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The smell of sewage is distinct and can be nauseating. What’s worse is that from the moment you first smell it, the problem only seems to get more pungent. Sewer pipes are, in a way, a lot like your big toe: you don’t pay them much attention until they aren’t working correctly anymore, but by then, the effects can be devastating.

Sewer Replacement

(Pixabay / GregReese)

If you smell sewage when you flush the toilet, drain water down your sink, or use the shower, you may start to panic. Broken sewer lines can be expensive and a hassle to fix, so you need to be very sure before you go down that road that broken lines are actually the problem.

Fortunately, there are some pretty reliable signs to watch out for to help you avoid sewer smell in your home.

Seven Red Flags

  1. Splutters and Splashes: You may have a problem with your sewer pipes if you can hear spluttering or gurgling noises coming from your drains or toilet at all hours. Keep in mind that a noisy toilet could also be a result of a blocked vent stack or worn out float, but the sound of air bubbles coming from your drains is often a tell-tale sign of sewage problems.
  2. Undependable Drain: Commercial drain cleaners, used in moderation, can be an effective tool to banish the occasional clog, but you should not have to use them often. If your toilet, tub, or sink drains are consistently sluggish, you might have a bigger problem on your hands.
  3. Sewer Smell: Like mentioned earlier, if you smell sewage at or around a drain, your drain cleaning might need attention.
  4. Green Grass: Your sewage lines might be cracked or broken if you notice a large patch of green grass in one spot of your yard that wasn’t there before.
  5. Foul Flooding: This one should be a pretty obvious indicator that something is wrong with your sewage system. If you have foul smelling pools of water anywhere in your house, the problem is already at a critical stage.
  6. Pesky Pests: If you have a consistent bug or rodent problem that you have already professionally addressed, the problem may lie in your pipes.
  7. Wasted Water: Higher-than-usual water bills without any change in activity can also be an indication that something is wrong with your sewer system.
    There are more possible indicators, but if you are running into one or several of the above problems, you should call in a licensed drain cleaner and rooter right away.

What causes sewer line breakdowns?

There are many different reasons for a sewer line to deteriorate, some of which are avoidable and some of which aren’t.


  • It may be tempting to throw your table scraps and grease down the garbage disposal, but you need to do everything in your power to resist that urge. Grease tends to coat the inside of the pipes (yes, even if you wash it down with very hot water), and that can lead to blockages and even breaks in the future. The best course of action is to scrape all food remains into the garbage and not the sink.
  • Tree roots are a sewer pipe’s nemesis, so if you have any trees near your sewer line, you should keep a close eye on them. Tree root damage is only preventable to a certain degree since you can’t see underground, but being conscious of your yard can help you remediate before the problem gets too dire.
  • Before you let anyone make any changes to your sewage system, make sure that they are certified, qualified drain cleaners and rooters. Misaligned, cracked, or incorrectly installed pipes that result from a hasty or amateur drain cleaning job can cause major sewage issues down the line.


  • Time stops for no one and nothing – not even sewer pipes. If your house is old, and you or the previous owners have done little to maintain the pipes, age could be a contributing factor to sewer problems. Cast iron pipes tend to corrode faster than newer pipes, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.

What can be done?

The first thing that you should NOT do is start tearing up your yard to try and find the problem. Your best option is to call a certified drain cleaner and get a video inspection done of your sewer pipes. This inspection involves a technician lowering a video camera into your pipes to look for damage and cracks. It gives the drain cleaner a good idea of the problem’s location as well as the steps for remediation. Video inspections are a non-destructive way to get you a reasonable estimate for the cost, time, and amount of labor involved to solve your drain cleaning and rootering issue. With any luck, your sewage system will be right as rain, so you can go on to find a less extensive solution.

If the problem is with your sewage line, you have a few other options at your disposal. One way is to go the traditional route and dig a trench through your lawn, find the break, and completely replace the affected pipe.

Another, less destructive way, is to go for trenchless sewer replacement. This method does put large holes in your lawn, but it limits the holes to strategic points instead of the entire yard. Trenchless sewer replacement pulls out the broken pipe and replaces it with new pipe in sections across your lawn.

If you are worried about a sewage smell in your home, and your situation fits the bill for several of the key indicators described above, you should call a certified drain cleaner and rooter today. Time is of the essence in a sewage situation.