What do I do if I have a backup?

If a backup occurs, shut off any running water. Take immediate action to seal sink, tub, and floor drains. Toilets can be plugged with wads of rags or a string mop. Additional weight may be needed to hold down drain plugs.

  • Use appropriate plug materials to protect fragile fixtures.
  • Protect yourself, other people, and pets from contact with the wastewater, which can contain harmful bacteria and chemicals.
  • If your basement has a sump pump, turn it off. Sump pumps are intended to pump clear water to a greenspace or storm drain.
  • Do not pour anything down the drain until the backup has receded. Chemical drain cleaners are not likely to help and can cause additional damage.
  • Backups will enter through the lowest drains first. It may be beneficial to leave a low bathtub drain open to contain the backup wastewater until floor drains and other fixtures are securely plugged.

Contact neighbors to help determine if the blockage is inside the building or on the sewer main. If the problem is affecting multiple buildings, immediately call the Salem Water Department at 540-375-3029.

If the issue appears to be affecting one building, contacting a licensed plumber is recommended. The building owner is responsible for maintenance and repair of the sewer lateral on the owner's private property, as well as cleanup.

Here are some of the actions you can take after a backup has occurred:

  • Do not flush toilets
  • Avoid direct contact with wastewater and wetted surfaces. Wear protective clothing such as rubber gloves, boots, and goggles. Sanitize skin and clothing after contact with wastewater.
  • Ventilate the area.
  • Contact your insurance company. Note that most homeowners' insurance will not pay for damage unless specific sewer backup coverage has been added to the policy.
  • Assess and photograph the damage.
  • Clean up / mitigate further damage. Most homeowners' insurance will not pay for mitigation. However, consider hiring a reputable clean-up service. Cleanup may consist of wet vacuuming, mopping, solids removal, using appropriate disinfectant cleaners, steam cleaning, sanitizing ductwork, flushing plumbing fixtures, and removal of heavily-soiled permeable materials such as carpet or drywall. (Never mix bleach with ammonia; it creates a deadly gas!)
  • Check the area around your cleanout for additional solids requiring removal.
  • If your home has a septic system, call your local health department for advice about how to dispose of the water / sewage.

Show All Answers

1. What do I do if I have a backup?
2. How can I prevent a backup?
3. What can I do about overflows?