Sewage Spill Cleanup

Quick Summary

Sewage spills and sewer backups are a messy crisis nobody wants to find themselves in. Unfortunately, most of us will experience at least one sewage emergency in our lifetime. When a sewage backup happens, you need to move quickly. Evacuate young children, elderly, people with asthma and weak immune systems first.

Sometimes you can manage small sewage spills without professional help. Small spills are typically confined to a bathroom or part of a kitchen. Major spills, however, require professional help. Sewage is a natural delivery method for disease and infection.

You should get professional help if:

  • Sewage has flooded multiple rooms
  • The spill is caused by a sewer or septic tank backup
  • The spill happened more than 24 hours ago
  • You or your family have health concerns that increase risk of infection

Sewage Spills & Sewer Backups

Sewage spills, or sewage backups, can happen when your toilet overflows, if your septic tank is backed up or if there are sewer system issues. Sewage spills can consist of either black water or gray water, both of which are wastewater.

Black Water

  • Black water is a type of water from toilets, kitchen sinks and dishwashers and can contain harmful bacteria and disease-causing pathogens, making it difficult to filter and reuse.

Gray Water

  • Gray water typically comes from showers, bathroom sinks and washing machines and can be filtered, cleaned and used again.

Sewage backups vary from minor issues to significant, costly events. A backed-up toilet in a contained bathroom is inconvenient but doesn’t usually come with any major biohazard risks. A septic tank backup and major spills spanning multiple floors will require professional help.

Sewage systems are vessels for diseases and infections. Untreated sewage damage can have serious health consequences, especially for people with compromised immune systems, seniors and kids. Water damage can also cause mold growth, creating problems for people with respiratory health issues.

Additionally, the sewage backup cleanup process can be pricey and cause significant damage to homes and properties. The inconveniences created by sewage backups and the time needed to properly clean and sanitize also result in large disruptions to individual work, home and school routines.

Cleaning Up a Small Sewage Spill

If you decide to start cleaning up, you could prevent further damage to your home. Early cleanup prevents bacteria from spreading, creating foul odors that won’t be easily removed from your home. The spreading bacteria in the sewage can also make your family sick if it isn’t dealt with.

DIY Sewage Cleanup

  • Step 1 – Open windows to air out your home
  • Step 2 – Shovel up solids. Use heavy plastic bags if possible. You can also use buckets.
  • Step 3 – Use a pale to remove liquids
  • Step 4 – Soak up the remaining liquid with paper towels or rags. Throw rags away.
  • Step 5 – Vacuum remaining puddles with a wet/dry vac
  • Step 6 – Put rugs, curtains, furniture, and other wet items outside
  • Step 7 – Mop and scrub area with a 1:1 solution of bleach and water

You should only consider beginning the cleanup process in cases of minor sewage spills. Minor sewage spills have just happened and are confined to one area of your home.

“Decontamination, which includes water extraction, cleaning, and disinfection, can be effective in reducing this particular potential health risk,” according to health scientists at the University of Michigan.

Wear Protective Equipment

If the spill is minor and you’re cleaning the area yourself, be sure to proper personal protective equipment. Do not try to tackle a sewage spill without protecting yourself first.

The following items are a minimum requirement for DIY sewage removal:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Coveralls or clothing you can throw away
  • Boots
  • Shovel
  • Bucket
  • Heavy plastic bags
  • Paper towels and rags
  • Disinfectant solution

There are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of health complications if you notice a sewage spill or leak. First, contact your insurance company to see what your policy covers. Then, ask everyone to leave the area and go outside, prioritizing elderly people and those with asthma or compromised immune systems.

People and pets should be kept out until the area has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

While cleaning, open windows to help with air circulation and odor or run a dehumidifier.

Disinfect the Area

Remove any furniture, rugs or upholstered items from the room to be professionally cleaned. When you’re ready to attack the spill, try to pick up and dispose of any solids. Mop up the remaining liquids from the floors. Once all of the liquid has been cleaned up, it’s essential to disinfect the area.

You can make your own bleach solution by mixing eight tablespoons of liquid household bleach to one gallon of water. Or, if you prefer, you can purchase disinfectant for sewage spills from your local grocery store. You’ll likely also need to follow with a sewage odor neutralizer product.

An important reminder that bleach needs to remain on surfaces for 10 minutes to allow enough time for full disinfection.

If you’ve experienced a large spill, contact local sewage spill and water damage restoration services immediately. You’ll want a professional company to address the damage as quickly as possible to limit increasing health hazards.

Professional Sewage and Sewer Cleanup

A sewage leak, regardless of size, will be contaminated with bacteria and can cause serious health risks to you and others. Quickly containing and cleaning up the spill helps prevent microbial growth—but many people don’t have the necessary tools to clean the area effectively. This is why calling professional sewage services as soon as possible is crucial.

They can clean carpet and upholstery, decontaminate your home, and perform water damage restoration throughout your home. If a sewage overflow saturates carpeting and/or soaks into drywall, these materials have to be replaced.

Working with an expert reduces the risk of further damage to your home and ensures proper disinfection, decreasing the possibility of severe illness and infection.

The type of specialist you hire will depend on the nature of the spill and damage. There are damage and cleanup specialists, as well as septic experts. Keep reading to find out which type of professional you’ll need.

Water Damage and Cleanup Specialists

Water infiltration is tricky, mainly because it’s an issue that can become progressively worse if it’s not fixed correctly. Without proper remediation, your floors, carpets, walls and furniture can become damaged, moldy and more. A professional cleanup service can not only pump out water and remove debris, but they can also identify the origin of the sewage pipe burst or spill.

Cleanup specialists have all the tools to promptly help you with your situation. Cleanup specialists can completely clean, disinfect, and restore your home. Depending on how severe the sewage spill is, these specialists can cost between $2,000 and $10,000.

Most sewage restoration companies are available for emergencies at a moment’s notice and have a response team that can assist promptly.

You can expect most restoration companies and blackwater removal services will quickly:

  • Contain the leak
  • Remove all water and sewage
  • Disinfect all areas and belongings
  • Dry and dehumidified drywall, floors and affected areas
  • Restore damaged areas

Septic Services

You’ll need to contact a septic professional if your issue involves a backed-up septic tank. These specialists can identify and fix the problem(s) with your septic system, whether you need a complete replacement, a simple clean and pump, or anything in between.

It’s essential to have your septic tank pumped out by a specialist regularly.

The average cost of pumping and cleaning a septic tank is about $370, according to HomeAdvisor.

The size of your tank, the number of residents in your home and household habits will further determine the cleaning frequency.

Septic specialists can fix your septic tank and prevent more sewage from backing up into your home. Your septic tank may need a new pipe, total replacement, or maybe it just needs to be pumped.

Plumbers

Contact your local plumber if the problem was caused by a toilet overflow, clogged toilet, blocked drain, or leaky or burst pipe. Plumbers likely won’t assist with the cleanup, but they can help fix the issue, whether it’s a simple clog or a more serious plumbing problem.

If you’re not sure if you need a plumber or a septic specialist, try checking other fixtures in your home. If only one drain is backed up, you likely only need to call a plumber. If multiple drains are backed up, call a septic professional.

Common Causes of Sewage Spill and Backups

A sewage spill or sewage backup happens when there’s a blockage from your home’s wastewater to the city’s sewer, causing the sewage to back up into your home. The blockage can occur for a variety of reasons. From clogged toilets to aging sewer systems to broken and collapsed sewer lines, the causes of sewage backups are endless.

Overloaded Sewage System

You might first notice a sewer backup in your basement or some overflow and flooding. This could be from combined pipelines, meaning that your stormwater and raw sewage are flowing into the same pipe. This type of system puts your home at risk for overloaded pipelines, resulting in a sewage backup. Sewage systems can also overload after heavy rains.

Aging Sewage System

Additionally, aging sewer systems are often considered a ticking time bomb. With increases in population and the need to update wastewater infrastructure escalates, more sewer backups and spills are bound to occur.

Compromised Sewage Lines

Tree roots also force their way into sewer line cracks because of the oxygen, moisture and nutrients they find there, causing blockages and severe damage. You can avoid this by determining where your water supply and sewer lines are before planting trees or shrubs.

Lastly, your city’s sanitary main may have a blockage. If this blockage goes undetected, sewage can back up into residents’ homes and businesses through drains.

Sewage Spills and Backup Prevention

You can prevent sewage spills and backups by following a few simple tips to help keep your pipes clear.

Avoid throwing anything but toilet paper and human waste into your toilets. Many personal hygiene products say they are flushable, but they can still wreak havoc on your sewage pipes and septic tank. Do not flush items such as feminine hygiene products, diapers, paper towels, facial wipes or baby wipes down the toilet.

Older homes and homes with septic tanks are particularly sensitive to non-flushable products.

You might also be accustomed to emptying coffee grinds or food waste down your sink, but these items can create clogs and back up your pipes. Throw coffee grinds, food waste, and grease and fat in the garbage or compost—not down the sink.

Keeping an eye on tree roots and routinely trimming them can also help avoid cracked pipes. You can also replace lines with plastic pipes to prevent tree roots from entering your pipelines.

Backwater prevention valves are also beneficial in preventing sewer backups. These fixtures allow sewage to be flushed out but prevent sewage from coming back in.

Find Sewage Cleanup Services

Using professional sewage cleanup services is the safest choice for any sewage spills or backups. Sewage spills and backups can be emotionally taxing and often not something most people are familiar with. Hiring a reliable professional can help relieve stress and offer emergency services to respond right away.

Don’t wait any longer to get a professional to assess and handle the damage in your home. If you don’t know where to begin, you can find a water damage, sewage cleanup and restoration expert near you. Don’t delay—give them a call and let the professionals get your home or business in tip-top shape.

Call 330-574-4848 to connect with a licensed IICRC-certified water damage expert now.

Author:Water Damage Advisor
Water Damage Advisor

The Water Damage Advisor content team is made up of multiple contributors, writers, and editors. We are your resource hub for anything related to water damage, mold and restoration needs that you may be challenged with facing.

7 References
  1. Home Advisor. (2016) How Much Does It Cost To Clean or Pump a Septic Tank? http://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/plumbing/clean-septic-tank/
  2. University of Michigan’s Occupational Safety & Environmental Health. (2016) Suggested Guidelines for Remediation of Damage from Sewage Backflow into Buildings. http://www.oseh.umich.edu/pdf/guideline/fdrappe.pdf
  3. Washington State Department of Health. (2007) Cleaning up a Sewage Spill. http://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/EmergencyPreparednessandResponse/Factsheets/SewageSpillsCleaningThemUp
  4. Environmental Health - San Mateo County. (2014). Cleaning Up Indoor Sewage Spills. https://www.smchealth.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/sewage_spill_cleanup_rev_11_2014.pdf?1470242013#:~:text=hardwood%20floors%2C%20concrete%2C%20wood%20moldings,Let%20the%20surface%20air%20dry.
  5. Washington State Department of Health. (2007). Sewage Spills: Cleaning Them Up: Washington State Department of Health. https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/BePreparedBeSafe/SevereWeatherandNaturalDisasters/SewageSpillsCleaningThemUp
  6. CleanSafe Services. (2018). When can I clean a sewage spill myself and when do I need a professional? https://www.cleansafeservices.co.uk/when-can-i-clean-a-sewage-spill-myself-and-when-do-i-need-a-professional/
  7. Columbia Shuswap Regional District. (2012). Septic Smart. https://www.csrd.bc.ca/sites/default/files/liquid-waste-management/Septic-Smart/Docs/csrd-septicsmart-homeownersguide-full.pdf
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