Water Protection Program

Put Your Plumbing on a Healthy Diet

You probably know that many of those delicious, high-fat, down-home, home-cooked meals are bad for your arteries. But, did you also know that the fat, lard and grease that make them so tasty are bad for your plumbing, too? The greasy messes that you pour or scrape down the kitchen sink will eventually find their way into the sewer system, either yours, or the city lines you’re hooked up to.

Clogged sewer pipes look surprisingly like the clogged arteries of someone who’s spent a lifetime enjoying those guilty pleasures like fried chicken, bacon, hamburgers and French fries. The grease sticks to the inside of sewer pipes just like cholesterol sticks to human plumbing. In both cases, even though it may take awhile, eventually the grease can build up and block the entire pipe. And, just like healthcare costs, repairing the damage done to your sewer and septic system from pouring grease down the drain can cost upwards of several hundred dollars.

According to Chuck Harwood, soil scientist with the Department of Natural Resources Water Protection Program, a little preventive maintenance and some small lifestyle changes will help you keep your plumbing in good shape. “Cooking oils, butter and grease should never be poured down the drain,” says Harwood. “Unfortunately, a lot of people think turning on their garbage disposals or running hot water in the sink will keep the grease from clogging the plumbing. As soon as the water cools, the grease congeals and sticks to the pipe wall. Garbage disposals are not designed to get rid of the grease, they just cut it into tiny bits.” Harwood also advises using caution when using commercial additives on grease clogs. “Sometimes they push grease down the line and it simply gets stuck in another area further along the pipe or septic system.”

Harwood says there is a low-tech alternative to dumping grease down the drain. “Keep a can near the cooking area. Pour the grease into it and when it’s filled, put it in the garbage,” says Harwood. “It’s pretty simple, but very effective.”

At first glance, grease clogs may not seem like such a serious problem. However, homeowners and restaurants using septic systems, and sewered communities across the state, are finding out just how much damage they can do. When pipes are full of grease, it can result in raw sewage backing up into your home or overflowing into streets and yards. “When sewers overflow, or backup, they can be harmful to the environment, your health and even cause damage to your home,” says Harwood. In addition, the costs of clean-up or replacement of your septic system can be considerable. Increased maintenance of community sewers may be passed on to consumers in the form of higher bills from local sewer departments.

Putting your plumbing on a fat free diet is a win-win-win situation says Harwood, “It’s good for your pocketbook. It’s good for the health of your plumbing. And, in the end, it’s better for the environment when grease is disposed of properly. What could be easier or better than that?”