How to Deal With Tree Roots in Your Sewer Line

Tree roots can wreak havoc on underground sewer lines, leading to costly repairs and headaches for homeowners. While trees add beauty and value to your property, their invasive roots are relentless in their search for moisture and nutrients. When these roots encounter sewer pipes, they can penetrate even the smallest cracks or joints, causing blockages, leaks, and even pipe collapse.

In this guide, we’ll explore effective strategies to identify, mitigate, and prevent tree root intrusion in your sewer line. By taking proactive measures, you can safeguard your plumbing system and avoid the nightmare of sewage backups or sinkholes in your yard.

Identifying the Problem

The first step in addressing tree root issues is recognizing the telltale signs. Here are some common indicators that your sewer line may be compromised by root intrusion:

  1. Slow Drains and Gurgling Toilets: If you notice that your sinks, showers, or toilets are draining slower than usual, or if you hear gurgling sounds coming from the drains, it could be a sign of a clogged sewer line caused by tree roots.
  2. Sewage Backups: When tree roots completely block the sewer line, sewage can back up into your home through floor drains, toilets, or even showers and sinks. This is a clear indication of a severe blockage that requires immediate attention.
  3. Sinkholes or Soft Spots in Your Yard: If you notice sinkholes or areas in your yard that are soft, saturated, or have lush green patches, it could be a sign that your sewer line has been compromised, allowing sewage to seep into the surrounding soil.
  4. Rapidly Growing Trees: If you notice one tree growing faster or greener than others in the vicinity, it may be receiving extra moisture and nutrients from a cracked sewer pipe, indicating root intrusion.

If you suspect tree root issues, it’s essential to act quickly to prevent further damage and costly repairs.

DIY Solutions

For minor root intrusion, there are several DIY solutions you can try before calling in professional help. However, it’s important to note that these methods may only provide temporary relief and should not be used for severe cases.

  1. Rock Salt: Flushing rock salt down your toilets (approximately 2 lbs) can help dehydrate and kill roots that have penetrated your sewer line. Let the salt sit for at least 12 hours before running water to allow it to work its magic.
  2. Foaming Root Killers: These chemical products are designed to kill roots and prevent regrowth. They can be poured directly into your toilets and allowed to work their way through the sewer line.
  3. Copper Sulfate Crystals: Similar to rock salt, copper sulfate crystals can be flushed down toilets to eliminate roots. However, it’s important to use caution with this method, as copper sulfate can potentially damage older pipes.

While these DIY solutions may provide temporary relief, they do not address the underlying issue of root intrusion and may need to be repeated periodically.

Professional Solutions

For more severe cases of tree root intrusion or if DIY methods fail to resolve the issue, it’s best to seek professional help. Plumbers and sewer line specialists have access to specialized tools and techniques to effectively address root problems.

  1. Sewer Camera Inspections: A plumber can use a specialized camera to inspect the inside of your sewer line, pinpointing the exact location and extent of root intrusion. This information is crucial for determining the best course of action.
  2. Drain Snaking: Also known as cable routing, this method involves using a specialized auger or cable to cut through and remove roots that have penetrated the sewer line.
  3. Hydro-Jetting: This technique uses high-pressure water jets to blast through and clear roots, debris, and buildup from the inside of the sewer line.
  4. Trenchless Pipe Relining or Bursting: In cases where the sewer line is severely damaged or collapsed due to root intrusion, trenchless pipe relining or pipe bursting may be necessary. These methods involve either lining the existing pipe with a new pipe or completely replacing the damaged section without the need for extensive excavation.

While professional solutions can be more costly upfront, they provide a long-term solution to root intrusion and can prevent further damage to your sewer line and property.

Prevention is Key

The best way to deal with tree root issues is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Here are some effective preventative measures you can take:

  1. Proper Tree Placement: When planting new trees, it’s crucial to consider their proximity to underground sewer lines. As a general rule, trees should be planted at least 10 feet away from sewer lines to minimize the risk of root intrusion.
  2. Choose the Right Trees: Some tree species are more prone to invasive root systems than others. When selecting trees for your landscape, opt for slow-growing varieties with less aggressive roots, such as palms, ash, or magnolia trees.
  3. Install Root Barriers: Root barriers are physical barriers installed around sewer lines that contain and redirect root growth away from the pipes. These barriers can be effective in preventing root intrusion, but they must be installed correctly and maintained over time.
  4. Regular Maintenance: Scheduling regular sewer line inspections and cleanings can help identify and address potential root issues before they become major problems. Catching root intrusion early can save you from costly repairs down the line.

By taking preventative measures and addressing root issues promptly, you can protect your sewer line and avoid the headaches and expenses associated with tree root damage.

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MKE Drain Cleaning: Trusted Drain and Sewer Cleaning in Milwaukee

MKE Drain Cleaning is a trusted provider of drain cleaning and sewer cleaning services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They offer 24/7 emergency services, utilizing advanced techniques like sewer camera inspections, drain snaking, and hydro-jetting to effectively clear clogs and blockages. With over 26 years of experience, their licensed plumbers deliver efficient and reliable solutions for residential and commercial clients, ensuring smooth-flowing drains and sewer lines.


Tree roots can be a formidable foe for homeowners, but with the right knowledge and approach, you can effectively deal with and prevent sewer line issues. By identifying the problem early, exploring DIY solutions for minor cases, and seeking professional help when necessary, you can safeguard your plumbing system and avoid costly repairs.

Remember, prevention is key. Proper tree placement, selection, and the installation of root barriers can go a long way in minimizing the risk of root intrusion. Regular maintenance and inspections can also help catch potential issues before they escalate.

Don’t let tree roots wreak havoc on your sewer line. Take proactive measures and stay vigilant to protect your home and avoid the nightmare of sewage backups or sinkholes in your yard.

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