Trap Maintenance and Regulations

oil and grease collection

Grease Trap Regulations and Maintenance

Grease trap regulations, cleaning, maintenance, retention of records, disposal manifests and inspections are topics of critical importance to every restaurant and food processing facility.

First and foremost, in Texas restaurants must comply with the regulations provided by their local governing body, usually the city water department, health department or both. The city code of ordinances Article XI provides the rules on maintenance and disposal of grease trap waste. The Health department conducts inspections of grease traps.

The Houston Public Works Department instituted a Special Waste Program that requires permitting for every restaurant or food facility that generates special waste. It also requires permits for every transporter of special waste. Special waste is not classified as hazardous waste but rather waste that can harm the people and ecosystems. The state of Texas defines special waste as: Special waste is any solid waste that requires special handling and disposal because of its quantity, concentration, physical or chemical characteristics, or biological properties.

Key grease trap maintenance regulations in Houston

Grease traps must be cleaned at least every 90 days unless a written waiver has been granted by the Houston Public Works department. Before your grease trap is cleaned by a professional you, as a restaurant owner, must:

Both copies of the manifest must be kept onsite for a period of 5 years.

Grease trap inspections in Houston

Inspections are done on a routine basis or if a complaint is received.

During an inspection, the investigator will ask to see the following documents:

Investigators will check your trap and sample well to ensure that your special waste is within the mandated parameters. Your dumpster, rendering oil bin, and surrounding area will also be checked for proper maintenance and upkeep. Upon completion of the inspection, you will be asked to sign the inspection form. Copies of the inspection form will be provided for your records.

Grease Trap Maintenance Regulations in Austin

Grease trap cleaning in Austin is required every 90  days, as in Houston, but Austin has the added requirement  that  “all traps must be cleaned when grease and solids accumulation in the final compartment reaches 50% or more of the wetted height of the grease trap, meaning that many traps will have to be cleaned more often than the once every three months minimum.”

Austin also does wastewater sampling to insure that restaurant discharge is within the FOG limit of 200 mg/Liter. Violations of any of the requirements can result in a $2000 fine per occurrence.

The balance of the grease trap regulations in Austin are similar to those of Houston.These Austin Grease Trap FAQs are a good summary of Austin’s grease trap regulations.

Grease Trap Maintenance Regulations in San Antonio

San Antonio employs a FOG ordinance called the SAWS Grease Reduction Program. SAWS (San Antonio Water Systems) implemented this program because the EPA is focused on SSOs (sanitary sewer overflows) in cities across the U.S. Historically, 75% of SSOs in San Antonio are attributed to grease and debris.

The SAWS program focuses on Sec. 34-527 of the city code which focuses on maintenance of grease traps. It states that the wetted height of the interceptor cannot exceed 25% as measured from the bottom of the device to the invert of the outlet pipe.

Exceeding this limit will result in a Notice of Violation (NOV) and can lead to substantial fines.

San Antonio has focused its enforcement on “instant results” using a long measuring pole called a sludge judge. This reduces the reliance on sampling by providing instantaneous measurement of the 25% rule which is explained here.

A long measuring stick (photo here) is inserted into the grease trap. The height of the trap is measured along with the height of the solids, the height of the water and the height of the grease on the top.

For example if the height of the trap is 40”, the grease on top is 4” and the sludge at the bottom is 2” then the calculation is:

(4”+2”)/40”=15%  which is less than the max of 25% according to both SAWS and the 25% rule. This means the restaurant is in compliance. This instant feedback from the Sludge Judge is the core of the San Antonio grease trap maintenance program. However, sampling may still take place and produce a different result. 

Recommended Maintenance Practices for Restaurants with Grease Traps

Understanding the grease trap rules and regulations of your local city is important. But, it is just as important  to review and implement best management practices for your employees to insure you stay in compliance.

Best Management Practices for Grease Traps

  1. Clean grease traps regularly. The frequency of cleaning depends on the size of your trap and volume of grease flowing through your kitchen. Clean under sink traps weekly.
  2. Dry wipe dishes before cleaning. This helps reduce the amount of grease flowing into your grease traps.
  3. Cover outdoor grease bins.This reduces theft and prevents rodents from getting in.
  4. Install screens on all kitchen drains. Prevents food particles from entering the plumbing.
  5. Keep a maintenance log. Record your grease trap cleanings and observations.
  6. Implement a training plan for kitchen staff. Train staff on management practices including checking on the grease trap.
  7. Post “no grease” signs in front of sinks and dishwashers.
  8. Recycle all used cooking oil. This goes without saying.
  9. Do not place grease in kitchen or bathroom sinks or toilets.
  10. Never use a garbage disposal. Clogged pipes and a damaged trap could be the result.
  11. Do not run water over 140 degrees into a pipe connected to a grease trap.

The importance of regular grease trap cleanings cannot be overstated. While staying in compliance is important, it is even more important to ensure that the trap is always functioning properly. To this end a restaurant should regularly inspect the grease trap, checking to see if watering is flowing through as it should and to see if it is in compliance with the 25% rule. In the case of foul odors the grease trap cleaning company should be called immediately. It could be the result of a broken seal or a nonfunctioning trap. Don’t wait to call. Disaster could be just around the corner.

Grease trap cleaning

While it is legally possible for restaurant staff to clean a grease trap in many cities, it is not recommended anywhere. Professional grease trap service has many benefits.


Cleaning a grease trap requires knowledge and experience. Pumping requires the right sort of equipment to remove the grease and then even more expertise to ensure that the grease and wastewater is disposed of properly. Improper disposal of either can bring hefty fines to a restaurant.

Removing baffles, scraping the sides of the trap to remove hardened grease, and correctly replacing baffles is not something to be done by someone with little experience. Inspecting seals

and looking for cracks in parts of the trap requires a trained eye. Further yet is the checking of flow control valves for cracks, corrosion and proper functioning while the air control must be checked for proper venting to ensure a proper mixture of air and wastewater.

While pumping out or scraping out the grease might seem like a complete job it is not. Only a trained grease trap cleaner can properly maintain your grease trap. Trying to save a couple of dollars by having kitchen staff perform these functions is not a good plan.


A professional grease trap technician will take steps to ensure a restaurant stays in compliance with local regulations. He will check for compliance with the 25% rule, provide copies of manifests for cleaning, and check for items or issues that an inspector will look for. In that vein, he can prevent violations, citations and fines.

Because regulations change frequently your grease trap cleaning expert will be aware of the latest regulations that your restaurant needs to be in compliance with. Your expert will know if your grease trap can still handle the volume of grease being produced by your restaurant and whether or not your grease trap permit has lapsed and needs to be renewed.

Environmental Assurance

Many restaurateurs don’t realize that they are responsible for the disposal of their used cooking grease and grease trap contents even if they are taken away by a third party. Having a licensed professional grease trap cleaning company ensures that your grease is properly and legally disposed of and not harming the environment. That is a comforting thought and not something a restaurateur should spend time worrying about.


Having a professional grease trap cleaning company inspecting and maintaining your traps, cleaning out the contents and properly disposing of it is a huge time saver for a restaurant owner. The low cost of grease trap maintenance when handled by a professional trap cleaning company frees up time for the staff and management to focus on running the operations of the restaurant. And isn’t that what a restaurant owner wants? Staff and management focused on customers and restaurant operations?

Reduced Risk of Emergencies

The most important benefit of having a professional grease trap cleaning service is the reduction of risk of a grease trap emergency. Because grease trap pros will likely spot a potential risk well in advance of a restaurant employee, those costly overflows, foul odors, backed up kitchen waste lines and sewer clogs can be avoided. And all of those events can cost a restaurant dearly in terms of fines, closures, reputation and lost customers.

Emergency Service for Flooded Grease Traps

Any time there is a flood, such as with a hurricane or tropical storm the grease trap must be inspected, tested, and repaired if needed, before bringing the restaurant back into service. A flooded grease trap will not function and debris and fast flowing water can cause permanent damage to a grease trap. Call ReGrease immediately to inspect or pump your grease trap after a flood if you suspect it isn’t working properly. Have them perform preventive maintenance to try to avoid emergencies.

Choosing a Grease Trap Cleaning Service


There are several important factors to consider in selecting a company to clean your grease traps. First, any grease trap cleaning company should have adequate insurance (Liability insurance with $1MM per occurrence). Secondly, they need to be properly licensed in your state. Thirdly, they should have adequate experience and high quality reviews that reflect that experience.

You are hiring a professional partner, someone you need to be able to trust to be sure your restaurant is in compliance and out of harm’s way. Your choice needs to be someone you can be sure will be responsive in an emergency situation, someone you can reach 24/7.

A Fit for your Restaurant

“One size fits all” is a phrase that should generate concern. If your restaurant has a dozen tables, doesn’t fry a lot of food and has one or two under the sink grease traps, there are probably dozens of grease trap cleaning companies that can do the job if they have the ratings, reviews and insurance discussed above.

But if you are a large fry house cooking up hundreds of chickens a day and preparing hundreds of fish and chips meals you may need a different level of service. A company that easily handles a very large outdoor, underground grease trap has different trucks and equipment than a grease trap company focusing on smaller restaurants.

Ask your prospective grease trap cleaning company about clients they have that are similar to you in size and equipment. Ask for references and ask to speak to those clients.

Transparent Pricing

Misunderstandings in pricing are a prescription for trouble. Ask for a written price quote to cover all of the services you might need. Ask them what happens if the landfill or processor where they take their wastewater increases their prices. How will that affect their pricing to you? Is there a timeframe within which this pricing doesn’t change? What about emergency service? What is the turnaround time and pricing for an emergency? Pricing needs to be clear and specific with time frames attached.


When a grease trap issue occurs there is often not a lot of time to respond before it impacts a restaurant’s business. Think of a pipe backed up into the kitchen or foul odors in the parking lot wafting into the restaurant or a failed inspection. Your grease trap partner needs to be accessible and to respond quickly.  You should have the phone number of the CEO or a senior operations officer that you can reach 24/7. You don’t want to have to call into a large phone bank at 2:00 am, when the night shift finds a malodorous backup in the kitchen.

You need to reach a decision maker who can get trucks rolling to solve your problem quickly. This is one of the questions that you need to ask several current clients of your prospective grease partner.

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