Ever had a kitchen or bathroom drain that stunk like Nemo was trapped in there? Smelly drains are often slow moving, too. And embarrassing.
But step away from that bottle of caustic cleaner—it’s hard on your plumbing and the environment. I’ve got some household remedies to clean and deodorize drains throughout your home, from smelly sink drains to stinky ones in your tub or shower.
Causes of Smelly Drains
Think about all the stuff that goes down your drain: cooking oils and food particles, dirt, hair, maybe even your kid’s pet fish when they’re trying to give it a bath. That mix forms a slimy layer known as biofilm.
As the name implies, biofilm contains living stuff (besides your kid’s fish). Specifically, microorganisms and bacteria. And when bacteria breeds it smells. The stink in your drain? That’s essentially bacteria farts and rotting gunk.
How to Clean Stinky Drains
Daily living can lead to minor drain odors, like when you wash the dog in the tub or do the dishes after a fish dinner. For those, you probably just need a quick fix like the one below. But if your stinky drain is stinking up your whole kitchen or bathroom, it’s time for the stronger methods further down.
Minor odor solutions
For a quick fix for minor odors, squirt a couple tablespoons of dish soap down the drain and follow with hot water. The combo of degreasing dish soap and hot water dissolves the biofilm and flushes it away.
If the drain is also working slowly, swap a pot of almost boiling vinegar for the hot water. The acetic acid in vinegar adds even more degreasing power and can dissolve minor clogs.
Baking soda and vinegar done right
Most people do the baking soda and vinegar drain cleaning combination wrong. The key is to first loosen the biofilm with hot water, then direct the fizzing reaction into the drain where it can scour the biofilm.
- If it’s a double or divided sink, plug one side.
- Run hot water in the open side for couple of minutes, then turn it off.
- Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of baking soda down the drain. Use a paper funnel if needed.
- Immediately add 1 to 2 cups of vinegar (double your baking soda amount).
- Cover the drain with a cloth or plug to keep the fizzing action inside.
- After 10 minutes, flush with hot water for a minute. Repeat on the other side.
The ultimate snake solution
When the standard solutions don’t fix your smelly drain, you’re likely working on a clog. Taking prompt action can spare you a call to the plumber. But first, you need a plastic drain snake from the hardware store or online. (I keep a set on hand for just such occasions.)
- Remove the plug and feed the snake down the drain gently. Don’t force it.
- Turn the handle to snag debris and loosen biofilm.
- Pull it straight out to remove the gunk.
- Follow up with the baking soda and vinegar method to eliminate the biofilm and stink.
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Tips to Prevent Drain Odors
Put Your drain on a diet
What do a drain and your throat have in common? For one thing, pouring grease directly down either is not a good idea. To keep grease out of your drain, let it cool or use a solidifying powder then scrape it into the trash.
And just like you stay healthy by watching what you eat, you need to watch what you feed your drains, too. Keep the junk out with a drain screen or basket filter, so chunks of food and hair don’t get stuck and make your drain stink.
Keep it hydrated
Drains are supposed to have a little water in them at all times. This water hangs out in the P-trap where blocks sewer gas from rising and entering your home. So, even in bathrooms no one uses, run the taps and flush the commode weekly.
You can refresh your drain with a little lemon water once a week, too. Lemon juice is a great degreaser that also leaves a nice citrus scent. So, give your drains a weekly glass of hot water with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to keep them smelling fresh.
Still smelling that stench? Maybe it’s time to clean your garbage disposal. Who knows, you might just find Nemo.