Is Grease Trap Service Right For Your Pumping Company?

Consider the differences between septage and grease when preparing to start a new specialty service.

Is Grease Trap Service Right For Your Pumping Company?

  An electric reel with 300 feet of suction hose helps Cortese Pump Service technician Mike Toscana when he has to make a long run to a grease trap. It’s much easier than running sections of hose.

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Septic pumping and grease trap service have some things in common: vacuum trucks, disposal issues, practical routing considerations and customer service are chief among them. But as our profile story this month proves, there are a lot of striking differences between these two services provided side-by-side by a good number of our readers.

         Kurt Cortese (pronounced Cor-tees) and his company, Cortese Pump Services in Wayne, New Jersey, focus only on grease trap service. Reading our contractor profile story about his company could benefit all-purpose pumping outfits that want to start a grease trap speciality.

         An admitted neat freak, Cortese obsesses over the cleanliness of his trucks, the careful service he provides to well-known grease accounts — including Dunkin’, Pizza Hut and The Fresh Grocer — and the way he tailors his equipment choices for efficiency. He also wants to look sharp on the job for loyal customers he often sees several times a year.

         The steps Cortese takes to enhance his professional image can be considered inspiring. But as you will read in writer Betty Dageforde’s profile story, Cortese’s success could be boiled down to a succinct mission statement.

         “It’s a dirty job, but you don’t have to be dirty,” he explains in an online exclusive story at that complements the profile printed here.

         The story about Cortese and his wife, Stephanie, who founded the small service company in 2016, got me thinking about how we don’t often stop to consider how two popular pumping services — residential septic and grease trap cleaning — differ. I will admit that in many of our profile stories, we have glossed over the important distinctions between the two types of pumping work.

         Heck, if a guy or gal pumps septic tanks, they can certainly empty grease traps just the same, right? Well, many of you do it. But reading about Cortese reminds us that in many ways, grease traps are a whole different animal, and unindoctrinated pumpers should embark on that side of the pumping business with caution and a good strong plan in place.

         If you don’t currently handle grease but think it would be a good move, here are a few basic points to remember:


         The trend with most pumping companies is to always go bigger with vacuum tanks. For the typical residential pumper, the average new-truck tank is pushing closer to the 5,000-gallon range. This makes sense when you can stack up four or five septic tanks on a single load before visiting the treatment plant for disposal. But that strategy is the opposite for pumpers who want to service grease traps.

         Mobility, flexibility at urban and suburban grease trap locations, and better fuel economy point pumpers to outfit smaller, more nimble rigs for this specialty. A tank under 1,000 gallons isn’t going to do you much good on a septic service route, but it’s a great choice for pulling grease at restaurants, kitchens at convenience stores and grocers, and many other businesses that would be your bread and butter on a grease trap route. And practically speaking, you’ll want a dedicated truck for grease as most disposal facilities don’t want septage and grease commingled.

         Consider the need for another specialized truck as you contemplate getting into grease service in a bigger way. If the numbers work, by all means start shopping for that smaller truck.


         Your grease truck may need a different set of tools on board to satisfy the needs of your customers. For example, Cortese invested in a 300-foot suction hose mounted on a reel rather than dragging sections of hose with couplers through restaurant or retail settings to reach the traps. The long hose is cleaner and more efficient so he can get in and out quicker and with less chance of spillage.

         For grease jobs, a power washer is going to play a more critical role. Steam cleaning might also be important to thoroughly clean out stubborn tanks. And some trap locations may require you to have access to a smaller mobile vacuum unit to roll into a kitchen facility. These smaller wheeled units could allow you to park your truck further from the building or avoid the noise and vacuum pump exhaust odors that sometimes pose problems at busy restaurants or other retail locations.

         Speaking of odors given off by vacuum exhaust, contractors who handle a lot of grease work may need to utilize a deodorizing scent box to dampen the impact of offensive odors that could waft into or around their customers’ businesses during a service call. In these units, a liquid deodorant is vaporized and mixed with the exhaust to mask odors. Of course, kitchen customers will want you to work around their open-hours schedule to provide your service, which is another challenge of grease work: the potential to work unusual hours. 


         In grease trap work, your technicians will be face-to-face more often with customers — as well as with their retail customers. This differs from working a septic service route, where oftentimes the work is done during the day when nobody is home and a bill is left in the door or payment is in advance via credit card. Also, you tend to see grease trap customers more frequently, so you need to put your most professional foot forward.

         If you visit a grease customer quarterly to stay on top of their maintenance needs, you want to leave a positive impression by making sure technicians are clean and wearing fresh uniforms. A uniform program through a service is more of a must-have than if you only serve residential septic service clients. You want to make sure crews maintain a professional demeanor and quickly respond to concerns about clean service and potential odor issues. Yes, relationship building is important for residential septic pumping, where you may see a customer once every three to five years. But it is critical when you meet grease customers several times a year.


         Sometimes the biggest impediment to providing grease trap service has nothing to do with your trucks or your crew. If you can’t find a way to dispose of the grease efficiently and at a reasonable cost, it might be challenging to realize adequate profits for this necessary and valued pumping service.

         The unfortunate truth is that more and more municipal treatment plants are refusing to process grease. As they reach capacity limits or face government budget cuts, the municipal plants have been shying away from septage as well, but they view grease as an even bigger problem.

         If your go-to dump sites turn away grease, you need to find another disposal solution before you tap into the grease trap market. Check the landfills, look for private processors, consider collecting the waste in a bulk tanker and trucking it away in larger loads. You have to nail down disposal costs to determine if there is a profit to be made on the pumping end.


                  Many pumpers have found ways to profitably incorporate grease trap work into their menu of services. A few of them have turned what was a small sidelight into the lucrative moneymaker for their pumping company. As with any new business venture, preparation is the key to success. And for pumpers and grease, that means understanding the many nuances in equipment and skills needed to get the job done right. 


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