Solved! What to Do About a Stinky Sink

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If your kitchen sink stinks, neutralize the situation with one or more of these seven fresh solutions

Q: I have a rancid smell in my kitchen that makes cooking and cleaning an ordeal, and I’ve discovered that it’s related to my sink stinking. What causes this unpleasant odor and how can I get rid of it?

A: The most common cause of sink odor is food residue that gets trapped on one or more parts of the kitchen sink plumbing system and begins to break down. The odor will persist in your sink until you find and clean the exact part where the food residue is located. Read on to learn which parts of your sink plumbing system are the most common sources of odors, then learn how to clean each part properly to get your sink smelling fresh again.

Soak your sink with soap and water.

Sink odor is sometimes caused by food residue drying on the bottom or sides of the sink after soiled dishes have been left in the sink for too long. To keep the sink clean and odor-free, it should be soaked. Put a stopper in the sink drain and fill the sink halfway with hot water and a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent. Stir the contents of the basin with gloved hands until the soap dissolves into the water, then let the solution sit in the basin for 10 minutes to loosen any food residue. Unplug the sink, turn on the garbage disposal (if your sink has one) and flush any leftover food down the sink drain.

Remove any obstructions in the sink drain or garbage chute blades.

If the sink still smells, check for dishes or solid food scraps (such as bones) falling down the sink drain. If dishes get stuck between the drain or garbage chute blades, they may trap other food particles and prevent them from passing through the garbage chute. If these stuck foods are allowed to decay, they will give off an unpleasant odor until they are removed.

Before removing these obstructions, unplug the garbage chute from the outlet (if there is no outlet, disconnect power from the circuit breaker that powers the chute). You don’t want to risk the waste chute opening while your hands are in the sink! Then, shine a flashlight deep into the sink drain and look for any obstructions in the sink drain or around the blade at the top of the disposal unit. If you find anything, give it a gentle tug with needle-nose pliers.

Clean stinky sink drains with baking soda and vinegar.

Stubborn grease and grime can build up on the walls of your sink drain after each use of the garbage disposal. While you can’t reach the bottom of the drain with a bristle brush, you can still remove this debris with baking soda and white vinegar.

Bring a pot full of water to a boil and set it aside. Meanwhile, pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the sink drain. Let the solution sizzle in the sink for 5-10 minutes, then slowly pour all the hot water from the kettle down the sink drain. The abrasive baking soda, the astringent vinegar and the hot water will work together on the sink drain walls. Unscrew the cold water faucet for one minute to rinse off any remaining baking soda.

Clean the flange of the sink.

The metal sink flange at the top of the garbage disposal that connects to the sink drain is a common place for food debris to accumulate. This debris is not easily flushed away, so it needs to be removed with a squeegee. Start by unplugging the garbage sink from the outlet (or disconnecting the sink from the switch). Then squeeze a few drops of liquid soap on the dishwasher nozzle, lightly wet the bristles with tap water, dip the nozzle into the sink drain and clean the top of the sink flange. After cleaning the sink flange, flush the faucet with cold water for 30 seconds to flush away any remaining debris from the flange.

Sanitize the garbage disposal blades and impellers with ice and salt.

Since the garbage chute blades and the rotating impeller attached to the blades are involved in crushing food, food debris can easily accumulate on them and give off an unpleasant odor over time. To clean the blades and impeller, place two cups of ice into the sink drain, followed by one cup of salt. Turn on the cold water faucet, turn on the garbage disposal and work until the ice is crushed. The abrasive action of the ice and salt should loosen and lift all food scraps onto the garbage chute blades and impellers. The food scraps and their unpleasant odor will leak down the drain.

Deodorize the garbage chute with citrus fruit peels.

Sometimes, chopped food particles can’t get out of the garbage chute and get stuck in the chute walls. This is where they rot and create an unpleasant odor in the sink. The citric acid in oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits can dissolve food debris on the walls of the garbage disposal and in the sink drain, not to mention replacing unpleasant odors with sweet aromas. Dip three to five citrus peels into the sink drain and run the garbage disposal for 30 seconds to chop up the peels and release the acid to deodorize the sink. Save the unused peels in an airtight container in the refrigerator and you’ll have a supply of this sink freshener the next time you need it.

Deep clean your garbage chute with oxygen bleach.

If the above method of cleaning individual areas of the sink does not eliminate the odor, food scraps may have accumulated into a foul-smelling sludge even farther down the system, in the area where the main drain pipe connecting to the sewer is located. To clean this pipe, you must open the drain through the elbow-shaped U-trap located directly below it.

First, make sure the disposal is disconnected from the power source. Then, wearing gloves, place a plastic bucket under the P-Siphon and use a wrench to unscrew it from the main drain. Then insert a rubber stopper (available at home improvement stores near the PVC sanitary ware department) into the bottom of the opening in the main drain; it must be the same diameter as your water supply line in order to insert the stopper properly.

Turn on the hot water faucet until the water level rises to the top of the sink drain, then pour in a quarter cup of powdered oxygen bleach (see example on Amazon). Leave the bleach in the sink for one hour to break up any sediment in the main drain, then unplug. Loose debris from the pipe should flow into the bucket below. Once the main drain has been emptied, reconnect the P-Siphon with a wrench. Then connect the drain line and run the hot water faucet for 30 seconds to flush any residual waste and bleach from the pipes.

Minimize future odors.

What is the best way to prevent unpleasant odors in the sink? Make it a rule to run cold water down the sink drain for at least 30 seconds before and after removing food to flush food residue from the sink pipes without causing it to thicken (like hot water). Also, stick to chopping soft foods in the garbage disposal and avoid putting solid food waste (bones, eggshells, kernels, etc.) down the sink drain, as this food waste can get stuck and trap other food waste in the sink’s pipes. Finally, never leave soiled dishes in the sink overnight; food debris can harden in the sink and cause unpleasant odors.