How to Clean a Smelly Bathroom Drain: Causes and DIY Methods

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Trying to locate that foul stench of sewage or rotting food? Your sink drain might be the culprit. Sink drains, especially the bathroom sink drain, are commonly overlooked in routine cleaning, but require some maintenance just as well. 


Though not the most glamorous chore, cleaning sink drains is essential in home upkeep in order to prevent clogs, bacterial growth, and smells. 

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Causes of a Smelly Bathroom Drain

Odors coming from the bathroom drain are indicative of a plumbing problem, mold, or clogs. Not all odors are the same, and figuring out the source, and knowing how to fix it, can save you the time and trouble of living with a smelly bathroom drain.

P Trap isn’t Working Properly

That sewage smell coming from your bathroom sink is exactly what it is- sewage backing up the drain, releasing its foul stench. Sink plumbing has a curved pipe, called a P Trap, directly below the sink which holds water, creating a seal that traps sewer gas and keeps it from entering our homes. When the P Trap isn’t working properly, gases make their way through the drain. 


A dry P Trap would no longer be able to create a seal that keeps gases from entering your home, while an unused sink P Trap filled with stagnant water can turn foul, emitting the sewer smell itself. To check whether your pipes have dried, point a flashlight down the drain and see if it is filled with water. If not, it means the water held by your pipes has dried. 

Ventilation Problems

The P trap isn’t the only place where sewer gases can travel. When the drainage vent is clogged or blocked, the sewer gases find another exit, usually through our open sink drains. For the average homeowner, issues with the drain vent are difficult to diagnose, and you will need to call a professional to fix the problem.

Drain Clog

A drain clogged with food, toilet paper, and other organic materials will eventually release a rotting stench as the organic materials decompose. Food is the number one culprit in kitchen drains and garbage disposal, but is not exempt from bathrooms drains through throwing food waste or vomiting into the sink. 

Mold and Mildew

If your bathroom sink drain smells musty, and has some black or brown discoloration around it, then the stench is most likely the smell of mold. Mold and mildew colonies thrive in dark, moist locations; and your sink drain makes the perfect environment for them. Eventually, mold and mildew release spores, and excrete that musty odor that is emitting from your drain.


Woman in bathrobe holding nose
The bathroom drain can emit odors from mold, clogs, and sewage.


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How to Clean a Smelly Bathroom Drain

Air fresheners and scented candles may make your bathroom smell better, but they only mask the odor of sewage gases. To stop the smell emitting from your bathroom sink, you’ll need to take care of the source for good. 

Flush the Drain

Majority of the time, foul odors come from sinks and drains that aren’t used often and haven’t been used in a long time. The pipes have either turned foul, or dried up completely, releasing the funky odor you’re smelling from the drain. If you’ve determined that this is the problem, simply flush the drain out with fresh, clean tap water.


To flush the sink out, run the tap at full power for about 30 seconds to a minute. The sudden strong flow of water should replace the stale, stagnant water, and replenish the water held in the P Trap. You may also add some soap or detergent to clear your drain of any grime as it is flushed out. 

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Drain still smelly? White vinegar and baking soda creates a fizzy reaction that dissolves grease, oils, and gunk clogging drains. Sprinkle baking soda down the drain, and follow suit with warm vinegar. Let sit for 10 minutes, then flush with boiling water.


The carbonation coming from the reaction, coupled with the acidic properties and heat of the vinegar, will loosen clogs and allow the water to flow better. Even without a clog, the baking soda and vinegar solution will deodorize your pipes, and kill mold and mildew spores that may be causing the smell. 

Bathroom Sink Cleaner

Commercial bathroom sink cleaners are specially formulated to combat grime, mold, rotting organic material, and smells coming from your sink drain. Grab a strong cleaner that dissolves oil, hair, and grease, like Liquid-Plumr, to unclog your drains and keep them in good working condition. Cleaners like CLR's Clear Pipes and Drains provide monthly maintenance treatments.


Use according to the manufacturer’s directions, and use only cleaners that are safe for your drains, pipes, and septic systems. Some cleaners may be tough on PVC pipes, while others can cause metal pipes to rust over time. It is best to know what kind of septic system you have before choosing a brand to go with.

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Best Bathroom Drain Cleaners 

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Tips to Keep Your Bathroom Drain Stink-Free

After battling that foul stench, invest in a routine to keep your drainage clean and stink-free. Here are a few tips on proper bathroom drain maintenance:

  • Do not throw food waste into the bathroom drain.
  • Rarely used sinks should be flushed with clean tap water at least once a week.
  • Use a monthly cleaning solution to clear moderate build up in pipes.
  • Do not pour highly acidic solutions, like muriatic acid, into pipes to prevent rust and corrosion. 
  • Scrub your sink and around the drain along with your routine cleaning schedule.

For more tips on proper bathroom cleaning, check out our blog. You can also schedule an appointment with us today to get your professional part time maids that will keep those nasty smells out of your home.

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