A smelly drain can make a room unpleasant and even sickening. Luckily, there are steps you can take to fix the problem. This FAQ is designed to help homeowners experiencing a drain odor problem.

What does it mean if your drain smells?

A smelly drain is often indicative of one of two problems. Either the drain is clogged with rotting organic material, or the water in the drain's P trap has evaporated and sewer gas is rising up into the room.

How can you tell which problem is occurring?

If the drain in question is one that never gets used, it's likely that the water in the P trap has evaporated. If the drain is used frequently, the more likely solution is that organic material has become trapped in the drain.

What can you do to fix the drain smell?

If the problem seems to be that water in the P trap has evaporated, then you can easily solve the problem by filling the drain with water. If the drain is in a toilet, then flush it. If the drain is located in a sink, bathtub or shower, then run the water. If the drain is located in the floor, pour a bucket or two of water down the drain.

If the drain is clogged, put on a pot of water to boil. When the water is close to boiling, pour several cups of white vinegar down the drain. Vinegar is acidic and therefore will help clear the drain of clogs and flush away the organic material. When the water comes to a boil, chase the vinegar with the boiling water.

If this doesn't help clear the clog, put on another pot of water to boil, then sprinkle the drain with baking soda. Baking soda is a natural cleaning agent that also absorbs odors. When the water begins to boil, flush the drain again. Repeat this process with vinegar, baking soda and boiling water a few more times. If the smell persists, call for professional drain cleaning services.

If the drain smells like sewage, could this be a sign of a sewer backup?

If your sewer is backing up, you'll likely notice drain problems all over the house. Sewer water may back up into the lowest drains of your home, and all the drains in your house may begin to clog. If you're not noticing problems elsewhere in the house, the problem is likely isolated to the one drain. However, if you have concerns about a sewer backup, contact a drain cleaning and plumbing service right away.

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