Stinky kitchen drain? Bathroom drain that smells like a sewer? Find out the cause and how to get rid of the odor with DIY non-toxic methods.
The odor of a smelly drain can spread throughout your home. Sometimes, it’s a kitchen drain that makes your home smell like rotting food, and it gets worse when the dishwasher’s running. Other times, you may notice your bathroom sink or shower drains smell like a sewer. That smell can come from your washing machine’s drain, too.
What Causes Smelly Drains?
Kitchen drains often stink due to a buildup of grease that traps food residue, producing bacteria and attracting pests like fruit flies. A similar buildup can occur in the bathroom due to soap, toothpaste, and body oils collecting hair and dead skin cells. So, if you’ve started noticing a drain beginning to stink, it usually means a clog is starting to develop. Treat it quickly using one of these methods, and you’ll get rid of the smell while avoiding a costly plumber’s bill.
Ways to Clean Smelly Sink and Shower Drains
The good news is that you usually don’t need a plumber to get rid of the smell coming from your drain. Most of the time, you don’t even need special equipment. These methods rely on nontoxic household ingredients you probably already have on hand. Many people find that a combination of methods works best. So, start with the one that’s most convenient for you, then try another approach if your drain continues to stink.
The Hot Water Method
Just as hot water and dish soap get greasy dishes clean, they can clean your smelly drain, too. For this method, bring a pot of water to a boil, and turn off the heat. Stir in a few squirts of liquid dish detergent. First, carefully pour half of the mixture down your drain and wait five minutes for it to dissolve oily buildup. Next, turn your cold water tap on full blast and let it run for a full minute to solidify any remaining grease. Finally, pour the remaining hot water down the drain to remove congealed residue.
Vinegar Cleans Stinky Drains
Vinegar is a fantastic deodorizer. It also cuts through grease to help clean smelly drains by dissolving biofilm or other material. Using hot vinegar can also power through small clogs, which are often the source of the drain’s smell. To clean your smelly drain with vinegar, bring four cups of it to a boil, then pour half down the drain. Run cold water for a minute and pour the rest of the hot vinegar down the drain to rinse.
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. For this method, you need to run hot water down the drain for a minute to help soften any buildup in the drainpipe. Then, dump 1 cup of baking soda (bicarbonate) down the drain and chase it with 2 cups of vinegar. Wait for the fizzing to stop, and rinse the drain first with hot then with cold water for one minute each.
Try a Plastic Drain Snake
This method takes a little preparation since you probably don’t have a plastic drain snake sitting around. But if stinky drains are a common problem, you might want to change that because these things work. (I order this multipack of them to use on my drains every few months now. Below, you can see why.)
You just remove the drain plug and slowly feed the snake down the drain. Then, holding it by the plastic handle, turn it slowly. The snake is covered in short, tough bristles that collect hair and other debris coating the inside of your drain. And let me just warn you now, the results can be disgusting — but effective. See?
Ways to Clean Smelly Garbage Disposal Drains
Sometimes, buildup in your garbage disposal can make your kitchen sink’s drain smell. That stink may get worse when your dishwasher runs because it feeds into the same drain. To get rid of the odor, try one of these methods.
Run Ice Cubes Through It
Ice cubes are a great way to scour your disposal and get rid of grimy buildup. For best results, follow the hot water method to clean your smelly drain first, and then push two cups of ice cubes past the rubber flange into your disposer. With the cold water tap going full blast, turn on your disposal and let it run for two minutes. Once time’s up, run hot water for a minute and turn off the disposal.
Grind Citrus Peels
Putting lemon or orange slices into your disposer before running it can both deodorize and clean your disposer’s blades. The fruit’s acidic juice does a great job of removing grease, too. Start by running hot water to loosen any grease in your drain. Next, turn off the tap and push some sliced citrus wedges past the rubber flanges into your disposal. Finally, run the tap full blast with cold water and start your garbage disposal. Let it whir for a couple of minutes, switch the tap to hot water and turn the disposal off.
Cleaning Smelly Washing Machine Drains
If you notice a sewer odor coming from your laundry room, the cause is often greasy buildup in the drain line. You’ll find the line behind your washer where it’s inserted into the drain box.
1. Mark the point where the line disappears into the box, so you know how far it was inserted. Carefully remove it and put a funnel into the drain box opening where the line was.
2. Bring 1 gallon of water, and 1 quart distilled white vinegar to a rapid simmer. Carefully pour half of the mixture down the funnel, followed by 1 gallon of cold water and the rest of the hot mixture.
3. Put the line back into the drain box, stopping when you reach the mark you made.
4. Finish by deep cleaning your washing machine to eliminate any residue that’s backed up into it and contributed to the odor.
Tips to Keep Drains from Stinking
Routine attention can keep your drains from developing odor-causing buildup.
In the kitchen, that means not pouring grease down your drain and flushing your drain regularly with hot water. Many people also say sprinkling baking soda into their drains weekly helps control odors, too.
To keep bathtub and shower drains from smelling, pour hot vinegar down them weekly to eliminate soap scum and body oil. If you have long hair or shed a lot, run a plastic drain snake every couple of months as directed above. You might also want to install a hair-catching drain cover in the shower or bathtub. (I use this one.)
Finally, keep your P-traps from drying out. The P-trap is the curvy pipe under your sink. Your shower and tub have them, too, though they’re hidden. P-traps are designed to hold a little water at all times to act as a barrier to sewer gasses. When the P-trap goes dry, those gases enter your home. Make a habit of running water for a few minutes each week in seldom-used sinks, tubs, and showers to flush and refill the P-trap and keep your drains from smelling like sewer gas.