If you detect a strange smell in your house, the plumbing should be one of the first places that you look when trying to discover the source of the scent. Where ever there is water, there's the possibility of smells when the water becomes trapped and stagnant. When you consider the many different types of things that go down various drains in any household, the chance of strange smells only grows. Here is an overview of some of the strange plumbing-related odors you may encounter in your home, and what to do about them when you smell them.
Garbage Disposal Odors
There's a bad smell coming from your kitchen, and sniffing around lets you know that the source of the smell is the garbage disposal. Garbage disposal odors are some of the easiest to understand. You're putting food particles down a drain and chopping them up – is it any wonder that some of the food occasionally gets trapped and starts to smell in the damp sink drain? The question here is how do you get rid of the smell? Is it really necessary to have the disposal removed and cleaned?
Sometimes garbage disposals do have to be removed. However, before you call a plumber, there's a DIY method that is often successful in deodorizing garbage disposals that you should try. Start by putting ice cubes down the garbage disposal, along with some lemon or orange peels. Run the disposal for 30 seconds, then add dish detergent to the still-running garbage disposal. The ice hardens the debris, making it easier for them to drop off of the disposal blades when you add the soap, and the orange or lemon peels act as a natural deodorizer. Be sure to run cold water into the disposal for at least 30 seconds once you're done to clean out the debris from the peels.
Toilet Flushing Odors
Every time you flush the toilet, a smell permeates the room. It may remind you of rotten fish. What's going on? A smell that arises when you flush the toilet is a good sign that your toilet's wax ring needs to be replaced. The wax ring is a gasket, made of wax, that seals the toilet to the floor. When the seal is broken, flushing the toilet will cause air in the pipes to be pushed out from under the toilet into the room, rather than down the pipe and out of the house. It's the air from the pipes that causes that unpleasant smell.
You can fix the wax seal yourself if you don't mind putting the time into a home improvement project or you can call someone from a place like Hammond Plumbing & Heating Inc. You can pick up a replacement wax seal at a home improvement store. Start by shutting the water off to the toilet and flushing a few times to empty the bowl and tank. Remove the toilet by unscrewing the nuts holding it into place and rocking the toilet back and forth to break through the caulking. Once you've moved the toilet, you should be able to see the old seal. Remove it and put the new one in its place over the flange, then replace the toilet. You may have to sit on the toilet for awhile to help the wax seal the toilet into place. Then you can replace the nuts, reconnect the water, and reapply the caulk. With the new seal in place, you shouldn't detect any more odors when flushing.
Shower Drain Smell
Your guest bathroom doesn't get a lot of use, so there's no reason why it should smell, right? That's why you might be shocked when you go in to get it ready for an expected guest, run the water in the shower – and then get hit with the smell of the sewer emanating from the drain. What happened?
This is a common problem in drains that aren't used very often. Each drain in your house has a P-trap that contains a water seal, and a vent that prevents sewer gas from coming through the pipes into the house. But when you don't use a drain for a long time, the water in the water seal can dry up, which can prevent gas from being diverted to the vent. That's why you'll notice a smell when you start using the drain again. If your problem is a dry P-trap, you should be able to fix it with a few household ingredients.
Start by pouring one cup of vinegar down the drain, followed by a half a cup of baking soda. Let the mixture sit in the drain for half an hour, then follow it with a gallon of boiling water. Once the hot water has had a chance to make its way through the drains, add a half cup of bleach, let it sit for a few hours, and follow that with another gallon of boiling water. Turn on the shower and let the hot water run for ten minute, then, finally, pour four ounces of mineral oil down the drain. The vinegar, baking soda and bleach clean and deodorize the drain and pipes. All of the water you are pouring down the drain will replace the water in your P-trap, so that the seal will work again. The mineral oil will help slow down the evaporation of the water, so you don't have to go through this process again any time soon.
If you can't find the source of a smell, but suspect that it's coming from your pipes or drains, or if you do find the source, but DIY methods do nothing to relieve it, then it's time to call the plumber. Plumbing odors can sometimes signal leaks or other serious problems, so never ignore an odor coming from your pipes.