4 Effective Ways to Get Rid of Roots in Your Sewer Line

Roots grow into sewer lines to access warm and moist areas from leaks in the piping. They can break apart connected pipes, and move through seams. 

The roots can fill in the pipe, or hold onto waste debris, causing a blockage. This results in odors and waste backups, burst pipes, damage to the home’s foundation, and even pest infestations.

Most commonly, plumbing professionals will use a mechanical auger that snakes into a sewer line to chop up and remove any roots. Consistent prevention techniques using root killers will keep them from growing back. Chemical treatments must be used with safety in mind for their negative impacts on piping materials, and human and environmental health. Green options are available as well.

While trees offer the benefits of enjoying wildlife and shade for homes, their roots can cause problems for sewer lines. 

By addressing any signs of plumbing issues right away, you can hopefully avoid costly repairs. Read on to learn more.

Why Do Roots Grow In Sewer Lines?

Roots not only keep the plants and trees upright but are the vessel for transporting nutrients and water to sustain them. They have small hair-like extensions (feeder roots) that detect and grow towards higher nutrient, oxygen, and moisture levels in the soil. 

Sewer pipes are warm and may leak water that has plant-nutritious waste in it. This is attractive to plants, especially in dry spells.

Feeder roots can penetrate cracks, tiny openings, and connections between pipes. Larger, secondary roots will follow the same paths and can apply enough pressure to break pipes or joints.

The roots will continue to grow in size and can not only break pipes but block the flow of waste.

Warning Signs Of Roots Growing In Sewer Line Pipes

There are a few warning signs that indicate that roots are growing in your sewer pipelines. 

These include the following:

  • Interior drains empty slowly, backup, or are clogged. 
  • The grass may grow taller and faster where there are leaks. 
  • There is a lapse in water pressure.
  • A sinkhole appears where the sewer line runs, creating pooling and a fall hazard in the yard. 
  • A collapsed pipe can cause issues with a home’s foundation, flooding it.  
  • Bad sewage odors can be detected from sinkholes, broken pipes, and drains. 
  • Insects and rodents may increase in numbers around your property.

Older homes with well-established large trees or extensive shrubbery more often see these problems.

Constant Backups 

Roots will cause broken, collapsed, and clogged pipes. Toilet paper and clumps of hair can stick to roots creating a bigger clog. As a result, drains will frequently back up in the home.

Broken pipes in the sewer line

When the sewage system is overloaded, the dirty water will move backward in the drain line. Dirty water (waste) will be present in basement drains, toilets, and shower and tub drains.

Sewer Odors

Damaged sewer lines will allow odors from the waste to enter the home and yard because there are leaks or backups. Sewer gas is mostly odorless methane, but as it mixes with other gasses, it emits a rotten egg smell. 

Natural gas leaks also smell like rotten eggs, so it is important to contact emergency services to identify the source of the bad smell.

Unwanted Pests

Sewer leaks emit odors, bacteria, and waste material that pests like. This includes pests such as drain flies and rats, and other insects and rodents.

To get rid of drain flies, pour 2 quarts of boiling water down the drain once or twice a week. Alternately, combine ½ cup of salt, ½ cup of baking soda, and 1 cup of water. Pour the mixture down the drain weekly. 

Rats can be more troublesome. They are attracted to the odor of the sewer and they will keep coming back until the “food source” is eliminated. You can set traps, use baits (if permitted in your area), and contact professional pest control to keep them at bay.

Regular plumbing maintenance checks are essential to discover any small problems before they become big ones that invite pests in. 

Slow Drains

If all of the drains in your home are draining slowly or gurgling, roots may have entered the sewer drainage pipe. These roots take up space inside the pipe, restricting the flow. 

Slow Drains

If non-flushable items have been flushed down the toilet, there may be a clog at the main pipe that leads out of your home, instead of into the yard. A plumber can help you investigate.

How To Kill Roots That Are Growing In Your Sewer Line

Before calling a professional plumber to kill and eliminate the roots that are growing in your sewer line, you can try a few strategies yourself first.

Commercial products such as foaming root killers, copper sulfate, and rock salt can break down and decay roots in the pipes. 

While many of today’s products are regulated, some of these products can be caustic on the pipes or negatively impact the environment’s soil and groundwater.

Keep in mind that chemical solutions typically kill the root inside the pipe, but not outside. Therefore, regular maintenance is needed to keep them at bay so they don’t grow back.

1. Call a Professional 

If your drain lines are completely blocked or stopped, flushing chemicals down the drain will not work. Water will back up into the drains leaving you with a bigger mess. 

This is when you should call a professional. A professional can use a flexible drain cable (auger) that once it meets the clog, has a chopping head that can break through it. 

The cable is long enough to move through the line, breaking up clogs, all of the way out to the road.

The costs of hiring a plumbing professional can vary depending on your location and are subject to change. Costs are related to hourly labor charges and if other equipment (such as a drain camera) or techniques (hydro-jetting or chemicals) were needed to complete the job. 

The cost will be higher for more severe clogs and any repairs.

Even though a clogged drain can constitute an emergency, call around and see if you can get estimates first.

Here are a few examples of what it might cost to drain cable the main line:

CompanyCost To Drain Cable The Main Line
Roto-Rooter  $500 -$900
Mr. Rooter Plumbing  $300-$1000
Local Plumbers  $300 or higher

2. Try Foaming Root Killers

Foaming root killers are a cheaper option for keeping your pipes running smoothly. 

The benefit to these is that the products foam up and fill the entire pipe. This means it reaches wherever the roots are invading inside.

When choosing a foaming root killer, look for “green options” if possible, and follow all instructions and safety precautions. They are typically formatted to be safe on pipes but you should wear gloves and eye protection when handling them. 

Typically, these products are poured into the toilet that is on the first floor and closest to the main line. Often, these products instruct that you add them in small increments over time to allow it to work on breaking down the roots over 2 to 7 days. 

Foaming Root Killers

It is recommended that the products are used every 4 or 6 months to maintain the pipes, keeping the root systems at bay.

These are three of the most popular foaming root killers found at your local home improvement store or on Amazon:

3. Try Copper Sulfate

Copper sulfate is another herbicide that can kill roots by breaking them down over time. It is found in crystal, dust, or liquid form, available at local home improvement stores or Amazon

This method works more slowly than foaming root killers, taking around 3 to 4 weeks to be effective.

Copper Sulfate

Homeowners should avoid overusing this product because it can corrode steel and galvanized pipes, as well as melt plastic piping. It is also not environmentally friendly, and it is unsafe to breathe in any fumes from it.

If you opt for this method, make sure you strictly follow all usage and safety instructions. 

4. Use Rock Salt

Rock salt is essentially crystals of copper sulfate. Do this method at night time when people are not using the toilet to allow it to sit.

To use it to kill roots, pour 1 cup into the toilet and flush.

Or, put one 1-cup of rock salt into a gallon of hot water and stir until it dissolves. Pour down the drain at night, and flush.

As mentioned above, copper sulfate can be corrosive if overused. Pet-safe rock salt is typically made of different ingredients, so refer to the packaging before purchasing. 

In snowy climates, rock salt can be abundantly found at gas stations, grocery stores, and home improvement stores. In the off-season, it can be purchased online.

Does Root Killer Actually Work?

Root killer actually works, especially if the pipes are not completely blocked. Root killers with the herbicide dichlobenil work faster than “green’ products or copper sulfate.

Take time to thoroughly research and look at reviews for products you wish to use. 

Foaming root killers could cause a mess when they come into contact with your toilet water. Make sure you know what kind of pipes you have if there is a concern about using copper sulfate.

Most importantly, you must be patient to allow these products to work. If it is an emergency, then a professional is your best call.

How To Prevent Roots From Getting in the Sewer Line

Prevention is key to keeping roots out of your sewer line. 

If you already have damaged lines, they should be replaced. Checking your drains frequently, having yearly plumbing maintenance, and knowing the landscape near your sewer line can help you prevent roots from becoming a major problem.

1. Replace Old Pipes

Replacing old cracked or disjointed pipes can prevent new roots from growing. While this is a costly repair, it can save you from greater damage that could pose a risk to your foundation or basement from flooding, burst pipes, or more.

Costs to replace the main sewer line can vary. This depends on the equipment used to get into the ground, the cost of materials, the length of piping needed, and labor.

For example, a manual dig with a backhoe can cost $2,000 to $6,000. A trenchless approach using two holes to insert new piping, can cost $3,000 to $7,000.  

Epoxy resin-lined piping is coated internally to seal pinholes and protect from corrosion or root invasion, costing $3,000 to $7,000. 

If a robotic cutter is needed to install epoxy-resin lined pipes with multiple connections the cost can range from $4,000 to $10,000.

2. Check Your Drains Frequently

Take notice of how drains remove water from all of your interior drains. Take note of any slow-moving water or gurgling sounds.

Be aware of how much toilet paper is being used at a time, keep food and grease out of sink drains, and use hair catchers on the drain to prevent clogs or build-up.

A professional plumber can do a yearly maintenance check to ensure all water fixtures and drains are working properly. 

Quarterly or bi-yearly foaming root killers or copper sulfate treatments can keep the roots at bay.

3. Understand The Landscape Of Your House 

Take note of where your sewer lines leave your home. Your local water authority or utility company can map out where this is in front of your home.

If trees are planted near the sewer line, the roots will grow towards them. If the roots are a problem, you can remove the tree and stump with the help of a tree removal service. 

Unfortunately, if a neighbor’s tree or shrub line is near your sewer line, you cannot remove them unless they choose to do so. 

Sewer line treatments with root killers will likely be needed in this case. You can also schedule regular video camera inspections from a plumbing or drain professional. 

If you desire to plant new trees or shrubs, opt for ones that do not have widespread roots. Better yet, plant them at least 65 feet away from any plumbing.

How Much Does It Cost To Remove Roots From A Sewer Line?

As mentioned above, it can cost anywhere from $300 to $1000 to remove roots from a sewer line. This is done by professionals such as Roto-Rooter, Mr. Rooter Plumbing, or a local plumber that uses drain cabling to break through.

Using chemical products to break down roots over time, will cost from $15 to $84 per application.

How To Effectively Remove Roots From My Sewer Line

The best method to effectively remove roots from your sewer line is to have a plumber use a mechanical auger to chop them up. 

However, the roots will try to grow again, so this should be done in conjunction with regular drain root killers. These chemicals are typically added every 3 to 6 months to keep them at bay.


To get rid of roots in your sewer line, you can try several methods that vary in cost.

Chemical applications flushed through the toilet can kill roots inside the piping. Foaming root killers, in particular, fill the inside of the pipe, coming into contact with all imposing roots. This is a low-cost option for maintaining clear pipes and preventing future root break-ins.

A professional plumber can video inspect a line and use a mechanical auger to chop up and push the roots away for an hourly or set fee.

A costly option is to completely replace the sewer line with an epoxy-resin lined interior to keep roots out.

Leave a Comment