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How to guard against a sink backup and other potential plumbing crises on Thanksgiving


Last updated 11/21/2019 at 3:03pm

CAPTION: Don't put these items down the garbage disposal.

Dale Anderson

Special to Village News

The holidays are prime time for a plumbing crisis, especially Thanksgiving. It's easy to imagine why; it's all that cooking and cleanup.

It's stressful enough getting the house spiffed up for guests. Then the food shopping begins and shoppers must lug that huge turkey home.

Next, families begin preparing the vittles, but this time is the moment to think about plumbing. Yep, think about protecting the plumbing now and help prevent a disaster when guests arrive.

The garbage disposal will get more of a workout over the holidays than any other time of the year. Consider this list of what not to be feeding it.

The main troublemakers for garbage disposals and a home's plumbing are potatoes and potato peelings – sweet potatoes and regular potatoes; oil, grease, butter and margarine; bones; banana peelings, celery, artichokes, corn husks, onion skins and other fibrous foods; egg shells; fruit pits; pasta and coffee grounds.

Yes, some of these items may make it down the garbage disposal fine – at first. In small bits, it may not have a problem at all.

But let's get real. Families will likely be frazzled with the prep work, looking at the clock, wondering if the mashed potatoes will be pasty enough to apply wallpaper and if they have enough wine so no one will notice. Best to keep it simple and just say "no" to putting even "small bits" of these items down the garbage disposal.

The real problem isn't so much that the garbage disposal may break down. It's that the kitchen sink and other plumbing may back up.

That's because the garbage disposal, naturally, feeds into the rest of the plumbing. When those bits and pieces are pushed down into the garbage disposal and ground up, they need to make it through the home's main plumbing and into the sewer line. The problem comes when they can't make it all the way through the line.

When looking at the list above, it's understandable why they may not all make it through the plumbing pipes. Potatoes, after all, are primarily starch. With enough starch and just a little water – these are times of water conservation, the potatoes turn to paste. That paste lays somewhere inside the plumbing line and eventually mixes with everything else that goes down the drains.

Bones are hard to grind and may break the garbage disposal. But even if the garbage disposal is powerful enough to grind up bones, then what is left? Mostly calcium particles. And calcium is one of the minerals that build up in plumbing pipes. Egg shells may grind up in the garbage disposal, but like bones, they're made up primarily of calcium. That mineral build up eventually causes pipes to corrode and leak, but not right away.

At first they lay there in the pipes and mix with the oil, potato paste and coffee grounds just a few feet below the kitchen sink inside the drainage pipes. Then imagine if a few bits of fibrous foods like banana peelings, celery or onion skins are pushed through. These fibers often get wound up in the blades, making them difficult to grind up. They may even cause garbage disposal to stop working altogether.

Voila. It's the perfect recipe for a plumbing backup. And it's most likely going to back up at the kitchen sink, either right before guests arrive or after the meal while everyone is helping to clean up.

This very scenario actually happened to a friend of mine. It was her first Thanksgiving meal with her new husband and her husband's family. She's a vegetarian so it was her first time cooking a turkey. She'd peeled a massive amount of potatoes to make mashed potatoes, continuously pushing those potato peelings down the garbage disposal.

The peelings mixed with the egg shells and coffee grinds she'd previously dumped in the garbage disposal after breakfast. The garbage disposal chugged through the onslaught of peelings, egg shells, coffee grinds and butter drippings from breakfast.

And the sink backed up; then the smoke alarm went off. The paper holding the gizzards inside the turkey caught on fire – she didn't know to look for paper inside the turkey. Then the doorbell rang.

Her mother-in-law arrived in time to throw baking soda into the oven to extinguish the fire. It all ended well in her case. In fact, her in-laws had a good laugh about it. It turned out to be a great bonding experience. They had enough wine that no one complained about the pasty mashed potatoes or burnt turkey. Since they couldn't use the dishwasher or wash the dishes by hand, they all helped to stack up the dirty dishes. First thing the next day, she got to know her plumber.

Yes, the day after Thanksgiving is a busy day for plumbers. Call them for any plumbing issue. We are locally owned and operated. In fact, I grew up in Fallbrook helping in my dad's plumbing business, and now I've been running my own plumbing business here for over 30 years.

If we're too busy, I'll recommend another locally owned and operated plumber. Most plumbers people find online may appear local, but actually many are contract plumbers from all over. So with those guys, people will never know who will show up at their door.

Hopefully, these tips about what to keep out of the garbage disposal will help reduce stress over the holidays. Helping neighbors save money and reduce the stress of plumbing issues is our mission at Waterheaters Plus Plumbing.

Dale Anderson is the owner of Waterheaters Plus Plumbing in Bonsall, Fallbrook, Oceanside, Temecula and Vista. For more information, visit


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