Is It Safe to Stay in a House with a Sewage Backup?

There are over half a million sewage backups across the country each year.

Likely one of the worst disasters a homeowner can experience in their home, a sewage backup poses immense risks, both health-wise and financially.

Not only does sewage contain a plethora of contaminants, but it’s also immensely difficult to clean up.

This begs the question – what should a clueless day-to-day homeowner like you do in case of a sewage backup? Is it safe to stay in a house with a sewage backup? And should you (or better yet, can you) clean up a sewage backup on your own?

Let’s get straight into it!

How Do Sewage Backups Happen?

Sewage backups happen when the normal flow of wastewater with all of your nastiness within a sewer system is disrupted, pushing the sewage back into homes, businesses, or public spaces.

Several factors can lead to sewage backups, often stemming from a combination of different issues.

One primary reason is a blockage of sewer lines. Over time, trash, debris, hygiene products (both the ones that you should and shouldn’t throw in the toilet) and other things can accumulate in the pipes, reducing the effective diameter for wastewater passage.

Flushing non-biodegradable items such as paper towels, diapers, or certain female hygiene products down toilets can lead to clogs. Tree roots penetrating from above can also infiltrate these lines, making the clogs worse.

Additionally, aging pipes may develop cracks, providing points of entry for soil around it.

And lastly, heavy rainfall or flooding can overwhelm sewer systems, especially in combined sewer systems where storm water and wastewater share the same pipes. Excessive water entering the system during such events can exceed its capacity, pushing the water back into homes and on the streets.

How Dangerous is Sewage?

Straight up – VERY dangerous.  Here are just some of the pathogens, bacteria, and microbes that can be found in the spill:

  1. Escherichia coli (E. coli): Indicating fecal contamination, E.coli causes severe gastrointestinal infections, urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses, and, in more severe cases, kidney failure.
  2. Enterococci bacteria: Leads to urinary and gastrointestinal infections. It can also extend beyond these at times, affecting other areas like the heart and bloodstream, resulting in conditions such as endocarditis and bacteremia.
  3. Norovirus: Causes gastroenteritis with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea and respiratory infections.
  4. Rotavirus: Highly contagious, causing gastroenteritis, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and in some cases, malnutrition, particularly in young children
  5. Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium (parasites): Both cause gastrointestinal illnesses, weight loss, and contribute to the malabsorption of nutrients, impacting overall health and well-being.

Explore more about each of these in their linked articles and you’ll see why we also recommend on this site that you STAY AWAY from sewage. If you’ve got kids, pets, or the elderly nearby, make sure they’re the first ones out.

Besides all of these unwelcome creatures, we got other stuff often present in sewage waters: feces, urine, soil, dirt, hygiene waste, food and other organic waste, chemicals like pesticides, and others. 

We’re sure you don’t really want to touch this stuff.

So, Should You Stay in a House With a Sewage Backup?

Even if it’s a really small spill, we’d recommend getting the children and elderly to a safe area or outside.

Why even risk it? They have weaker immune systems than healthy and fit adults like you and your partner. 

Now, for you specifically, it is possible for you to tackle really, REALLY small sewage backups on your own. 

But for large backups that cover the entire floor and have reached other rooms, we’d wholeheartedly recommend that you just get out.

If sewage happens on the upper floor and reaches other rooms, it may spill below since typical ceilings are porous, and water could also reach your stairs.

So, in these types of cases, call a professional sewage cleanup company near you that has all the masks, goggles, and professional drying and sanitization equipment and products.

Can You Clean Up Sewage On Your Own?

Yes, but it’s hard. You’ll need to properly dry out and sanitize the affected surfaces, as well as properly dispose of the waste.

You may not be aware of the potential waste disposal laws in your area. The EPA and its subsidies regulate waste disposal, and you can read more about it here if you still wish to DIY sewage cleanup.

Still wish to proceed? Here are some steps you can follow:

  1. Protect Yourself: Wear protective gear, including gloves, coveralls, masks, goggles, and waterproof boots, ideally with disposable covering too, to avoid any contact with the water. If you can’t do this, do not proceed with the cleanup. 
  2. Ventilate: Open windows and doors to increase ventilation and reduce the concentration of harmful fumes.
  3. Remove Standing Wastewater: Use a wet/dry vacuum or buckets and mops to remove standing water. Dispose of contaminated water properly (read the guide above by EPA).
  4. Dispose of Contaminated Items: Along with wastewater itself, discard contaminated materials like carpets, furniture, and any personal porous items. Even drywall can absorb sewage, so if that’s the case (measure its dampness with a moisture meter), replace it. Bag all dirty items securely for disposal.
  5. Clean and Disinfect: Clean affected surfaces with a mixture of vinegar and water. Disinfect thoroughly to kill bacteria and viruses. Spray the solution, let it sit, rinse with warm water, and then repeat.
  6. Dry the Area: Use a dehumidifier to dry the space. Mold can grow quickly in wet environments, so make sure everything is completely dry. If you’ve got some damp spots that are particularly difficult to dry out, get an air mover or a regular fan to target them.
  7. Personal Hygiene: Shower, wash your hands, and sanitize after you’re done.
  8. Seek Professional Help: Even after the initial cleanup, we’d still encourage you to seek professional assistance for an inspection.

Again, all of these steps are for very minute, small spills. For anything larger (if the spill reached other rooms, and if the water doesn’t seem to stop backing up), call a restoration professional.

How to Prevent Sewage from Backing Up Again?

Regular inspections of the pipes, cleaning, and repairs are essential to prevent the accumulation of debris and identify potential issues. Do this once or twice biannually.

For this purpose, call a plumber instead of a restoration company. 


That’s all for today guys. Hopefully, this guide on sewage was helpful enough to you to understand that DIY sewage cleanup is, in most cases, not advised. 

Again, to sum it up, get out of the house in case of large spills. Make sure children, pets, and elderly are out ASAP. And then use your judgement to see if you clean up the mess on your own.

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