Warning Signs of a Sewer Backing Up - Before It Hits the Fan!

Warning Signs of a Sewer Backing Up - Before It Hits the Fan!

We’ve all been there before. Whether it’s a backup at a family gathering, an unsightly scene in a public restroom, or an embarrassing clog at a friend’s home, we are no strangers to coming face-to-face with a drain emergency. Modern plumbing is an invisible hero that sustains our daily lives and goes unsung… until it stops working.

While prevention is the best medicine, it pays to be able to spot the symptoms of a drain in distress before you’ve got a big mess on your hands. Here are some warning signs that will keep you above water!

Slow Flushing

A toilet flushing more slowly than normal is usually a sign that something has at least partially obstructed its flow. A slow flush could be the result of disposing of paper products that are not meant for toilets (e.g. sanitary napkins and paper towels) but it could also be a sign of something much more serious. Just as Finding Nemo teaches us that all rivers lead to the ocean, all drains lead to one main drain that takes waste away from your home. A slow-flushing toilet can be indicative of a clog in your main drain which, if left unchecked, will cause major systemic plumbing problems in your home.

Sewer Odor

Drains are not often associated with pleasant smells; however, a healthy drain system whisks away waste efficiently with no residual odor. If your toilet, shower, or sink emits a foul smell, it could be caused by waste that has not been able to pass through the drain. It could also be a sign of something much more serious--a break in the sewer line. If you smell a persistent unpleasant odor, that is a sure sign to call a drain specialist.

Brown Spots on the Ceiling

Brown spots on the ceiling are an unwanted element in home decor but may not be your painter’s fault! One common cause for brown spots is waste-water leaking from a drain in the vicinity, so be sure to check all of your fixtures and drains in your upstairs bathrooms before repairing your ceiling. Otherwise, you will continue to have a leak and see those brown spots again soon.

Pro Tip: If you notice that it is a constant drip, it is most likely associated with the supply lines feeding your fixtures, not necessarily the drain line!


Noise is not a great sign for drain function! Water and waste should be able to flow freely through drain pipes. If you hear gurgling sounds, it is likely the result of something blocking the path. This sign is an excellent indicator of some type of obstruction, as gurgling means that some water is still flowing. If you hear gurgling, we recommend getting to the bottom of it before a partial clog turns into a fully stopped system. (1,2)

Consistent Clogging

Does it seem like your toilet or sink is always clogging? It is possible that your plunger is not getting the job done anymore. While the vacuum it creates helps dislodge small clogs (physics to the rescue again!) repetitive clogs are a sign of a greater blockage either in that drain or leading toward the main drain.

Drain Flies

Are you noticing a sudden influx of small winged creatures in your home--especially in your kitchen or bathroom? Your drains might be home to a a special breed of fly--the Drain Fly--so named because of the environment in which it thrives. Drain flies are tiny moth-like insects that require stagnant water and bacteria to thrive, making drains an ideal home for them. While they only live up to twenty-four days, they can hatch up to three hundred eggs in two days! If you start to notice these flies around your home, call a technician straight away to get ahead of the problem before you have a backup and a full-blown infestation on your hands! (3)

What do you do if you spot one or more of these warning signs? In the 21st century, we have access to technology that allows us to view and video record drains so you--and your wallet--don’t have to play the guessing game. Our highly-trained technicians are equipped with the experience, skills, and resources to diagnose and correct plumbing problems from minor blockages to main line sewer breaks! Having a keen ear and eye for these plumbing issues can save you a considerable sum; however, should your drains need a check-up, we are here to help restore the flow!

1. Birdwell-Branson, Jamie. “10 Ways Your Home Is Telling You to Call a Plumber.” Bob Vila, Bobvila.com, 5 Mar. 2019, www.bobvila.com/slideshow/10-ways-your-home-is-telling-you-to-call-a-plumber-52682.
2. “Why Are My Drains Gurgling?” Out of This World Plumbing, 25 Aug. 2020, www.outofthisworldhomeservices.com/blog/why-are-my-drains-gurgling/#:~:text=Gurgling%20is%20caused%20when%20something,can%20make%20that%20gurgling%20sound.
3. Team, This Old House Reviews. “How to Get Rid of Drain Flies.” This Old House, This Old House, 15 Feb. 2021, www.thisoldhouse.com/pest-control/21339927/how-to-get-rid-of-drain-flies.