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Stinky Drains 101: Diagnose And Destroy The Odor

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You don't have to live with stinky drains. In most cases, you can clean out the drains yourself and free your home from the odor. Sometimes, professional help is needed, but first try some of these ideas to fix it yourself.

Locate the Odor

Before you try anything, make sure the odor really is coming from the drain. Open the cabinet doors beneath the sink and make sure there are no leaks. If you don't look inside the sink cabinet often, wet wood and paper could start to rot, resulting in the foul odor. Trash cans, placed under or near the sink, could also be the culprit. Once you are sure the drain is at fault, you can proceed to remedying the problem.

Remove the Plug

Bathroom sinks and tub drains usually have a screen or a removable pop-up plug. Hair, toothpaste and soap scum can collect on the plug, slowly rotting and putting off that foul smell.

Removal of screens and plugs varies, but generally you can usually pull them out or unscrew them from the drain. Once out, remove any hair and debris from the plug, and then run hot, nearly boiling water down the drain to clear it out.

Clean the Trap

The P-trap, that hooked pipe beneath the sink, is designed to keep sewer gas from coming back up the drain. Sometimes, debris gets stuck in the pipe and begins to rot. Follow these steps to remove and clean the trap:

  1. Set a bucket beneath the trap to catch any water that comes out. Make sure the taps are turned off.

  2. Loosen the two gaskets, holding the trap in place with a wrench.

  3. Remove the pipe and drain it into the bucket.

  4. Clean out any debris in the pipe, and then wash it out with hot water in a different sink.

  5. Replace the trap, tightening the gaskets so it doesn't leak.

  6. Turn on the tap and run the water for a minute or two. This ensures your trap isn't dry, because it needs water resting in the pipe to block any sewer gas from coming back up.

Freshen the Disposal

If a kitchen sink is the problem, your garbage disposal may be the source of the odor. Here are a few tips to keep the disposal fresh:

  • Always run water when the disposal is on, and run it for at least 30 seconds after it's done grinding to make sure all the food residue is rinsed through.

  • Put a few ice cubes or citrus peels down the disposal to clean and freshen it.

  • Run a disposal or drain cleaner down the sink. These are designed to remove grease, which can trap odors if it coats the inside of the drain or disposal.

  • No matter what you do, don't stick your hand down the disposal!

When to Call a Plumber

Sometimes only a plumber can remedy a drain problem. Call in a plumber immediately if the above tips don't work or if you have one of the following problems:

  • Raw sewage or sulfur smells coming from a drain or the toilet, that isn't fixed by cleaning and wetting the P-trap.

  • Brown or black water coming up the drains, especially in conjunction with odor. You may have a blocked soil pipe.

  • Persistent odors that don't go away after cleaning, or go away only to return in a few days.

Getting to the source of a reoccurring odor problem quickly can save you money in the long run. For example, fixing a blocked pipe now may prevent a burst pipe later. Contact a company like A Absolute Plumbing & Heating for more information.