Eliminating Sewer Smell in Your Bathroom: Effective Tips and Solutions


woman holding nose It’s normal for your bathroom to have foul scents from time to time, but smelling sewage is not a good indicator. Getty Images/DigitalVision

You enter your bathroom, wrinkling your nose because you can smell sewage emanating from someplace. While most restrooms have unpleasant scents from time to time, this one stands out.

As you attempt to pinpoint the source of the noxious stench, you bend closer to the sink, the shower drain, and the toilet. You squirt some cleanser into the toilet bowl and scrub it well, even though it has been sterilized. The aroma of the cleaner momentarily hides the odor, and you exit the room. Later, you catch another fragrance when you go by the bathroom door. The odor is unbearable this time, and no washing, running the fan, or spraying the air freshener can make it go away. So, what’s the deal with the sewage odor in your bathroom?

The bad news is that a sewage smell in your bathroom may be caused by various factors, and determining the source of the stench can be challenging. Aside from the apparent odor, methane in sewage gas may be combustible in significant amounts, and inhaling it can harm your health. Fortunately, once the cause of the issue has been discovered, removing the sewage stench is typically straightforward and affordable. Do you want your bathroom to smell fresh again? Continue reading!

Plumbing 101

To determine what’s generating that unpleasant stench, you must first grasp how your bathroom’s plumbing works. (Don’t worry, this will be over quickly!)

You’ve peered beneath the bathroom sink at some time and observed the U-shaped pipe connecting your sink drain (B) to a more giant wastewater pipe in the wall. This pipe is known as the P-trap. One end of the P-trap connects to your sewage or septic system (E), while the other goes all the way up through the roof (D), allowing fresh air in while venting any stinky sewer fumes to the sky. The same fundamental drain system is in action behind or under your tub and shower (C), even though you can’t see it.

The P-trap’s U-shape enables it to collect a tiny bit of water after each sink usage, forming a barrier against sewage smells. When everything is operating correctly, the water in the P-trap remains when you turn off the faucet, empty the tub, or flush the toilet. That little water is sufficient to keep gases from escaping the sewage system and entering your home. Under normal circumstances, the gases pass directly through your bathroom and out the vent pipe in your roof.

“The P-Trap’s role is to keep sewer gases out of the home,” explains Ray Patrick, a Roto-Rooter master plumber. “intended is a common misunderstanding that the traps are also intended to collect anything that may be put down the drain, which is incorrect. Traps are installed to prevent sewage gases from entering the residence.”

Failure to properly vent those noxious fumes might have far-reaching consequences. “It could be hazardous due to the presence of other gases in sewer systems.” “While methane is the most common cause of sewer odor, there is also a risk of hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide,” explains Patrick in an email interview, adding that the primary source of such added toxins is people who dispose of gasoline and other chemicals down their drains. Dizziness, headaches, nausea, and sleepiness are all symptoms of exposure.

It’s critical to determine what’s producing the sewage stench and address it as soon as possible. If you’re fortunate, it’ll be one of the simple repairs on the next page.

Easy Fixes for that Sewage Smell

The first probable reason for a sewage stench in your bathroom is by far the simplest to resolve, and it is more likely to occur in bathrooms where facilities haven’t been used in a while, such as a sink in a guest bathroom or the tub in a bathroom with a separate shower. In many cases, the water in the P-trap has evaporated due to inactivity, eliminating the barrier between your bathroom and the gases in the sewage system.

If this is the case, just run some water to enable the P-trap to fill up again [source: Wm. Henderson]. Patrick suggests using pink RV water-safe antifreeze if simple running water isn’t cutting it.
If there’s still a sewage stench after pouring lots of water or pink antifreeze down all the drains, or if you find a sewage odor in a frequently used bathroom, you should look for leaks in or around the P-trap.

If even a tiny quantity of water has seeped from the “U,” sewage gases may be able to enter. “If anything leaks, it would be noticeable,” Patrick says.
Another probable reason that is rather disgusting but very simple to remedy is a clog in the drain since the obstruction may become stinky. A plunger may often clear a clog, but if that fails, a plumber may need to use a drain snake or hydro-jetter to remove it. To remedy the problem, it is sometimes required to totally remove the P-trap.
If the following alternatives do not take you to the source of the sewage odor, you may be dealing with a more complex problem. Continue reading to solve this perplexing problem.

Time to Call the Plumber!

So there’s water in all the P-traps, no apparent leaks, and no obstructions in the pipes. What comes next?

It’s easy to think that the toilet is the apparent source of any sewage odors, but if there’s water in the bowl, chances are the toilet isn’t the cause. This is because toilet water functions as an odor barrier like water in a sink’s P-trap. However, if the bowl does not fill completely, the issue might be a damaged seal. Water and urine may leak under the toilet if there is no caulk around the base, and water that gets caught in gaps and does not dry can breed germs. If left untreated, this bacteria may often produce a terrible odor. Patrick experiences this problem regularly, noting that it’s simple to fix by simply putting a bead of caulk around the bottom.

He adds that caulking the bolt holes is sometimes essential since stench may seep.
The wax ring, installed with a toilet to seal the drain and prevent water seepage, can be damaged if the toilet bowl is loose. This can result in water leaks and sewage smell. So, you should check to see if your toilet bowl is loose or wobbly – if it is, you can reset the toilet with a new toilet ring [source: Angie’s List].

Even though the scent is within the bathroom, the issue may originate elsewhere. For example, a roof vent covered by a bird’s nest, leaves, or snow and ice inhibits fresh air from entering the plumbing system and stops the sewage system from venting correctly. Because it may be difficult to discern between a clogged drain pipe and a blocked vent, homeowners often spend significant time concentrating on a single pipe. Aside from the sewage stench, other telltale symptoms of a clogged vent include sluggish draining drains and water that produces gurgling sounds or bubbles up while attempting to drain.

A poorly fitted, damaged, or fractured vent pipe may introduce toxic gases into your house. A fractured vent pipe might be even more challenging to locate since the break is likely buried somewhere inside your walls. Fortunately, a plumber can detect a leaky vent pipe using a smoke machine, which fills the drain system with harmless visible smoke. When the smoke escapes, the source of the leak is revealed.

Although some repairs are simple enough for the ordinary homeowner, you should assess your comfort and ability level before starting a job like this. You may clean drains or replace a toilet’s wax ring if you’re handy. However, if you are not experienced with house repairs or are unsure of where the odor is coming from, it may be preferable to engage a professional.

Sewage Smell FAQ

Why does my bathroom smell like sewage?

Your stinky bathroom is most likely caused by clogged drains and pipes. This occurs when sediments block your pipes, preventing water from flowing freely and causing it to stagnate.

How do you get rid of a sewer smell?

Pouring hot water mixed with vinegar and baking soda down your smelly drains effectively eliminates the sewer smell. Leave the mixture for about 10 to 15 minutes before running any water through the pipes. If this doesn’t work, purchase a heavy-duty drain cleaner from a hardware store and follow those instructions.

Is a sewage smell in a bathroom dangerous?

Sewage releases toxic hydrogen sulfide gas that can damage organs and cause respiratory irritation. However, it’s unlikely that an odor from your drains will release much, so there’s little reason to worry.

Why does my shower water smell like sewer?

The leading cause of stinky water is bacterial development in your drains. When food scraps and garbage build up in pipes, bacteria thrive and emit septic gases like sulfur. This causes the water to smell like rotten eggs.

How do I fix a clogged drain?

To fix a clogged drain, use a plunger to unclog the pipes and remove any water that won’t drain. If that doesn’t work, use a hydro-jetter or a drain snake.

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