When we think of nasty bathroom smells, we often focus on the toilet bowl. But you might notice that no matter how often you scrub and scour, the room still smells … off. Could the source be something else? Like the sink? A clogged drain can cause the nastiest stink!
Luckily, bathroom sinks are less dramatic than toilets, so it’s easier to manage their unwanted scents. Let’s explore several ways to get rid of bathroom sink smells. Some of these techniques are mechanical, others are organic, while others use commercial chemicals.
why does my bathroom sink smell?
In the kitchen, you can easily trace nasty sink smells to rotting food and grease. After all, unless you have a garbage disposal or you’re a keen composter, there’s a lot of gunk down there. The average person just dumps dishes in the kitchen sink without scraping them.
And even if you have a dishwasher, not everybody empties their plates before stuffing them in the device. If they do, they probably just shake the plate or pot over the sink before loading the dishwasher. Meaning all those leftovers and greasy bits end up trapped in the U-bend.
What causes such smells in a bathroom? Mostly hair. All it takes is a few tufts stuck beneath the drainage rim. Once that happens, whatever goes down the sink will further matt the hair. You’ll have icky clumps of toothpaste, soap, beauty products, shaving cream, and dead skin.
With all that to deal with, you’ll soon be looking for ways to get rid of bathroom sink smells. But sometimes, that Eau de Nastiness comes from deeper down the sink trap. It might be flowing back up from dirty pipes, bogged down external drainage systems, or burst sewers.
Sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and shower trays all have U-traps or P-traps beneath the surface. These traps hold water, which acts as a scent barrier that prevents unwanted sewer smells from floating back up. You might also check how well the sink is draining in case of clogs.
How Do I Get Rid of the Smell in my Sink?
Here are a few quick ways to get rid of bathroom sink smells:
1. Thoroughly Clean the Sink
The smell might be a basic dirt problem. After all, the bathroom sink routinely deals with the natural and artificial residues of typical bathroom activities. Everything from dandruff and sebum to the dirt under your fingernails! So a deep clean may be just what the sink needs.
Use hot water and a suitable detergent. Depending on what your kitchen sink is made of, you can use a cleaning sponge that has an abrasive side. The rougher (usually green) side is helpful for tougher stains. Hot water helps loosen the dirt and dissolve any oil or grease.
2. Start with a Plunger
You may think plungers are only for slow sinks or clogged basins. But you might have smelly water and gunk just below the sink line. In such cases, a plunger might be enough to push that mess down into the sewers. Fill the sink with hot or cold water and block any overflows.
Place the plunger in the sink, keeping it submerged under the water. Pump a few times until the water drains. Stop and pump the plunger again, even if the sink is empty. Chase the dirt with hot water. Repeat the process several times until the smell stops and the water is gone.
3. Try Boiling Water
As we’ve mentioned, matted hair, oil, and chemical residue are the most common causes of stinky bathroom sinks. So even if you’re not doing a deep clean, flushing out the mess can be an effective way to get rid of bathroom sink smells. Pour at least one liter down the drain.
You want the water as hot as possible, so keep your hands protected from scalding. Aim carefully so the bubbling liquid goes directly down the sink. Do it carefully and gradually, since some of those drops may splash back and burn you. The water may also flow back up.
4. Vinegar is Good Too
If plain hot water won’t do the trick, try white vinegar or apple cider vinegar (ACV). Avoid brown vinegar because it has its own strong odor that’s not the best for bathroom sinks. Plus, brown vinegar might stain your sink. When you’re doing a vinegar rinse, start with hot water.
Pour the water down the sink, just like you did in the previous attempt. Then follow with a liter or two of undiluted vinegar. The mild acid content of white vinegar can be effective at breaking down clumps and dealing with the alkaline residues from common sink soap.
5. Add a Dash of Baking Soda
Lots of DIY cleaning solutions use some combination of vinegar and baking soda. They work well together because the acid in vinegar and the alkali in baking soda create a sizzle-like reaction. That fizzing is often enough to physically dislodge dirty debris and clumps of crud.
For this tactic, start by pouring hot water down the sink then follow with a cup or so of baking soda. Let the powder sit for ten minutes to half an hour, then pour a liter or two of white vinegar down the sink. It will fizz for a bit. When the bubbling stops, add hot water.
6. Go With Caustic Soda
Both baking soda and caustic soda (aka lye) are effective ways to get rid of bathroom sink smells. But while baking powder can be used dry and/or chased with vinegar, caustic soda works best in liquid form. You’ll need to mix these sodium hydroxide crystals with water.
A 10% solution works well, so you can mix 100g of lye into 1 liter of water (or about 15oz of caustic soda per gallon of water). This solution is slow but effective, so you may need to wait half an hour or so before pouring hot water down the sink to see if the smelly clog is gone.
7. Bleach it Away
Baking soda is a mild abrasive, so it’s good for scrubbing delicate bathroom sinks. It also soaks up unwanted odors beautifully. And you probably know odor is particulate. That means whenever you smell something, you’re inhaling microscopic bits of that thing.
This is why bleach is an easy way to get rid of bathroom sink smells. It destroys the offending bits of material that are causing the stench. Remember to wear gloves and keep all the windows open whenever you use bleach. Otherwise, you might faint or harm your lungs.
8. Do it Manually
If you have the kind of bathroom sink with a removable drain cap, it may help to pry off the cap. This gives you access to the innards of your bathroom sink drain. Shine a flashlight or phone down the exposed pipes and see if you can spot whatever is causing that nasty smell.
Use gloved fingers, a wire hanger, or a drain snake to pull out whatever is clogging the drain. Your reflex may lead you to push the gunk deeper down, but that could back up your entire sewer system, so extract the stuff instead. Follow up with hot water, bleach, and disinfectant.
9. Open up the Trap
On some sinks, the U-trap, S-trap, or P-trap are easily accessible. If you can reach them, place a large bucket under the trap then unscrew it. There’s always water in there, so it’ll splash into the bucket. You may notice the water itself is smelly, so that solves the problem.
But the source of the stink may be higher up the pipe. With the trap unscrewed, go back to the top of the sink and pour hot water, vinegar, and bleach down the sink in turn. You can push a wire or snake down the sink hole to force any stinky clumps out into the bucket.
10. Try Some Kitchen Tricks
Lots of DIY tips can cross over from the kitchen sink to the bathroom one. You don’t have a garbage disposal in the bathroom, but you can still try kitchen solutions like citrus peels, eggshells, or salt. Crush the shells and grind the lemon rinds as fine as possible to avoid clogs.
Put these natural abrasives down the bathroom sink then add plain hot water. You can also mix some liquid dishwashing soap into the water. These materials will catch any smelly items that might be stuck to the sides of the pipe and push them safely into the sewers.
11. Use a Commercial Sink Drain Cleaner
We’ve looked at several ways to get rid of bathroom sink smells. Some can be safely combined while others should always stay separate (e.g. ammonia, bleach, and vinegar). You may have heard that it’s pointless to mix vinegar and baking soda because they cancel out. This is true – the acid (vinegar) and alkali (baking soda) dilute each other to form saltwater.
So rather than mixing the two in a bottle, sprinkle the baking soda, wait a while, then add vinegar. Or make a thick paste and apply it while it’s still foaming and fizzing. But another way to get rid of bathroom sink smells is to use a designated product for unclogging drains. Examples are Drano Max, CLR, and Liquid-Plumr. Remember to keep those windows open!
12. Try and Enzyme Cleaner
By now, you know those bad bathroom sink smells come from stinky materials stuck somewhere along the pipes. That’s why every way to get rid of bathroom sink smells involves clearing the sink of clogs and residue (or refreshing / refilling the water barrier in the trap).
But commercial drain cleaners can be harsh – both on your pipes and on the environment. So if your ethics are uneasy, try using a greener enzyme cleaner instead. DIY options include fermented fruit peels, but you can use store-bought ones like Bio-Clean or Green Gobbler.
13. Wet the P-Trap
We’ve already talked about the P-trap, how to unscrew it, and its role in keeping sewer smells out of your bathroom. But if you have a guest bathroom or you’ve been away on holiday, that water barrier may have dried out. This means the sewer smells could be floating up the sink.
In this instance, the solution can be surprisingly simple. Just refill the trap. To do this, place a bucket under the trap and unscrew it to ensure it’s dry. Pour hot water down the sink so it flows out of the hollow trap (dish soap is optional.) Rescrew the trap and add clean water.
14. Look at the Overflow
Glance at your bathroom sink. Particularly the spot below the faucet. Is there a hole there? That’s called the overflow – it’s the one you block when you’re plunging the sink. So if you’ve run through all these other solutions and the sink still stinks, the issue may be the overflow.
The purpose of the overflow is to drain out excess water in case of clogs or floods. So you can clean it using all the techniques we’ve just listed. You’ll need a spray bottle, syringe, or nozzle plus an old toothbrush, pipe brush, or bottle brush to get into that narrow overflow opening.
15. Check for Biofilm
Sometimes, that stench in the sink is caused by an accumulation of bathroom bacteria aka biofilm. Pick up the stopper of your sink and turn it over to inspect the underside. You’ll probably see traces of the errant film. If you shine a light down the sink, you may see more.
Deep-cleaning will generally get rid of biofilm. You can use any sink cleaning solution, from your basic hot water and dishwashing liquid to commercial cleaning products of your choice. Dismantle your fittings and use paper towels and baby bottle brushes to clean off the biofilm.
16. Buy a Drain Screen
This is more of a preventative measure, and it’s mostly recommended for showers and bathtubs. But since we agree that matted hair is the leading cause of smelly sinks, it might be worth investing in a drain screen for your bathroom sink. The downside is that drain screens need regular checking and cleaning, so that’s more maintenance work. At least it won’t smell!
17. Call in the Big Dogs
Any water that pools in the sink can cause a smell, so you should routinely wipe the sink with a rag or washcloth to keep it dry. But if you’ve tried everything we’ve mentioned and your sink is still smelly, you should call a plumber. The issue may be deeper in the sewers and it may be a problem that extends to the whole neighborhood. Professionals can figure it out.
Simple Sink Smell Solutions
What are the most effective ways to get rid of bathroom smells?
- Rinse the sink after every use to ensure the trap holds clean water.
- Put in the stopper, fill the sink, and use a plunger to push down any blockage.
- Try pouring hot water, liquid soap, white vinegar, or bleach down the sink.
- Dowse baking soda or caustic soda to absorb unwanted aromas.
- Use manual methods (drain snakes, wires, etc.) to remove smelly residue.
Note: Never mix bleach with vinegar or ammonia!
What’s your top way to get rid of bathroom sink smells? Share some tips in the comments!