are responsible for caring for the property, keeping it tidy, and preventing any damage. A thorough inspection of the property is very important before signing the lease, paying close attention (to the best of your ability) to the plumbing and drains. When you become aware of leaky faucets or clogged drains, ensure that there is a record of them on your rental agreement.

The first thing to do is determine who is actually responsible to fix the sewer line, whether the homeowner or the city. When you are the one responsible for clogged drains, it is your responsibility to fix them. For example, organic waste and hair build up in the pipe and block the sewage system.

The plumbing of your landlord should be treated with respect and care. Maintain a spotless bathroom, dispose of leftover food in the trash rather than in the sink, and abstain from flushing wipes that aren’t sewage safe. If not, you may end up planning and pay for the plumbing.

Also Read: P-trap vs S-trap – Features – What’s the difference (With Pictures)

Warning Signs That Your Sewer Line is Clogged

You should check your sewage regularly for blockages. The easiest way to do this is to open the tap nearest to where the drain pipe is located. This will allow you to inspect any signs of sewage blockage, like water overflowing, debris build-up, or any other common signs of sewage blockage.

Here are a few signs:


Since a clog could potentially cause raw waste to leak out of the toilet bowl and into your home, it is possible to have a blockage in sewage if you have an overflowing toilet. Sink overflows seriously harm homes even while using pure water. Inspect outdoor drains and manholes safely to report to a plumber for overflow indications.

Gurgling Noises

When water tries to flow through a blockage in the drain, there will be strange gurgles and sounds that sound strangulated. Noises near showers or bathtubs could indicate a blockage farther down the line.


A foul odor coming from a sink or drain hole means that household waste materials, such as paper, grease, and hair, have plugged into the drainpipe. Upon festering and restricting water flow, it emits a terrible odor.

Sluggish Drain

A blockage may prevent the water flow if it takes a long time for the water to drain from sinks, showers, or creates bubbles. It is most likely that the clog is down the main sewage drain when numerous fixtures are affected, such as when the water level in the toilet bowl and basin changes during flushing.

Also Read: Curbs and Gutter – Detail – Types – Dimensions – Advantages.

Sewer Cleanout

You can confirm if you have a blocked sewer line through drainage at the sewer cleanouts. But what actually is a sewer cleanout?

Well, a sewer cleanout provides safe and easy access to the sewer line so you can unclog and clear the line. In older homes, it comes as metal “mushroom cap” while in newer home it comes as white pipe with a rubber cap.

You can find the sewer cleanouts around the sides, front, or rear of your house. Anyhow, if your house was constructed before 1978, you won’t have a cleanout.

Once you’re able to reach the cleanout, you can pull off the cap and see if sewer water is flowing up. If that’s the case, it confirms you have a sewer line clog.

Let’s now see some of the tips to unclog sewer line.

How to Fix a Clogged Sewer Line?

If you live in a rented property, the chances are that you’ll face plumbing problems at some point. The good news is that these issues don’t always require a plumber.

Sewer blockages are common in rental properties. Your home can be seriously damaged or even harmed by them. You should contact your landlord if you notice a foul smell coming from your toilet or sink.

Also Read: 5 Gutter Cleaning Hacks that actually works! 

Here are nine things to do when you find a sewer blockage:

Boiling Water

Cleaning toilet bowls, drain holes, and sinkholes with boiling water is a simple non-toxic method. Boiling water dissolves grease, soap, and food that binds things into clumps, and loosens blocks.

Use a mixture with detergent to combat grease. If you have PVC pipes, choose hot water instead of boiling water, as boiling water can damage PVC pipes.

Natural Drain Cleaners

There are several natural products available that can help clear a blocked drain or a blocked sewer. These include baking soda, vinegar, etc. Baking soda will dissolve grease and other debris, while vinegar will break down fats and oils.

Baking soda and white vinegar work well together as a household, non-toxic solution to remove grease and break down solids. After that, flush the drains with hot water to remove any remaining residue.

Try using commercially available eco-friendly cleaning products, like enzyme cleaners based on bacteria. This solution will not work on plastic objects or tree roots.

Caustic Cleaners

Commercial caustic cleaners are not eco-friendly, but they can dissolve more difficult materials, like grease and hair with proper application. Caustic cleaners are often used to clean metal surfaces, remove rust from iron, and dissolve grease.

Wear gloves and a mask, let chemicals sit for an hour or so, and then flush pipes with cold water to remove any remaining chemicals (hot water might react). The caustic cleaner should be used with caution on PVC pipes.

Caustic cleaners are usually toxic to humans and animals. It is possible for them to cause severe burns when they come into contact with skin, eyes, or mucous membranes. Caustic cleaners should never be used around children or pets.


Plungers are an effective non-chemical sink de-clogger. To start, seal the overflow drain by covering it with tape or a damp towel. Seal the second drain in a double sink to create enough pressure.

Pressing a plunger up and down over a drainage hole generates an air force that can move blockages. Use a toilet plunger or flange to clean the toilet. A different approach could be required because grease and mineral residues don’t work great with a plunger.

It will work better with a vacuum because it uses air pressure to push the debris out of the pipe. When it comes to large clogs, however, the vacuum may not be capable of removing them. Look for other options to de-clog the sewage system.

Using plumber’s snake

Although it’s not common for homeowners to have a plumber’s snake aka drain auger. But if you do have one, you can use it to clear the clog through sewer cleanout.

Just run it through the sewer cleanout and see if it works.

In some stubborn clogs, the auger may not work. In such cases, you may ask a plumber to use fiber optic sewer line camera to see through the sewer line and figure out the reason and location of the clog.

In such cases a plumber will have multiple options to go about.

High-Pressure Water Jet

A high-pressure water jet can clear clogged pipes and drains. It uses pressurized water to cut through obstructions and dislodge debris. Even high-pressure water jets or hydro jets can remove even the most difficult blockages.

The equipment should only be used by plumbers because of the strong force. Tree roots and other obstructions can be blasted out of the pipe by the water jet’s high pressure.


Depending on the severity of the blockage, a plumber may need to excavate the sewer line by digging up the area around the pipe, removing blocks, repairing damage, then replacing the pipe and backfilling the area.

To resolve a blockage, it may be necessary to dig up and replace old clay pipes that have cracked and collapsed. Although this is a costly repair and landlords should take care of it.

Clean the P-Trap

If vinegar or baking soda doesn’t clear your drain, you might need to remove the blockage physically. Fortunately, you can clean the p-trap yourself; there’s no need to call a plumber!

The curved pipe beneath your sink, known as a “p-trap,” is intended to gather debris and prevent it from entering the rest of your home’s plumbing system.

Unscrew the P-trap under your sink with a wrench or pliers, and place a bucket below to collect any excess water. Ensure that the P-trap is washed and debris is removed by cleaning it with water or a brush. Then replace it to check if your clog has been cleared.

Use a Vacuum

A vacuum performs precisely what its name implies; it removes both wet and dry dust and debris. Especially if the blockage is high, these devices are frequently used to suck waste from blocked drains.

A plunger head placed over the plughole will prevent a mess from being created. Turn the vacuum to the liquid setting with the strongest suction and place it over the plughole. The vacuum should be run for one to two minutes after starting. Check that the sink has been unblocked by turning on the water and running it gently. 

Also Read: 4 Types of Foundation Drainage with their pros and cons

Call Landlord

Things may go beyond your control on some occasions. Contacting your landlord may be necessary for such a situation. The sooner you contact them, the better you don’t have to struggle with a sewer blockage.

It’s a good idea to ask what your landlord recommends you do after you contact them. You should also tell them how big the clog is so they can give you an estimate of how much it will cost to fix.


Drain clogs are inconvenient, especially if you have to deal with them frequently. As a tenant, handling these things might seem a burden. But if you are careful when leasing a property, it will save you from unnecessary costs in the future.

Having basic plumbing knowledge will help you to deal with unexpected problems. Learn more about the pros and cons of types of pipes for the plumbing of a house.

Saad Iqbal is a professional civil engineering and freelance write. He's passionate about structures, construction management, and home improvement topics. He's been working as a Senior Engineer in a consultant firm for over 8 years. Besides he loves writing informative and in-depth content focused on construction and home-related topics. You can catch him at his linkedin page or reach out via our contact us page.

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