What is that smell coming from your kitchen drain?

Every home’s kitchen is different. For some, the kitchen is a place of serenity. Picture a space filled with warm sunshine, plants, and a great-smelling soup simmering on the stove. For others, it’s the center of a busy family life. Photos on the refrigerator, kids on kitchen stools, and the smell of a meatloaf finishing up. What both of these kitchens have in common is their smells. They just wouldn’t be the same friendly places if they had foul odors coming up from the kitchen drain.

Nearly every homeowner eventually has to deal with a sink drain that smells bad. It’s pretty normal and, as we’ll explore in this article, typically easy to fix. In the sections below, we’ll get into what’s causing that foul odor from your sink drain, what you can do about it, and when you might need to call in a plumber to help with drain cleaning—and to deal with a (potentially) more serious issue.

What’s causing the smell coming from my kitchen drain?

Unlike your bathroom sink drains or your shower drain, your kitchen sink is unique in that it processes organic waste. Everything that comes off your dinner plate ends up traveling through your garbage disposal and drain. When bits of this leftover organic matter becomes stuck in the garbage disposal, it leads to odor-causing bacteria. Left untreated for long enough, and you’ll have a deeply unpleasant odor throughout your kitchen.

Odors caused by a clogged drain

In other cases, the foul odor might be caused by a partially clogged drain. If you’re noticing that your kitchen sink is draining slower than usually, this might be an indicator that something in the drain is blocking water from going down. It’s very likely that the same buildup is causing some nasty smells, as well.

Most drain clogs are easy enough to deal with—just a little proverbial elbow grease and a plunger, and they unclog nicely. But, that’s not always the case. If you’ve got a clog you just can’t clear—or all your drains are clogging simultaneously—it’s time to bring in a professional plumber. The latter is especially worrying: multiple sink, toilet, and shower drain clogs throughout your home is a potential indicator of a sewer line clog.

P-trap problems

If you’re noticing some foul odors after just returning home from a long vacation, it’s probably due to water evaporation in your sink’s p-trap. The p-trap—a “U”-shaped bend in your drain pipe right below your kitchen sink—is designed to always contain some water. This is intentional: the p-trap blocks foul odors, amongst other things, from traveling back up the drain and into your home.

However, if the kitchen sink isn’t used for a week or more, the water in this p-trap can evaporate. With this liquid barrier down, those sewer smells are free to travel up the drain and into your kitchen. If you’re smelling a typical “sewer” smell, combined with just coming home from a trip, this is most likely your problem.

Treating foul odors in your kitchen sink

Here are some of the best ways to clear your drains and deodorize your sink.

First, determine if the foul odors are the result of a sink clog. If this is the case, you’ll want to start by clearing the clog. You’ll probably need to do some additional deodorizing after that, but getting your sink draining properly is going to help quite a bit.

Scrub your sink clean

Next, move onto cleaning the sink. Take a clean sponge and scrub warm, soapy water in the sink, around the drain, and in the garbage disposal—just make sure you unplug the disposal before you do! As we mentioned earlier, the foul odors you’re smelling originate from stuck food waste. Before you do anything else, you’ll want to loosen this food waste so it can be washed down the drain.

Deodorizing your sink

To deodorize the sink, you’ll need to kill off the bacteria growing in your disposal and drain. There’s no need to use any particularly harsh chemicals. Just pour some white vinegar down the drain with the disposal running. The acidity of the vinegar will help kill off the bacteria. For a little extra cleaning punch, you can combine one cup of vinegar with a tablespoon or two of baking soda. The resulting mild chemical reaction will help deodorize the drain.

In general, if you have PVC pipes in your home, you’ll want to avoid pouring boiling water down your drain. That’s commonly listed on many sites as a cure for foul sink odors, but boiling water can be harsh on PVC pipes.

Watch: See how to deodorize your kitchen sink

Check out this video for a step-by-step guide to deodorizing your sink using a few, safe DIY methods.

Call in a plumber if you have a clog

There are two potential scenarios where it makes sense to call in a plumber:

— You have a serious kitchen sink clog that, try as you might, you just can’t clear. You’ll need the help of a plumber, with both their know-how and professional tools, to remove that clog for good.
— You’ve tried the steps outlined above, but just can’t solve your odor issues. This might be a sign of a more serious and persistent issue with your p-trap, your vent pipe, or your sewer line. If your DIY kitchen sink odor treatment just isn’t getting the job done, it’s time to bring in a professional.

DIY drain cleaning can only take you so far. The friendly plumbing professionals here at Wagner are here to get the tough jobs done. We’re clog-clearing, sink-deodorizing experts. Our plumbers carry a wide range of specialized tools designed to clean out even the toughest and deepest of sink clogs. We’ll always leave your sink smelling fresh when we’re done.

If you’ve got foul odors coming from your kitchen drain and a clog you just can’t handle, call us right away.