What's Causing Phantom Odors In Your Toilet And How Can You Fix The Problem?

Although we may try many hacks to keep the bathroom smelling amazing, it's a tough job. Many times, the problems with odors in the bathroom originate around the toilet. You expect there to be some unpleasant smells after someone uses the toilet or if it sits for several weeks with no one using it, as you need to flush an unused toilet occasionally to keep odors and stains away. However, if you have phantom odors coming from this fixture, and you aren't sure why, a few different problems could be occurring. You could have water trapped in a location that's allowing bacteria to thrive. You also may need to replace a part of the flushing mechanism that's leaking, leading to a foul smell. Commonly, a damaged wax ring where the appliance meets the sewer pipe leads to bad smells escaping.

Depending on the complexity of the problem, you may need to hire a plumber to fix the issue for you. Some types of clogs or situations with water trapped in the wrong location in the pipes require tools that only plumbers will have. The plumber also will have the know-how to diagnose the problem and figure out the best possible solution. For certain issues with unwanted smells in the toilet and bathroom, though, you can take steps yourself to mitigate the problem.

How to DIY a quick fix to foul toilet odors

If you are preparing to have visitors over or if it's the start of a long weekend when you suddenly notice foul smells coming from your toilet, you may not have the time to call a plumber for a thorough inspection, or you may not want to pay overtime prices for an emergency call. Fortunately, there are steps you can take on your own that may give you temporary relief from the odors or that may fix the problem entirely.

Start by giving the toilet a deep cleaning, both inside and outside. You may want to purchase some rubber gloves for this process, as you'll be working with harsh cleansers in areas that you'd probably rather not touch with your bare hands. If the toilet has urine stains along the outside, this buildup can lead to stink. Spray your favorite cleaning solution — perhaps one with a pleasant citrus scent — around the entire toilet before wiping it clean.

On the inside of the bowl and fill tank, removing black or brown stains can help with unwanted odors. Turn off the water supply and flush a few times to eliminate as much water as possible. Then use sodium percarbonate or a bleach-based cleanser to thoroughly scrub all the interior areas. You may need to let the cleansers sit on the stains for a bit to fully loosen the black gunk and to be able to remove it fully.

When to hire a plumber to deal with a stinky toilet

If you notice the bad odors return after a thorough cleaning, it may be time to give the plumber a call. A broken or worn-out wax ring underneath the base of the toilet can result in unpleasant smells, as this feature creates a seal between the base of the toilet where the water leaves the bowl and the sewer pipe. It stops water from leaking out of the bowl onto the floor, which can result in odors. The only way to check the integrity of the wax ring is to lift the entire toilet away from the floor, which is difficult to do. Additionally, if you don't quite reinstall it properly, you can make the problem with leaks even worse. A plumber will have the tools and know-how to do this job well.

Another issue that can cause odors is an improper level of water in the P-trap, which is the U-shaped bend in the drain pipe on the toilet. The P-trap needs to be filled with water to a certain level that blocks sewer gasses from rising back into the toilet. If all the water drains out of the P-trap, a plumber may need to make some adjustments to the water flow pattern. 

As a final potential issue causing odors, you could have a significant clog or blockage in your vent pipe from the toilet drain pipe to the roof that a plumber needs to check.