How to Make it Through the Holidays Without a Plumbing Disaster

The holidays are, hands down, the plumbing industry’s busiest time of the year. We even have a name for the day after Thanksgiving -- Brown Friday! After a night of feasting, many homeowners wake up to slow or clogged drains. The culprit? Food prep byproducts and scraps from a huge feast consumed are carelessly washed down the drain where they form a nasty blockage.

Guests, too, contribute to the problem by flushing cotton balls, Q-tips, and other non-dissolvables.

But plumbing problems don’t have to be inevitable. Follow these tips to keep your drains flowing.

Dispose of Cooking Oil the Right Way

It takes about three gallons of cooking oil to deep fry a 12-pound turkey. What are you going to do with all that used grease? For the sake of your plumbing, let’s take your sink drain out of the equation.

Cooking oil congeals as it cools to form a gelatinous clog that only becomes larger as it collects scraps from meal preparation. The results aren’t pretty.

But it doesn’t take gallons of oil to foul up your plumbing. The cumulative effects of washing off pans greasy with oil (be it vegetable, canola, olive, sesame or otherwise), bacon fat, butter, and lard eventually amount to the same problem. So, what should you do with used cooking oil? We have some suggestions:

Throw it away, properly: Pour oil out of the pan into a sealable, non-breakable container, such as a plastic water bottle. Follow the City of Marietta’s instructions for curbside pickup. Consider wrapping the bottle in a bag before tossing it in the trash to prevent leaks. Oil in your garbage can stink and attract pests. Before washing the pan, wipe away the grease with a paper towel.

Reuse it: You can get more mileage out of that quart of Wesson. After frying, wait for the oil to cool. Then, using a utensil, remove any large pieces of batter. Next, place a cheesecloth over a container and slowly pour in the oil and store it in a dark, cool place. There’s no hard and fast rule saying how many times you can reuse fry oil. However, with each use, the oil will break down and become less effective, i.e. soggy french fries. If the used oil is discolored or has a strange odor, it’s time to dump it out -- the right way.

Compost it: A little oil is good for your compost heap so long as it was used to cook vegetables. Oil from fried meats will attract vermin.

Do This if You Accidentally Dump Oil Down Your Drain

Accidents happen. Maybe your well-meaning aunt wanted to help with cleanup after the Thanksgiving feast and began discarding that used oil in the sink. Don’t panic, but act fast.

  • Pour very hot water down the drain
  • Follow with half a cup of baking soda
  • Add half a cup of vinegar. The fizzy reaction should help break up the clog naturally
  • Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes
  • Flush again with hot water

You can also use an enzyme-based cleaner to prevent build-up. If your sink continues to drain slowly, gurgle, or emit a bad odor, contact a plumber.

Don’t Put These Things Down Your Garbage Disposal

An in-sink garbage disposal unit makes cleanup a snap. While this hardy, handy appliance can pulverize almost anything you toss its way, all that goopy foodstuff can make a real mess of your plumbing system. Here’s what not to put down the disposal:

Pasta: Does your Thanksgiving or Christmas meal call for butternut squash alfredo pasta or pumpkin ravioli? Great! Just be careful what you do with the leftovers. Pasta expands in water, which means it will plump up in your drain.

Bones: Disposals have their limits. Bones from your roast turkey may prove too challenging for the appliance. Even if it manages to grind them up, you’ll dull the blades.

Fibrous vegetables: Corn husks, celery and pumpkin guts are all bad news for your disposal. The fibers can tangle up the inner workings.

Potato peels: A few peels are no biggie but be careful not to overwhelm the disposal. Small pieces can slip past the blade where they’ll get hung up in the drain.

Shells: It’s likely that lobster and oysters were a part of the offerings during the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts. So, if your feast is aiming for historical accuracy, you may want to include shellfish. Just keep the shells out of the disposal as they could damage the unit.

In moderation, none of these foods will spell the end of your disposal (except for shells, maybe), but it’s best to keep them out of your drain all the same. They could be put to better use in your compost pile.

Talk to Guests About Drain Etiquette

Sometimes plumbing mishaps occur through no fault of your own. During holidays, your guests are often to blame. (Of course, you wouldn’t blame them out loud. That’d be rude.) Problems occur when visitors bring their bad habits with them.

Consider placing a sign in your guest bathroom politely asking guests to toss the following in a wastebasket.

  • Cotton balls
  • Q-tips
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Floss
  • Paper towels
  • Wet wipes

The problem with the abovementioned items is that they don’t break down in water. They’ll catch on bends in the pipe and form a serious obstruction. Encouraging guests to throw them in the trash, not the toilet, we’ll spare them embarrassment and you frustration.

For all of your plumbing needs this holiday season, turn to the friendly neighborhood plumbers at Plumb Doctor. To schedule your appointment, call (770) 293-7080.