How to Clean a Sewage Backup in Your Basement

Are you overpaying for car, home, or renters insurance? Compare to find out in 45 seconds.
Quotes from up to 45 companies · No long forms · No phone calls
Mop (Photo: @Natsicha via Twenty20)
Vampires, ax murderers, and raw sewage are amongst the scariest things you can find in your basement. A sewer backup will not only cause a tremendous mess in a building’s basement, it could also cause extensive (and costly) water damage.
Sewage backups have a number of causes, namely, tree roots disrupting the sewer system, floodwaters overwhelming the sewer system, an unmaintained septic system, aging and cracked pipes, and run-of-the-mill clogs. Some sewage backups are preventable, but some are not. No matter which category you fall into, the mess will need to be cleaned up.
Hiring professional help to clean the affected area is an advisable idea, as there are many health risks associated with sewage cleanup. That means, if you decide to clean up the mess yourself, it’s important you follow these steps.

Wear safety gear

If you’re dealing with a sewage spill in your basement, you’re going to need the proper equipment to protect you from the health hazards of the contaminated water. Wear a face mask, rubber gloves, goggles, rubber boots, and clothing you don’t mind throwing away afterward. If there is standing water in your basement, it’s recommended to remove elderly people, children, and pets from the home until the area that has been cleaned and sanitized.

Check for leaks and other unresolved issues

Identify if there’s an ongoing plumbing issue that is causing the sewer to back up. It’s fruitless to clean a sewer backup if a pipe is still expelling sewage into your basement. If you find there is still an issue, it’s advisable to call a plumber. If there is extensive damage to your home and you need to file a claim to get it repaired, your insurance company may not cover the repair costs if you did not call a professional to prevent further damage.

Clear the area

Before you clean up the sewer backup, clear the area of personal belongings like furniture and personal items (and put them outside for some fresh air!). Anything nearby that hasn’t come into contact with the sewer backup should also be removed. Even if you don’t see visible damage on these items, they will all need to be cleaned to prevent mold growth.

Remove the water

If it’s a small amount of sewer water, you can remove the water with a towel, mop, or sponge. If it’s a large amount of standing water, you’ll need a wet dry vacuum. Vacuum until there are no pools of water left.

Clean the affected area

Now it’s time to clean like you’ve never cleaned before. Use chlorine bleach on the surfaces it won’t damage (like a concrete floor if your basement is unfinished). Sewage water is teeming with bacteria, so it’s important to use the strongest cleaners available. Be very thorough and scrub every inch that was impacted. Rinse the cleaning products away when you’re done.

Sanitize the affected area

Next, sanitize the area. No matter how well you cleaned it, there’s likely still some harmful bacteria. Apply a strong sanitizer to help keep the area safe and clean.

Get some airflow into the basement

If there are windows in your basement, open them. Leave them open for a few days, if you can. If there aren’t windows, leave the door open and rent an industrial fan. The goal is to dry out any remaining moisture and discourage mold growth.

Call a plumber

Now that your cleanup is mostly complete, it’s time to call a plumber so they can fix the issue at the source. This is not a cleaning chore you want to get used to doing.

Check for mold

After you’ve cleaned and the plumber has given you a thumbs up, inspect your basement every few days for mold growth. Even if you cleaned, mold could end up in nooks and crannies that are hard to spot.