How to Clean Up Sewage in a Crawl Space: 7 Critical Steps

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: May 21, 2024

You recognize that bad smell coming from under the house, and it’s not good. Something’s gone very wrong down in the crawl space. You know it’s a sewage problem, and it needs to be taken care of right away.

If you’re not sure about how to clean up sewage in a crawl space, it’s important to understand the challenges of this DIY job. Most homeowners who need emergency sewage cleanup here in Chicago call us for extraction and remediation services.

Before you decide to head under the house, make sure you’re prepared. This guide covers all the details you need to know so that you can get the work done and stay safe.

Why Do I Have Sewage in My Crawl Space?

sewage in crawl space

When we respond to a call, this is often the first question we’re asked. In most cases, you can blame a broken sewer line in the crawl space. These are the most common causes of sewage trouble under your home.

  • Sewer outlet pipes in older homes eventually corrode, crack and leak.
  • Sewer drain pipes freeze and burst in unheated, under-insulated crawl spaces.
  • Your city’s infrastructure, like the one in Chicago, is aging and causing sewage backups that rupture pipes.
  • Tree roots invade a sewer pipe and create blockages that overload the system.

Drain pipes from the kitchen and bathrooms are also sources of contaminated water in crawl spaces. When the lines leak or break, they release gray water that breeds bacteria and becomes as hazardous as Category 3 black water.

Is Sewage in My Crawl Space Dangerous?

You might think that sewage isn’t dangerous as long as it’s contained in a crawl space. However, direct contact with the contamination isn’t the only way it can affect your health and your home.

These are a few examples of the serious hazards posed by sewage leaking under your house:

  • Sewage releases toxic fumes that can aggravate respiratory problems.
  • Constant exposure to raw sewage odors can cause headaches and nausea.
  • Pathogens and parasites in contaminated crawl spaces migrate up into the home.
  • Crawl space mold releases airborne spores that cause a variety of health issues.
  • Liquid sewage soaks into crawl space materials and compromises structural integrity.

Keep in mind that these are the same hazards you face when you work in a contaminated crawl space. In most situations, it’s much safer to leave the job to industry-certified professionals who specialize in sewage cleanup, remediation and restoration.

5 Important Safety Tips for Cleaning Up Crawl Space Sewage

Cleaning up sewage is a hazardous job. Now that we’ve discussed the dangers and the work, let’s cover important safety tips. As you follow the steps outlined above, take these critical precautions.

1. Check Your Protective Gear

Before you enter the crawl space, check your personal protection equipment every time. If you notice tears in coveralls or gloves or any damage to your respirator or goggles, replace the gear right away.

2. Put Down Safety Barriers

Working in the tight space requires laying down or crouching. Put down barriers between you and the crawl space sewage. Spread heavy plastic sheeting or tarps over the ground as you clean and disinfect the area.

3. Take Plenty of Breaks

The odor of raw sewage should bring you out for fresh air, but don’t take chances. Plan on leaving the crawl space for at least five minutes every half hour. Otherwise, exposure to organic pollutants in the air can cause headaches, burning eyes, nausea and respiratory distress.

4. Immediately Clean Wounds

Whether it’s a minor scrape or small cut, treat any wound immediately. Stop working, leave the crawl space, and disinfect the injury. Cover with a waterproof bandage before going back into the contaminated area.

5. Know When to Call Professionals

If you have second thoughts about the project, contact restoration professionals. Industry-certified technicians use specialized equipment and techniques to clean, disinfect and restore sewage-flooded crawl spaces. Their services also restore your peace of mind.

How to Clean Up a Sewage Spill Under the House

cleaning sewage in crawl space

Cleaning up sewage in the crawl space, just like in the basement, is a dirty job. You’re dealing with liquids that are classified as Category 3 black water.

Suit up in the following personal protection gear before starting the 7-step sewage cleanup process:

  • Heavy rubber work boots
  • Long-sleeve shirt and coveralls
  • Heavy, long-cuff work gloves
  • OSHA-approved respirator face mask
  • Wrap-around eye protection goggles

1. Secure, Locate and Repair

Secure the crawl space opening so that children and pets can’t get inside. If possible, minimize toxic fume leaks by attaching plastic sheets to overhead joists. Locate and repair the damaged pipes that released sewage under the house.

2. Extract Dirty Water

Use a submersible pump to extract standing water and sewage from the crawl space floor. Smaller spills can often be taken care of with a shop vac. Be careful working with electrical equipment in wet areas.

3. Remove Remaining Sewage

Shovel remaining sewage and contaminated soil into plastic bags. Ordinary trash bags will tear, so be sure to use heavy-duty plastic bags. Tightly seal the bags, and take them to a licensed solid waste disposal facility.

4. Set Up Drying Equipment

Remove any plastic sheets previously installed to control odor. Set up air-moving and dehumidifying equipment designed for safe operation in wet environments. The drying process can take from several days up to a week or more.

5. Move Things Out

If you’ve stored things in the crawl space, assume they’ve been contaminated by the sewage leak. You can disinfect some non-porous items with bleach and water, but porous items must be bagged, sealed and safely thrown away.

6. Treat Crawl Space Soil

Spread lime in the crawl space, and work it into the soil. This helps break down remaining organic matter and reduces moisture in the crawl space. Lime powder also discourages rodents and insects under the house.

7. Inspect, Ventilate and Reconstruct

Take a close look at wood joists and piers for any signs of mold and rot. Remove mold in the crawl space, and upgrade ventilation throughout the area. Tear out and reconstruct damaged building materials.

Why Does My Home Have a Crawl Space?

If you’re not familiar with the crawl space, it helps to know what to expect. The name accurately sums it up. Your home is supported by a pier and beam foundation that elevates it several feet above the ground. Unlike a basement, a crawl space doesn’t leave room for working in an upright position.

The tight space offers several advantages over a slab foundation. It helps minimize water damage during a flood, and it usually houses your home’s electrical and plumbing systems.

The crawl space also offers convenient access for repairing damaged wiring and broken pipes. However, when plumbing problems involve a sewage line under your home, things can get complicated.

How to Get Rid of Sewage Smells in the Crawl Space

When you finally get the mess cleaned up, you may still notice a strong sewer gas smell in the crawl space. Time and improved ventilation help, but you can try different crawl space odor neutralizers.

There are a variety of products available for eliminating sewage spill odors, but these home remedies can be just as effective:

  • Routinely spread lime in the crawl space to reduce moisture and odors.
  • Sprinkle a generous layer of baking soda through the entire area.
  • Reduce odors by spreading activated charcoal in the crawl space.

How Much Does Sewage Cleanup Under the House Cost?

crawl space cleaning for sewage

The cost of cleaning up sewage in the crawl space averages between $10 and $25 per square foot. You can also expect these factors to affect the final cost.

  • Difficulty of access to contaminated spaces
  • Length of time between initial spill and cleanup
  • Extent of repairs needed for broken sewer pipes and drain lines
  • Mold removal, remediation and restoration services
  • Any necessary structural tear-out and reconstruction

Dealing With Crawl Space Sewage Backup in Chicago or Suburbs? We Can Help!

Tackling a sewage spill in your crawl space is always dangerous work. If you’re not ready to head under the house, don’t worry. We’re ready with industry-certified crawl space sewage cleanup services for Chicago homes and businesses.

When you need help with problems in the crawl space, call us right away. From flood cleanup and pipe repairs to mold remediation, we take care of everything. You can depend on ServiceMaster by Zaba: 773-647-1985