Tomorrow will be the busiest day of the year in many American kitchens. And it’s no coincidence that it will also be one of the busiest days of the year for plumbers. In the emergency plumbing business, garbage disposal and sink clogs are as much a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey and stuffing.
Thanksgiving isn’t the only day notorious for plumbing problems — the entire holiday season can push some household plumbing systems to their limit, both from the surge in kitchen activity and the increased bathroom traffic from gatherings and overnight guests. But if you observe a few best practices and perform some light maintenance, you can keep your kitchen and bathroom in prime plumbing condition for the holidays.
Disposals Aren’t for Everything
Used properly, your garbage disposal can save you from some of the messiest kitchen tasks. It’s ideal for disposing of leftovers that are too liquid or smelly for the trash can, and it can make quick work of a whole spectrum of kitchen scraps. But even top-of-the-line disposals can struggle with some substances, and knowing what to avoid is key.
This kitchen waste belongs in the trash, never the disposal:
Celery and asparagus: vegetables like these are so fibrous that they can actually wrap around the disposal blade and grind it to a halt.
Potato peels: this is a rookie Thanksgiving mistake — if you peel your potatoes into the disposal, you run the risk of creating a starchy paste that can gum up the works.
Fat, grease and oil: These can solidify around the blade and in your drain pipe, restricting movement and water flow.
Pasta and rice: These foods expand in water, even after they’ve been fully cooked. Stuffing your disposal with leftover noodles can overfill the chamber before you know it.
Bones: Fine fish bones are generally okay, but turkey bones and anything larger belongs in the garbage or compost.
Have a Plan
If you’ve never manually cleared a clog in your garbage disposal, now is the time to learn the safe and proper way. The best source for this information is your disposal’s manual, which you can likely find online with a quick search for your disposal’s manufacturer name and model number.
Most models have a manual crank at the bottom that allows you to turn the blade when it’s stuck. It’s never truly safe to reach into a garbage disposal, even when it’s completely disconnected from power, so the manual crank is the preferred method for loosening clogs.
Your disposal may also be able to shut itself down to prevent damage to the motor in the event of a clog. If your disposal has this feature, you’ll need to press a reset button to restore power once you’ve manually cleared the clog.
Whether you’re just entertaining for the evening or you’re putting up a house full of guests for several days, your bathrooms are going to get busy when you’re playing host. Before your guests arrive, peek inside your toilet’s tank just to make sure your flapper is in good condition and everything is in its place. It’s also a good idea to stick a plunger in the bathroom just so that it’s at the ready in the event of a potential overflow.
As for furnishing hot showers for everyone, you may find that you need to stagger showers at different times to avoid outrunning your water heater. If your water heater’s thermostat is set lower than 120 degrees — the highest safe setting — you’ll get a helpful boost by temporarily increasing the setting to that level.
And if you tend to play host to a big crowd year after year, you might consider making your next water heater a tankless model. They come at a higher upfront cost, but they’re more energy efficient than standard water heaters and you’ll never run out of hot water with their on-demand heating.