Sink Backing Up? Toilet Backing Up? Learn to Troubleshoot Plumbing Issues in Your Home


Chances are you’ve had a sink or toilet clog in your home. And even if you know what the problem is, it’s still a worrying situation  there’s always that risk that it’s more than a clog. Today we’ll discuss these situations and how to figure out what’s wrong with your plumbing. Troubleshooting is a good skill to have; it will help you distinguish a major issue from a minor clog. In turn, that lets you spot those big issues before they become even bigger, and the fix is often cheaper if troubles are caught early. Read on and internalize the information in this blog, and the next time your sink won’t drain, you’ll know how to proceed.


One Device Has Backed Up

When something doesn’t drain in your home, it’s likely a clog. That’s a pretty common issue in all drains — sinks, showers, and toilets alike. If you look under the sink, you’ll see a U-shaped pipe. That’s the “p-trap,” and all the drains in your home will have them (toilets are built with internal traps). The p-trap is one style of water trap, an innovation that stops sewer gas from entering your home through the drains. Its funky shape allows water to act as a seal against the gas.

Unfortunately, water traps are great places for stuff to collect until there’s enough mass to clog the drain. The best way to prevent this is to not put anything down the drain that doesn’t belong there. Sinks are designed to drain water; toilets are designed to drain waste, waste paper, and water.

If your sink is clogged, you can often remove the p-trap by hand, although doing so can risk damage to the plumbing. It’s also pretty darn unpleasant — put a bucket underneath the trap before you do anything to give something to empty the trap into. It will likely smell pretty bad, but you can see if the trap is clogged. If you can’t get it unclogged yourself — which is pretty normal — or it continues to clog again and again and again, call a plumber to come snake the drain and maybe look at other issues.

Multiple Devices Refuse to Drain

The thing you need to know if more than one device is backed up is that your plumbing is like a tree. It has branches with forks and offshoots, but if you follow those forks back down, they come together at the branch. One fork might drain your toilet, another might drain the sink, and a third might drain the shower. But they all come back to the same “branch,” and that branch could be clogged. This will cause water to back up in all the drains that empty into the pipe.

This may be a serious issue like a pipe deviation or damage, or it could be as simple as a large clog that’s just shifted further along your drain. Either way, it won’t be something you can fix yourself. Unlike the easy-to-access p-trap, the pipes that are clogged in this situation will be located behind a wall somewhere. This problem requires the intervention of a licensed plumbing contractor — especially because of the possibility that the pipe has become deviated or that the issue may be in the sewer main itself.

Main Sewer Line Clogs and Preventative Maintenance

A sewer main clog is really an absolute worst case scenario, but it’s one that can be noticed long before it becomes a major problem. The biggest sign is that your devices start making noises and generally acting funny. For example, you’ll flush the toilet and hear the sink gurgle, or maybe you’ll see some water come back up the sink drain. This is an early-warning sign that something bad is going on in your home, so pay attention to it.

The cause is often a tree root that’s deviated the sewer main line, pushing it up or breaking into it. Roots seek water, and once inside, the root will grow bigger until it’s too big to allow the main to drain. If that’s the problem, then we’ll be digging up your yard and repairing or replacing some or all of the sewer main line. After we’re confident the problem is fixed, we’ll put everything back in place — grass and all — and you won’t know we’ve even been there.

There are a few things you can do to prevent main line clogs. We recommend filling up all your sinks and draining them at the same time. Do this once every month or two. You can’t stop a tree from growing, but you can keep the pipes in your home flushed free of debris. It’s also important to keep your sewer main in mind when planting or gardening in the yard — you wouldn’t want to plant a tree in the wrong place. If you’re not sure where your sewer main is, a licensed plumbing contractor can help you figure it out.

Don’t Go It Alone

If you can’t plunge the problem away, it’s time to call a pro. These plumbing issues can be massively frustrating, even for us, and often require heavy-duty equipment to fix. Save yourself the headache and get a head start on this issues. Make sure to address any issues you’re having ASAP, because these things can quickly spiral out of hand. Not every clog is a sign of a sewer main backing up, but do pay attention to the signs described in the last section. It’s worth catching early.