Cover photo for blog and video "What's That Smell"

What to Do When You Have a Sewer Smell

Although sewer odors are a common household issue, your first instinct might be to move on out. Your second thought may be to call 911 and verify that your house was built on an old cemetery because the smell is awful, but don’t be scared or pack your bags just yet because our help is on your way! 

Sewer odors are challenging to live with and they can be just as challenging to find. Unlike water, odors don’t have easy physical traces and can be incredibly complex to find. There are a multitude of issues that can make odors occur and they may even be devilishly working together. Plumbers have to think out-of-the-box for more complicated situations, like when an air condition balancing has loose plumbing fixtures and is concocting the perfect recipe for a rancid smelling home.

Sewer odor issues, luckily, are more often than not a simple problem with a simple solution. Many of our clients jump to the worst-case scenario because they looked up their problem on the internet- that there is a problem with the sewer line- but, that is rarely the case! These odors in your home are commonly caused by gases escaping the sewer system.

Checklist for Funky Odors

A sewer smell can come from the tiniest places and here are some quick and easy things to check on your own before calling us out to diagnose a sewer odor issue:

First, check to see if any plumbing fixtures in your home haven’t been used in awhile. Plumbing fixtures including: tubs, showers, sinks and toilets all have p-traps in them. P-traps are incredibly important pieces of plumbing designed to hold water that are in the shape of, you guessed it, the letter “P”. They are pretty nifty mechanisms and their simple design holds around an inch or so of water to create a “blockade”. This residing water serves as a barrier between the gas from your sewer and the air in your home. If your p-trap is dry because the water has evaporated, then sewer gases no longer have a barrier holding them back and they permeate the room and linger further into your home. This is why it’s so important to make sure all of your p-traps are holding water! 

All you need to double check that your p-traps are filled with water is a little flashlight that you have laying around or a light on your phone if available. Did you find any water? Don’t worry if you didn’t, this is often quickly fixed by pouring water down your drain and making sure that your fixtures are being used weekly so they can maintain a fresh water level. If you happen to notice that the p-trap will not retain water, then there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed and you can give us a call; we’ll see if the plumbing is broken or if there is a syphoning issue that is sucking the water out of the p-trap.

Say all of your p-traps are holding water, great! But, there’s still a smell coming from somewhere… The next thing to check is the caulking around your toilet and confirming that it’s still sealed. Although the caulking is not responsible for holding back odors, a cracked caulking line is an indicator that the toilet is experiencing movement which refers that the wax ring seal under the toilet could be compromised; this would allow sewer odors to escape from underneath your toilet and into your air.

Is your sink the culprit? Watch our video on how to “Get Rid of a Smelly Kitchen Sink“.

When to Call the Professionals

Okay you’ve covered what you can DIY, and you’re still having an odor. It’s time to call Robins Plumbing!

What’s the first thing we’re going to check? Don’t be offended, but we’ll look at everything we previously mentioned just to make sure we’re on the right track to eliminating all odors! Of course it’s nothing personal, but oftentimes we will see things differently through our lenses of experience and professionalism. What may look fine to you, may not look so great to us. There are a bevy of things we will closely examine before diving into the more complex diagnostics just to make sure the odor isn’t stemming from something simpler. After all, I’m pretty sure you would rather us find something simple before spending hours of time and your dime only to find a broken wax seal below your guest bathroom toilet or an empty p-trap in your tub that no one uses as the problem all along. 

After we’re done double-checking our primary checklist, the next potential issue to scope out is the proximity of sewer vents to your AC. Although air conditioning units are supposed to be sealed, they may have a leak and sewer gases can be sucked in on the “intake” side of your unit. Depending on the scenario at hand, there are a couple of ways to address this if that is what is going on:

  • A camera inspection is a procedure we would recommend if we have not found a solution leading up to this point. We inspect for obvious cracks or various separations in the vents that may be the hidden issue. On occasion, we have even seen nails or screws in the vents that were forgotten about from hanging decorations in the past and rusted over allowing for gases to escape into the air.
  • Completing a smoke test is another option offered at Robins Plumbing if we don’t find an obvious problem from a camera inspection. Periodically, there are cracks in old cast iron or even newer ABS piping that line up with fittings and are not so obvious. To perform a smoke test, we plug off the main sewer line through the ground level clean out- this is required, so if you don’t have them then we would have to make installations for these which is a great idea to have regardless of odor issues. After plugging the main sewer, we cap off all but one vent on the roof and pump smoke into your system. This will allow us to see smoke wherever there is a leak in your sewer or venting. Finally, once we recognize the target area, we can begin isolating the problem and create a repaired solution.

Services in Phoenix & Beyond

When you’ve found yourself in need of plumbing services in the Phoenix, Glendale, Scottsdale, or Chandler area, you can trust Robins Plumbing to provide you with prompt and expert care, contact our team today! In addition to our toilet services, we also offer a variety of residential and commercial plumbing services, including: drain cleaning, water heater repair and replacement, sewer camera inspection and locating, backflow prevention, commercial and residential jetting, water treatments, and more. Visit our reviews online to see what others have to say about our local plumbing company!