Sewer odors – a public bathroom’s worst enemy

Sewer odors – a public bathroom’s worst enemy

When dealing with issues in a shared space, such as an office, warehouse, school, or hospital, a stinky or unclean bathroom is often the primary offender. In many cases, sewer gases are what cause a restroom to smell. This type of gas is a combination of inorganic gases which contain compounds such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. In small amounts, these odors are simply an unpleasant nuisance. If left untreated, the gas buildup could cause serious issues such as injury to respiratory systems. The odors released through a bathroom floor drain, toilet, or sink, are generally more bothersome than harmful but should be addressed and eliminated when present in shared spaces


People expect public restrooms to be clean and smell fresh.

Most people expect a certain level of care to be put into shared spaces by companies and public entities - a restroom is no exception. A recent workplace bathroom study found that three out of four people expect a public bathroom to smell better than their home bathroom. When malodors are present, they can negatively influence a person’s perceptions of the business and overall environment they visit, shop, or work in. When concerns about cleanliness, hygiene, or unpleasant odors arise, they can trigger fears of sickness, anxiety, or general discomfort which cause people to actively avoid a public restroom or business. In a recent State of Air Care study conducted, 88% of respondents confessed to attempting to get out of a bathroom as quickly as possible if it smells unpleasant. Many may skip out on normal hygiene practices such as washing and drying hands, just to avoid the smell of the restroom. Neglecting to properly wash up can cause germs, viruses, and bacteria to spread, adversely affecting public health and safety.

Where do sewage odors come from?

The most common source of sewage gas smell is plumbing. In most cases, sewage gas odors come from floor drains found in basements, restrooms, janitorial closets, and commercial kitchens. A sewage smell in the bathroom could come from the evaporation of water in the P-trap piping, a broken seal around the toilet in the caulk or wax ring, a burst pipe, or more significantly, sewer main drain deterioration. Blocked vents can also cause odors to be released inside a building, causing hallways and commonly used rooms to smell unpleasant.

How to combat unfriendly smells indoors.

  • Check all drains, toilets, and sinks to ensure the p-traps are working correctly and have not dried out. Replace any broken wax seals, and use a high-quality drain cleaner regularly to flush out debris buildup.
  • Give your HVAC and ventilation system a thorough check and clean regularly. Look for buildup that may prevent proper airflow and replace any dirty filters.
  • Target disagreeable odors with proper, clean scented air fresheners, soaps, and floor cleaners. Make sure to take the size of the room not to account to ensure that you have the right number of products in place so as not to overdo the use of strong fragrances.
  • Educate the bathroom user by posting friendly signage to remember to wipe the toilet seat, put the lid down, and dispose of waste properly.
  • Use efficient disposal containers and systems for all types of waste and empty them often.

The effects of clean or favorable smells in the workplace.

Most can agree that an upbeat mood can correlate to increased productivity and an optimistic outlook, even in the face of a challenge. Positive social interactions and productivity are also improved when pleasant odors are present. In a study done by Scientific American, people exposed to the great smell of baking cookies were more motivated to help a stranger than those not exposed to odor manipulation. Additionally, people who worked near a nice smelling air freshener reported higher self-efficacy, set higher goals, and were more likely to employ efficient work strategies.


Keep malodors at bay for a better public environment.

When a public space smells of sewer gas, it can affect the mood, behaviors, and ultimately the health of those exposed. The lingering scent of sewage is harmful to business and can lead to decreases in morale and lost customers if not dealt with properly. Establishing a routine check and clean of toilets, sinks, showers, and drains, as well as vents and HVAC systems, will ensure shared spaces are free of malodor. A clean smelling office, warehouse, school, or public entity will encourage productivity and encourage return visits while decreasing the chance of health problems and reputational damage.