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How Do Fatbergs Form?

There is something rather unpleasant lurking deep underground, a monster of sorts, formed when wet wipes, grease and fat collide – behold the fatberg. 

This is not a work of fiction; fatbergs are real and could be accumulating in a drain near you! In our article, we discuss exactly what a fatberg is, how they are formed, the process of removing them and how they can be avoided – preferably after you have eaten your lunch. 

What is a fatberg and how are they formed?

Fatbergs, as the name suggests, are solidified masses of congealed non-biodegradable matter (think sanitary products, wet wipes and cotton buds), cooking oils and fats. These masses might have small beginnings but they can rapidly grow thanks to a process called saponification that traps debris, rapidly increasing its size.  

In 2021, a Liverpool-dwelling fatberg was measured to be approximately 250 metres long and weighed in at 400 tonnes. Though it’s not just urban areas at risk – back in 2019, in the sleepy seaside town of Sidmouth, amazed workers at South West Water stumbled on a fatberg that was more than 64 meters long. This fat-filled bloater had the dubious distinction of being the largest fatberg discovered in the organisation’s history.  

Can you get fatbergs in home drains?

The answer is yes – fatbergs can form in home drains, especially if you are guilty of pouring fats down the sink or flushing anything down the toilet that should be disposed of in another way. If you suspect you have a fledgling fatberg in your domestic drain, it’s best to seek the assistance of a drainage expert before it takes on a life of its own! 

How can you remove fatbergs?

The best method of removing a fatberg depends on its size and composition. Large fatbergs will need to be thoroughly assessed as removal could cause damage to the sewer. Quite often, high-powered jets are used to break up the fatberg into smaller pieces, making it easier to deal with. 

In turn, suction trucks or vacuum pumps will be fired up to remove the grease, debris and other matter from the drain. Afterwards, the contents of the fatberg will be transported away, sometimes to a water treatment plant or other type of centre if the oils can be recycled.  

How can you avoid fatbergs?

Fatbergs can indeed be avoided by being more mindful of how you dispose of non-biodegradable items. You might not think twice after pouring small amounts of cooking oil down your sink, but if everyone down your street is doing the same thing, as well as flushing wet wipes and sanitary products down the toilet, you are feeding a would-be fatberg! 

Wipe away excess fat and food with kitchen paper and throw it in the bin to help prevent excess debris from clogging up the drain. Also, try to dispose of other items accordingly. By making small changes, we can all help keep sewers flowing freely and prevent future fatbergs from forming. 

How do fatbergs form? Final thoughts

We hope you are suitably informed (possibly revolted too) by our in-depth look at fatbergs. Remember, the drainage experts at Draintech offer drain surveys and maintenance services to keep those frightful fatbergs at bay – why not contact us to find out more?