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Cleaning Smelly Drains

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Bacteria growing in your drain can produce odors that waft throughout the house. This is a guide about cleaning smelly drains.
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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

April 7, 2009

My sink has a moldy, mildew smell that I cannot figure out. It smells like a dishrag that has soured. I do not have a disposal or anything, it is just a plain sink. I have looked under my sink and there is a small dried puddle but it does not stink under there at all and it does not seem to be leaking anymore for whatever reason.

I have used bleach and I did the baking soda and vinegar thing. It works for a day or two and then that smell is back. I can walk by and get a whiff of that smell and it makes me furious! What can I do? Is there a service for this?

By Paula Scott from GA

Answers

Anonymous
April 7, 20090 found this helpful
Best Answer

You are probably getting small whifs of sewer gas which means your sink drain is most likely in the pre-stages of getting clogged.

Since the sink is still draining, you can't use a plunger. You can try drain cleaner, but those never work for me. You can go to a store such as Home Depot and buy the smallest snake they have. A snake is a flexible metal strip used to remove clogs from drain pipes. Stick the snake through the sink drain, then push it far enough to get past the trap. The trap is the U-shaped area of the drain pipe under your sink. You will hopefully push some of the clog past the trap, and break up the rest enough that it can be flushed down the drain.

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Now remove the snake. If sludge comes up with it, do not let it go back down the drain. You can repeat with the snake once or twice.

Clean the sludge out of the sink, then run both faucets full blast for a minute or so. If the smell is gone from that point on, you're all set. If the smell remains or returns, the trap will have to be removed, cleaned and replaced. It is not a complicated job, but if you can't do it yourself, a friend or relative might agree to do it for you. Otherwise you'll have to call in a plumber.

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April 10, 20090 found this helpful
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Do you live in the country? It may be your sewer backing up, if so call a plumber or have your septic tank pumped out. The smell can be very harmful, so get it checked out.

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April 10, 20090 found this helpful
Best Answer

Some kitchen sink drains have a vent device that is located right under the sink. It's a lousy design & I've only seen it installed in rural areas where building codes are not enforced very effectively. It is also sometimes installed on sinks located in an "island" counter. All house waste drains need to be vented to prevent the "glub-glub" sound that also can cause back-ups due to too much air in the waste pipes.

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Normally, waste water drains are connected to vent pipes hidden in the walls that go up through the roof.

If you have this undersink vent, it can get wet on occassion & mildew forms in it. Have someone who knows a little about plumbing to see if this is the case. They are easy to spot. A plumber can remedy the situation.

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April 13, 20090 found this helpful
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You can purchase the stuff for bacteria in the pipes. Certain times of the year I find this issue. Maybe we don't use one bathroom more than the kitchen, etc. Running daily water is important.
Under your kitchen sink, replace the pipes. And note, the poly plastic ones do come loose at the rings much faster. I have a dishwasher (portable) which dumps water down the sink, then I have no problems. In the heat of the year, you can get fruit flies setting up shop in the drains too. Nasty, pesky things, that like the residue left in the pipes. Take a large kettle, boil water, pour down drains daily.

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By 0 found this helpful
May 18, 2007

I am in need of some help with my kitchen sink. It has a mildew/mold smell coming out of it, it has the slots in it so i can't stick anything down it and I don't have a garbage disposal. I have tried lemon juice, bleach, baking soda and don't know what else to try. Does anyone have any ideas?

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Thanks,
Jen from Eau Claire, WI

Answers

By bonnie. (Guest Post)
May 18, 20070 found this helpful
Best Answer

I worked for an old school and no one ever cleaned the drain, this is what I did:

Step 1
I put a 1/2 quart of white vinegar and a small box of baking soda in the drain at the same time it will bubble like crazy.

Step 2
Then run hot water after it sits about 15 mins.

Step 3
Do this once a week or so till it opens real good.

Step 4
Then just do it about once a month or so.

I hope this helps.
Bonnie

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By Barbie (Guest Post)
May 18, 20070 found this helpful
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I do not have a disposal either, my plumber recommended using a drain cleaner with enzymes, Bio Clean is the kind I bought but there are others. You put the recommended amount in lukewarm water and just dump it in, do not use the sink so the enzymes get a chance to work its way through and eat up all the residue which is causing the odor.

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It will also flow more freely after. I used it in my floor drain in my basement and it was amazing how much quicker the water flows out, now that the build-up is gone. Good Luck.

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By LYnne (Guest Post)
May 19, 20070 found this helpful
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I have been told to try to things. One is Tang (yes, the drink stuff). It works on getting the smell out of the dishwasher as well. The other is that lemon juice you get at the supermarket. The one in the fake lemon. I was told to use the whole thing.
First, run really hot water for about a minute straight. Then add either of these products and let sit for about ten. Then rinse with cool water.

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By 0 found this helpful
October 13, 2008

What can I do to get rid of a musty smell coming from the sink drain?

Stephen from Penns Creek, PA

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October 16, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

Baking soda is recommended to freshen drains. Put water in with it,as vguy says. Don't bother with vinegar -- it will neutralize the baking soda, so it wont' do its job. If you use bleach, do not use it with the baking soda, as they may combine and cause a poisonous gas. Don't mix bleach with anything except detergent. Nothing else is safe.

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By 0 found this helpful
February 24, 2009

How can you get rid of smells coming from the sink drain?

Karen from MI

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March 4, 20090 found this helpful
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Step 1
Use 1/2 cup of salt (I like a more coarse salt, but regular salt works fine), pour this down the drain.

Step 2
Next, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain.

Step 3
Now get ready to cap the drain quickly, pour 1 cup of white vinegar down the drain and cap it until the bubbles stop, about 1 minute. Kids love watching that part.

Step 4
Next, follow with a kettle full of boiling water. Use hot tap water to clean up any spilled salt or soda in the sink.

The salt acts as a corrosive to clean the drain walls, the baking soda is an odor absorber and acts with the vinegar to "shake-up" the salt when it bubbles and the vinegar is acidic for cleaning and an odor eliminator. The boiling water helps dissolve the salt and washes away any leftover gunk in the drain. Clean your drains once a month and it prevents clogs too.

This was taught to me by the clean water council as an alternative to the dangerous and caustic chemical drain cleaners. It's thrifty and efficient and best of all won't burn your skin or lungs like commercial cleaners.

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By 0 found this helpful
March 29, 2010

I have an odor coming from the overflow drain in my bathroom sink. What is causes it and how do I get rid of it?

By Lynda

Answers

March 31, 20100 found this helpful
Best Answer

If it's the drain that stinks, use a flashlight & look down the pipe to see if you see anything in there. We had that problem a couple of times & it was from someone (a kid) dropping something down the sink & not telling us. Once it was a toothbrush & once a paintbrush. They can't go down the drain, so they sit there & gather slime & bacteria & get really gross! Once we took the elbow pipe off & cleaned it out, the smell was gone.

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March 1, 20150 found this helpful

My kitchen still has a "sour smell" emanating from the kitchen drain. I cleaned the garbage disposal with lots of ice cubes and lots of running water. I have a septic tank which was pumped 3 months ago and I was told I should never use bleach because it deteriorates the seals? A while back I tried baking soda and vinegar, but it didn't help long. I also have a dishwasher. Jeez. Someone please tell me what else I can do.

By Maryann

Answers

March 2, 20150 found this helpful

A plumber might be able to find and remove or repair the problem.

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March 2, 20150 found this helpful

I will assume it isn't beyond the disposal unit. I used to put citrus peelings through my disposal. just the peelings ... no pulp, seeds or stringy stuff. It makes it smell really fresh and clean. Another thing I remember my Mama doing when I was a little kid was to pour boiling water down the kitchen sink. We had no disposal so she had to keep things super clean.

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By 0 found this helpful
June 9, 2015

Like a lot of others who have asked similar questions, I too have moldy and bad odors coming from my drains. When we shower or run the water, or let the water out, there is a bad odor, and moldy odors that travel throughout the house through the AC vents. I can see the mold on the inside of the PVC pipe in one side of the kitchen drain. I have tried bleach, and baking soda and white vinegar.

When I have mold start on the caulk on the side of the tub, I spray bleach on it, and it sets and gets rid of the mold. But how can I plug up the inside of the sink drain, so the bleach or whatever, can set right there on the mold to soak it and remove it. Anything poured down the drain just runs off and can't set on it and soak it. Is there something that I can put down the drain to temporarily plug it up in there, so the bleach can soak the mold loose off the inside of the drain? Something that could dissolve slowly. A plumber wants to sell us a $50.00 gallon of stuff, but how can it soak it if it just runs on down the drain? I wish I could get a small scrub brush down the drain to scrub he mold off. Thanks!

Answers

June 14, 20150 found this helpful

I had the same problem a few years when I went away to Holland to stay 2 weeks with one of my sons. When I returned there was a horrible odour in the kitchen, before I filled the kettle for my cup of tea, I had a good look at the little drain-hole in my steel sink, it had a wee screw in the middle; I got a screw-driver and removed same, then took the fitting off, poured bleach and bicarb soda and lemon juice in to the hole, and with a thin bottle brush scrubbed all down the insides (the amount of black that came off was quite a surprise).

Boiled the kettle up and poured this down the plug hole. Then put everything back in place in the plug hole and screwed the wee screw back in the sink hole. What a lovely odour I had ever since. Try this, it worked for me. Cheers, Geraldine in Coventry West Mids.
PS Be sure to insure the wee screw is tightened securely, or else you will have a leak!

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By 0 found this helpful
March 17, 2014

How to remove odor that comes up from the tub drain when taking a shower or doing laundry?

By C. F.

Answers

July 14, 20160 found this helpful

Odor is what results from organic material breaking down. Somewhere in those lines you have either a soap buildup, or grease, hair, food or something that is decaying, possibly even tree roots. I would start with a draino like product, used according to bottle directions, followed by several gallons of boiling water. If you are on a septic tank, that is often an indication your tank needs to be cleaned out.

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November 21, 20110 found this helpful

How do I keep my shower drain from smelling foul?

By Maria

Answers

November 21, 20110 found this helpful

Use baking soda and vinegar. Or baking soda and lemon juice or lime juice.

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March 29, 20100 found this helpful

I have a bathroom sink drain that stinks. I have put vinegar in it and used the steam cleaner using the steam down the drain. Last night I used Liquid Plumber. It still smells. Phewy when I brush my teeth. Help.

Sandy from Baltimore, MD

Answers:

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

Is it a sewer gas smell? If so, it sounds like you are missing a trap or vent. If your trap has just gone dry, running water in it (a few cups) daily should cure that. (04/14/2008)

By mom-from-missouri

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

Pour one regular sized box of baking soda into the drain and add one bottle of vinegar. Pour hot water over this and do bi-monthly until you notice a change. Then you should be OK for about two months. It's a bubbly activated cleaner that really works safely.

(04/14/2008)

By Myrna

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

We've had the same problem with our bathroom sink. It smells horrible because of the toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, etc. that goes down the drain.

You might have to remove the trap at the bottom of the sink and clean that well and don't forget to clean out the pipe that runs out to the sewer which protrudes out from the wall. My husband and I have removed black slimy stinking sludge that would make you gag. Clean out all that using an old damp rag if the baking soda, vinegar, and hot water doesn't take care of the problem. (04/14/2008)

By Marjorie

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

I live in northern Canada and in the winter the stack on top of our house freezes over and we get a very awful smell from our drains. We go up there and take boiling water to it to clear out the ice and the smell goes away. Maybe yours is blocked? Doesn't hurt to make sure anyways. (04/15/2008)

By Tamara

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

I've had that problem too, but I found it wasn't the drain, but it was the little vent hole in the side of the sink. I poured some Clorox water down the side hole in the sink and used a small percolator brush to clean it out. The brush was only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch across, after I cleaned it the stink was gone. (04/15/2008)

By Suzin

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

If your house is old like mine (built in '38) there may not be a vent from all the pipes. I only have one from the main sewer pipe and it's a long way from my sink so I get the smell too. The only solution seems to be to put in another vent pipe. (04/15/2008)

By siris

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

Pour some pine oil or ammonia down the drain, good luck. (09/05/2009)

By kathleen williams

Smelly Bathroom Sink Drain

Running plenty of very hot water down the drains does the trick when I periodically have this problem in my home. (02/09/2010)

By ChloeA

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February 24, 20090 found this helpful

I need help, my husband and I purchased our first home a few months ago and I love it. But we have a really bad smell coming from all of the pipes in our house. It is the worst in the kitchen but, the bathrooms smell too. It is so bad I am embarrassed to invite people over to our house.

Does anyone know why this is happening and what can be done about it? Please help us make our house not smell. Thanks.

Crystal


Answers:

Smelly Drains

They may not be vented properly to the outside and this will cause gas to build up and stink. Also, if the house was vacant, the water may have dried in the pipes and promoted bacterial growth. I would also consider, if you have the plunger type stoppers for your sinks that they may need taking out and cleaning. For that you would need to unhook the stoppers under the sink and remove and clean. If this were my problem before anything else I would pour in regular old table salt, maybe a cup per drain, and let it set and flush it down with some vinegar, then flush it down with water. I do this periodically to clean and freshen my drains. Good luck!

(07/30/2005)

By Susan M.

Smelly Drains

If your new home sat vacant for awhile, it may mean that the drains need cleaning out. Start with the kitchen drains by putting 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1/2 cup vinegar. Let sit a few minutes, then follow with one quart of boiling water. The vinegar and baking soda will produce the foaming (cleaning) action you want and the hot water will dislodge any bits and particles along the pipes. Then, do this same procedure in all the bathroom sinks. Also, remember to use lemon rinds in your garbage disposal for freshening and cleaning.

If that doesn't work and your drains are all free-running, meaning there isn't any backup of water that isn't getting down the pipes, I would call a plumber and find out for sure why you are experiencing this problem. He would be able to tell you if it is a problem in the pipes or perhaps if the smell is actually emanating from your water. Our water is well water and the sulfur smell is awful, but we control that with a special filter. Costly but it sure works.

(07/30/2005)

By Sandie

Smelly Drains

My husband and I had the same problem with a house in the city we rented years ago. Our odor problem was caused by the sewer gasses backing up into our pipes. The smell would have knocked you out. My landlord had to call a plumber who had to take care of the drains (which were a total mess, even though everything drained fine) clear out to the street. I would definitely follow the advice about the baking soda and vinegar first. I use it even though I don't have drain or sewer problems now. (07/30/2005)

By terry

Smelly Drains

If you have a private septic tank you will need to buy some enzymes and flush them down the toilet. If this doesn't work you may need your septic tank pumped out.

If you are on a public sewer system put a little bleach in every drain and toilet and flush it down to clean the pipes of built up bacteria. I do this regularly, about once a month. (07/31/2005)

By SNIGDIBBLY

Smelly Drains

Just wanted to let you know I tried the baking soda and the vinegar in my tub and bathroom sink. It sure did foam up but, I also noticed the baking soda instead of turning into liquid and going down the drain, turned solid. I had a terrible time trying to get it to go down. I was so scared I would have to get a plumber in to fix it I will never use that method again (07/31/2005)

By Ruth Kennedy

Smelly Drains

My neighbor had the same problem, but he found out it wasn't his drains as much as his water from the well. Do you have a well? If so then checkout the pressure tank. If the house sat for a while then bacteria grew in the pressure tank and then transferred to the drains. You must clean out the pressure tank and then your drains otherwise you will continue to have a problem. My neighbor solved his problem by buying a new tank and filter and that got rid of all the smell.
Good luck. (07/31/2005)

By Jack

Smelly Drains

I have tried everything for my smelly shower drain. I put baking soda and vinegar and then bleach, and it still smells. Once the drain dries and gets wet it smells again. I then was forced to call a plumber. It was best money i spent, the smell is gone. They also put some good bacteria down the drain to take away the smell, and it worked.(06/26/2006)

By nydoc

Smelly Drains

Does your toilet, basin and shower drain well? To check this try filling up the basin, start running the shower. Then pull the plug in the basin and flush the toilet. If you here a gurgling sound it could very well be a venting issue. Venting problems can also cause it to drain slowly.

There could be something caught in your vent above where it goes out the roof, such as leaves. This means you will have to get a plumber to get up on your roof and run a drain snake down the vent. Also, find out if the other drains drain slowly. If so, then this is definitely a venting issue. Don't try the old remedies, get what is called an enzyme from any plumbing outfitters. Tthis will clean out your drains you should do this every 3 months. Any of the other drain cleaners cause a sludge type of substance which will eventually clog your drain good at the least. It could also eat you pipes from the acids. Hope I was of help. (01/10/2007)

By Tom - plumber

Solving the Smelly Kitchen Drain

I know this sounds strange, but believe it or not heated urine actually stops a smelly kitchen drain. If you heat urine in a throw away container in the microwave and pour it slowly down the drain the smell will actually go away. It is the chemicals and acids in the urine that will neutralize common odors found in drains. If you do a Google search on smelly kitchen drains you will see a number of other references and materials on this topic. Hope this helps! (02/21/2007)

By Mike

Smelly Drains

Try a Medidrain, check on the net. They are really good, and definitely get rid of the smell.

(10/22/2007)

By Nat

Smelly Drains

We located the bathroom vent, not the exhaust fan, on the rooftop. We ran a garden hose through it, turned the water on and moved debris through the line. I believe the problem has been solved. Yeah! (12/15/2007)

By Gracie

Smelly Drains

The root of all evil: most of us have been taught to wash our hands and face in soap and warm water. It is a belief that we will rid ourselves of of germs and bacteria. Well that is as far from the truth as you now are from the moon. Water temperatures that we can stand for washing and bathing are a greenhouse, and perfect temperatures for the promotion of germ and bacterial growth. Only boiling temperatures can effectively "kill" them, so you are wasting your time and hot water trying to save yourself. Your closest bet is to wash hands and face in "cold water" as the colder the water, the more effective it is in not allowing incubation temperatures for germs.

Cold water retards. Warm water promotes (got it?) Another caution. These so called antibacterial soaps and other products that have risen on the market are more harmful to you than dirt. Once our bodies have been ridden of harmful bacterial and ones that aide. We will have lessened our immune systems and are far sicker that we had been before the introduction of such products. Leave them alone. A little dirt and common sense is better for you that becoming sterile.

Keeping Fresh Facilities

  • Bathroom sinks: hair and body oils do not go down easily with water that is at a temperature that we can handle without burns. Pour 1/4 cup of a good liquid dish detergent (Dawn, Ivory, Palmolive) for dissolving the greasy buildup. Allow the sink to set for a few hours to work. Do at night, if more convenient. Use a heavy tape like duct tape to seal off the overflow vent, usually located directly across from the faucets. Pour in 1 cup of cheap, dollar store engine degreaser, and allow to stand for 20 - 30 minutes. This will aide the detergent, and eat out all soap scum and dissolved hair. Boil 2 quarts of water and pour in to flush the residue.
  • Follow the flush with 1 cup of a non chlorine bleach (cheap brand will do) to kill the remaining bacteria. Notice: liquid bleach will ruin forever you shiny metal and cheap looking non metal plug and drain ring. Remember that this dry additive must have water to work. Once poured in, follow with 3 - 4 cups of luke warm water and allow to stand 20 - 30 minutes to kill bacterial odors.
  • Next time, shave or trim hair with a bowl or cup of water. Pour the dirty water down the toilet which has flushing power, and no trap to catch and allow buildup of debris. Let nothing go down your sink drains but clear or soapy water. Even then soap builds up at safe water temperatures and must be cleared by a degreaser or liquid clog remover.
  • Kitchen sinks: egg shells are a great abrasive to scrape the inside of your disposal.
  • Bath tubs: never use Drano or other harsh chemicals to clear your pipes. As mentioned above: the major reason for bathroom smells are hair and body oils trapped in the drain. Follow the same directions as you would a bathroom sink. (03/14/2008)

By BRUCE

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