How to Clean a Smelly Drain Naturally

There are non-chemical ways to make your sink and tub smell fresh.

You may already have what you need to clean your drains without chemicals. (Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)

Does your kitchen or bathroom drain smell? There are several natural methods you can use to try to freshen it up.

First, remove any trapped hair or other objects like soap or grease from the drain that may be attracting bacteria and causing the smell. Use an inexpensive, bendable plastic drain stick (like this one from Lowes) that grabs on to hair and pulls it out. It's gross, but effective. You can also make your own using a wire clothes hanger.

Then, use any or a combination of the following simple steps to deodorize naturally and flush out remaining stinky residue.

1. Start With Boiling Hot Water

Boil a kettle full of water and pour it slowly down the drain. This may be enough to flush away whatever is causing the odor. If it doesn't eliminate the odor, add a few ingredients to the boiling water. A few squirts of dish detergent can make the boiling water more effective, particularly if the source of the smell is grease-related.

2. Baking Soda, Vinegar, and Boiling Water

Run some hot tap water, then dump 1 cup of baking soda down the drain and let it sit for a bit. You can also add a half-cup of coarse or kosher salt to the baking soda, as this provides abrasion. Next, pour 1 cup of white vinegar into the drain. If the mixture bubbles and fizzes a lot, cover the drain with its stopper or a towel to force it downward. Let it sit for an hour—longer is more effective, so even overnight is good—then rinse it all away with boiling water or hot tap water.

3. Boiling Vinegar

This is the same idea as boiling water, but possibly more effective. Boil 4 cups of white vinegar and pour half down the drain. Flush pipe with cold tap water to solidify any lingering gunk, then pour the rest of the boiling vinegar to wash it out.

4. Check the Plastic Part of Your Drain Plug

kitchen sink, drain plug
It may not be your drain that smells. It may be gunk stuck under the plastic in the drain plug. (Photo: Akkalak Aiempradit/Shutterstock)

The drain plug may have built up gunk that's causing the odor that may seem like it's coming from the drain. Give the plastic underside a really good cleaning. You can put it in the dishwasher, too. Spray it periodically with white vinegar to keep it smelling fresh.

5. Clean the P-Trap

If a kitchen or bathroom sink drain still smells after removing trapped hair and using the baking soda and vinegar, there may be something caught in the p-trap that's causing the odor. With a few simple tools (or no tools at all), you can remove the trap yourself, remove anything stuck in there, clean it, and replace it. If the task is excessively gross, take it outside and rinse with a garden hose.

6. Clean the Garbage Disposal

If your sink has a garburator, that might be the source of the smell. You can clean it by adding a handful of lemon or lime wedges, turning on the water, and running the disposal. The acid from the citrus will eat away at any built-up gunk that's causing the smell. You can do this periodically as a preventive measure. Ice, salt, and Borax are also good garbage disposal cleaners.

7. Prevent Future Smells

Make a habit of sprinkling a tablespoon of baking soda down the drain whenever you do a thorough cleaning, at least once a month. This won't get rid of clogs, but it neutralizes odors. Ensure drains are flushed thoroughly after use, particularly in the kitchen if food residue has gone down. Add a squirt of dish detergent and run hot water to ensure it has moved everything through the pipes.