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Clearing My Sewer: Do Chemical Root Killers Work?

Root killers can help remove root systems that establish in your sewer line.

Sewer back-ups are often the result of roots growing in the main sewer line. 

Roots in Sewer Lines

Sewer back-ups are often the result of roots growing in the main sewer line. 

A sewer backup is when the wastewater comes back through your drain because your main sewer line is clogged.

The sewage will return through the lowest drain in the house. In Alberta, most often sewage returns through a basement floor drain, basement shower or tub drain, basement toilet or basement cleanout. 

If you haven’t had a sewer backup, you do not want one! 

Avoid a sewer backup by scheduling a sewer camera inspection. This ensures you are aware of faulty sewer pipes or root infestations before a major sewer backup happens! 

Roots most often grow inside a sewer line because the pipes are:

  • aging, rusting and leaking
  • cracked or decomposing

As the pipes and pipe joints wear out, small leaks can allow roots to enter the sewer pipe. Even a crack the size of a hair can allow a tiny root to make its home inside the sewer pipe. 


Over time the root establishes in the sewer pipe and grows into a root ball. As the roots grow in size they act as a net collecting solid waste and debris as waste water passes through the pipe.

Over time, a clog will form near the root growth, eventually making it impossible for waste to pass through the sewer line. The result is a sewer backup, and wastewater filling up your basement. Yuck! 

The best way to ensure roots don’t invade your sewer line is to repair or replace your sewer pipes. Repairing or replacing your pipes ensures that roots will not find their way back into your sewer line, keeping them out for good. 

The second best way to deal with a root invasion in your sewer line is to remove them now and then. I say now and then because root removal is a temporary fix. It doesn’t address the cause of roots entering your sewer line.

The best option for maintaining your sewer lines, if you know there are roots growing inside, is to use an auger, hydro-jet or chemically treat the roots in your sewer line. 

An auger, sometimes called a snake, will drill through the clog clearing roots and debris. Augering the sewer line is a short-term solution, and the roots will grow back eventually.

Another option is to use a hydro jet to clear the sewer line. This is not the best choice if you are having an emergency sewer back up. A hydrojet is a highpresure hose. If there is a clog in the main sewer line, and water can not pass, then the water will return back, creating a bigger sewer backup.

Chemical root treatments are a short-term solution to remove roots that are growing in your sewer line. Repairing your sewer line is the only way to prevent roots from returning.

Buyer beware, not all chemical treatments are created equal. 

Consider these 4 tips before choosing to use a chemical root treatment! 

  1. A single treatment of sewer drain root killer will not: 
  • repair cracks in the sewer lines and drain pipes
  • Slow or stop root growth forever

2. Applying root killers is a band-aid solution to the bigger problem. You will eventually either have to do additional root treatments, auger, repair, or replace the pipes.

3. Once roots enter the drain system it is an ongoing problem to keep the roots at bay. Because the sewer pipes are rich in water, oxygen, and organic waste (fertilizer), the roots can be established quickly. 

4. Root killers work best when the pipes have already been cleared of existing roots by augering or hydro-jetting.

Foam Root Killer

Foam root killers are the most effective way to chemically kill roots. 

Foam is more effective than other chemical root treatments because it coats the entire pipe interior, reaching all the root intrusions.

The foam fills the pipe, top to bottom and is therefore able to reach all the root intrusions. 

The foam sits in the main sewer line for a few hours and the sewer can’t be used during the treatment. 

Consider using an experienced plumber to apply the foam root treatment for the following reasons:

  • Foam Root Killer is poisonous. An experienced plumber can carefully apply the treatment without having large amounts of foam backup.
  • Ensuring the foam reaches the targeted area is challenging. Especially if the pipes are long and depend on where the root intrusions are. An experienced plumber will calculate the necessary amount of foam root killer to reach the intended target.  
  • The most effective way to apply a foam root killer is to auger the roots first, slowing down root growth for a longer period of time than chemical treatment alone.
  • A camera inspection can be provided before and after the treatment, verifying the effectiveness of the treatment. Multiple treatments may be required.

Hardware Store Root Killer

Skeptical? We are too! 

Many brands of chemical root killers claim the roots growing in your sewer lines will die, disintegrate, and be flushed through the sewer line, but customers report a wide range of results. 

Some report positive experiences, but others warn you not to waste your time and money.

Consider this before purchasing hardware store chemical root killers.

  • By the time the roots become an obvious problem, chemical root killers may take too long to take effect. This is not the time to use root killers! 
  • Dissolvable root killers do not coat the entire inside of the pipe. They will reach the bottom of the inside of the pipe, but will not reach the top of the inside of the pipe, compared to foam root killers which coat the entire inside of the pipe.
  • The effectiveness of the root killer can only be seen with a camera line inspection.
  • Read the online reviews before purchasing the chemical root killer.
  • Multiple treatments may be required.
  • Pipe repair will eventually need to be done to prevent further sewer problems and intrusions. 

DIY Root Killer For Sewer Lines

Who doesn’t want to save money?

But…using DIY root killers may cost you more money in the long run. 

Putting off needed repairs may cost you more money later on.

Some of the most popular DIY chemical root killers for sewer pipes are copper sulphate and salt.

Copper Sulfate as Root Killer for Sewer Lines

Pros and cons….

First the pros

It’s not very expensive — if you can even find it.

The cons

  • Copper sulphate doesn’t foam so it may not disturb or kill the root hairs and root balls growing at the top of the sewer pipe. 
  • Copper sulphate is not recommended because of its negative environmental impact and is actually illegal in some jurisdictions.😳 Yikes! (It is almost impossible to find in Canada.) 
  • Copper sulphate is highly poisonous and creates toxic fumes.
  • Multiple treatments are needed to be an effective root killer in sewer pipes. 
  • A temporary solution at best, and will not prevent long-term root growth.

Salt as a Root Killer in Sewer Pipes

Salt rock is a popular DIY solution but Its effectiveness is questionable.

Very questionable! 😕

The idea is that a high quantity of salt flushed down the toilet will kill roots as the dissolved salt passes through the sewer drain pipes. 

In short, professionals do not recommend this solution for the following reasons:

  • It is not as effective as foam root killers because it may not coat the entire inside of the pipe, leaving roots at the top of the pipe untreated. 
  • Rock salt needs to dissolve to be effective, and might not dissolve before leaving the main sewer line.
  • Salt rock could cause corrosion to cast iron pipes, weakening the pipes further.

If you are concerned about root growth in your sewer lines, schedule an appointment with one of our technicians. A camera inspection will provide the information needed to help you make the best choice for your sewer line maintenance needs. 

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