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Unwelcome Shower Surprise

There is nothing quite like stepping into a nice, hot shower at the end of a long day, relaxing as you wash away your cares and tension. However, if you step into your shower with the expectation of entering an oasis, only to find an unpleasant smell, it can be extremely jarring. If something seems rotten in your shower, it’s likely that a smelly shower drain is to blame. What causes this problem? And what can you do if your drain smells like sewage?

Identifying the Source of the Smell

Of course, you will want to get rid of what you are smelling, and to do that, you need to know what it is. Pay attention to how it smells, because different odors indicate different types of issues. For instance, a sewage smell indicates the presence of sewer gases, while a musty smell may be caused by a dirty P-trap. In order to know how to clean a shower drain effective, you need to know what’s causing the problem. Common causes of bad smells in your shower drain include:

  • Dry or Clogged P-traps: A P-trap is an extra drain fitting, designed to keep sewer gases from backing up into the house. The P-trap is meant to hold water, which creates a seal to keep the bad smells from entering your home. If you are smelling a sewer smell, it is likely that the P-trap isn’t working effectively, probably because it is dry. This can happen, if you don’t use the shower very often. Try running some water down the drain, and see if this takes care of the problem. If you use your shower frequently, or if you run water and the odor remains, there could be a problem with your P-trap or your vent stack. This requires the attention of a professional plumbing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               If the odor is more musty-smelling than sewage-related, the P-trap is probably dirty or clogged. You can do this by pouring½ cup of baking soda down the drain and following it with ½ cup of distilled white vinegar. This should clear out any grime, while preventing the damage harsher chemicals can do.
  • Biofilm Buildup: Biofilm is slime that can build up in your shower drain and is sometimes mistaken for mold. We will discuss this issue a little later.
  • Leaky Pipes: If what you are smelling is a rotten egg or sulfur odor, it typically means there is a leak in your drain lines. It could be that some valves are faulty, pipes are corroded, or dripping faucet joints, among other issues. Getting rid of shower smells due to leaking pipes requires attending to every pipe of joint that is causing problems, which may require the help of a professional plumber. An expert will be able to determine the issues in your plumbing system and repair your leaking drain line.
  • Clogged Drains: A clogged shower drain is a common problem. If the odor is accompanied by slow draining, you probably have an obstruction in your drain.


water running in a smelly drain

Causes of Clogs in the Shower

It is easy for shower drains to become clogged because so many things flow through them. Soap scum, hair, mineral deposits, dirt, sand, and small items can all cause obstructions in the shower drain. Clogs are usually made of a combination of these materials, like soap scum combined with hair to create a solid obstruction.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain

If you can see the clog, you may be able to pull it out with your hand. You can also use a plunger to pull the clog to the surface, or pour boiling water down the drain to try and dislodge it. One of the most popular ways to unclog a shower drain is to snake it. This is a fairly successful method, and it doesn’t require harsh chemicals. To snake a drain, use a drain snake, also called a hand auger. You can rent one of these at a hardware store, but be aware that a drain snake can damage your pipes if used incorrectly. It may be safer to call a plumber.

About Biofilm Buildup

Biofilm is a substance that you would probably call muck or slime. It’s made of a dynamic colony of bacteria and bacterial waste, held together with a glue-like substance. You can find biofilm on river rocks and birdbaths, and when it builds up in your shower and shower drain, it can cause unpleasant odors. Sometimes, biofilm is mistaken for mold, and a common type of biofilm found in showers is nicknamed pink mold. It has a pinkish or orange tone, and contains the bacteria Serratia marcescens (S. marcescens). Biofilm’s odor is not the only reason you should remove it; some biofilm can be hazardous to human health, including S. marcescens, which can infect open wounds, as well as causing urinary tract and respiratory issues for people with lowered immunity.

If you have pink mold in your shower, or you encounter any other type of biofilm, you will need to remove it using a two-step process. First, brush the film to break it up, wiping as much as possible away, then spray the surface with an antimicrobial chemical. It’s easy to remove biofilm from your shower tiles, using any brush and disinfectant you happen to have on hand. As long as you repeat this process weekly, you can keep  the biofilm from coming back. However, if there is a smell in your bathroom, it is probably the result of biofilm in the drain, which is a little bit harder to tackle.

  • When you’re dealing with biofilm, the best way to clean a shower drain is as follows:
  • Remove the drain cover and clean it with antibacterial cleaning product or disinfectant.
  • Dip a fuzzy paint roller cover into a cleaning product solution.
  • Push the roller cover into the drain vertically.
  • Turn the roller cover around, to break the biofilm loose and remove it.
  • Pull the roller cover out, rinse it, and push it back down the drain, repeating this process until you no longer see biofilm on the roller cover.

Call the Professionals at Triple-T for All Your Plumbing Needs

If you need help with drain cleaning or other plumbing services, trust Triple-T Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing to keep your plumbing system in great shape. Since 1974, our family-owned and operated business has been committed to serving our community, providing the very best heating, air conditioning, air quality, and plumbing services. We’re dedicated to customer satisfaction, and we continually train our employees so that we’re always up to date with the latest technology. When you’re ready for “Service Beyond Expectations”, contact us for all your plumbing, air quality, and HVAC needs.