How to Get Rid of a Shower Drain Smell

Over time a smell can develop in a shower drain, or all of a sudden one day it just starts smelling very bad. There is a range of ways to eliminate odors that can occur in a shower drain. In this article, I will explain what these are.

As a general rule, remove the cover on the drain, and scrub it using a plastic bristled pipe cleaner brush. Then pour some water down the drain to rinse it, and do it again. After that, put a couple of tablespoons of baking soda into the pipe, and pour some vinegar.

Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, and then pour hot water – not boiling down the drain. Doing so will kill any bacteria, and will eliminate the odor, however, it can be necessary to do this once every 2 to 3 months. Below, I will explain other methods that also work, what causes a drain to smell, and what to do if the smell persists after using this method.

What Causes a Shower Drain To Smell

a woman in a shower covering her nose due to shower drain smell
Image from Autry Plumbing LLC

Water that goes down the shower drain ends up going into the wastewater. The pipes that carry this water are all concealed, so it’s hard to know what’s going on in the plumbing for a shower. So, here are the causes for a smelly shower drain.

In general, there are minor blockages or a build-up of debris in the shower that are growing bacteria. These bacteria release gasses as part of their life cycle which have a foul odor. There can also be a more serious issue that requires a plumber to fix.

If you do the above technique to stop shower drain smells, then there is a more complicated issue with the plumbing in your shower. It can be caused by a:

  • A dry p-trap
  • Clogged vents
  • A break in one of the pipes that transport the wastewater

A p-trap is a curved pipe underneath the shower that is supposed to have water in it at all times. This water creates a seal that stops bad odors in the sewage pipes from being able to float up the drain and into a bathroom.

shower drain installation with p-trap
Image from Simple Innovations for Home and Office

A p-trap needs to be inspected and tested by a plumber to identify if this is the cause of the issue. There are vents in a plumbing system that control the water pressure, and allow the water to flow easily through the pipes. These can develop a clog randomly and need to be cleared. Blocked vents often go hand in hand with a dry p-trap.

The final issue which plumbers say can cause bad odors from a shower drain after it has been cleaned is a breakage in the sewage pipes. This causes sewage to leak out of the pipes. The smell can enter the bathroom, or up through the shower drain.

The water in your home can have a bad odor to it

It’s possible the water in your home has a bad odor. The water itself can develop a range of different odors according to the University of Georgia. They state that the water can have the following odors:

  • Bleach, medicinal, or chemical
  • Sewage smell like rotten eggs
  • Mold, grass, must, fish, or earthy
  • Fuel, like gasoline

The University of Georgia provides a rundown of what causes these different odors to occur in the water itself, and how to fix each of these issues in this article.

Why you should pour hot water not boiling water down the shower drain

a person filling the water heater with water from the faucet
Image from Atkins Plumbing & Gas

The pipes and connectors in a plumbing system can be made of metal or plastic such as PVC. Metal pipes can withstand the temperatures of boiling water. However, PVC can become weakened with boiling water. Most homes have pipes and connectors under the shower that are made of plastic. Whereas, it’s more common for the pipes in the kitchen to be metal.

In general, using boiling water to eliminate odors in a shower drain isn’t required. It’s definitely more effective at killing bacteria. However, the acid in baking soda, and vinegar, as well as the temperature of hot water are enough to eliminate odors in a shower drain.

Is It OK To Pour Bleach Down a Shower Drain

pour bleach down the shower drain

Bleach has a strong odor and unique properties. Shower drains, plumbing pipes, and fixtures are made of different types of materials that can be sensitive to certain chemicals. So, here’s a summary of whether it’s OK to pour bleach down a shower drain.

It’s perfectly fine to pour bleach down a shower drain. However, don’t pour bleach mixed with other cleaning products, and don’t pour it down the drain if your home has a septic tank sewage system, according to plumbers. But, bleach is very good at killing mold, and bacteria.

There are what are called drain worms, these are black worms that can be present in a shower. Interestingly, bleach is very ineffective at removing drain worms from drains. I explained the best methods to get rid of drain worms and drain flies in this article about what the black worms in a shower are.

What To Do if a Shower Drain Smells Like Rotten Eggs

A sulfur smell similar to rotten eggs is very unpleasant. It indicates that there is an issue somewhere in your plumbing system, or it’s clogged. Here’s what to do if your shower drain smells like rotten eggs.

vinegar and baking soda in two bottles

In general, you should clean the drain by pouring half a cup of baking soda into the drain. Then pour about 2 cups of vinegar on top. Leave it for a few minutes, then pour a good amount of hot water down the drain. If the smell persists call a plumber.

The reason is, that if the smell doesn’t go away then there can be a broken pipe, or a plumbing vent can be broken. This causes a p-trap part of a pipe not to have water in it, which stops the bad odors in a sewer pipe from coming back up through the drains. 

A cracked pipe can also be leaking wastewater somewhere inside your home, which will need to be repaired and cleaned.

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