What Could Happen if you Put Grease Down the Drain?
Your drain-waste system is not designed to handle fats, grease and oils (FOGs). Whether you are connected to the city’s sewer lines or are on a septic system, you should never dump grease down your drains.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions that there are safe ways to pour grease down the drain but the truth is that there isn’t. Cooking oil should be cooled, put in a sealable container and thrown the trash.
If you pour grease down the drain, it combines with other substances in the wastewater and solidifies creating clogs. This results in slow draining fixtures or even sewer backups. Excessive grease in drains will damage septic systems and/or cause fatbergs which can cause sewer backups in entire neighborhoods.
If you accidentally pour grease down your drain, pour half a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar. After about 10 minutes, squirt a generous amount of dish soap in the drain and follow it up with a gallon of boiling water.
It is important to act fast before the grease solidifies. It becomes difficult to remove solid fats from a drainpipe than breaking down liquid oil.
While hot water will successfully melt solid fats, the change is always a temporary one. The fats will afterwards solidify farther down in the drain resulting in serious clogs or a damaged septic system.
Not only is grease bad for our plumbing, it also negatively affects the environment. Since oil is less dense than water, it floats on water bodies like rivers and lakes, starving aquatic life off oxygen.
The best way to dispose grease after cooking is to let it cool then put it in a sealable container. Wipe oily surfaces with disposable paper towels and put the papers in the container as well. Seal the container and put in the trash or drop it off in a recycling center.
What to do if you accidentally pour Grease down the Drain
Sometimes you or someone in your family will pour grease down the drain not because of ignorance but by sheer accident. What should you do then in such a scenario?
There are 2 ways to deal with the problem. One is the universally accepted way and the other one is something I would do myself based on my experience in plumbing.
Let us start with what everyone does or should do.
1. Use Baking Soda, Vinegar and Hot Water
The best way to dissolve grease is by using baking soda and vinegar. Baking soda (an alkali) and vinegar (a weak acid) will react together to break down the fatty acids and in the process form soap and glycerin. This prevents the grease from solidifying and creating clogs in the drain
This is how to proceed:
- Pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain.
- Slowly add 1 cup of vinegar. I say slowly since it reacts very quickly with the baking soda.
- Seal the drain. Since there will be a fizzing reaction, you need to maintain it inside the drain.
- Wait for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Squirt a generous amount of dish soap in the drain.
- Follow it up with a gallon of boiling water. For the same reason that it is easier to clean oily dishes with hot water than cold water.
While the baking soda and vinegar will break down the grease inside the drainpipe, boiling water and dish soap will further break it down and flush it down the drainpipe.
Note: If you have PVC drainpipes you should use your usual hot water faucet and not boiling water. Steel drainpipes will do just fine with boiling water.
Now that we have seen the first method, let us look at what I would do myself to limit the effect of the grease in my plumbing system.
2. Drain Oil from the P-trap
If you look under your kitchen sink, you will notice that there us a U-bend on the drainpipe. That piece is known as a P-trap and is there by design and not accident.
A P-trap’s shape helps it to trap potential drain clogs. Removing clogs from drain traps is easier than having to snake the drainpipe.
Secondly, its shape also allows it to have water at all times. The water acts as a barrier, preventing sewer gases from coming up through the drain.
If you poured grease down your drain, it means that the P-trap is now full of grease and not water. Wouldn’t it be wise to first remove the grease inside the drain trap and then try to break down the one which made past it using baking soda and vinegar later?
I thought so as well!
That is where this method comes in. Here is how to remove grease from a drain trap:
- Start by removing the items in the sink cabinet. If you store items underneath the kitchen sink, start by putting them away to give yourself room to work with.
- Place a small container or pan under the P-trap. You do not want to spill the grease on the floor.
- Disconnect the P-trap. If you look at the P-trap, you will notice that it has a long arm and a short arm. You should start by disconnecting the short arm so that all the grease can flow out via gravity.
- When disconnecting the P-trap, always attempt to loosen the connections with your hands before reaching out for a wrench. In most cases the connections are only hand-tight.
- Drain out the grease into the container.
- If you have a double-bowl kitchen sink, you can as well disconnect the tee to make sure there is no oil in that horizontal section of the pipe as well.
- Connect the P-trap back.
- Dispose the grease appropriately.
- Now pour half a cup of baking soda followed by vinegar and wait for 10 minutes. This will break down the grease that is still trapped in the drainpipe.
- Flush the drain using a gallon of boiling water.
I like this second method since it allows you to remove some of the grease from the drain instead of having to deal with all of it.
How to Dispose Fats, Grease and Oils
After finishing preparing bacon or French fries, let the cooking oil cool and then pour it out in a sealable container. Once it has solidified, toss it in the trash.
You should also try as much as possible to wipe down oily pots and dishes using disposable paper towels and put them in the same sealable container as the cooking oil. This minimizes the amount of oil going into your drain.
If you live in an area that recycles cooking oil, what you can do is put the cooking oil in a sealable container and once you have enough of it drop it off in the recycling center.
These oils are used in the manufacture of diesel engine fuels, pet food and livestock feeds. They are also used in the cosmetic industry.
What Happens when You Pour Grease down Your Drain
Cooking oils are very viscous. They therefore drain out slowly, coating the drainpipes and causing them to be sticky. With time, food scraps, coffee grounds and other solid wastes will bond with the grease and cause a nasty clog in your drains.
The fixtures will start by draining slowly and then if the problem is not rectified the clog will be solid resulting in sewer backups.
If you are on a septic system, the grease will float at the top of the septic tank, inhibiting decomposition of waste by the microbes. They will also flow out into the leach field and clog the pipes as well.
Once your leach field pipes are clogged, water cannot drain out and as a result your drains will start to experience sewage backups. Not only is that a health hazard but it will also cause you thousands of dollars to dig up the pipes and fix the problem.
If the oils manage to get out of your drainpipe, they will combine with wastewater from the neighborhood and combine with compounds (especially calcium) to form a stick and waxy substance.
More of these substances combine to form what is called a fatberg like this one found in a London sewer. Fatbergs can grow in size and clog entire neighborhood’s sewer line resulting in serious sewage backups.
1. Can you pour grease down the drain as long as you are running hot water at the same time?
No. while the hot water will move the grease down the pipe easily, water and oil don’t mix. Eventually, the oil will cool and solidify and result in clogs.
2. Can you pour oils and grease down the drain as long as you are running the garbage disposable?
A garbage disposal cannot break down grease into a substance that cannot clog drains. It will surely grind fatty waste but the fats will collect and coat the drainpipe causing drain clogs.
3. Is it acceptable to pour grease down the drain if you are using dish soap as well?
Again, dish soap will break down the grease but only for a short while. The oils will later come together and cause clogs.