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Secrets to Removing and Controlling Odor After a Sewer Backup

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There aren’t too many things as unpleasant as a sewer backup. Not only is it a complete mess and unsanitary, but the odor is very strong and to be honest, disgusting. If you try to clean up the mess that a sewer back-up leaves in its wake, here are some secrets from the pros you should put into practice.

What Causes a Sewer Backup?

A sewer back-up can be caused due to an inadequate sewer system (typically in new development areas), leaks or breaks in your sewer pipes or a blockage somewhere in your system.

The Aftermath

If you experience a sewer backup due to a blocked pipe, there may actually be several sewer backups every time you try to do a load of laundry, flush a toilet or take a shower. Until that block is found and cleared, the sewer will keep backing up and the odor will intensify. The aftermath of a sewer back up is raw sewage coming up through a floor drain or a shower if located in the lower level. What comes up is black, slimy, filthy, smelly gunk which spreads all over the floor, carpeting and even walls. As if the mess and smell aren’t bad enough, the sewage contains parasites and bacteria which can cause disease, infections, and all sorts of health issues. Micro-organisms become airborne which increases the odds of experiencing respiratory distress or make existing conditions like allergies and asthma worse.

Odor Control

The key to controlling the incredibly strong, bad odor is to clean, dry and disinfect the area as soon as possible. With a hazardous situation like a sewage back-up, don’t tackle the mess without protective gear. Wear a mask, gloves, boots, long pants and protective eye gear to avoid breathing in and coming in contact with the contaminated sludge.


A wet/dry vac, shovel or mop should be used to suck or scoop up all of the visible mess.


  • Open any doors and windows to allow fresh air to circulate through the space.
  • Use as many fans and dehumidifiers as you have access to, and plan to keep them running for the next few hours to days until all the humidity and moisture is removed.
  • Open all closets or cabinets in an attempt to get air moving through these spaces.
  • Moisture-absorbing products should be used in enclosed or tight spaces where air cannot circulate through such as closets or cabinets.
It’s important to begin the air circulation and drying process as soon as possible so the sewage doesn’t have time to saturate into building materials, carpeting and personal items any more than it’s done already.

Toss Contaminated Items Causing Lingering Odors

  • While you’re waiting for things to dry, go through any items in the space to figure out whether or not they can be cleaned, disinfected and saved.
  • Carpeting and furniture may be salvageable after calling in a professional cleaning company for their assessment and estimate on steam cleaning and disinfecting costs.
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting that has been completely saturated will probably have to be tossed. If only a portion of wall-to-wall carpeting has been contaminated, it may be salvageable once deep cleaned, but more than likely any padding underneath should be replaced.
  • Throw rugs, towels and clothing may be salvageable if you’re able to wash them in hot water with a strong disinfectant like a color-safe bleach. If not, it’s better to throw them out.
  • Items to immediately discard of include food, pillows, blankets, mattresses, clothing, toys, stuffed animals, cardboard boxes and any paper products. These items become saturated and contaminated very quickly and it’s impossible to know what harmful micro-organisms, disease-causing bacteria and lingering odors are trapped inside.
  • All contaminated items should be sealed in heavy-duty garbage bags and disposed of at the local recycling center as soon as possible. For larger items like carpeting and furniture, contact a waste hauling company for any restrictions or guidelines as to how to handle disposal.


  • Don’t mix and match disinfectants which may result in toxic fumes that you should not be breathing in.
  • Bleach is one of the best disinfectants and cleaners you can use. A safe mixture is about one-quarter cup bleach diluted in one gallon of water.
  • Once the diluted bleach solution is applied, leave on the affected surface for at least one minute before wiping off. Rinse with clean water.
  • Clean the surface again with a mixture of mild dish soap and water. Rinse again.

Odor Still Present

If after you’ve cleaned, dried and disinfected your space it still smells musty or the sewer smell lingers, there is moisture somewhere that you’ve missed. There may still be bacteria or parasites left behind and you should call in a restoration specialist to check the space. Even concrete walls and floors will soak up these contaminants, leave behind an odor and need to be thoroughly dried, cleaned and disinfected.


To eliminate odors and for proper cleaning, drying and disinfecting of your home after sewer damage, call the restoration specialists at RCS in Sonoma County. Our professional team is here to restore your home back to its odor-free, clean and safe condition.

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How to Bounce Back Fast from Water or Sewer Damage

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One of the worst things that can happen in your home is water or sewer damage. It’s not only a complete mess, but if not treated immediately, is dangerous, expensive, and destructive.

Water Damage

Due to unforeseen circumstances like burst pipes, undetected leaks or flooding, water damage causes a lot of damage unless the water is removed quickly.

Potential Problems from Water Damage

It’s important that all of the water be removed quickly and completely. If not, damage escalates. Some of the damage and loss comes in the form of saturated drywall, swelling or rotted wood, rusted metal and the onset of mold and bacteria. A professional water damage restoration company has the equipment to remove a lot of water very quickly. After that, industrial strength drying equipment is brought in to thoroughly dry all affected areas while moisture levels are monitored. They will clean and sanitize your home to prevent mold, bacteria growth and odors. A professional service will also remove unsalvageable items and throughout the process, works directly with your insurance company.

Sewer Damage

There aren’t too many things worse than a sewer backup. Sewer backups can be caused by long tree roots, old or damaged sewer lines and clogged drains. Older homes with older sewer lines are at greater risk to experience sewer backups. There are usually warning signs that a sewer backup is coming.
  • Slow drains, always start in fixtures at the lowest level (first floor, basement)
  • Clogs in multiple drains; wastewater is not able to pass
  • Leaking or sewage coming from the cleanout pipe (located outside, in the basement)
  • Bubbling sinks, toilets
  • A foul, sewer smell coming from drains
  • Sewage coming up through floor drains or showers
  • High water levels in floor drain

Potential Problems from Sewer Damage

Because of the dangers associated with sewer water backups, you should always call in a professional to manage the cleanup. To say sewer water is contaminated is an understatement. It may contain any type of human or industrial waste. Sewer water is dangerous because it has high levels of bacteria which exposes homeowners to diseases of the worst kind. Even breathing in sewer water vapors can make you very sick. Sewer water puts you at risk for E. coli and Hepatitis A. Airborne contaminants and pathogens can trigger asthma attacks and respiratory distress. A certified restoration company will clean up the wastewater, in addition to your furniture, carpet and other items affected by the damage. They have the products to safely restore your home by disinfecting and deodorizing to kill and stop the spread of fungus and bacteria throughout. The experts at RCS are only a phone call away, 24 hours a day. RCS has been proudly serving Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and the North Bay area since 1975. We have the knowledge, equipment, and experience to manage the entire restoration of your home after water or sewer damage.

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5 Ways to Keep Your Septic System Healthy

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Almost every home is connected to a septic system. This holds wastewater and prevents it from seeping into and around your living space. While it doesn’t usually need heavy maintenance, it still needs to be cared for. Here are a few ways you can keep it in good condition.

Why Should I Monitor My Septic System?

Septic systems hold toxic waste. If this escapes, it can contaminate the areas where it spreads. In addition to this, the pipes can get clogged with debris which can back up into your home’s walls. This isn’t only dangerous but can result in water damage and strong odors throughout it. To avert this, it’s ideal to watch your septic system to ensure there aren’t underlying problems.

5 Tips to Keep Your Septic System Healthy

Don’t Flush the Wrong Items: Flushing paper, grease, and other items into your septic system might not seem like such a big deal, but it is. Your septic system isn’t designed for these and won’t do a good job decomposing them. Because of this, they could get stuck in its pipes which can result in clogs. In other words, if it’s not fecal waste or toilet paper, don’t flush it. Check For Tree Roots: You’ll also want to make sure that nearby tree roots aren’t spreading around and into your septic system. These can wrap around it and create intense pressure. This pressure can then crack the outer shell allowing debris to seep out. If you notice tree roots, consider cutting them away from the septic system. Make Sure the Field Has Good Drainage: If your septic system field doesn’t have adequate drainage, it could flood both it and the surrounding landscape. One of the best ways to prevent this is to avoid excess water flowing near the septic field. Avoid Septic Additives: Septic additives are a mixture of yeast and bacteria that’s meant to help break down materials inside the system. However, septic additives are often unnecessary because waste is being constantly flushed into the septic tank. This waste has enough natural bacteria to eat away at the contents inside. The additives are also corrosive and can wear down pipes and other components. Get Regular Inspections: Another way to keep your septic healthy is to have it frequently inspected. Ideally, this should be done every three years. Septic systems might not be visible but they’re an important part of your home that protects it from harmful bacteria. By using these tips, you can easily keep it healthy. If you’re looking for a professional to inspect your septic system, consider RCS in Sonoma Couny for a recomendation to a local septic expert so you don't need to call us for a clean up if it fails.


Broken Sewage Pipe? Now What!?

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A home sewage line is an often-over-looked aspect of one’s home, but that doesn’t make it any less of a concern. While physical damage to the line is uncommon, a back-up isn’t, and these are rarely covered by your insurance! Since back-ups are often caused by the owner (and a lot of physical damage is preventable), you’ll likely end up paying out of pocket for the damages- which can be a lot if the back-up floods your home and damages everything!

Insurance: Good for Little

There are only a few things your homeowner’s insurance will cover and those are mostly environmental:
  • Falling objects, volcano eruptions, and vehicles/aircrafts.
  • Riots and vandalism.
  • Hail, windstorm, explosions, lighting, and fire.
Unfortunately, those problems are very unlikely and the more likely causes for a sewage problem are not covered by your insurance:
  • Poor Upkeep
  • Faulty construction
  • Preventable/Negligent Error

What You Can Do!

A helpful thing you can do as a homeowner is get a Sewage BackUp Endorsement which provides extra coverage for a small annual increase, but your best bet is to prevent a problem from happening in the first place by:
  • Dispose grease and paper products properly (like paper towels, diapers, and feminine products).
  • Maintain your sewer lateral (this is the pipeline between your house and the city’s main sewer line).
  • A long-term option is to replace existing pipes with plastic, because tree roots can’t penetrate them and cause leaks.
  • Locate your sewer line BEFORE something happens- just in case!
  • Know how to identify symptoms like: slow drains in sinks and bathtubs, gross smells, and mold inside the house are common signs that a larger problem is imminent.
If you do run into a back-up, here’s what you should do:
  • Act quickly! Turn off the water immediately; the longer you take, the more time the problem has to cause damage.
  • Save yourself time and money by setting up a video inspection; this relatively inexpensive service allows the professionals to locate the exact nature of the problem and how to fix it effectively.
  • Once the problem has been identified, it’s time to fix the broken pipe! Fortunately, if you’ve done a video inspection, then that fee will likely roll into the price of the repair.
  • Don’t forget to hire clean-up specialists. (This leak has the potential to cause more damage with mold, so attend to it immediately!)
All in all, what you as a Sonoma County homeowner need to know is: how to prevent a sewage backup, how to identify an imminent problem, where your sewer line is in case of an emergency, where the water shut-off valve is, and who to call when a pipe bursts. Remember, act fast!

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What Is The Biggest Threat from Sewer Problems?

What Is The Biggest Threat From Sewer Damage?

The thought of sewer problems is enough to make any homeowner’s blood run cold. These problems are often extensive, expensive and almost impossible to predict.

Sewer problems occur when something happens to the outflow line that connects your home to the municipal sewer system where you live. When everything is in good working order, wastewater simply leaves your home bound for the treatment plant, and all is well.

However, when something happens to disrupt the wastewater flow, bad things happen. Today we’re going to take a look at the biggest threat to your home from sewer problems.

Understanding a Sewer Line Blockage

Blockages in a variety of forms are the main culprit behind sewer line problems. Often, blockages occur from interference, such as tree roots penetrating the sewer line, or from internal issues, like grease and other waste backing up the pipe.

There are, of course, other problems that can cause a sewer line issue. These include breaks, punctures and leaky joints.

If you have a sewer line blockage or break, you will become aware of the problem fairly quickly. Often, sewer line issues present themselves with slowly draining shower and sink drains. This may be accompanied by slight backflow and overflow into basement drains.

Obviously reduced drain speed and backed up drains can lead to flooding issues, particularly if a sewer line problem is overlooked for too long.

Sewer Problems and Homeowner’s Insurance

The biggest problem with a sewer backup, blockage or break is that sewer problems are not covered under most homeowner’s insurance policies. This means that the cost for repair or replacement and any residual issues from flooding are the homeowner’s responsibility alone.

Additionally, sewer line maintenance is the owner’s responsibility up until the point where the line intersects with the city’s main line. In the event of a sewer line failure, you as a homeowner are entirely responsible for every aspect of repair up to the intersection. This includes the underground area both on your property, and likely underneath the sidewalk and road in front of your house.

Sewer line repairs are very expensive - often running homeowners upward of $10,000 to repair. There is, unfortunately no way to predict when sewer line problems will occur. Additionally, you won’t get the money invested into a repair when you go to sell your home, because a functional sewer line is simply something you just have to have.

Catching problems quickly and being diligent about what items leave the home through your sewer line are the best ways to minimize the likelihood of running into sewer trouble.

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Warning Signs of a Clogged Sewer Line

Warning Signs of a Clogged Sewer Line

Without a doubt, a properly functioning sewer line is one of the most important and underappreciated parts of a home. When they are working right, we don’t give them a second’s thought. The minute something goes wrong, however? Well, at that point you probably won’t be able to think about anything else. Toilets, showers, dishwashers, sinks -- take those out of commission and you’ve got a serious problem, one that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. So, how can you know if your sewer line is starting to back up? Here are a couple of warning signs you should look out for:

1) Multiple Clogged Drains

We all get the occasional clogged sink from things like hair, bits of food, toilet paper, whatever. But when you start to get more than one drain that seems clogged at the same time, it means that there is something obstructing your house’s main drain, which is your sewer line, and that clog is stopping everything from getting out. Just like all roads lead to Rome, all drains lead to the same pipe. And if that pipe doesn't drain, you’ve got serious problems.

2) Water Backing Up

The action from one sink or appliance should have minimal effect on others. Sure, turning on the sink might make someone take a colder shower, but other than that they are fairly separate. So, if turning on a sink makes your bathtub start to gurgle, sputter, or (worse) back up, then you’ve got water that has no place to go. This goes for anything in your house that uses water: running or flushing one thing shouldn’t cause it to back up somewhere else in the house. When this starts, you’re only one step away from those multiple clogs we just talked about.

3) Toilet Problems

When we think of sewers, we naturally think of toilets. So, when your toilets start acting strange, there’s a good chance you’ve got problems with your sewer line. Again, one toilet flushing slowly, bubbling, or gurgling is probably just a localized problem. But when drain cleaners and plunging fail to fix the problem, and it starts to happen in more than one toilet, then you’ve got a serious issue that you need to fix as soon as possible.

4) Bubbles

We just mentioned bubbles, and for good reason: bubbles and gurgling coming from your sinks, tubs, or toilets is never a good sign. Bubbles form when water tries to get past a clog, trapping air in the process. Keep an eye out to see if the bubbles are happening everywhere in all of your drains. . If so, then you’ve most likely got a problem.

When you start to notice problems like these, it’s important to get it taken care of as soon as possible. What starts out as slow drainage can quickly turn into overflowing toilets, water damage, and horrible smells that can ruin your house. And don’t think you can do this on your own: backed up sewer lines can be caused for many reasons, and they take expert knowledge to diagnose and fix. 

It it's too late, and you have a horrible mess to deal with, call a professional restoration and cleanup service like us.

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