Bathroom Sink Smells: How To Get Rid Of Unpleasant Odors

Bathroom Sink Smells: How To Get Rid Of Unpleasant Odors

Anthony Barnes

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No one wants a bathroom that stinks. Unfortunately, though, smelly bathrooms are a pretty common occurrence.

The good news is that there are some easy ways to get rid of the unpleasant odor in your bathroom sink.

The hard part is identifying where the smells come from.

There are two main culprits for bathroom sinks smelling funny: drains and pipes.

If you have an old or poorly maintained system, then it may be time to call a plumber.

But if your plumbing looks healthy and new, you can try these tips instead.

Bathroom Sink Smells: Finding The Cause

There are three primary things that will cause your bathroom sink (see also ‘Low Water Pressure In Your Bathroom Sink? 4 Causes And 8 Solutions‘) to smell foul.

The good news is that these things can usually be dealt with pretty easily and quickly.

However, there could be issues that are a little more advanced.

If you are unable to figure out where the rancid smell is coming from, then you might have to call in some professionals.

Sometimes our bathrooms hide things from us!

A Sewer Line Issue

Your bathroom sink could be stinking out the house because of a sewer line problem.

A sewer line issue can often go unnoticed until water starts backing up into the home.

When this happens, the first thing you should do is contact a plumber immediately.

They will need to check the lines and see what’s going on.

Once they determine what needs to be done, they can fix the issue right away.

And once the job is complete, your bathroom sink (see also ‘How To Fix A Bathroom Sink Stopper That Is Stuck Shut‘) will no longer stink.

The smell of sewage is a big red flag in the home. You shouldn’t be smelling it at any point anywhere around the house.

When you do notice this smell, it typically is linked to a much larger issue with the plumbing.

It is entirely possible that there could be sewer gas escaping through your drain once it rises up.

When this is the case, there is likely to either be an issue with the p-trap or vent.

The P-Trap Is Dry

If there is a problem with the p-trap, the most probable issue will be that it has gone dry.

If you aren’t aware, the p-trap is the U-shaped pipe that sits beneath the sink.

This area of pipe is supposed to hold a protective water barrier.

It is this barrier that keeps any sewer gases down, instead of working its way up and out the sink. 

Sometimes, however, this p-trap goes dry. When this happens, there is no protective water barrier to keep the sewer gases at bay.

This is a highly unpleasant scenario, but it is also extremely unsanitary, too. There’s a good chance that this will happen in a guest bathroom.

When bathrooms don’t get used a lot, the p-trap often just goes dry.

Thankfully, this issue has a super easy solution, which we will get onto in a minute.

There’s A Vent Issue

The second issue you might experience in this category is an issue with the vent.

Vents (see also ‘What Is A Plumbing Vent?’) can be found in all plumbing systems, and all the bad smells are supposed to escape through those vents.

That doesn’t always happen, though. There could be a clogged vent somewhere that is resulting in the sewer gases being stuck inside the system. 

If this is the problem you are facing, you will need to call someone to handle the blockage.

You will not be able to solve this problem yourself unless you really want to get your hands (and the rest of you) dirty.

Bacteria Build-Up In The Sink

It’s so easy for bacteria to build up in the sink and the plumbing.

For example, if you have kids who use the sink as their own personal toilet, the buildup can become quite large.

In fact, sometimes it can grow so large that it causes the pipes to burst. In this case, the only option is to replace the plumbing altogether.

Thankfully, most people don’t do that. However, even on a daily basis you have toothpaste, dirty water, and plenty of skin cells entering the sink.

While these things might seem small, they can have a big effect down the line.

Bacteria require warmth and moisture to thrive, and pipes are the ideal place for that.

When the bacteria thrive, it will produce black goo known as biofilm. It’s likely to be this biofilm that reeks.

How do you test to see if this is your problem? You can just disconnect your stopper (see also ‘How To Remove A Bathroom Sink Stopper In 5 Easy Steps‘) and pull it out to check.

If the bottom of it is covered in dark slime or gunk, the issue is clear.

If your stopper is covered in black goo, then the rest of your pipes are, too. 

You’ll be glad to know that this issue also has a simple solution. We will get onto that shortly. 

Getting Rid Of The Smell

No doubt, you will want to get rid of that disguising smell as soon as possible. Fortunately, it’s really quite simple.

Two of the three causes have very easy solutions, so you can do them at home yourself!

It’s always great to save some money around the house. Let’s take a look at the solutions to each of the issues we discussed above.

Fixing A Dry P-Trap

If you are suffering because of a dry p-trap, all you need to do is run some water in that sink for a few minutes.

Once the trap fills back up, you should be fine.

This should work every time. If this doesn’t work, then the p-trap isn’t the problem.

Remember, the p-trap’s function is to prevent sewer gas from rising into the room.

The drain pipe itself shouldn’t leak any gas into the room, so when the water level gets low, the air pressure rises, forcing the gas into the room.

When the water level gets high again, the air pressure drops, allowing the gas to flow back down into the drainpipe. 

This is why the p-trap needs to stay full. If the water is flowing freely, then the air pressure won’t rise and fall.

As such, the gas won’t be forced into the room. 

So, if adding the water back into the p-trap doesn’t solve the problem, you will have to try out the other two solutions.

If they don’t work, you will need to get in touch with a plumber to figure out what is assaulting your olfactory system.

Fixing Bad Ventilation

Fixing Bad Ventilation

The bad news is that if this is the problem, you’re going to have to get the professionals involved.

There will be more complex concerns afoot, and it isn’t worth trying to find a solution to it.

Sometimes, it’s worth splashing out a little money to get the issue dealt with quickly and effectively.

Removing Biofilm Buildup

As we already mentioned, biofilm is another probable cause for the unsavory smells emanating from your sink.

Fortunately, there is an effective way to remove it.

Once you’ve determined that there is biofilm coating your stopper and pipes, you just need to clean it.

And when we say clean it, we mean clean it thoroughly. Cleaning it is much easier than you might think, so don’t worry!

You will need to give your whole sink a deep clean, and also clean the drain and pipes.

Doing this will get rid of the awful bacteria buildup that is causing the smell.

You will first need to decide what you will use to clean the area.

Well, you can either buy some cleaning products from the store, or you can make your own cleaning solution.

Homemade cleaning solutions are typically less harsh, but they still work very well.

Any store bought product you pick up will need to specifically be for cleaning sinks and pipes.

If you plan to make a DIY solution, all you need is distilled white vinegar. If you’re thinking about mixing vinegar with bleach, DO NOT.

When these two substances get mixed, harmful, noxious fumes are created. Avoid that combination at all costs.

You will need to use whichever cleaner you prefer, and clean the sink. We won’t go into detail about that – just clean it thoroughly.

Once that’s done, you will need to run boiling hot water down the drain.

Doing this will help break down any remaining bacteria in the pipes.

Although this cleaning method typically works well, it might not be enough if you have a severe bacteria buildup.

If this is the case, you will want to first turn off the water source, then take the plumbing below your sink apart.

Cleaning the pipes individually is sometimes the only way to effectively deal with the bacteria buildup.

Although this can take some time, you need to be patient so that you do a proper job. If you rush, you will still end up with a stinking sink.

To clean these individual pipes, you will probably only need some paper towel and gloves.

Wipe away the bacteria mass from the pipes, then run them under the outside faucet.

You don’t necessarily need chemicals for this, since the pipes will be exposed, but you can use vinegar as a final step if you like.

Once the bacteria has been removed, you will simply need to reassemble the plumbing. 

Reassembling plumbing is usually pretty easy, but there are plenty of places to call if you find yourself stuck.

Alternatively, you could pay someone to assemble it for you if you like.

What Else Could be Wrong?

The possibilities mentioned above are most likely to be the cause of your smelling sink, but there could be other reasons.

If you’ve tried all of the above, and your sink still smells, hold on there. It’s a tough situation to get through, but you can do it. 

Let’s go through a few other possibilities.

If none of these turn out to be the problem, then it’s time you call in the professionals to determine the cause.

Chances are, it will be something mentioned in this post, but you never know! 

Check the Basin of Your Sink

The basin of the sink could be the real culprit for the smell in the house.

The reason this is possible is that the drainage system is connected directly to the basin.

If you notice an unpleasant odor coming from the basin itself, it may be the source of your bad smells.

On the off chance you haven’t checked it yet, now is the perfect time to do so.

If your basin does stink, you’ll need to check your drains. This means removing the trap, and taking a look in the actual drain.

If you see anything amiss, you will need to fix it. It isn’t uncommon for debris to build up in the sink itself and simply be overlooked.  

This issue is usually found in kitchens where organic matter tends to find its way to the sink, but it can happen anywhere.

Particles can easily build up over time, and you might not even notice it.

All you need in order to clean your sink effectively is fill it with hot water, add some cleaning solution, and clean it! It’s that simple.

While you’re cleaning, make sure you clean around the faucet and any other areas where there may be nooks and crannies.

Bacteria can make a home in any place, so be thorough. Boiling water is especially good for this, since the heat will instantly kill bacteria. 

Leave the boiling water and soap to sit in the sink for a few minutes, scrub it, and allow it to drain.

Make sure to wipe up any water that gets splashed around.

Excess water can lead to mold and other unpleasant things, so keep everything but the basin dry whenever possible.

Take a Look at the Overflow Pipe

The overflow pipe is another area that needs to be inspected.

If you have noticed a strong odor coming from the sink, chances are some kind of clog is going on.

The overflow pipe is responsible for taking in water when the water level in the sink gets too high.

That way, there will be no spilling onto the floor – a very handy concept.

With that being said, this overflow feature can also be the reason your sink smells.

This overflow is the perfect place for soap scum and all kinds of other things to build up, including bacteria.

As time goes on, more and more stuff will find its way into this area, and it will result in a bad smell. 

Thankfully, you can clean this area by simply using distilled white vinegar and pouring it down the overflow pipe.

Alternatively, you can use bleach, but DO NOT combine bleach and vinegar.

You might even want to get a toothbrush to scrub away around the rim of the hole.

That way, it’ll get cleaner than ever and your problem will hopefully be resolved. 

Other Pipe Blockage

Biofilm isn’t the only thing that can accumulate in your pipes.

In fact, it is incredibly common for things like hair and grease to build up in the pipes, too.

But what if something else got stuck in them? Well, that would definitely cause issues.

To ensure that your plumbing doesn’t get blocked, you should flush it out regularly.

This involves flushing the toilet or shower, as well as the sinks.

To do this, just turn on the tap and let the water run until it stops running.

Doing this will help prevent blockages from forming in the future.

You can also try pouring a cup of baking soda and vinegar down the drain every once in a while.

This will help break up any blockages that could form.

Once you’ve done this, pour a cup of vinegar down the drain to neutralize the baking soda. 

Alternatively, you can purchase specially made cleaning products at the store that are meant for dissolving blockages.

There are a number of products out there that work like a charm.

You should aim to clear up the pipes in your bathroom a couple of times a year, just to make sure they are functioning properly.

It’s better to avoid the whole situation in the first place, right?

If none of these methods work, then you should call a plumber. They can come out and fix whatever the problem is.

There are many ways they can go about doing this, however. And that’s completely dependent upon how old your house is.

So, if you think you might need a professional, give us a call right now. 

Keeping Your Sink Clean

It’s always better to avoid your sink getting this bad in the first place, so maintenance cleaning is a good idea.

Even if the problems have easy solutions, it should never get to the point where your sink reeks.

Bathrooms as a whole tend to not smell the best, so why not change that?

Go regular cleaning everywhere in the bathroom, and pay special attention to the sink.

Use a mild dishwashing liquid and some warm water to wash down the inside of the bowl.

Then, use a sponge to wipe down the entire surface of the sink.

Make sure to keep the suds off the faucet, though, because they’re really hard to remove.

When it comes to the outside of the sink, you don’t want to leave anything lying around. Use a soft brush to gently push and pull the grime away.

It’s important to use a soft cloth here, because you don’t want to damage the finish.

If you notice that the sink has started looking dirty again after a while, take a look at our blog post about shower drains for more tips. 

Your shower is one of those places that needs to be cleaned frequently, too.

Every time you step into it, you leave behind dirt, debris, and soap scum.

The longer you wait to clean it, the harder it becomes. So, when you do decide to clean it, it’s significant to know what sort of approach to take.

The simplest way to begin is by using a plunger.

Simply plunge the shower head all the way down and start scrubbing. After 10 minutes, you’ll see that most of the gunk has been removed.

You can repeat this process with some hot water and detergent to remove stubborn remnants.

You should also consider investing in a power washer.

These machines are designed to blast away everything from mold to soap scum. Just remember to test them before you buy them.

Another option is to invest in a steam cleaner. Steam cleaners are great at removing soap scum without damaging surfaces.

Since they operate on a similar principle to a clothes dryer, they’re relatively safe.

However, if you plan on tackling the job yourself, you may end up ruining the finish or even causing serious damage.

A few other things you should do in the bathroom are as follows:

  • Keep floors dry and clean
  • Hand up towels and bath mats so that they dry properly
  • Clean shower curtains
  • Use scented trash bags
  • Make use of some nice candles
  • Keep windows open when possible
  • Do laundry regularly

Final Thoughts

If you want a clean, tidy, and pleasant home environment, then you need to make sure you keep it well maintained.

This includes keeping your bathroom spotless and smelling fresh.

Keeping the bathroom as a whole clean at all times goes a long way to preventing other problems from happening.

Stinking sinks can become the least of your worries if there is no upkeep.

With that being said, hopefully this post has been helpful to you.

If you are currently living with a sink that smells, try the steps above and see if you can get rid of it.

If you cannot, it might be time to call in the professionals to figure out what the issue is.

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By Anthony Barnes

Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age