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Secrets to Removing and Controlling Odor After a Sewer Backup

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.