Charlotte Plumber Answers: Why Does My Shower Drain Smell Bad?

Charlotte plumber unclog shower drain

Charlotte NC Plumbers Advice Column: Why Does My Shower Drain Smell Bad?

Have you noticed a funky smell wafting up out of your shower drain? Wondering why your shower drain smells bad and what you can do about it? Follow these simple steps to determine what the problem is and how you can make your shower smell better quickly and inexpensively.

Clean Out the Drain

It's important to take the time to learn how to keep drains clean. Remove the drain cover (it can usually be pried off with a screwdriver or just lifted up). Using a disposable, flexible Zip It (plastic strip with teeth – you can purchase these at any hardware store), fish out whatever may be residing in your drain. You’ll probably find a hairball covered in slimy gunk.

After you’ve fished out the hairball, clean the drain by using paper towels to wipe as far into the drain as you can. Then pour baking soda and vinegar down the drain. It’ll clean out the remaining residue. This is an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to keep your drains clear.

Another cleaning option is bleach. Pour a copious amount of bleach down the drain and follow with hot water. This will clean out the remaining residue and kill bacteria.

Now invest in a drain catcher (see our reviews of drain catchers here) to prevent hair from getting into the drain, and start using an eco-friendly, bacteria-based, preventative drain cleaner. Read here why we use preventative drain cleaners instead of caustic chemical drain cleaners.

Once done cleaning the drain, take a look inside. You should see a small amount of water in the drain at all times; this is water that remains in the trap in order to prevent gases from the sewer from coming up through the drain. This is normal and necessary; do not try to suction out or clean out the water from the trap.

Problems with the Drain Trap

If the drain trap is warped or otherwise damaged, you will need to fix it. Learn how to fix a drain trap here.

Check Surrounding Drains

The bad smell might be coming from the bacteria and gunk inside the drain, but it also might be related to other drains in the nearby area and/or the trap and venting system. Clean out bathroom sink drains and nearby tub drains in the same fashion as described below.

Run Water Down Drains that are not Used Much

The trap (a part of the venting system that prevents noxious-smelling gases from coming up from the sewer line) needs to stay wet in order for it to function properly. If you have a sink, shower, or garden tub that does not get used often, you will want to run water in it once a week (for about three minutes each time) to ensure the trap does not dry out and allow gases to sneak out through the nearby shower drain. Example: a garden tub in a master bathroom may vent gases into the master bathroom shower stall if the garden tub doesn't get used often.

Check Shampoos and Soaps

Sometimes shampoos or toiletries can interact poorly with the bacteria that naturally occur in the water, especially if you do not have a whole house water filtration system. One common issue is medicated shampoos or body washes; the medication in dandruff shampoos or anti-fungal body washes can interact with bacteria, causing a pretty nasty odor. After a shower, that small amount of water that sits in the drain then has the medicated shampoo or body wash plus the water with bacteria in it, which means the bad smell grows worse and worse.

Ditch any suspicious products, bleach the whole shower well, and see if the smell dissipates. Reintroduce shower products carefully, watching for interactions with the water. If you continue to have problems with the interactions between medicated products and bacteria, only use these products in the shower at the gym.

Clean Your Shower and Bottles Containing Shower Products

You might assume the bad odor is coming from your shower drain when it actually is a bad smell coming from mold, mildew, or bacteria collecting in your shower. Check your caulking for mold or mildew, and scrub the shower wall. Re-caulk if necessary. Also, check the bottoms of containers like shampoo bottles, body wash bottles, and loofahs. You may need to clean the bottles and disinfect the loofah.

Many people don't realize that you need to clean loofahs and other scrubbing sponges regularly. You don't want to rub a bacteria-filled loofah on your skin; you will risk driving bacteria into any breakage of the skin. Here's what you need to do to keep your loofah clean, sanitary, and smelling good:

After each use, squeeze out excess water and store your loofah in a dry place so it will dry out completely.

Once a week, perform one of these three disinfecting methods:

  • Soak your loofah in diluted bleach or a combination of water and essential oils (tea tree oil is particularly effective) to disinfect it. Rinse, squeeze out excess water, and let it dry completely before your next use.
  • Throw your loofah into the laundry and wash on cold. Squeeze out excess water and dry naturally. Do not throw loofahs, synthetic or natural, into the dryer.
  • Microwave your wet loofah (assuming it does not have any metal in it - some plastic loofahs do) for two minutes. Be careful not to burn yourself when taking it out of the microwave - it will be very hot. Squeeze out excess water and dry naturally.

Unfortunately, loofahs and scrubbing sponges are not meant to be used indefinitely. Replace your synthetic loofah every two months and your natural loofah every three months (or as soon as you see signs of mold or browning).

Call a Plumber

If none of these actions do the trick, you’ll need to have a plumber out to check your trap, your drain, and your water. You may have problems with your hot water heater (bacteria growing inside it can cause a sulfuric smell – ask about ways to treat your hot water heater to kill off bacteria, especially if you have well water), or there may be problems with your trap or a clog further down the drain. It may also be a problem of water quality, which can be resolved with a whole-house water purification system.

Need a Charlotte Plumber?

Call 704-269-1066 or use our online contact form to get service from a Charlotte area plumber with 30+ years of experience. We serve a 30-mile radius of the city of Charlotte, so we can help you solve your Huntersville shower drain or your Pineville shower drain - or anything in between. Just let us know what’s going on, and we’ll get someone out to fix the problem quickly and inexpensively.

Charlotte plumber unclog shower drain, Shower Drain Smell Bad

Learn how to keep drains clean.

Article Summary

Quick question & answer: Why does my shower drain smell bad?

Your shower drain might smell bad for one of the following reasons:

  • You may have gunk in your drains
  • It could be related to the drain trap and venting system 
  • Shampoos and soaps can interact with bacteria, causing a nasty odor
  • Mold, mildew, or bacteria could be collecting in your shower, being mistaken for a drain-related odor


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