Cleaning the Mess from an Overflowed Toilet

by Carolanne Strong
(last updated April 15, 2013)

Sewage back up happens when there is a break or clog in the septic or sewer system. Sewage water usually backs up in the lowest drain points in the home, and is not limited to toilets; tubs and sinks can back up too. This kind of reversal is every home dweller's nightmare. Not only is it soggy and smelly, but it is highly unsanitary. If you have this situation in your home, act quickly to contain the damage and clean up the area.

  • Stop the backup. There is no sense in cleaning up a mess unless you are certain that it won't overflow again. The first thing you should do is stop up the toilet's bowl opening to keep waste water from continuing to back up with a string mop or towel. Remember that anything you use will be contaminated and disposed of afterwards. After you've done that, shut off the water supply to the toilet, because even though the incoming water is fresh, it can add to the dirty water in the bowl and cause even more back-up. You can do this by turning off the water valve that is usually located below the tank and is attached to the wall. Call a plumber as soon as you've contained the flow.
  • Know when to call in a professional cleanup company. If the sewer water is contained to one room and hasn't had time to soak into wood or dry wall, then chances are you will be able to take care of the problem yourself. If your bathroom is carpeted, however, or if the walls and cabinets appear to be damaged, you should call a local disaster cleanup company. They have high-powered tools for water removal and will know how to best repair the surrounding damage. When making the decision to clean it up yourself or call a professional, remember that water damage can quickly turn into a mold problem, so if you have any doubt that you will not be able to remove all moisture, don't hesitate to call. Most homeowner insurance policies will cover this type of clean up.
  • Remove the waste water. If you've decided you can tackle the clean up on your own, you will first need to take care of the standing water on the floors. Using a bucket and mop, soak up the water and ring it into the toilet (Don't do this until after you are sure the toilet is functioning properly).
  • Sanitize. Use a strong bleach solution—1-3/4 cup per gallon of water—to wipe down anything that had contact with the waste water. This includes floors, walls, toilet bases and lids, cabinets, sink pedestals and tubs. Wear rubber gloves and ventilate the area. If you are uncomfortable using bleach, you can try a commercial disinfectant cleaner like liquid Lysol.

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