Watch out! Sink clogs can cause holiday headaches

Watch out! Sink clogs can cause holiday headaches


Thanksgiving meals are an eagerly anticipated holiday tradition – and can be a tremendous amount of work for those preparing them. With all the hustle and bustle taking place in the kitchen, paying attention to what is poured down the drain of your kitchen sink might be the last thing on your mind. But be careful – what may seem an afterthought can cause major problems, clogging drains, resulting in a potentially expensive call to a plumber and also causing problems down the line at wastewater treatment plants. Business Insider magazine notes that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the single busiest day of the year for plumbers because of clogged sink drains.

Fats, oils and grease – commonly referred to as FOG – result from a variety of substances that accumulate during the cooking and food preparation process. These substances can range from juice and fats from meat to shortening, butter, gravy, salad dressings, sour cream and other items.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality notes that these substances should not be poured down drains. When they are, they accumulate inside pipes. The build-up restricts the flow in the pipes and can cause wastewater to back up inside your home, resulting in costly calls to plumbers and nasty sewage clean up.

When fats, oils and grease ooze further into city pipes, they can cause an overflow of wastewater into storm drains, yards and streets. The TCEQ notes that these substances can also contaminate water, including drinking water.

Donald Malovets, regional maintenance superintendent for the Brazos River Authority, said fats, oils and grease that originate from homes and businesses cause problems at wastewater treatment plants.

He said the FOG diminishes the effectiveness of screening devices at the plants resulting in overflows or spills.

“Another problem we see is build-up from these substances on level sensors or floats for turning pumps on and off,” Malovets said. “The grease can accumulate on the floats and make them heavier, which doesn’t allow them to rise.” He said to fix this problem; employees must manually repair the problem.

Bad odors are another consequence of FOG. “These items cause odor issues not only at the plant, but at the lift stations throughout town, and will cause more cleaning and vacuuming, which is an added expense.”

How frequent are these problems?

“They are very common and a lot of how it affects (wastewater treatment plants) is based on the equipment in place and the manpower you utilize,” Malovets said. He said clogged pumps, malfunctioning sensors, and inefficiently operating pumps will reduce the life of equipment, causing them to have to be replaced sooner and adding costs to wastewater treatment.”

The costs involved with fixing damage caused by FOG add up.

“Communities spend billions of dollars every year unplugging or replacing grease-blocked pipes, repairing pump stations, and cleaning up costly and illegal wastewater spills,” according to the TCEQ. “Excessive FOG in the sewer system can affect local wastewater rates.”

Those higher rates are something that can have an impact on everyone.

“At the end of the day, dumping this stuff down the drain winds up costing taxpayers money,” Malovets said. He added that FOG is not just a concern over the holidays, but “24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.”

Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid FOG disasters.

TCEQ recommends recycling used cooking oil and disposing of it properly by pouring it into a sealable container and placing this container into the trash. Large amounts of FOG, including amounts left over from frying a turkey, can be mixed with clay kitty litter. When the kitty litter has absorbed the oil, this material can be placed inside a trash bag and disposed of in your trash.

It is also recommended by both the TCEQ and plumbing companies that food scraps be placed into the trash and not in the sink to avoid potential clogs to your sink or garbage disposal.

Dirty pots and pans should be wiped with paper towel before they are rinsed and washed.

When you are preparing food, place a screen or basket over the sink drain to keep items from going down the drain, and dispose of those unwanted food items in the trash.

It is recommended that you do not use your garbage disposal or food grinder to deal with food scraps. TCEQ notes that doing this does not remove fats, oils and grease from the material, and even non-greasy food items can clog your home’s sewer lines. It is best to avoid putting any type of food down the drain.

You should also use disposable paper towels rather than cloth rags to clean greasy dishes. When you wash those cloth items later, the TCEQ notes, the grease will end up draining into the sewer system. You should also avoid running water off greasy dishes in the sink, which will cause the grease to flow down the drain.

The steps you can take are simple ones, but they can prevent costly disasters both in your home and down the line.