Bathroom Smells

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Bathroom Smells

Does your bathroom have a sour, rancid, or sewer smell?  Do you keep the bathroom door closed because it smells so bad?  What are these bathroom smells?

What you are smelling is hydrogen sulfide and/or bacteria.  Hydrogen sulfide is the primary gas in sewer gas.  This has shown to be toxic to the oxygen systems of the body.  In high amounts, this ammonia compound can cause adverse symptoms, organ damage, or even death.

The bad odor coming from bacteria is from its feeding on sewer material.  The hydrogen sulfide gas is produced because of the bacteria.  This bacterium is found in the ground, sewage, walls, floors, and contaminated water.

This condition is typically associated with:

  1. One-Piece Fiberglass Showers.
  2. Two-Piece Fiberglass Tub/Showers.
  3. Improperly Installed and/or Broken Shower Drain.
  4. Gunk in The Drain.
  5. Multiple Showers, Tubs, and Toilets on The Same Drain.
  6. Connection Between the Toilet and Sewer Line is Wrong.

One-Piece & Two-Piece Fiberglass Shower and Tub/Shower Units & Bathroom Smells

Bathroom Smells
One-Piece Fiberglass Shower

Bathroom Smells
Two-Piece Fiberglass Tub/Shower

This is a very common shower throughout Orange County.  Mostly located in the master bathroom, this is an inexpensive stall.  The warranty is typically 1 year.

Many homes in Lake Forest and Mission Viejo are Dean Homes.  Because these shower units are such low quality, they leak around the drain.  Notice that when standing in a fiberglass stall, they flex, creak, and have an overall feeling of being unstable.  All this movement from the weight of standing and moving in the stall causes the drain to break and leak.

Single Story Homes with Bathroom Smells

Bathroom SmellsOn single story homes, Dean Homes, as well as many other builders, simply left the area around the drain open to the dirt.  In this manner, as the shower leaked, it simply drained into the dirt around the drain below the shower.

Notice in the picture the black discoloration of the dirt surrounding the drain.  The sewer water that leaked into the soil from the shower drain smells like a sewer!  See how the soil has turned black all around the drain?

A good concept, but very unhealthful for the home’s occupants.  If your bathroom smells sour, rancid, or like a sewer, it’s likely due to the open soil below the shower drain.  Over decades, the soil becomes contaminated and rotten, producing unhealthful and smelly hydrogen sulfide gas.

Two Story Homes with Bathroom Smells

Bathroom Smells
Leaking & incorrectly installed shower drain
Bathroom Smells
No shower drain p-trap

Two story homes experience a similar situation.  I see two primary reasons for leaks associated with second floor fiberglass showers.  Firstly, there is no support or incorrectly installed support for the shower drain and p-trap.  In both pictures, neither of the drains are supported and freely move.  Secondly, the p-trap and drain were installed short.  This causes the entire system to separate or crack.  This happens from the constant flexing of the fiberglass shower pan when using.  Not surprisingly, the shower then leaks.

The dirty sewer water from these leaks is typically not discovered for several years.  By this point, there is usually damage to the supporting floor/ceiling structure and drywall.  There is mold, mildew, rot, and sometimes active insect infestation damage.  All of these can create some nasty smells.

The left above picture illustrates an incorrectly installed and leaking shower drain.  Notice the sewer material on the top and sides of the drain.  Visible water damage is seen on the wood and drywall below.  You can also see the buildup of sewer water discharge along the connections of the ABS pipe.  This entire p-trap assembly has been leaking slowly for many years.

The right above picture illustrates no p-trap for the shower drain.  This creates a perfect environment for sewer gases to travel all the way from the main sewer system up into the shower.  The picture of a p-trap illustrates its purpose.  Notice the water in the “U” portion of the p-trap (blue colored area).  This water acts as a barrier to sewer gases.  The water stops the sewer gases from coming up into the house.

Improperly Installed and/or Broken Shower Drain

Bathroom SmellsMany fiberglass shower drains are installed incorrectly.  The p-trap system under the shower is usually the problem.  I find the p-trap missing, it’s to short, or it’s over extended.  Drains in fiberglass showers are easily broken from standing on and around them.  When there is exposed soil around the drain, the p-trap has no support.  Therefore, it breaks.  The constant flexing of the fiberglass shower pan along with the stress that standing and walking generates, and the p-trap system simply fails.

Children jumping and playing in a fiberglass shower places added strain on the drain.  Adults over 250 pounds accelerate fiberglass drain damage and failure.

Bathroom SmellsThe right picture with the yellow writing illustrates a broken shower drain in a second floor shower.  The light-yellow material between the pipe is foam that the client sprayed around the drain believing it would stop the leak.  Foam expands.  Spraying foam around the p-trap created a bigger problem.  The small leak became a gusher!

The left picture illustrates a broken first-floor shower drain after removing the concrete.  Notice the nasty, sludgy sewer water that built up under the concrete slab below the fiberglass shower drain.  As you can imagine, the smell inside the bathroom was really bad!

Gunk in the Drain and Bathroom Smells

Hair, body oils, skin cells, soaps, shampoos, secretions, discharges, etc. all go down the shower drain.  One might think it simply drains away.  It does not.  Shower drains, especially in a fiberglass shower, are not smooth.  The drain in the shower itself is screwed or glued to the sewer drain below.

Rarely I have seen correct sewer pipe and p-trap measurements or clean pipe cuts.  Scarp edges, pipes with burs, and pipe treading all catch and retain debris.  These debris build up over time and create bacteria.  The bacteria generates hydrogen sulfide gas.

As the debris build up, they become rotten and smell – like a sewer.  Bacteria feeding in the drain is causing the smell.  There are many home remedies on the internet to resolve this condition.  Some call a Plumber to clean the drain.  However, everyone soon realizes that the smell comes back quickly.  Why?  Simple, there is no method to get the rotten material out without removing the drain and reinstalling the p-trap system correctly.  The only way to do this is to completely remove the fiberglass shower and fix the problem.

If it’s only a matter of hair, removing the hair from the drain usually provides a longer-term solution.  Hair removal from the shower drain is part of routine home maintenance.

More than one Shower or Tub on the same Drain

Tract housing is built using economized methods. Installing multiple showers and/or tub drains on the same sewer line saves a lot of money.  Builders will also install toilets on the same sewer line to save money.  The cheapest way to install plumbing is to stack the plumbing on one side of the house.  Typically, above the kitchen is a master bathroom with a guest or hall bathroom next to the master bathroom.

Sharing the same sewer line between the kitchen and bathrooms is very economical.  Unfortunately, this means everything that happens inside and along that single sewer line affects all devices on it.  All that sewer activity on one line means extra smells.  It also means a stoppage at one location can create stoppage and overflow at multiple locations.

This picture illustrates a toilet, shower, and two sinks on the same common sewer pipe.  Although you cannot see this, this same sewer pipe ties directly into a first-floor bathroom tub/shower, sink, and toilet.  This is a mess!

Toilet Drain

When removing a toilet, I often see the following:

  • Bathroom SmellsToilet flange is broken.  This is from over tightening the bowl bolts.  Toilet bolts should not be super tight.  These bolts should be snug.  Over tightening will crack and distort the flange, thereby making the seal between the bowl and flange ineffective.  When this happens, sewage and sewer water leak out into the plywood or concrete under the toilet.  Foul odors follow along with structural damage to wood floors.  The correct way to fix a damaged flange is to cut it out and replace it.
  • Bathroom SmellsImproper wax seal installation.  If the wax seal used is wrong, or installed incorrectly, sewage will leak out into the wood or concrete floor below.  Just like a broken flange, this will saturate the concrete below the toilet.  For wood floors, structural damage occurs to the lumber and plywood under the toilet.  The result is expensive damage and nasty rotten egg smells.
  • Toto UltraMax II white toiletThe toilet is not level. Most folks do not know that a toilet must be level. If you do not know the proper technique for leveling, it’s usually best to have an experienced Plumber or Contractor install your toilet.  Leveling a toilet requires a special leveling device and shims.  It takes practice to learn how to do this correctly.
  • Incorrectly installed flooring under and around the toilet.  Firstly, flooring is installed under the toilet, not around it.  Second, depending on the flooring used, the toilet drain may need to be raised.  If it’s not raised, there is a gap between the flange and the bowl – never a good thing.  Third, never install a wood floor under a toilet.  All of these items will typically cause a leak under the toilet.  Damage occurs and the nasty rotten egg smells arrive.

How Can I Eliminate the Nasty Smell and the Leaks?

Best Shower Renovation DAD's ConstructionMany folks in Orange County experience their first sign of trouble when water leaks from the kitchen, dining, or family room ceiling.  These leaks typically occur when the home is between 20-30 years old.  I’ve seen it at 5-10 years.

It’s not until folks notice water dripping from the ceiling or brown staining appears that a Plumber is called.  The Plumber simply repairs the drainpipe, replaces the shower or tub drain, or installs a new toilet wax seal.  Unfortunately, this does not fix the culprit – the fiberglass shower, tub, or toilet flange!  I have personally witnessed these repairs lasting a few months to a few years.  The only way to truly fix the problem is to replace the fiberglass shower with a new tiled surround shower.  For more on replacing a shower, see the articles:

If it’s the fiberglass tub, replace with a cast iron or acrylic tile surround tub.  For a broken toilet flange, cut it out and replace with a new flange and wax seal.  For more information on tubs and toilets, see:

How Can I Receive More Information?

If you would like more information on enjoying the best shower, bathroom, kitchen, and interior remodeling experience in Orange County, call DAD at (949) 380-0177 or at dan@dadsconstruction.com for a free in home consultation (DAD’s serves all of South Orange County California including Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Foothill Ranch, Portola Hills, Ladera Ranch, Irvine, San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto de Caza, Dove Canyon, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Newport Beach, and Aliso Viejo).

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Daniel A. Derkum is the owner of DAD’s Construction, a leading South Orange County, California design-and-build remodeling and renovation Contractor, https://www.dadsconstruction.com.  © DAD’s Home Services & Construction, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.