How To Clean Stinky Drains

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Knowing how to clean stinky drains will help you keep kitchen odors under control. It’s certainly helped me.

Living with two males and two (male) cats, I wind up playing “What’s That Smell?” far more often than I like. Most of the time, I can trace the source of the stench back to one of the guys. Sometimes it’s their shoes — and, sometimes, it’s them. (Related: How to Deodorize Smelly Shoes.)

Other times, the source is a nasty sink drain, and I can’t blame the guys about that at all. Smelly drains are usually the result of built-up food residue. Fortunately, smelly drains are easy to clean and, if you make a habit of it, you can keep them odor-free.

Ways to Clean Smelly Drains

There are a variety of ways to clean stinky drains. Many people find that a combination of methods works best. Choose the one that’s most convenient to start, then try another approach if the smell persists.

Try Hot Soapy Water First

Often, stray hair and other debris get stuck in soap scum that’s lining the pipe and make the drain stinky. So, try this simple method to clean the drain first and see if it solves the problem.

  1. Stir a couple of drops of liquid dish detergent into two quarts of very hot water and pour this down the drain.
  2. Wait for five minutes, then follow with cold water to solidify any remaining grease.
  3. Finally, repeat the hot water flush to remove the congealed matter.
How to Clean Stinky Drains - Clean drain in a sink

Vinegar Cleans Stinky Drains

Vinegar is a fantastic deodorizer. Since white vinegar contains acetic acid, it neutralizes alkaline sources of odor. It also cuts through grease and has disinfecting properties, so it can help clean smelly drains by dissolving biofilm or other material.

  1. Heat four cups of white vinegar until it simmers, not boils.
  2. Pour half down the drain then run water for a minute.
  3. Repeat with the remaining hot vinegar.

This method powers through small clogs, which are often the source of the drain’s smell.

Scour the Drain with Baking Soda

Remember the baking soda and vinegar “volcano” you made in grade school? That same foaming action can clean stinky drains and eliminate the smell.

  1. Run hot tap water down the drain for a minute. Turn the water off.
  2. Dump 1 cup of baking soda down the drain and chase it with 2 cups of hot vinegar down the drain. (Watch out, it’ll fizz.)
  3. Wait 10-15 minutes for the fizzing to stop then flush the drain with hot tap water.

How To Keep Your Garbage Disposal From Smelling

Sometimes, the problem isn’t a stinky drain but a garbage disposal that needs cleaning. Here are two things you can do to keep your sink’s disposer smelling fresh and working well.

Run Ice Cubes Through It

Ice cubes are hard, so they scour the disposal blades while it runs. The cold temperature also helps collect any excess grease in your garbage disposal and carry it away.

  1. Do the hot water method approach above to clean smelly drains. This step ensures your drain is free of small clogs, so the steps below don’t cause a problem.
  2. Turn the disposer and faucet off, and push two cups of ice cubes past the rubber flanges into your disposer.
  3. Turn on the cold water tap full blast, then turn on the garbage disposal. Let it run for two minutes.
  4. With the disposer still running, switch the tap to hot water. Let that run for another minute, then turn off both the garbage disposal and the water in that order.

Grind Citrus Peels or Egg Shells

My mother shoves half a lemon down her disposal and lets it whir around until it’s gone. This approach cleans her garbage disposal and smelly drain at the same time. Using an entire lemon clogs my drain, though, so I slice it into wedges.

You can substitute eggshells for the citrus peels if you happen to have some on hand. (Related: 9 Genius Uses for Eggshells.)

  1. Slice a piece of citrus fruit into wedges. (I keep a bag in the freezer stocked with ones I’ve juiced for recipes, and slice them before adding them to the bag.)
  2. With the garbage disposal and faucet off, tuck the sliced citrus wedges past the rubber flanges into your disposal.
  3. Turn the faucet to cold water and open it full blast, and start the garbage disposal. Let it run for two minutes then switch to hot water for another minute.
  4. Turn the garbage disposal and water off. Wait for the blades to stop moving.
  5. With the disposal OFF, reach inside to ensure that all of the citrus peel is gone. Remove any remaining bits you find, so they don’t clog your sink.

Cleaning both stinky drains and garbage disposals every week will help reduce household odors. They’re great ways to prevent fruit flies from breeding in your kitchen, too.

27 Comments

  1. Small Town Mommy says:

    I love the ideas for cleaning bathroom sinks. We usually use drain cleaner but your methods sound so much less corrosive.

  2. Mariette's Back to Basics says:

    Dearest Katie,
    You always offer the most practical remedies. Prove of great observation and storing wise words of wisdom to resort to in case of a problem. Have a great day.
    Hugs to you,
    Mariette

  3. My dad always tells me to use the ice cube down the garbage disposal method and I always laugh. Glad to see that you recommend it too!

  4. Hi! Thanks for the great tips on eliminating that awful odor which recently invaded my kitchen sink drain. Hot water + vinegar did the trick!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Glad to hear it!

  5. I’ve read all the suggestions when I had this problematic odor from the kitchen sink but none of them worked. On a separate note, I prevent bathroom sinks from clogging by draining them every day by filling the sink with water up to the brim and then draining it. I have not bought Liquid Plumr for a couple years since I started this ritual. I figured why not do the same with the kitchen sink? After I wash the dishes, I turn on the faucet and I run the garbage disposal unit before draining the sink of the water. When I do that, I then drain the sink of the water while the disposer is running. After the water has drained I let the water faucet run for another 15 seconds for good measure. Do this for a couple days after you wash your dishes and presto, the odor has disappeared. What the other suggestions don’t factor into the solution to this problem is gravity. You need to have gravity of the water to do the work for you when eliminating kitchen sink odors and also unclog your bathroom sinks to boot. If you don’t , you will waste money buying drainage products you really don’t need.

  6. Kay Randal says:

    Use the same method as above with the addition of Ajax when you clean a disposal with ice. I’ve had very good luck with that method. A very old method used to clean a sink or disposal is to dump in half a cup or a little more of baking soda followed by about a cup of white vinegar. Once the fizzing stops run water and turn on the disposal. Run cold water for 20 seconds or so after you turn off the disposal. If you’re using this method to clean a drain leave it set in the drain until after the fizzing stops and then run in some water to clean any leftover baking soda residue. Another method that works extremely well for a disposal is to put some Dawn dish washing soap into the disposal then run hot water as you run the disposal. Run for a minute or so. Then put Dawn down the drain again and runin a little hot water. This time just leave the Dawn and hot water in the disposal. This method is extremely effective for hard to remove odors.

  7. BuffaloRun says:

    all great ways to mask the smell for a short while! really wanna fix? have one of “the guys” replace the tailpiece and the trap for around $12

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You do realize many of us “girls” can do such things, right?

    2. I used vinegar ,baking soda several times and it still stinks. I have a constant headache from the smell. I live in an apartment housing.no one else complains about it so they do nothing with mine. How can I solve this problem. Other then move out?

    3. Katie Berry says:

      Baking soda alone doesn’t work; you need to follow it with hot vinegar. If you’ve done that and it hasn’t helped, chances are you have something stuck in the U-joint of your sink. You can find videos on YouTube about how to open that pipe and clean it.

  8. I highly recommend Drain-FX. Heard about it on the Gary Sullivan show and bought it online on their website. It cleared my drains easily, effective and without the use of chemicals. Odour was gone soon after.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I haven’t heard of that one before. Thanks, Jack!

  9. Lisa Wood says:

    I ventured into drain cleaning as a result of fruit flies hanging around, even after I used a baking soda and vinegar wash on incoming fruit. After the volcanic baking soda and vinegar portion of drain cleaning my kitchen sinks, DEAD FRUIT FLIES presented their bodies laying in the now super clean sink. Only two, but my imagination immediately kicked into the possibility of an entire fruit fly city beneath the surface, that had just suffered a nuclear bomb.
    Very very satisfying house cleaning!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It really is, isn’t it?

  10. The Baking Soda and Vinegar worked a treat. The smell from the drain that took the Dishwasher waste water was proving a real problem. Tried bleach and One Shot ( Sulphuric Acid drain cleaner ) to no effect but the Soda and Vinegar treatment worked wonders. Thanks

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Happy to have helped, Steve.

  11. Helen Joyal says:

    I use vinegar to clean my tea pot then I pour the vinegar into a ice tray and freeze it to use in my garbage disposal this way I don’t waste any vinegar are I use it in my coffee pot. You can use it hot with the baking soda also.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Great tip!

  12. First thing to check is the rubber collar between the sink and the disposal. Pull it out, turn it over and take a whiff. You may find, as I did, that the stink came from the rotting pieces of ground up vegetables that become lodged there. While I may have also handled other odors with the vinegar and baking soda treatment, the real culprit was, as it were, right in front of my nose!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh absolutely. That rubber gasket can get quite nasty!

    2. Pamela Ackerman says:

      You, for sure, need to clean the underside of the rubber flange on the top of the garbage disposal. You can do this without, removing it, with a toothbrush inserted at an angle…brushes up. Scrub, scrub, scrub all the way around the entire under area of the rubber. This is a very stinky area of the disposal that most of the other solutions leave out. TRY IT, IT WORKS!

  13. This was very helpful. I’ve been doing the baking soda, hot water, vinegar thing for a while, but have always used boiling hot water. You make a good point about why not to do that. Thanks!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Glad to have helped!

  14. The first tip with the dish liquid worked for me! I am saving your website on my bookmarks for more useful solutions. Thank you very much!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so glad to hear it, Jenny!

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