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How to Get Rid of Smelly Drains in the Bathroom

The bathroom is one of the first places you visit once you wake up in the morning. Unless you are an early snacker, then we would most likely find you in the kitchen.

So you walk into the bathroom and are greeted by a foul smell coming from God knows where. You play detective, checking the sink, toilet, and shower drain to locate the source of the bad smell.

With no particular success, you probably opt for an extra scrub of your toilet and sink, then spray an air freshener to mask the scent and call it a day.

Only to find out that you wake up to the same experience tomorrow morning.

We don’t want this to become a constant issue.

Long strands of hair, soap scum, septic tank issues, or molds can be some of the many factors causing smelly drainage.

This smell will remain unpleasant if not handled promptly. Worse yet, sometimes smelly drains can be dangerous!

Can’t wait to have your fragranced bathroom back?

Let’s talk about what causes smelly drains and how to fix them.

bathroom smelly drains

Why Your Shower Drain Gets Smelly?

Ok, before we go all Ninja on fixing your smelling drain, take a moment to review the essential workings of your bathroom’s plumbing. (We promise you won’t doze off!)

Take a stroll to the bathroom, I know you don’t want to inhale another dose of that foul smell, so I will advise you to take a nose mask along.

Now, take a look under your bathroom sink. Spot that U-shaped pipe?

See how that pipe runs from the drain of your sink to the bigger wastewater pipe by the wall? This pipe is what is known as the P-trap.

One end of the P-trap goes all the way down to your septic system, while the other end goes all the way to the roof, taking away smelly sewer air while allowing in the fresh air.

Although it is not visible to your eye, the same drain setup is at work beneath your shower or bathtub.

The U-shape of the P-trap enables it to catch a tiny amount of water after using the sink and acts as a barrier for drain odors.

Water is retained in the P-trap when you flush the toilet, turn off the sink or empty the tub.

That tiny bit of water prevents gasses from moving your sewage system and into your house.

“The role of the P-trap is to keep the sewer gases out of the home. There are misconceptions that the traps are also there to catch objects dropped in the drain. Most of the time, this may not be the case. Traps are there to prevent sewer gases from escaping into the home.”

Ray Patrick, a professional plumber at Roto-Rooter
Source: AMRE Supply

Furthermore, Patrick explained that sewer gases must be adequately vented to prevent a buildup of irritants resulting in an unpleasant odor.

The leading cause of all these toxins in cases of dumping gasoline and other chemicals down your drain.

PRO TIP: If you experience nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches in your bathroom, contact your plumber immediately. The faulty drainage system may contain harmful gasses that are not adequately vented out. Methane is one of the major causes of sewer smell, but you could also be in danger of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides, and ammonia.

By now, I am sure you have grasped the importance of figuring out what is causing that foul smell from your drain and making sure it is taken care of immediately and effectively.

So why then do you smell that foul odor? The most common reason is that your drain or your P-trap are clogged.

Let’s clean your pipes and get rid of a smelly odor for good.

PRO TIP: If your water is not draining or worse, it keeps coming back up, there might be a draining issue with your septic tank. In this case, contact a professional and ensure you hire one that is licensed and insured.

How to Clean Out a Smelly Shower Drain

Now that you know the basics of your bathroom plumbing, let’s get started!

Lean down towards your shower drain and take a quick sniff.

Is the smell musty?

Then you most likely have mold growing beneath your drain cover. Check if the drain cover is perfectly sealed.

Is it not?

The wet space could then be a breeding ground for mold.

Step #1: Clean the area around your drain

Having discovered the source of the problem, remove the drain cover and clean the area properly. Tilex Mold and Mildew Remover is a perfect product for the job. All you have to do is spray, leave for a few minutes and wipe.

If the issue is so bad, you may have to scrub the cover and tub thoroughly with an old toothbrush.

If all of these do not work, I think it’s time to get a new drain cover.

Step #2: Clean your pipe

If you are a stay-at-home mum with all the baking adventure up your sleeves, you most likely have all you need in your kitchen to solve the mold issue immediately.

Get a cup of bleach and pour it down the drain. Let it sit out for an hour.

Is an hour up?

Boil four cups of water and pour half down the drain.

Make sure to check if you have PVC (plastic) pipes as boiling water can damage them.

If you use PVC (plastic) pipes, get hot water from your tap instead.

After you have done this, get a quarter-cup of baking soda and sprinkle it down the drain.

Top that with a cup of white vinegar.

Do you hear a fizzing sound?

Not to worry, it is only the vinegar and baking soda reacting.

After a few minutes, you can pour the remaining hot water down the drain.

The odor should disappear after turning on your tap and running hot water down your drain for a few minutes.

If the foul smell from the shower drain isn’t musty, the issue could be soap scum, or even residue from coconut oil, which can clog your shower drains over time

An easy remedy is to clean your drain with boiling water.

If the problem reoccurs, treat it with boiling water every week.

Step #3: Check the P-trap

If the odor coming out from your drain is sulfuric, you likely have a dry P-trap.

The P-trap stops sewer gas from entering your home by trapping a bit of water.

Here’s how to check if your P-trap is dry:

  1. Shine a flashlight down your drain. If you can see water, your P-trap is not dry, and this will be an excellent time to call in the plumber.
  2. If your P-trap is dry, pour two glasses of water down the drain.
  3. After an hour, go back and check if the water is still there.

Perhaps the shower is not infrequently used.

Pour a cup of oil down the drain. You can do it with any cooking oil you have at home.

Oil takes a long time to evaporate, unlike water.

This procedure should prevent the foul smell from coming back.

How to Clean Hair From The Shower Drain

Trapped hair is one of the common causes of shower odors and drains clogs.

The most straightforward remedy is to try combing your hair before washing it in the shower.

This eliminates any tangled or loose hair that may clog the drain.

Step #1: Install a hair catcher

Still, want to comb your hair in the bathroom?

You need to get a shower drain hair catcher, especially if you have an open-drain hole without a cover. You can get a hair catcher on Amazon for as low as $12.

Even if you have a covered drain, you may want to opt for a hair catcher because it is easy to use, and you don’t have to worry about hair clogs for a long time.

Step #2: Use openers to clear hair from your shower drain

For an already hair-clogged drain, you can use products that dissolve hair and soap scum. Green Gobbler Main Line Opener is a good choice.

When Is the Time to Call Your Plumber?

Some plumbing issues are easy to fix, but others need a professional touch.

Let’s assume that there is water in all your P-traps, the pipes are clog-free, and there seem to be no visible leaks.

What should you do then?

It is normal to think that your toilet could be the source of the foul smell, but if there is water in your toilet bowl, there is an excellent chance that the commode is not the issue.

The reason being that toilet water serves as a smell barrier, just like the water in a P-trap.

At times, the smell may not even be related to your shower drain at all.

It could be from a roof vent blocked by leaves or snow that prevents the sewage system from venting correctly.

It may be a little tricky distinguishing between a blocked vent and a blocked drainpipe.

A dead giveaway that a clogged vent is the cause of your problem is that all the drains are slower to drain, and water bubbles up when trying to drain.

You can quickly fix some of these issues; however, you should evaluate your level of expertise, comfort, and safety before taking on a project like this.

If you are good at handling tools, you should be fine cleaning drains or even replacing your toilet’s wax ring.

However, if you are a novice at repairs, not comfortable, or can’t pinpoint where the foul smell is coming from, we highly suggest you call in the plumber now!

Kyle Tucker

Kyle from Kyle Tucker Plumbing is a certified plumber with over 20 years of professional experience installing plumbing fixtures such as bathtubs, sinks, and toilets, as well as installing gas lines and water pipes, performing bathroom repairs, and more.

Kyle knows how to deal with every plumbing issue that modern homeowners encounter, and he shares his lifelong experience with readers in an engaging and easy-to-digest way.

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