Old Sewer Pipe Materials: A History

Last Updated On June 12, 2024

Updated on July 1, 2022



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old sewer pipe materials

Do you have signs of sewer line trouble, or did you recently move into a house with old sewer pipes you’re concerned about? Sewer pipe materials have come a long way since residential plumbing systems first came onto the scene. 

However, older homes may still be connected to old sewer pipe materials. It can also be helpful to learn about the old materials and why modern materials work better than others. 

In this PlumbingNav guide, we cover:

  • What are old sewer pipe materials made of?
  • Different types of old sewer pipe materials in use today
  • How long do old sewer materials last?
  • Troubleshooting: signs your old sewer pipes need replacement 

What's In This Guide?

      What Are Old Sewer Pipe Materials Made of?

      Today, most homes use plastic sewer pipe material, such as PVC or ABS pipe. However, many homes still have old sewer pipes in place that worked adequately for many years. A better understanding old pipes can give you an idea of how long you can expect them to last, and how to care for them until you can upgrade your plumbing pipe to PVC piping. 

      Sewer Pipe Material History

      Ancient societies, such as the Incas, Egyptians, and Romans, created the first pipes thousands of years ago from clay and straw or brick and mortar. Plumbing systems got more intricate and people developed new sewer pipe materials, such as cast iron and copper (still sometimes found today). 

      What Were Sewer Pipes Made of in the 1950s?

      Some of the most common materials used in the 1950s included:

      • Clay 
      • Concrete
      • Ductile iron
      • Copper
      • Galvanized steel
      • Orangeburg

      did you know old sewer pipe materials

      Different Types of Old Sewer Pipe Materials in Use

      Clay Sewer Pipe / Terra Cotta 

      Clay sewer pipe offers good corrosion resistance as well as strength. 

      However, long systems contain numerous joints that require a sealant that is susceptible to damage by chemicals used in drain cleaners. They also move due to shifting. They are also expensive to install and can crack. You’ll still find these under the streets of San Francisco

      Concrete Sewer Pipe

      Concrete sewer pipe material was extremely strong but had its drawbacks.

      Similar to clay pipes, they required numerous joints that lead to numerous vulnerable points in the system. Furthermore, they were extremely heavy and difficult to work with, making them extremely labor expensive. 

      Copper Sewer Pipe 

      Copper pipes were more flexible but still provided adequate strength. 

      Copper pipes cost a lot more than other options. They also succumb to corrosion over time. 

      Ductile Iron Sewer Pipe

      Ductile iron pipes are also strong and came onto the scene as an alternative to cast iron sewer pipe material.

      However, without proper coating, cast iron pipes corrode quickly. This is one reason you have to avoid using sulfuric acid drain cleaner on cast iron pipes. They are also extremely expensive and heavy to work with.

      Galvanized Steel Sewer Pipe

      Galvanized steel came onto the scene as a lighter option for cast iron pipes. 

      However, galvanized steel corrodes quickly. 

      Orangeburg Sewer Pipe

      Used from the 1950s – 1980s, Orangeburg pipe consisted of bituminous fiber.

      However, Orangeburg pipe deteriorated and flattened over time. It was also susceptible to tree roots. See this guide on how to dissolve roots in sewer pipe.

      How Long Do Old Sewer Pipe Materials Last?

      Here is how long you can expect your sewer pipe to last based on material:

      • Galvanized steel pipe – 40 years
      • Clay pipe – 50 years
      • Cast iron pipe – 75 years
      • Copper pipe – 100 years
      • Plastic pipe (PVC pipe) – 100 years

      When Did They Stop Using Clay Sewer Pipes?

      They started phasing out the use of clay sewer pipes in the 1960s and 1970s. 

      When Did PVC Sewer Pipe Start Being Used?

      PVC pipe grew in popularity around WWII, but it didn’t become standard as a sewer pipe material until the 1970s. PVC lasts a long time, is inexpensive, and easy to work with. It can also be recycled.

      Drain Cleaning Precautions On Old Sewer Pipe Materials

      The most important consideration regarding old sewer pipe materials is corrosion. Many chemical drain cleaners expedite the corrosion process already impacting the pipes. When pipes become corroded, they turn to rust. The rusty pipes deteriorate until they develop leaks.  

      Chemical drain cleaners can also eat at the sealant that connects different sections of the pipes. If your home has old and corroding drains pipes leading to sinks, toilets, and tubs, it can make simple maintenance or upgrades a challenge.

      For example, making a simple upgrade to a drain cover might require the use of a special bathtub drain removal tool. When metals corrode, objects get harder to loosen. Caustic or harsh drain cleaners such as liquid fire drain opener can accelerate this process.

      When it comes to performing drain cleaning on old sewer pipe materials at home, it’s crucial to instead use gentle drain cleaners, such as enzymatic drain cleaners. Enzymatic drain cleaners use safe natural enzymes and bacteria to break down organic waste. You could also use Green Gobbler, which is stronger yet natural.

      Have a sewer line clog? Read our review of the best drain cleaners for cast iron pipes. If you’ve already made the upgrade to plastic pipes, read our review of the best drain cleaners for PVC pipes

      Troubleshooting: Signs Your Old Sewer Pipes Need Replacement

      Some of the signs that your old sewer lines require replacement include:

      Causes of damage include clogs in the drain line as well as damage caused by tree roots. Of course, old pipes will become damaged in time thanks to corrosion and also settling. Shifting soils can create “sags” in pipes, also called a belly in a sewer line. These need to be repaired to enable proper water flow according to the proper slope.

      When you suspect damage, quick action can minimize the damage before it gets worse. Get a home inspection before you buy an older home, and get a regular sewer line inspection every couple of years when you have old sewer pipes. 

      What is the Best Way to Replace Old Sewer Pipe Materials?

      The best way to replace old sewer pipe material is trenchless sewer repair

      Plumbers use two main trenchless sewer pipe replacement methods: pipe bursting and pipe relining. 

      Pipe bursting involves feeding new pipe into an access point along the host pipe, bursting the host pipe in the process. The damaged pipe fragments mix into the soil and decompose naturally.

      Pipe lining involves pouring epoxy resin into the old pipe via a special sleeve and then curing it using heat or light to make it hard. Cured-in-place pipe relining (CIPP relining) is the newest and most advanced technology available today. 


      What Were Sewer Pipes Made of in the 1950s?

      In the 1950s, most sewer pipes consisted of clay and cast iron. Other common materials included galvanized steel and Orangeburg. 

      What Type of plumbing was used in 1970?

      PVC pipe came onto the scene in the 1970s, with numerous advantages compared to previous materials. 

      When Did They Stop Using Clay Sewer Pipe?

      They stopped using clay sewer pipes in the 1960s and 1970s. 

      What is the best material for sewer pipe?

      Plastic PVC pipe takes the best sewer pipe. It’s less expensive, light, and lasts 100 years.

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      About Plumbing Navigator

      We write about "all things plumbing," helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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      We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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