Common causes of a smelly kitchen and how to fix them

You’ve probably all been here before. You are sitting in the kitchen and notice a strong, unpleasant odor. It almost smells like rotting food or raw sewage. However, this doesn’t make sense because the garbage has already been taken out and there are no piles of dirty dishes in the sink? More than likely, the culprit is in your kitchen sink. Below we will discuss a few common causes and some remedies that may help.

Common culprits

  • The garbage disposal needs to be cleaned: Assuming that you have a garbage disposal in your kitchen sink, it is important to remember that inspecting and cleaning these units should be done from time to time. Begin by using a flashlight to inspect the disposal to see if you find any mold, gunk, or food particles that may be contributing to the smell. A good remedy is to run warm water in your sink while pouring a half-cup of baking soda down the drain. If you have a dishwasher, run it with detergent but empty of any dishes inside. Since the dishwasher is connected to the disposal, it will allow the cleaning product to disinfect the unit. Another thing to consider is that garbage disposals typically last approximately 8 years. If not functioning correctly, it may be time for a replacement.
  • Build up in the drain pipe: Perhaps one of the most common culprits for strong kitchen odors is a build up of food, grease, and bacteria in your pipes. Most plumbers will caution you from using harsh chemicals to clean your drains, particularly if you have older cast iron sewer piping. For this reason, enzyme treatments can often help as they are living organic bacteria that feed off biodegradable waste and turn it back into water. Of course, if unsure, it is always recommended to have a professional plumber address the issue instead of possibly creating more harm.
  • A dry P-trap: If you look underneath your sink, you will notice a U-shaped bend in the pipe. This is known as the P-trap, or water trap. In fact, if you ever accidentally lose a valuable item such as a piece of jewelry down the sink, this is where you will likely find it. However, the functional reason for this pipe is to hold water which then creates a barrier from strong odors further down the sewer line. Oftentimes, this may be the culprit if you are returning to an empty home after a long vacation and the water that normally sits in the P-trap has evaporated. In this case, the simple remedy is to run the water for a few seconds to refill the P-trap.
  • A clogged vent pipe: You may not realize this, but your kitchen sink should have a plumbing ventilation stack that directs sewer gases away from the home. Typically, these pipes lead upward through the roof to carry out these foul odors. With this said, these stacks may become clogged due to animals nesting on them or other elements of nature. When these become clogged, this can lead to strong sewer odors coming back through the kitchen sink and into your home. If feasible, you may inspect these plumbing stacks on your roof. If unsafe, you may want to call a professional plumber to assist.


As a homeowner, it is always wise to be thorough with your preventative maintenance to prevent costly repairs down the road. Since plumbing can be one of the most expensive repairs in a home, it is always a good idea to ensure that it is in good working condition. After all, nothing is more unappealing than strong, unpleasant odors in the kitchen. By utilizing the tips above, you should be able to avoid or remedy these odors in the future.

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REALTOR® with Live South Florida Realty, Inc.