If you find yourself plugging your nose or holding your breath every time you use the bathroom, it’s time for a deep clean and some troubleshooting. When your bathroom smells like urine 24-7, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get cleaning.
But before you do that, you’ll need to work your detective skills to locate the source of the problem.
We’ve rounded up a list of 8 common reasons your bathroom smells like urine, plus handy tips on what to do about it.
Let’s get started!
What makes urine smell so strong?
What exactly makes the smell of urine so pungent? According to the Mayo Clinic, “It’s the amount and concentration of various waste products excreted by the kidneys that causes urine odor.”¹
When you’re well-hydrated and healthy, urine comprises mostly water, with little to no odor. But when you’re dehydrated, ate certain foods (such as asparagus), or have an underlying medical condition, the stench of urine grows stronger.
Urea is a waste byproduct found in urine. When broken down by the body, it can sometimes smell like ammonia.
Combine the stench of pee in an often poorly ventilated bathroom with high humidity, and you have a breeding ground for a host of foul odors.
Before you get started
Masking lingering odors with fragrances just won’t cut it. Ditch those artificial room fresheners! You’ll just end up with a bathroom that smells like fake flowers with undertones of urine.
Natural deodorizing and cleaning agents
Depending on how bad the nasty odors are, you may need to tweak the strength of your cleaning products. Before you say “Bring on the chemicals!”—know that some natural products work as great deodorizers. Here are a few:
- Baking soda: A natural deodorizer and useful as a mild abrasive, a box of baking soda can go a long way to neutralizing odors. As a mild alkaline, baking soda helps neutralize acid-based odors in water (handy for smelly toilets). Sprinkle onto smelly areas, let sit, then vacuum clean. You can also make a baking soda paste by combining with just enough water to create paste-like texture. Use this paste for scrubbing flooring, or tiles.
- Borax: A stronger alkaline than baking soda, borax (sodium tetraborate) derives from a naturally occurring mineral mined from the earth. Take care not to get borax into your eyes, or inhale.
- Lemon juice: As an all-around cleanser (stain remover/degreaser/deodorizer), lemon juice is one of the best natural contributors to making a home smell fresh. With a low pH and antibacterial properties, this makes it great around the house for odors and stains. Make sure to test a small spot first before using. Lemon juice is safe for most surfaces. However, AVOID using on marble countertops (it can etch it), or brass-plated finishes.
- Hydrogen peroxide: A natural chemical compound that’s gentler than bleach. Hydrogen peroxide helps lift stubborn urine stains. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Hydrogen peroxide works by producing destructive hydroxyl free radicals that can attack membrane lipids, DNA, and other essential cell components.”² The 3 percent hydrogen peroxide you can find at stores is effective at disinfecting surfaces.
- White vinegar: Vinegar has been used as a disinfectant and deodorizer since ancient times. The acetic acid in vinegar neutralizes alkaline compounds such as mineral buildup from hard water and cuts through oils and grease. Don’t worry about the smell of vinegar lingering—it quickly dissipates.
Other bathroom cleaning products
Besides the usual suspects (toilet bowl cleaner and brush), here are a few other cleaning products you might need:
- Liquid dish soap or Castile soap: This handy household product lifts dirt and grease and comes in handy to unclog bathroom sinks and drains.
- Enzymatic cleaner: For tough urine stains, you might need the power of an enzymatic cleaner. This powerful cleaning solution is effective for urine odors from both pets and humans alike. All pee contains uric acid crystals; the enzymes in the cleaner bind to the crystals for a thorough cleaning that removes odors and bacteria.
- Bleach: Sometimes you need to break out the big guns, like bleach. A powerful disinfectant, household chlorine bleach should be diluted first with water before using on surfaces, including toilet bowls.
8 reasons your bathroom smells like urine
Why does my bathroom toilet smell like urine? Oh, let us count the most common reasons…
Sometimes the reason for a lingering odor is simple, such as a dirty toilet. Other times, it may require the help of a professional, such as a plumber. Let’s take a look.
#1. Dirty toilet
Let’s start with the most obvious fix—a filthy toilet.
Not only is a neglected toilet gross to use, a dirty toilet can also hamper the functioning of the toilet. Grime and mineral buildup can clog the toilet rim jets, resulting in a weaker flush.
The simplest and most obvious fix is to do a deep clean of the toilet.
The grossest part of the toilet (and the part that collects the most urine stains) is under the seat and around the rim of the bowl. If you haven’t cleaned under there for a while, you may need a strong stomach and nose plugs.
Sometimes the exterior sides by the toilet bowl may also have urine drips (especially common if you have small kids at home).
Do a thorough clean of all nooks and crannies, including under the toilet “lip” around the water jets and the toilet seat hinge caps that love to collect grime.
Strong DIY toilet deodorizer
Besides using regular toilet bowl cleaner, you can also try this strong deodorizing toilet soak for the most stubborn odors. The strong alkalinity of borax combined with vinegar’s acidity helps neutralize and clean.³
- 1 cup borax
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- Spray bottle
- Add vinegar to a spray bottle.
- Liberally sprinkle borax into the bowl/basin of the toilet.
- Spray vinegar, targeting stained areas.
- Leave overnight to soak in.
- Scrub with a brush the next day.
#2. Stained flooring or bathmats
The second place to clean is the flooring around the vicinity of the toilet. (While you’re at it, you might as well mop the rest of the bathroom floor!) This includes any bathmats or rugs that may contain the lingering aroma of urine.
Often, the culprit (a pet or one of your kids, perhaps) could have had an accident without you noticing!
If after you’ve thrown the bathmats or floor towels into the laundry and you still wrinkle your nose in disgust, try this cleaning hack.
Easy rug deodorizer
- A stiff-bristled cleaning brush
- 1-gallon bucket filled with warm water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- Optional: a splash of lemon juice
- Fill a large bucket with 1 gallon (3.79 liters) of warm water. Add 1 cup of white vinegar and mix.
- Dip the brush into the water-vinegar solution and gently brush against the surface of the rug. No rinsing required.
The smell of the vinegar will soon dissipate.
Check out this post for more cleaning tips on deep cleaning carpets.
#3. Stinky garbage can
If you’ve neglected to take out the trash recently, or use a lot of wet wipes, the building stench could come from your garbage can.
Diaper pails are another likely source of sewer odors.
And if you haven’t disinfected your garbage can, there’s an easy fix for this.
Easy disinfectant spray
Make the following DIY solution to disinfect a variety of surfaces in your bathroom, such as garbage cans, toilets, etc.⁴
- 3/4 cup of household bleach
- 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap or Castile soap
- 1 gallon of water
Combine solution in a bucket. Pour into a spray bottle for an easy disinfectant cleaner.
#4. Filthy walls and molding around the toilet
Any walls and baseboards surrounding the toilet are fair game for harboring urine smells. (After all, some people have poor aim.)
The wall behind the toilet is often sadly neglected and may be a source of dirt and grime buildup which could harbor smells.
You can try using the disinfectant spray mentioned in #3 above.
#5. A smelly toilet tank
Sometimes the reason your bathroom smells like urine lies in the toilet tank. It’s not unusual for a high-moisture enclosed area to harbor smelly bacteria.
Take a whiff of the toilet tank once you’ve lifted the lid. Does it have a foul odor?
If so, an easy remedy is to use the disinfectant properties of white vinegar.
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- Rubber cleaning gloves
- A sponge, or small scrub brush
- Remove the lid of the toilet tank and pour around 1/2 cup of white vinegar into the toilet tank.
- Using gloves and something to clean with, scrub the inside of the tank walls.
- Flush the toilet.
- Repeat as needed.
Tip: You can add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the toilet tank once a week to keep your toilet clean and fresh.
Barring this, if the stench of urine continues, try one of the following fixes below.
#6. Clogged bathroom drains
Hair clogs are a common problem in bathroom sinks or shower drains.
Once hair blocks the drain, other debris easily accumulates. The result? A smelly mess that obstructs proper drainage.
Spruce up clogged drains by first using a drain cleaning tool or clog remover. This is a long piece of toothed plastic that sells for a few dollars at your local hardware store.
Often, this effectively removes superficial clogs near the drain.
Tip: Avoid using harsh chemical cleaners that may corrode your drains and pipes. Instead, try to remove any clogs manually and follow up with hot water (not boiling) and a soapy solution.
Check out our article on unclogging drains without using harsh chemicals.
#7. An old or cracked toilet wax seal
All toilets have a wax ring (aka wax gasket or wax seal). This integral component of a toilet provides a watertight seal at the base of the toilet.
If your wax ring is old or cracked, this can cause water to leak under your toilet, causing fluids and bacteria to buildup. You may notice leaking under the toilet along with foul odors that can smell of sewage or urine.
If you’re handy (or have a friend who is), a new wax ring is inexpensive and can be found at most hardware or home improvement stores.
This is a DIY project you could take on in a couple of hours. (Or, you may need to call a plumber for help.)
Check out our post on how to replace a wax ring on your toilet, step-by-step.
#8. A toilet leak … somewhere
There are many areas for a toilet to spring a leak besides the wax seal. Try to pinpoint the location of the leak.
Not only is a leak unsanitary and smelly, it can also cause flooring damage if not fixed.
Sometimes you may find water leaking from the line behind the toilet. Other times it’s the tank or the bowl.
You can try troubleshooting common reasons for a leaky toilet.
For major plumbing issues, don’t hesitate to call a plumber.
Tips for keeping your bathroom smelling daisy-fresh
While you might not want to hear the next piece of obvious advice, the best way to prevent a smelly bathroom is to clean it regularly.
With a bit of regular cleaning, you can keep nasty odors at bay.
- Empty trashcan weekly: Easy-peasy!
- Don’t let wet towels lay crumpled on the floor: They won’t dry properly and may develop mildew. This may take a bit of time to train the humans in your house to pick up after themselves.
- Do a basic weekly clean in the bathroom: Each week, do a quick wipe to remove any visible urine stains on and under the seat, a quick scrub with toilet cleaner and a brush, and a quick wet wipe or mopping around the base of the toilet and nearby flooring.
- Check out your ventilation system: Poor ventilation system? Sometimes lingering odors result from a poorly ventilated room. The smells of mildew (and yes, urine) can quickly become overpowering in a bathroom. If you don’t have a bathroom with windows, make sure your bathroom fan works well.
- Vinegar rinse to deodorize: Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar once a week to the toilet tank to keep things running smoothly and to disinfect.
Check out our bathroom cleaning checklist for more cleaning tips.
- Mayo Clinic, Urine Odor, https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/urine-odor/basics/causes/sym-20050704. Accessed April 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chemical Disinfectants, https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/disinfection/disinfection-methods/chemical.html#Hydrogen. Accessed April 2022.
- University of Arkansas, Clean and Green Homemade Cleaners, https://www.uaex.uada.edu/environment-nature/water/quality/clean-green-homemade-cleaners.aspx. Accessed April 2022.
- University of Florida, Homemade Household Cleaners, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/FY/FY144900.pdf. Accessed April 2022.