What can be salvaged after a sewage backup?

Posted by Matt Buchanan

This is a very common question we get from customers, so we figured it made sense to go ahead and talk through what factors are involved when determining what can be saved after a sewage backup. In a lot of instances, we get calls from people that have already hired another sewage cleanup company and are concerned about the decisions that company has made. It usually goes like this…”I hired XYZ Company after our sewer line backed up into your home. They’re saying that they can clean the carpets…is that true?”. It’s a startling call for us to get but it’s actually not uncommon. So let’s talk through what should be cleaned and disinfected versus what should be thrown out and replaced after a sewer backup!


Understanding permeance and its effect on sewage contamination


Permeance is a term used in our industry to describe the rate at which a surface allows moisture to spread through or into it. It’s directly correlated to the surface’s porosity, and can be grouped into 3 classes:

Highly Porous (permeance > 10)

Semi-porous (permeance 1-10)

Nonporous (permeance < 1)

The University of Michigan has a very detailed guideline for the proper cleanup procedures after a sewage spill, if you’re a geek and want to understand the science behind the cleanup process we would highly recommend that you read.

sewage-damaged-rugBasically, if a surface is more porous, it will have a higher permeance factor. Why does that matter when discussing proper sewage cleanup procedures? Because sewage is highly dangerous (remember, it’s a category 3 water loss meaning it’s the most likely to spread disease and cause illness or even death!), if it’s able to permeate a surface and truly soak the area, you can’t effectively (and even cost-effectively) clean it so that it’s safe. We mention ‘cost-effective’ because in some rare instances, it may be the case that attempting to clean, disinfect and dry a highly porous surface makes sense. An example would be a very, very expensive rug was soaked by sewage. Usually the cost to try and salvage a rug or carpet would far exceed the cost of just replacing that surface. But if the rug is really expensive, it may make sense to take it off site and attempt a very delicate cleaning process.

As with any type of water damage situation, part of the determination of whether or not to clean in place versus tear out and repair is cost-based. But in almost every instance, that isn’t going to matter when it comes to sewage cleaning, so it really boils down to how much permeance a surface has as to whether or not it can be cleaned/salvaged. So here is a short breakdown of surfaces and whether or not they can be cleaned. Please note our thoughts after the list regarding some factors that don’t make this list as cut and dry!

Highly porous materials (can not be salvaged) – carpet pad, carpeting, rugs, cardboard boxes, books, wicker, cloth upholstery, laminate flooring, non-painted drywall, wood floors and mattresses.


Semi-porous materials (can usually be salvaged if treated immediately) – vinyl wall coverings, vinyl upholstery, hardboard furniture, cabinetry, wood construction materials (wall studs), painted drywall, etc.

Nonporous materials (can almost always be salvaged) – Formica, vinyl, linoleum, concrete, tile, etc.

It’s important to note, the other biggest factor for this decision is how long the raw sewage has sat soaking the surfaces. The longer it sits, the greater the saturation and the greater the chance for other harmful agents such as black mold to grow. So when reviewing the list above, please bear in mind that generally speaking the loss must be addressed within hours of the damage occurring.


Do you have sewage damage?


Free sewage extraction estimateIf you have a residential or commercial property and have discovered sewage damage, please realize that your health is in jeopardy. Many people think that as long as they don’t touch the sewage they are ok. The reality is the fumes from sewage can make you sick if inhaled.  Any time you’ve got a sewage backup, you need to call in professional help to protect yourself and make sure the damaged area is properly cleaned and dried.

We always offer you a free sewage cleanup estimate so that you know exactly what needs to be done and our estimate cost of cleaning up the sewage!

About Matt Buchanan

I grew up in Irving, TX and left for Nashville, TN for college. After college I lived in Washington, DC and then in Cairo, Egypt. After coming back to the states, I spent a couple of years back in Dallas before moving with my wife to Denver!
This entry was posted in Sewage Cleanup. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

  • YouTube
  • Category

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Sign Up For Our News Letter :