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A Complete Guide To Bathroom Smells, And Their Swift Removal

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Check the Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.

My bathroom smells really bad. I’ve used all kinds of air fresheners, and nothing helps. What do you suggest?


Our LW didn’t specify what his bathroom smells of—though I can certainly guess! The thing is, though, is that an open-ended question such as this lets me work out a whole bunch of stuff all in one post, and so today, that’s what I’m gonna do.

And so, now the time has come for us to discuss all the ways in which one might eliminate odors in a bathroom, no matter the source of the smell.

Odor Eliminators

Regardless of whether your bathroom smell is a very particular one or a more generalized one, an odor eliminator—not an air freshener, an odor eliminator—is the first thing you want to get your hands on. Steer clear of air fresheners, which will just add a good (“good”) smell on top of the bad smell you’ve already got.


There are lots (and lots and lots and lots) of good odor eliminators on the market. You should tell your fellow readers about the brands you’ve had good luck with! I have a few brands to mention to set you on your merry way. The Bad Air Sponge is one; over the years, I’ve recommended the Sponge to several friends, who have universally reported that it worked exactly as it should.

The Innofresh products (which are made of activated charcoal, a fantastic odor killer) are also good options—if you go that route, please do avail yourself of the 20-percent discount that company offers to my readers by using the code “joliecleanperson” at checkout.


Last week, when we talked about ganky-smelling slings and braces, one of you reminded me, via Twitter, how effective Ozium spray is—which, in turn, reminds me that Ozium makes a gel odor eliminator that would be perfect for a bathroom. More broadly speaking, those types of gel products are good ones to keep an eye out for.

One last brand to mention is OdoBan—they also offer solid odor-neutralizing products, in addition to assorted liquid disinfectants.


Air Purifiers

So let’s say that you’ve gone out and gotten yourself a good odor eliminator, and it’s doing its good odor-eliminating thing, but you notice that there’s still some, well, wafting smells happening in your pissior. If your bathroom has poor air circulation, it may be the case that you need something more powerful, like an air purifier.


Plug-in air purifiers are another great option, especially in bathrooms that lack ventilation. For an intimidatingly thorough review of air purifiers, head over to The Sweethome’s post on the subject, which recommends the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty as their top pick. At $250, though, it might be a bit pricey for some budgets, so I took a noodle around Amazon for smaller, lower-priced options. This Holmes number will run you about $30 and comes highly rated; a similarly well-regarded Honeywell model costs about $55.


Perhaps wafting butt smells aren’t so much your problem as much as a persistent mildew odor. In that case, you want to get a desiccant up in that bitch. DampRid is a great one—I lived for six years in a basement apartment on Boston’s waterfront, so please believe me when I tell you that I know from DampRid!


There’s also silica gel, which is the stuff that comes in those little packets you see in shoeboxes with a stern warning not to eat it. Those little packets exist to keep moisture at bay, and the contents can be dumped into a small plastic storage container with holes poked in the lid for a DIY desiccant.

Some indoor plants will also act as natural desiccants, so if you’ve got a green thumb and the space for it in your bathroom, consider buying, say, a lovely Boston fern or peace lily, both of which will absorb humidity lurking in your bathroom.


Check the Caulk

I’m going to tell you a story, but before I do, I want you to know that I am telling this story with love in my heart.


Way back a million years ago, during the first iteration of Ask a Clean Person, I wrote a post in response to a reader question about “a pissy-smell” in the bathroom. A commenter chimed in to mention that caulk, which can be porous, may, over time, absorb errant pee and create a lingering piddly smell. A solution to that, went the suggestion, is to remove the old caulk using an X-Acto knife and replace it with fresh caulk.

Fast-forward a year or two. I’ve moved my act over to Deadspin and am addressing a similar reader question. Well wouldn’t you know that I plumb forgot about the caulk tidbit? And wouldn’t you know that the very same commenter arrived to correct me yet again?


God bless you fucking loons, I love you weirdos so much.

Close the Lid

This is a minor point in the grand scheme of your bathroom smells, but remembering to put the toilet seat down before flushing, especially before flushing a big bowl of poop; otherwise, you create an aerosol effect that may very well spray poop particles all about your bathroom. Which means that the walls around your toilet may very well be covered in shit. Sorry, pals! It’s my job to tell you this stuff. So! Flush with the lid down and consider cleaning the walls around the commode to remove any lingering crap.


Launder the Fabrics

I know you all know to wash your bath and hand towels regularly. I mean, of course you know that. If you don’t know that, maybe just lie to me? I’m kind of glum right now, and would appreciate the kindness.


And I think you all know to wash your bath mat regularly. Just lie, dammit.

But there are other fabrics that hang around, literally, in your bathroom that may, over time, begin to retain a sort of bathroom-y smell. So if you notice a persistent odor that cleaning and odor eliminating and etc. etc. etc. hasn’t touched, maybe give your shower curtain a spin in the washing machine. The same goes for any bathrobes or kimonos or extra jammies you may leave hanging in the bathroom for extended periods of time.


Another thing you could lie to me about is the kimono. I like to picture you all as the type of guys who wear kimonos—it makes me happy.


Poo-Pourri, which can also be purchased under the name Trap-a-Crap and The Royal Flush, is a before-you-go odor-eliminating spray. And now that you know that before-you-go odor-eliminating spray is a thing that exists in this world, my work here is done.


Jolie Kerr is Deadspin’s resident cleaning expert and the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume). Follow her onTwitter, or email her:


Illustration by Sam Woolley.

Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.


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