How to tell if a sewer pipe is clogged or broken

Written by gail delaney
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How to tell if a sewer pipe is clogged or broken
A clogged sink drain will not drain or the water drains out slow. (sewer image by blacklight from

Sewer pipes can become clogged or broken. Determining which problem your sewer pipes are going through is a process of elimination. Sewer pipes will give you signs so you can figure out whether the problem is a broken sewer pipe or a clogged pipe. Once you know the problem, you can either repair the break in your pipe or have your pipes cleaned by running a snake through them to remove the clog.

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  1. 1

    Call the city maintenance department and ask if there is a sewer pipe backup in the city. This will help eliminate the question of whether it is the city's problem. The city may also send you a letter if it has done a dye test. This shows whether you have a break or leak in your sewer pipe.

  2. 2

    Look outside where the sewer pipe goes out from your house and hooks up to the city's sewer pipe. If you see a puddle of water and it hasn't rained in a while, you probably have a broken sewer pipe.

  3. 3

    Walk around in your yard in the vicinity of where your sewer pipe goes out of your house and hooks into the city's sewer pipe. If you feel any soft or mushy spots and there hasn't been a rain for several days, this is another indication that you have a break in your sewer pipe.

  4. 4

    Smell the air in your yard. If you smell sewage, this is a sign that your sewer pipes have broken.

  5. 5

    Look for rats or rat holes in your yard. You can tell a rat hole from other holes by looking at the construction of the hole. A smooth looking hole indicated that you have rats, but to be sure, fill in the hole. If it keeps reappearing, then you have a rat hole. Rats live in sewer pipes. They feed on the food left in your sewer pipe. Rats can come through the sewer pipe and into your toilet so it is important to not throw grease down your sewer pipe or use the garbage disposal very often. To keep the rats out of your sewer pipes, rinse out the kitchen sink once or twice a month with a mixture of one cup baking soda pushed down the drain. Then pour one cup vinegar down the drain. Plug the drain so the mixture stays in the pipes. Wait 30 minutes and remove the plug. Slowly pour a tea kettle full of boiling hot water down the drain. This will keep your sewer pipes clean and rat free.

  1. 1

    Flush the toilet. Watch the water level as the bowl fills. If the water in the bowl doesn't fill to its original spot, you may have a pipe blockage.

  2. 2

    Check the drains in your home. If the water is not draining out or if the water is coming back up into your shower or tub drains, this indicates a clogged sewer pipe.

  3. 3

    Listen to the pipes as the water drains. If you hear gurgling noises or noises in another drain or if you have bubbles coming up in your toilet, this is an indication that the sewer pipe may be clogged.

  4. 4

    Look outdoors where your sewer pipe is located. If you have many trees or shrubs, tree roots can find the smallest cracks or where the lengths of sewer pipeline are put together. Your sewer pipe may be clogged with tree roots.

Tips and warnings

  • Call your neighbour to see if they are having drain problems. If they are, then it is possible that the problem is with the city's lines and not yours.
  • You can find the location of your sewer pipe by going in your basement or crawl space and looking for a large pipe that exits through the wall of your house. Your city's maintenance department can help you find the place that your sewer pipe drains into the sewer pipe of the city.

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