The 6 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Cleaning Up After Thanksgiving, According to a Plumber

published Nov 25, 2021
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Sink and chandelier area of Laurel Harry's kitchen.
Credit: Lindsey Stewart

Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for many home cooks. But the day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest day for plumbers. In fact, Paul Abrams, the public relations director at Roto-Rooter, says that with the exception of unforeseen weather events, the Friday after Turkey Day has historically been the most-booked day for years. 

As some of us have learned the hard way, there are a few potential pitfalls when it comes to our kitchen drains on Thanksgiving. Here are the six biggest mistakes people make on Thanksgiving weekend, according to a professional plumber.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

1. Putting too many food scraps in the garbage disposal.

“Because they’re called ‘garbage disposals,’ we think we can put anything in them,” Abrams says. “But in-sink disposals can only handle so much food waste.” Overloading your disposal can cause it to break down or clog the drain. Abrams says the best way to avoid this is to scrape each plate into the garbage bin before doing anything else. “The little bit of food leftover after scraping is totally okay,” he explains. “That’s something most disposals will be able to handle.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

2. Putting stringy or fibrous foods in the garbage disposal.

You probably know that your garbage disposal can’t handle huge pieces of food. So whatever you do, don’t stuff a whole onion down there (not that you would). But most home cooks aren’t aware that some foods are totally off-limits for in-sink disposals. Abrams says that any stringy or fibrous food should go into the compost or the trash. “Things like celery, rhubarb, or poultry skin will exacerbate any existing slow drain problems,” he says. “Clogs love fiber.” 

Another huge “don’t” for disposals? Starchy foods. Starch thickens when wet — it’s why we add pasta cooking water to our sauces — which can mean a big problem in your drain. Cooked pasta can cause huge blockages in disposals and so can potato peels. To avoid a clog, peel spuds over the trash, not the sink.

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3. Pouring hot grease down the drain.

When you’ve got a hot pan of turkey drippings or melted butter, the sink may seem like the easiest and best place to dispose of it (after all, screaming-hot oil in a plastic trash liner would be bad). But, in truth, molten lava-like fats will solidify as they cool and coat your drain pipes. Abrams notes that most sink and tub pipes are two inches in diameter. But over time, gunk and grease decrease the opening’s width. If your pipes are already coated with buildup, a turkey’s worth of rendered fat just may be the tipping point that causes a major clog.

4. Using harsh decloggers as your first choice.

“Most people immediately try to fix a clog with a [store-bought] drain cleaner,” says Abrams. Before you grab the bottle of drain cleaner, try using a plunger first

“Use a dedicated sink plunger, not the toilet plunger,” Abrams says. A shallow red-cup style plunger is the right tool for the job and is readily available at most hardware stores (and online, too.) To plunge, put a little water in the sink so the cup of the plunger is submerged. If you have a double-bay sink, you’ll want to close the other drain before plunging — otherwise the water will just go right up and out that opening, Abrams says. A few quick plunges are often enough to release the clog.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

5. Not disclosing your use of drain decloggers to the plumber.

If you did use a store-bought drain cleaner, it’s crucial to share that detail because those products are lye-based and incredibly caustic. If you tried to fix a clog with a chemical drain cleaner and the clog is still there, the toxic materials will be, too. “Trust me, your plumber will appreciate knowing that there are chemicals present,” says Abrams. “They won’t judge you, but it will allow them to take safety precautions before investigating the problem.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

6. Running the dishwasher during laundry cycles and showers.

“Dishwashers, showers, and washing machines all deposit small amounts of refuse into your drains,” explains Abrams. In normal circumstances, the bits of food waste that your dishwasher produces aren’t enough to cause an issue. But if you’ve been overloading your system — especially if you have a fuller-than-usual house with guests — running too many drain-centric processes at once can cause clogs and backup. Modern houses, built after the 1990s, typically have PVC pipes, which are pretty indestructible and can handle a heavier load. But if you live in an old house, or are rough on your pipes, don’t take the chance. “It’s just a lot going into your sewer at once,” Abrams explains. “Spread out the chores, relax, and enjoy your guests.”

Have you ever had a Thanksgiving plumbing disaster? Tell us about it in the comments below.