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How to Kill Tree Roots in a Sewer Line

A-1 Sewer & Septic Service, Inc. logo

Most of us can agree that trees, especially large mature trees, are beautiful. A yard filled with lush trees can make all the difference in the way a property looks, but unfortunately, big trees can spell disaster for a home’s sewer pipes, and when it comes to your sewer line, the last thing you want to hear are the words “blockage” and “tree roots”!

Tree roots have many functions for the tree itself, and one of the major functions tree roots serve is to find water, wherever it can, and that includes drain pipes and sewer pipes. As new roots develop and seek water, the root invasion may begin. 

Tendrils that resemble spider webs will creep into the tiny cracks from corrosion in the clay pipes, or loose joints, and once they find the source of the moisture, the root system will send tree roots, which after consistent liquid nourishment, these tree roots can grow as big as the sewer pipe itself! Your sewer line backing up goes to another level with tree roots, and the clog itself may be extremely difficult to break through.

If you hear gurgling sounds from your sewer system when flushing your toilet, or running other drain pipes then you may have tree roots in your sewer line.

Four Ways to Kill Tree Roots in Your Sewer Line

1. Using a Mechanical Auger to Cut Roots 

One of the most popular techniques is to mechanically remove the tree roots with a powered sewer auger (also referred to as rooter, powered snake, etc). In this case, a trained plumber would send a powered sewer auger down the sewer line. It’s rotating spiral head would cut the tree roots, however, many roots would be left behind.

While this method clears a significant number of the roots, it’s not a permanent solution, only a temporary solution, because the tree roots will eventually grow back. For the tree roots that have been cut, snapped, or chewed off, they will go to work sending out fine tendrils, which will restart the whole root growth process all over again, continuing to cause issues in your drainage system.

These large powered augers are not part of a typical home improvement set of tools, however some may be found at select hardware stores. Ultimately, a professional plumber or drain technician should run these machines, as they can be extremely dangerous or even deadly, if not used properly.

2. Using Copper Sulfate Crystals

In order to stop tree roots from coming back, tree root killer chemicals, such as copper sulfate crystals, sodium chloride or rock salt, down your sewer line. Copper sulfate crystals are highly effective because they create such a hostile environment that when roots try to get into the pipe, they die trying.

There are foaming root killers, rock salt based, as well as a plethora of DIY methods, homemade root killers, or ideas that homeowners have employed to stop this from happening. Please note that while these tree root killers can stop root intrusion, they are NOT designed to be used if you have a septic tank. Septic tanks have very specific organic compounds to break down waste, and chemicals and herbicides that can kill tree roots can disrupt that process your septic system needs as well.

3. Killing Roots With Hydro Jetting

An effective root removal method is to use a hydro jetter. Instead of using chemicals, this machine pumps 17 to 18 gallons of water per minute into the drain pipes. Once the hydro jetting has finished, we flush the sewer line with chemicals to kill the remaining roots.

4. Replacing the Damaged Sewer Line

Sometimes the damage caused by the roots is so severe, the sewer line cannot be cleaned or cleared. Instead of clearing it out, it has to be replaced. To determine the full extent of the damage, we send a camera down inside the line. This allows homeowners to “see” the full extent of the damage with their own eyes. So, the tree roots would have to be dug up, and the sewer line would have to be replaced.

There are also methods known as trenchless pipe lining, or trenchless pipe replacement, which allows us to provide a permanent solution without having to dig up your yard.

Call a Professional Plumber at A-1 Sewer and Septic

Do you suspect that you have a tree root problem in your own yard? If so, contact our Kansas City plumbers for a free estimate. We gladly service all of Shawnee & Johnson counties.