How To Clean Stinky Drains

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Stinky kitchen drain? Bathroom drain that smells like a sewer? Find out the cause and how to get rid of the odor with DIY nontoxic methods.

How to Clean Stinky Drains and Keep Odors Away

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. You may also 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 in your plumbing. Remove the gunk quickly using one of these methods, and you’ll get rid of the smell while avoiding a costly plumber’s bill.

Ways to Clean 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 most convenient one 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 boiling water mixture down your drain and wait five minutes for it to dissolve the 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 the congealed residue.

Vinegar Cleans Stinky Drains

Vinegar is a fantastic deodorizer, and it also cuts through grease to help clean smelly drains by dissolving biofilm and 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.

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Scour the Drain with Baking Soda

Remember the baking soda and vinegar “volcano” you made in grade school? That same foaming action is great at cleaning drains and eliminating the rotten eggs 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 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. 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 warn you now, the results can be disgusting — but effective. See?

Photo of buildup removed from bathroom sink drain using a plastic snake
Look what was down my son’s bathroom sink drain.

Ways to Clean 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 while your disposer’s blades break up the ice. Once time’s up, run hot water for a minute and turn off the disposal.

Grind Citrus Peels

Running slices of lemons or oranges in your disposer can deodorize and clean the drain, and the fruit’s acidic juice does a great job removing grease. Start by running hot water to loosen the oil in your drain. Next, turn off the tap and push some thinly 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 off the disposal then the water after another minute.

Cleaning 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 to 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 of 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.

• Don’t pour grease down your drain.

• Flush your kitchen drains with hot water after doing the dishes.

• Sprinkle baking soda down your drains weekly to control odors.

• To keep bathtub and shower drains from smelling, pour hot vinegar down them weekly to eliminate soap scum and body oil.

• Use a plastic drain snake every 2-3 months. You might also want to install a hair-catching drain cover in the shower or bathtub.

• 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 sewer gases enter your home. To avoid empty p-traps, make a point to run the water for a few minutes each week in seldom-used sinks, tubs, and showers to flush and refill the P-trap.

When to Call the Professionals

If home remedies don’t get rid of the odor, you may need to contact a plumber. Most offer drain cleaning services and can also auger your home’s main drain line, which can get clogged by tree roots and organic material. If you have plumbing vents on your roof, they can inspect the vent stack, too. It is imperative that you tell the plumber about any chemical drain cleaners and nontoxic household ingredients you’ve used to clean your drain since some combinations can be dangerous.

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  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. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. Linda Nicholas says:

    Hi.the first time I used baking soda and white wine vinger twice it worked.a year later the smell is back i have tried twice with the soda and vinger and jts not working.i don’t have a garage disposal just an ordinary sink.pls help.also the kitchen is only 4years old

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Linda,
      You may have something clogging or slowing your sink’s P-trap. There are lots of videos online about how to remove and clean the P-trap yourself, or you can have a plumber do it.

  12. Carla Rancatore-White says:

    I find the natural cleaners are the best for our household as we live in the country so we also have to deal with septic systems. When we first moved out to Tim-buck-too I was using name brand cleaners and spending close to $300 a year on septic pumping. Now that I’ve been using the more natural cleaners (including seven generations dish and laundry soaps) my septic only has to be pumped every 3-4 years. Savings for sure. You can’t beat it. The vinegar and baking soda helps the septic system deal with all the stuff naturally. Thanks for the recipes and checklists

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That’s fantastic news about your septic system!