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What Causes the Sewer Smell in My House?

Your home should be your safe place, but unwanted odors can quickly make your home less than desirable. If you have an unexplained sewage smell in your home, this can be very disheartening and embarrassing. Luckily, most sewage issues can be an easy fix and you can get back to living as normally as possible. 

There are a few key things that cause sewage smells inside of a home, due to the accumulation of Sewer Gas. The best course of action is to identify where the smell has originated and try simple solutions to correct the issue. If home solutions are not working, seeking professional help is key.

Many cures to sewer smell problems can be very inexpensive and can be done with common products you have around your home. We will further break down the causes of sewage smells and what you can do to stop these smells in their tracks. If you are suffering from this issue, keep reading!

What is “Sewer Gas?”

The main reason for sewage smells in the home are from a leakage of sewer gas. This is a basic term that plumbers use to describe the mixture of chemicals that are the byproduct of decaying human waste. This is essentially made from a buildup of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane; all caused from waste. 

While the smell of this gas can be very annoying and undesirable, it can actually cause health issues. If you notice a sewage smell in your home, it can be attributed to headaches, dizziness, asphyxiation, memory loss, and even poisoning over time. In fact, an excessive amount of this sewer gas can increase fire risks or lead to explosion. 

If you notice these sewer smells in your home, it is important to get to the root of the problem. Luckily, most of these smells are an easy fix!

Common Causes of Sewage Smells 

The first step to finding the root of the problem is to isolate the smell. If this is a new problem, it should not be hard to find where the smell is coming from. In most cases, you will find a sewer smell in one of these places:

  • Toilet Areas
  • Showers
  • Bathtubs
  • Sinks
  • Washing Machines

This is simply because these areas have connections to the septic tank or drainage systems, which can lead to unwanted smells. Finding the location of the smell will help you narrow down the steps you need to take to counteract the smells. Once you have an idea of where the smell is coming from, you can try these at home remedies:

Dry Water Traps 

One of the easiest to solve issues that many homeowners face and can create unwanted smells is dry water traps. This is a super simple issue that can lead to some super bad smells. Essentially, most toilets, showers, and sinks have a water trap called a P-trap or an S-trap.

These traps work by keeping water inside the curve of the trap and blocking out the Sewer Gas from entering the home. In most cases, this unwanted gas and smell cannot penetrate through the water trap and you will never smell these. However, if this trap is not filled with water, these gross smells can leak through. 

If you have a sewage smell in your home that is coming from a toilet, sink, or even the laundry area, checking the p-trap or s-trap should be your first step. If the smell is coming from a guest restroom or restroom that is not used often, there is a good chance that this is the issue. To refill the s-trap or p-trap and help lower these smells, follow these steps:

  • A dry trap will allow the sewer gas a straight shot into your home. To counteract this, start by locating the exact cause of the smell. 
  • If you notice the smell is coming from a toilet, you will simply flush the toilet. It may take a couple of flushes to refill the trap fully. If this is the problem, this should stop the smell. 
  • If the smell is coming from a sink area, you will simply run the sink for a few minutes. This should not take long and should reduce the smells. If you still notice a slight smell or to fully rid the room of smells, you can always clean the sink out with a bit of all purpose cleaner and then run the faucet for a few minutes.
  • If you notice the smell from a floor drain, pour a pitcher of water down the drain. Once again, you can add vinegar or an all purpose cleaner to this for an enhanced clean. However, this is mainly used to refill the trap. 
  • If you notice the smell from a shower, simply run the water in the shower for a few minutes to refill the trap. We will further break down some common shower issues, but a dry trap is an easy fix. 
  • If you simply cannot figure out where this smell is coming from, pour a quart of water into every drain in your house. This will refill all of the traps and should help eliminate the source of the smell. 

Should the sewer smell continue after you have refilled all of the s-traps and p-traps in your home, there is probably another issue at play. If you notice a decrease in the smell or it is eliminated entirely, you can attribute this smell to dry traps. To avoid this in the future, routinely run your showers, sinks, and toilets. 

Unwanted Shower Smell 

A common sewer smell will come from showers or bathtubs that have a biofilm accumulation. This can be often found in bathrooms of those who use a variety of shampoos, soaps, shaving creams, body oils, and more. The products will seem to go down the drain but will actually build up in the pipes over time. 

This can specifically lead to bad smells if the P-trap and vertical pipes that run underneath the shower become clogged with product. While the biofilm produced is not exactly sewage, it can create a similar smell. This is simply due to a buildup of bacteria, decomposing products, hair, dirt, and more. 

Luckily, this is a very easy fix in most cases. You can create a DIY mixture of common household products that will deep clean the pipes. To do this, follow these steps:

  • If the drain is clogged, you will want to remove whatever is actually clogging the drain. If you notice that the drain is backing up, you will want to clear the drainpipe first. This can be done with a drain snake or with a bent wire. 
  • Once the drain is free of any blockages or if you suspect there are no blockages, it will be time to clean the drain. Start by pouring ¼ cup of baking soda down the drain. 
  • Next, add one cup of white vinegar into the drain. 
  • You will let this baking soda and vinegar mixture sit for around two hours. You will want to close the bathroom door during this process. 
  • Once this mixture has sat, you can either boil at least a gallon of water or get at least a gallon of very hot water. Pour this down the drain slowly. 
  • This hot water should go down the drain easily and wash away the remaining mixture of baking soda and vinegar. 
  • Let the hot water sit for around 15 minutes. At this point, run cold water for around ten minutes. This guarantees all vinegar is rinsed from the pipes. 
  • Once you have thoroughly rinsed the pipe with cool water, pour in half a cup of chlorine bleach. Let the drain sit again for around two hours. 
  • Again, pour one gallon of boiled or very hot water down the drain.
  • Run cool water again for ten minutes. This should fill up the p-trap for your shower with clean water. 

If you are having trouble cleaning your drain, you can always remove the trap with a screwdriver. This will allow you to get a deeper and easier clean. However, if you are worried more about smell then you are clogging, this may not be needed. 

You will always want to make sure that the vinegar mixture is completely rinsed from the drain. If you follow the hot water then cool water sequence, all vinegar should be gone. However, if vinegar and bleach are mixed it will create a toxic gas, avoid this! 

A Bad Wax Ring

If you notice the smell is coming from a toilet in your home, another common issue is a bad wax ring. This is located between the toilet flange and the base of the toilet. The wax ring is used to provide a water and airtight seal between the sewage system and the toilet. 

The problem here is that the wax ring can leak or even break, which will allow sewer gas to enter your home. Of course, this leads to unwanted smells in your home. If you believe that this is the issue, it is important that you replace the wax ring on your toilet. 

Fixing a broken wax ring or seal can be pretty simple if you have some base knowledge. This can also be done fairly easily by a plumber if you do not feel comfortable doing the work on your own. However, the basics to fixing this issue are:

  • Check your toilet to see if it is wobbly. If it is wobbly, you will find that the wax ring is probably broken. 
  • Purchase a new wax ring for the toilet at your local home store. 
  • Reset the toilet and install a new wax ring. 
  • If your toilet is not wobbly, it could be a loose seal. 
  • Simply use caulk to restore the toilet’s seals. Add caulk to the bolt holes that secure the toilet to the ground. 

If you believe that your toilet itself has broken or you do not feel comfortable doing this work, you will want to contact a plumbing professional

If All Else Fails, Call a Professional!

If you try all of these simple cures and you still notice the sewer smell, it is time to consult a professional. This can be an issue that goes deeper into the septic tank itself. Often, calling in a professional can lead to a quick diagnosis of the issue and your home will be rid of these smells quickly! 

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