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Tips to Maintain a Healthy Sewer System

Until there is a problem, your sewer system is likely out of sight, out of mind. But waiting until there are symptoms of sewer trouble may be too late to avoid a costly and perhaps damaging repair.

What Is My Responsibility?

If you are connected to the municipal sewer system, everything from the sidewalk to the street is maintained by the city or town. But from your side of the sidewalk to your home is your responsibility to maintain and repair. By keeping your system healthy and properly maintained, you’ll reduce the chance of an unexpected and inconvenient emergency situation.

Biggest Troublemakers

Tree roots and other clogs

For clay sewer pipes, common in homes built before 1950, invading tree roots can cause breaks, clogs, and costly damage from backups. Because tree roots naturally grow toward any ground water source, weakened or cracked clay pipes that haven’t been properly sealed are an attractive source. Plant trees and shrubs far from sewer pipes when possible, but keep an eye on sewer flow rates for problems if there are existing trees and shrubs near the system. Other types of sewer pipes are less susceptible to tree root intrusion, but can have their own issues, including warping (fiber conduit lines, common in the 1950s and 1960s), and pipe scale (modern cast iron lines). Broken or hopelessly clogged sewer pipes will need to be replaced to restore your sewer system to a healthy state.


Grease and cooking oils are among the most damaging substances that can cause problems in your sewer system. Hot, melted cooking fats and liquid oils may seem harmless as they flow down the sink, but they can solidify, harden, and clog your home’s plumbing as well as the outdoor residential and municipal sewer systems. For the health of your sewer system, do not pour oils or grease down the drain, garbage disposal, or toilet. Instead, pour or scrape all oils into a container for disposal or recycling. Your city or county can help you find where to safely recycle or dispose of cooking oils. DuPage County’s or Kane County’s recycling guides are a good place to start.

Disposable products

It’s tempting to dispose of some products into drains and sewers that should only go into the trash. Paper towels, diapers, feminine products, and other products that are not designed to be flushed can cause major clogs on your property or under city streets. But even items that would be expected to easily break down can still cause issues, such as large quantities of food forced through a disposal, or stringy and high fiber vegetables. Not only your disposal can be damaged, but plumbing down the line can suffer.

Other tips

A healthy in-home water system will benefit the outdoor sewer system too.

  • Investing in a water softener will be better for your skin and hair, and also prolong the life of your appliances and indoor and outdoor plumbing.
  • Make sure your home’s water pressure is between 40 and 85 psi. Unnecessarily high pressure can stress appliances and plumbing joints.
  • Periodically use a liquid drain cleaner (powders can build up over time) to keep pipes flowing freely.

When to Call a Professional

Much of your residential sewer system is difficult to access and maintain. In some cases, local permits may even be required. So for your safety and peace of mind, call a licensed professional plumber experienced with sewer maintenance and repair:

  • If you suspect your sewer system has a break, leak, or clog—and especially if waste water is backing up into your residence.
  • If you want to make changes to your home’s plumbing, including pipe repair or rerouting, adding a water softener, or adjusting water pressure or temperature.
  • If you need to excavate anywhere near your sewer lines.
  • Periodically for regular maintenance to prevent tree root intrusion and pipe buildup as your system ages.

What you put down your drains has a big effect on the health of your sewer system, but by also entrusting the pros with regular maintenance, you can reduce the need for an emergency phone call!

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