You've probably been told a million times that you shouldn't flush certain things down the drain or toilets in your home, but unless you've had a clogged pipe or flooded bathroom, you probably didn't pay as much attention to the warning as you should have. You might want to rethink what you put down into your sewer system because the consequences of flushing the wrong things can be a nightmare. You could end up with a fatberg, a plumbing problem that's a lot less funny than its name suggests. Here's a little information on what a fatberg is, how it forms, and what you can do to prevent them from damaging your sewer system.
What fatbergs are
Fatbergs are massive lumps of congealed fat and other non-flushable items that have been flushed down into the sewer system. These objects, which don't break down in water, clump together, bound by fat poured down drains and into toilets and form large masses that eventually block your sewer system. Sometimes these can reach epic proportions, such as the one that destroyed a 70-year-old section of London's sewer system. It weighed in at over ten tons and cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, but even small fatbergs can cost you a great deal of money.
How they form
Fatbergs form when items like sanitary towels, tampons, wet wipes, and other fibrous items are flushed down the toilet. These combine with cooking oils and fats that are often poured down drains. The once warm fat cools as it hits the cold sewer pipes and builds up into a sticky mess that attracts the inappropriately-flushed items and leads to the formation of blockages that can damage the pipes. These blockages, or fatbergs, can be small enough to pass through into the main sewer system, but often they get too big and lead to a complete blockage of your pipes, which can result in wastewater backing up and flooding your home.
Fatbergs are unpleasant at best, and can be very costly if they damage your home's sewer lines. Removing them can be expensive and messy, so you are better off trying to prevent them from forming in the first place.
How to prevent fatbergs
Fatberg prevention is pretty straightforward, but it mostly boils down to two things. First, keep your sewer lines cleaned out with regular sewer cleaning services from a plumber. Consider this part of your routine plumbing maintenance if you want to prevent your sewer line from being "sunk" by a fatberg.
Second, always follow the "three-P" rule of what you can and can't flush down your toilet. This means you can flush pee, poop, and paper, but only toilet paper, not paper towels or any other sort of paper products. No flushing away wipes or food, even if you think they're soft enough to go down easily.
No matter how cautious you are, some grease and debris will wind up in your pipes. This is normal and isn't usually a problem in the short term, but if you never have your pipes cleaned it could lead to problems later on. When you do decide that it's time to clean your pipes, don't try a DIY approach. Most homemade remedies, like baking soda and vinegar poured down the drain, can't penetrate far enough to make a difference. Also, skip the harsh chemical drain cleaners, because they can damage some types of pipes and release toxic chemicals into the environment, which is almost as scary as a huge fatberg growing in your sewer system.
Keep your sewer system fatberg-free and flowing smoothly with regular sewer cleanings and by sticking to the "three-P" rule. Your pipes will thank you for it, and you may be able to avoid one of the most disgusting plumbing disasters, too. If you are interested in learning about sewer cleaning services, read more here.