It’s no coincidence that garbage disposers often break on Thanksgiving Day—or that the day after is Roto-Rooter’s busiest of the year. Poultry skin and pumpkin pulp are clog culprits. And liquid grease solidifies when it cools, coating and clogging pipes. Add well-meaning guests who want to pitch in, and you can see how disaster is on the menu. Here's how to prevent a clogged drain this holiday season. 

"We get about a 50 percent increase in business the day after Thanksgiving, compared to an average Friday. And we see a 27 percent uptick in business that weekend compared to the other weekends in November," says Paul Abrams, director of public relations for Roto-Rooter. Plumbers stay busy unclogging toilets, sinks, and garbage disposers.

In the kitchen, stringy, fibrous, or starchy foods are hard to grind and tough on the garbage disposer—it's better to toss the waste in the garbage or the compost pile. Poultry skin, potato peels, rice, celery, banana peels, and pumpkin pulp are on the hard-to-grind list. 

Oils and fats solidify and can choke drains. Collect fat in a jar, let it congeal, then throw the grease away. In most cases if the disposer is broken and clogged, the sink won’t drain easily. So reach for a small hand-crank plumbing snake to push debris into the branch drain line, or try a plunger (accordion-style ones worked best in Consumer Reports' past tests). Cans of pressurized gas, sold at home centers and online, worked even better.

For a double sink, put a drain cover over the drain you’re not plunging to allow the pressure you’re creating to work. Drain cleaner should be the last resort, and if it doesn’t do the trick, let a plumber know that it’s in the line so that he can protect himself against its caustic lye.  

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Clog-Preventing Tips From Roto-Rooter

  • Do remove grease from pans with paper towels then toss.
  • Do run cold water for 15 seconds before using the garbage disposer. 
  • Do run the disposer before adding food waste. 
  • Do run cold water for 15 seconds after using the disposer to flush waste down the main line. 
  • Don't wait until the disposer is full to use it.
  • Do ask weekend guests to wait 10 minutes between showers so slower drains have time to drain.
  • Don't flush cotton balls or swabs down the toilet. They cause clogs since they don't dissolve.

If a plumbing problem occurs, be sure to ask your plumber if there's an extra holiday service fee. And if a new garbage disposer in what's needed, check out this garbage disposer buying guide and ratings.