Happy Drains for the Holidays

With the holidays rapidly approaching, countless families look forward to home-cooked meals, family recipes, and indulgent dinners. The last thing they should have to worry about is backed-up drain. Unfortunately, the days following holidays such as Thanksgiving are a plumber’s busiest. The culprit? The very fats and oils that make Thanksgiving dinner so delicious.

Fat, oil, and grease (FOG) is a major cause of drain blockage nationwide. Not only can this buildup affect your home, but your community as well. Luckily, proper care and disposal of FOG is simple.

What happens when grease goes down the drain?

Because FOGs are typically liquids when it is time for disposal, pouring them down the drain may seem harmless. It is only when the FOG chills and hardens that it poses a threat. Matt Nelson of Narrow Way Plumbing, a member of Boston Building Resources for more than two decades, describes the buildup “like atherosclerosis, building up around the perimeter of a pipe over time.” One might also think that FOG waste is not a threat on a warm day, but Matt disagrees. “Pipes under a basement floor are cooler than the rest of the house,” he said. Due to the cool environment, grease clogs are often found in basements.

Matt stresses that there is no easy fix: oftentimes these clogs are trapped under a concrete floor, leading to a lengthy and expensive repair process. In the home, drain repair can be quite costly. Simply snaking a drain can cost up to $200. Snaking is not always the best solution when it comes to FOG buildup, and prices can soar to $400 or more if a high-pressure water jet or other specialty device is needed. For prevention, homeowners can consider an enzyme treatment such as Bio-Clean to remove waste build-up inside pipes.

But FOG buildups extend beyond the home. ‘Fatbergs’ are massive FOG blockages in municipal sewer systems that have affected cities including New York and London. In September 2017, Baltimore experienced “two severe sewage overflows in two weeks, including one which discharged nearly 1.2m gallons of waste into a Maryland stream,” reported the BBC.

The Boston Water & Sewer Commission (BWSC) has made it a priority to prevent sanitary sewer overflows. “The injection of FOG into the sewer system poses a significant risk to household plumbing and public sewer systems.” says the BWSC. Educating the public is an important part of preventing these problems, and BWSC even offers free reusable lids to residents to aid in FOG disposal.

Six products to never put down the drain

All leftover meat fats—While most know to avoid pouring bacon grease down the drain, it is important to avoid all meat fat products. Matt reports that, oftentimes, people don’t realize that chicken fat is just as clog-inducing as bacon grease.

Baking leftovers—Most batters and doughs contain some form of fat, whether butter or oil. This makes them prime contributors to FOG buildup.

Egg yolks—Containing most of the fat in an egg, the egg yolks left over from an egg-white omelet should be thrown in the trash, not put down the drain.

Sauces—The fat that makes or gravy so delicious solidifies in pipes, so be sure to avoid pouring leftover sauces down the drain this Thanksgiving.

Dairy products—No dairy products containing solid particles should be disposed in the sink.

Food scraps—Typically plumbers aren’t a fan of garbage disposals, because they make it easy to dispose of FOG-heavy foods down the drain. However, these foods can later coagulate with other waste and lead to blockage. Consider composting fruit and vegetable waste.

Three ways to dispose of FOG waste

Can it—When you have a large amount of FOG waste, such as after cooking grease-heavy foods like bacon, pour the excess into an old tin can or other disposable container after it has cooled. Then, either freeze the can or wait for the waste to solidify and throw it out. Boston Water and Sewer Commission even offers free can lids for residents, available here.

Wipe it—Wipe down oily dishes with a paper towel before washing in order to remove excess FOG.

Strain it—Use a strainer in your sink drain in order to catch food scraps rather than running them through the garbage disposal.

—Emma Lord