Sewer Smells and Pinky Rings in Your Bathroom

The smell of sewer gas inside your home is a serious problem; one that needs to be taken care of promptly. Many of these problems require the services of a professional plumber, but there are a few things most people can handle themselves; check out these easy solutions before calling the plumber.

The water you see in toilet bowls and other traps is actually a seal for the plumbing system. It prevents sewer odors from entering your house. The water level in the bowl and most traps is automatically maintained, but if something interferes with the refill, sewer gases can escape. There are seals in the traps under sinks, tubs and every appliance connected to the DWV (drain/waste/vent) system in your home, plus basement floor drains. 

Bathroom smells can be a difficult to track down but not impossible. Assuming the plumbing system was initially installed to code and has been working properly before you first detected the smells, there are several ways that sewer gas can escape from the plumbing system. Start with the easy solutions first. It’s surprising how some supposedly difficult problems have relatively easy remedies. 

If you notice the smell of sewer gas when you lean over the sink to brush your teeth with the water running, or when you flush the toilet, it can appear the smell is coming from the water. But that’s not usually the case. It’s more likely the smell is coming from inside the concealed parts of the fixtures. 

A common source of smells is from the organisms that normally reside in the sewer. These organisms can get to the house side of the traps and actually generate sewer gas inside the fixtures.  They will take up residence inside the rim of a toilet bowl (as well as the sink and tub traps and overflows) and whenever the toilet is flushed or water run in the sink, the fresh water rushing around the toilet rim will stir up the sewer gas and push it out into the bowl. The problem can occur anytime of the years, but most often occurs during hot and humid weather. 

The SOLUTION is to carefully remove the toilet tank lid and set it aside on a towel or soft surface. Insert a funnel into the top of the overflow pipe in the toilet tank. Then pour several cups of household bleach into the funnel. This will disinfect the rim of the bowl. Just pouring bleach directly into the bowl will not do the job; it must be poured into the overflow. 

You’ll also want to pour bleach into the drains and overflows in the sink and tub. I use a turkey baster to inject bleach into the overflow holes in the sinks. Remove the plate on the front wall a tub and pour bleach into the overflow. 

If you’re plagued with a pink/brown/black ring of mold at the water line in the toilet bowl, the above bleach treatment will remedy this. A ring of mold can also show up in a pet’s water bowl that’s kept in a bathroom. The bowl also needs to be disinfected with bleach. 

Here’s a few more possibilities of how the trap seals are broken.

 Toilets are fascinating to pets. Your pet may be drinking from the bowl or just entertaining themselves; the solution is to keep the bathroom door closed. In addition to possibly being the cause of sewer smells, a pet can really run up a water bill if it learns how to flush a toilet. With nothing else to entertain themselves they can do this.

If a toilet is seldom used such as in a guest room, basement or a vacant house, the water can also evaporate from the traps.   In this case, the solution is to periodically flush a toilet that is not regularly used. Also run a few quarts of water into the sink and tub drains. 

An internal crack in the toilet bowl will allow water to slowly leak into the drain, the water level will gradually drop after the toilet is flushed and allow sewer gas to enter the bathroom. Snaking out a toilet bowl too aggressively can be the cause of such a crack. If this is the problem, you need a new toilet.

A problem with the plumbing vent such as a partial blockage or the vent is installed incorrectly can siphon water out of the trap allowing the sewer gas to escape. Leaves, and all sorts of other debris can clog plumbing vent pipes.

Clearing the main vent in a plumbing system usually requires going up on the roof and running a large snake down through the vent. This is work best left to an experienced professional plumber. Do not be tempted to run a garden hose into the vent; water will be sent through every drain outlet in the house. A friend learned this lesson the messy way.

A rocking toilet can cause a wax ring to fail to seal properly and leak smells; the toilet needs to be reset and shimmed to prevent rocking.