You walk into the kitchen or a bathroom and notice an odor. You check the trash, but that’s not the culprit. What then is causing that smell?
In this post, and the next, we examine clogs. This information is presented to give homeowners a basic understanding of what’s involved and what they can do working alongside a plumber.
What’s that Odor Near the Sink, Shower, Tub, or Toilet?
Yes, it can be that “rotten egg” smell, but the odor you smell may be a result of something else.
- Check plumbing vents for blockages. Because there are so many different types of events in a plumbing ecosystem, this is best done by a plumber or plumbing contractor.
- Unused sinks (or tubs and showers) may have had the water in traps evaporate. That water is there for a reason — to prevent gasses from the plumbing system to enter into a room. Run the faucets, adding water to the trap. Then, if these are not used often, remember to run some water every now and then so the problem does not return.
- Add bleach to the drain to kill bacteria. A little — not the whole bottle — goes a long way.
- If hair and soap scum are partially clogging a drain (you may not see it above surface), bacteria may be growing and could cause an odor. Clear out the hair and soap scum. This is easy to do with a tool like the Zip-It; if the problem persists, call a plumber to repair the blockage.
- A again toilet may have developed gaps between it and the wax ring that provides a seal to the drain pipe. That gap allows the foul smell to seep into the bathroom. If this is the case, replace the wax ring or have a plumber do it for you. It will require disassembling the toilet, removing it from the drain, removing the old seal, and replacing it with a new one.
- The vent line may have deteriorated or separated allowing sewer gas to vent into your home. This will require a call to a plumber or plumbing contractor to repair.
What’s Causing the Backup?
- When just one toilet, sink, shower, or tub is backing up, it is probably a clog close to that fixture. Use basic drain clearing steps to clear the drain.
- If more than one toilet, sink, shower, tub, or appliance is backing up in the same part of the home — but the rest of the drains in the home are working properly, a branch drain or vent line is clogged and needs to be cleared with a drain snake or pressure device. Chemicals are not very effective on this type of clog. If it is a persistent problem or the clog just won’t dislodge, call your plumber who will have professional-grade tools.
- If more than one toilet, sink, shower, tub, or appliance is backing up in different parts of the home — and assuming it is not coincidental that two separate local clogs are causing them problem — it is likely that the main sewer drain from your home is blocked. Again, you can clear the clog with a drain snake or pressure device or opt to call a plumber for assistance.
- In the case of tree roots or a damaged sewer pipe, more serious intervention will be required and it’s best to bring in a plumber or plumbing company.
- If you have a septic system, it may be full and needs to be pumped out.
- If sewage is backing up into your home beyond just an overflowing toilet, the city sewer may have major blockage. Contact the city.
What’s Clogging the Bathroom Sink Drain?
In the bathroom sink there are two drains:
- One in the bottom of the toilet bowl
- The other near the high water mark, which is an overflow drain
Both drains connect to the same drainpipe under the sink.
In the primary drain is a strainer which stops large objects from going down the drain. However, small objects and especially hair get into the drain. The strainer tends to snag hair and is often the cause of a slow or gurgling drain. Taking out the strainer and removing the accumulation of hair will resolve many slow or clogged drains.
In some sinks the strainer simply lifts out or lifts out with a twist. On other sinks the strainer is held in place by the pivot rod, under the sink. Reach under the sink, find the long rod that connects to the strainer and remove it. Lift out the strainer and clean off the hair and soap build-up.
An indispensable bathroom tool is the Zip-It. It is a long plastic strip with barbs projecting off from the sides. You slip the Zip-It into the drain as far as it will reach, twist it a few times and pull it out. It will snag the hair in the drain and pull it right out. It’s a great addition to your toolbox or simply leave it in the bathroom under the sink.
Your first inclination to unclog a bathroom sink is to use drain cleaner. Or, if you have tried cleaning out the strainer yourself and there is still a clog, you might want to use chemicals.
(Or if you insist, use drain cleaners sparingly.)
Some chemicals are power enough to damage pipes, the environment, or you if there is backsplash.
If you work on a drain after a chemical has been added, it makes the work harder and more hazardous. Additionally, most chemical drain cleaners don’t work that well.
Running hot water is the best way to keep drains clear. Really.
We covered using a plunger and a closet auger in previous posts. Another “tool” is a blow bag to grind or push out a stubborn clog.
As a reminder, when plunging there must be some water in the fixture, so add water if necessary.
- Tilt the plunger cup to burp the air as it is submerged in the water.
- Place the plunger over the drain and completely cover the drain opening.
- Sinks have an overflow drain. The overflow must be securely covered or the plunger will force the water out that way instead of down the drain. Seal the overflow drain opening with a towel.
- With the plunger completely under water, press and pull it rapidly for 15-20 seconds.
- If the water drains out of the fixture, add some more water and plunge again.
As a reminder, a drain auger is a smaller version of a drain snake.
- It can be inserted down the sink drain or you can remove the P-trap fitting beneath the sink and insert it there. The advantage is that if you are driving the auger deep into the drain line, there will be less friction than if it has to weave its way through the trap before reaching the drain line.
- To remove the P-trap, simply unscrew the two collars at either end of the “U” shaped pipe. Insert the drain snake as far as you can, then turn the set screw tight to hold the auger cable and crank the handle (or use a power drill on some models).
- As you crank the handle the auger tip grinds at the clog. Continue to insert to auger cable as far as it will go. If the auger gets stuck, reverse the direction of cranking and pull gently on the cable to extract a short length. Then resume forward action.
This final method — the blow bag — is a favorite of plumbers because it works so well.
- Imagine a heavy duty balloon that screws onto the end of a hose. Picture a balloon with small holes on the opposite end and whole thing is narrow enough to fit into a pipe.
- Slide the blow bag as far as you can, into the pipe under the sink and turn on the hose.
- The first thing the bag does is inflate with water until it is securely wedged in the pipe.
- Now water starts spurting out the other end to blast away at the clog.
- Leave it on for a while and the force of the water will push the clog all the way out to the main sewer line.
- To remove it, turn off the water, wait a few seconds for it to deflate and then gently pull it out from the drain.
- Reconnect the section of pipe removed earlier and you should have a clear running drain.