How to Get Rid of Smelly Drains

No one wants a stinky sink or sewer smells from your toilet, but sadly, they’re super common. Use these natural methods to get rid of drain smells around your home. These simple solutions cover clogs, odors and slow drains all without harsh chemicals.  

clean sink with lemons and baking soda on counter

Why Avoid Chemical Drain Cleaners

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Before I share my simple solutions for removing drain smells, you may wonder why not just pour bleach down the drain or a chemical drain cleaner. Alongside those options being some of the most toxic household cleaners, here are 3 main reasons why I believe opting for natural methods are best.

1. Dangerous chemical reaction

When you pour commercial cleaning products (bleach or otherwise) down your drain, you risk it coming into contact with other household chemicals. This can cause a chemical reaction that can pollute your home’s air with dangerous gasses. Even coming into contact with organic matter can be dangerous. For example, if bleach comes into contact with vinegar it creates chlorine gas, or bleach mixed with alcohol can create highly toxic chloroform.

2. Pipe corrosion

Many people don’t realize that traditional, chemical drain cleaners will deteriorate your plumbing system over time. This is because they contain active ingredients such as sulfuric acid and lye that can corrode your pipes. Prolonged use of these substances may even cause your pipes to burst.

3. Septic tank build-up

Around 20% of homes in the U.S have a septic tank. These wastewater systems rely on natural bacteria to break down organic matter such as food, and human waste. If you chuck a traditional drain unblocker or bleach down your septic system, this can kill that helpful bacteria. This can lead to clogs and build-up, resulting in an even smellier drainage issue, complete with overflow and damage to your home.

white counter top with black kitchen sink, window and plant

Ways to Get Rid of Smelly Drains Naturally

1. Boiling Water

Directions: Pour a pot of boiling hot water down the drain in a slow, steady stream. Repeat the process a few times a week.

Why it works: Firstly, the high temperature helps to loosen and dissolve sticky substances like grease, soap scum, and food particles that tend to cling to the sides of your pipes. Then, as the water rushes through (thanks to the steady stream), it carries away the residue that could be causing those unpleasant aromas. Repeating a few times a week is key, as this will prevent future build-up, helping you avoid slow or smelly bathroom drains.  

2. Baking Soda and White Vinegar

Directions: Simply pour a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar. Let sit for 30 minutes, then flush with hot water. 

Why it works: Vinegar is a natural acid that breaks down gunk, grease, and even mineral deposits that all contribute to bad odors. Combined with baking soda, it creates a fizzy reaction that helps dislodge buildup, deodorize odors and clean your pipes.

3. Salt and Baking Soda

Directions: Combine 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup baking soda, and pour the mixture down the drain. Let it sit for a few minutes. Then use an old toothbrush to scrub the sides of the drain gently. Rinse with hot water. 

Why it works: Instead of using those corrosive chemical drain cleaners, switch to salt, as it acts as a natural abrasive. It will gently scour away the build-up of food scraps, grease, and grime that clings to your drain. When combined with salt, baking soda enhances the scrubbing power while adding its natural deodorizing magic. It’s ideal for breaking down residue while absorbing odors, leaving your drain smelling fresh and clean.

hand spooning baking soda into bathroom sink

4. Lemons

Directions: Cut a lemon into small pieces and put in the drain. Turn on cold water from the faucet and garbage disposal at the same time.

Why it works: Lemons pack a powerful punch of citric acid. There are many ways to clean with citric acid, as it’s a powerful natural solution that can break down grime and banish odors. When you drop lemon peels or slices into your drain, the citric acid gets to work, attacking the buildup of food scraps, grease, and other gunk that can be causing those unwanted smells.

As the disposal grinds the peels or slices, it releases the aromatic oils from the lemon, infusing your kitchen with a refreshing and clean scent. As a tip, I like to finish with my DIY air freshener that contains lemon and lavender essential oil to boost the refreshing scent.

5. Enzyme Drain Cleaners

Directions: Opt for a reputable enzyme cleaner with the best reviews. Remove any visible food debris or obstructions then read the instructions on the product. Different brands will have different directions, but typically, you need to pour a specific amount down the drain, allow the product to sit (this could range from a few hours to overnight) then flush the drain with hot water.

Why it works: An enzyme drain cleaner is an eco-friendly alternative to Draino and other harsh drain cleaners and clog removers. Natural enzymes help to break down food and organic matter in drains, which is usually the cause of foul odors. They may not be as effective at dealing with soap scum or mineral buildup.

jar of baking soda with lemon slices and basket to get rid of drain smells

Drain Cleaning Tools You’ll Need

Numerous helpful drain cleaning tools can be game-changers for maintaining clean and odor-free drains. Use these regularly as part of your cleaning routine to keep drains clear.  

  • Drain Snake: A drain snake, sometimes called a plumbing snake is a flexible, coiled wire tool with a corkscrew end. It’s perfect for dislodging clogs caused by hair, soap scum, and other debris. Simply insert it into the drain and rotate the handle to break up and pull out the gunk. In a pinch, you could also try a straightened wire hanger. Bend one end into a hook and use it to fish out clogs and debris.
  • Cleaning Brush: A cleaning brush with flexible bristles is fantastic for scrubbing the interior of the drain. It helps remove residue, grime, and build-up that can contribute to odors. This tool is especially handy for kitchen sinks.
  • Plunger: I get plungers are usually associated with toilets, but it’s a versatile tool for sink and shower drains. It creates pressure that can dislodge clogs and help water flow freely. Use a cup plunger for sinks and a flange plunger for toilets.
  • Zip-It Tool: This inexpensive tool is a simple yet effective way to remove hair clogs from drains. It’s a long, flexible plastic strip with tiny hooks that can grab onto hair and pull it out.
hand pulling drain snake out of bathroom plug

How to Clean Smelly Drains in the Kitchen

Start by removing any visible debris from the drain. Use gloves and a small tool (like a drain snake) to remove food particles or residue that might contribute to the smell. The leading cause of smelly drains in the kitchen is food debris. This means the vinegar trick mentioned earlier is one of the best natural solutions.

Combining vinegar and baking soda helps break down food residue and eliminate odors. Don’t forget to pour boiling water down the kitchen drain regularly. This helps to melt and flush away any grease build-up that can lead to odors.

How to Get Rid of Drain Smells in the Bathroom

Again, soap scum is the common cause for bathroom sink smells. Try using boiling water first as the high temperature helps to dissolve soap scum and oils that can be causing the smell. Then, follow up with a baking soda and vinegar treatment if required.

How to Get Fix Smelly Drains in the Shower 

A hair and soap scum build-up is usually the most common cause of smelly bathroom drains. A drain strainer over your shower drain can avoid the majority of these blockages. If it’s too late for that, start by using a Zip-it tool or drain snake to pull out any clogs. Then, create a baking soda scrub that will remove any grime and odors.

Either salt and baking soda or simply baking soda and water, like this DIY scrub will work. Apply the scrub using an old toothbrush or cleaning brush, scrub the drain, then rinse with hot water. Follow up with vinegar and baking soda if the smell persists.

hand holding drain strainer near plug hole


Can I use bleach to get rid of drain smells? 

While it’s no secret that bleach is powerful, it can be too powerful for your pipes. Not only is it harmful to your plumbing system, potentially causing an expensive mess, but it is harmful to the environment too. I prefer this natural bleach alternative in my home and stick to the natural methods above to eliminate any foul odors from my drains.

How often should I clean my drains? 

Consistency is key. A little regular maintenance goes a long way and avoids build-up or clogged drains in the long run. I aim to treat my drains once a month, minimum. This helps stay on top of any odor-causing bacteria, but this may vary depending on your drain usage, the size of your property etc. If you notice a persistent odor, you may need to give your drains additional TLC.

What can I do to keep my garbage disposal from smelling bad? 

Garbage disposals are major odor culprits in the kitchen. However, there are many ways to prevent your garbage disposal from smelling bad. These top tips will add a few minutes to your routine but could save you some major time (and money!) in the long run.

  • Scrape Before You Dispose: Give all plates a good scrape into the trash first. Less food debris means less chance of smelly surprises later.
  • Chop Smart: If you need to get rid of any larger food pieces, cut them into smaller pieces before tossing them in. Your disposal will thank you for the added effort. This helps it to work more efficiently, so will prevent unpleasant odors later.
  • Cold Water Rinse: Always run cold water while using the disposal. It helps solidify greasy substances, making them easier to chop up and whisk away. Then, rinse and repeat. After using the disposal, let the water run for an extra 15-30 seconds. This helps wash away any remaining residue and keeps things clean.
  • Save Your Citrus Peels: A fave top tip is to throw in citrus peels like orange, lemon, or lime. Not only do they smell amazing, but as they contain citric acid they also help clean and sanitize the disposal as they whirl around.
  • Avoid Grease in the Garbage: This is (hopefully!) an obvious one, but grease is a no-no for disposals. Instead of pouring it down the drain, let it cool and toss it in the trash. Grease build-up is a major odor culprit as it clogs the drain attracting odor-causing bacteria.
  • Avoid Starchy Stinks: Starchy foods like pasta and rice can expand in water, potentially causing clogs and drain smells. Use the disposal for these with caution and always run plenty of water.
  • Don’t forget Fiber Foods: Stringy foods like celery or corn husks can tangle around the disposal blades. Chop them into smaller pieces or throw them in the trash instead.
hand peeling potato into garbage disposal

How can I prevent sink odor? 

Prevention is always easier than cure when it comes to sink odor. Many of my garbage disposal tips are applicable to sink odors too, but in particular I have three go-to tips to prevent a stinky sink:

  • Drain Strainers: Use drain strainers to catch debris. Then, don’t forget to clean your sink strainers regularly to prevent food residue from building up. Less gunk trapped means fresher air in your kitchen and less chance of drain smells.
  • Hot water: Regularly flush your drains with hot water to keep things flowing smoothly and smelling fresh.
  • Monthly Treatment: Consider a monthly treatment like the baking soda and vinegar treatment mentioned above to ward off odors.

How to get rid of the sewer smell from a toilet or shower drain?

If you’re struggling with smelly bathroom drains and a sewer smell from a toilet, I recommend you first identify the cause. As well as the foul smell and potential damage to your house, sewer smells are usually caused by hydrogen sulfide (which smells like rotten eggs.) It is highly flammable and can be hazardous to your health.

This list of causes will help determine how to get rid of the sewer smell from a toilet or shower drain:

  • Evaporation of water in the P-trap piping: A dry P-trap is particularly common in a guest bathroom or a bathroom you don’t use regularly. This results in water evaporation and that unpleasant sewer smell. Simply run water through your sink or drain to allow the P-trap to fill fully. This will effectively block unpleasant odors.
  • Broken seal around the toilet: If the seal around your toilet (either the caulk or wax ring) is broken, urine, water, and other waste can seep through. Disgusting, huh? Simply re-apply caulk around the damaged area to seal those stinky odors. Finish by popping a homemade toilet bomb into the bowl for added deodorizing power.
  • Tree/plant roots: If roots outside have cause caused damage to your sewer pipes a simple DIY fix may not be the solution. You may need a professional plumber to assess the damage, and even use a fibre optic camera to examine the pipes.

When should I get professional help for a drain smell? 

I’m all for natural cleaning hacks, but there comes a point when it’s time to call in the pros. If you’ve tried these natural methods and the smell refuses to budge, you may have an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

If your drains are clogged, slow, or emitting foul odors consistently, a professional plumber’s expertise could save you some serious money and time.

hand holding red plunger in sink

Thanks to this guide you now know how to get rid of drain smell without causing harm to your pipes or the planet. Whether you’re struggling with a stinky sink or smelly bathroom drains, these simple solutions prove that with just boiling water, baking soda and vinegar you can say goodbye to foul odors for good.

Did you try these natural solutions to get rid of drain smells? Don’t forget to comment below to let me know how it went. You can also FOLLOW ME on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.

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