8 Reasons Your Bathroom Smells Like Urine + How To Fix It Fast

RusticWise, bathroom smells like urine

When your bathroom smells like urine 24-7, and 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. I’ve rounded up a list of 8 common reasons your bathroom smells like urine, including stained flooring, a smelly toilet tank, or a toilet leak.

While you work your detective skills to locate the source of the problem, read up on handy cleaning tips on the best way to remove urine smell from bathrooms. 

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get cleaning. Let’s get started!

What makes urine smell so strong?

What exactly makes the bad 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, you get foul smelling urine.

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.

bathroom smells like urine, baby in bathroom
Credit: Vector State

How to remove urine smell from bathroom

Masking lingering odors with fragrances just won’t cut it. Ditch those artificial room fresheners! You’ll just end up with a bathroom that reeks like fake flowers with undertones of smelly urine.

Some smells like old urine require a deep clean to banish them. As the smell of urine is so pervasive, it may take more than one deep clean to rid your bathroom of the pee smell. 

To neutralize foul odors, the first step is to pinpoint the source of the smell. Whether it’s on the bathroom floor, or the toilet, you can then begin by using a mild soap to scrub the area. Next, you can disinfect the area (if necessary).

Read on to learn how to use basic cleaning products you have at home to eliminate nasty smells by tackling the root cause.

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. While vinegar is an effective cleaner, it doesn’t replace a disinfectant such as hydrogen peroxide or bleach. Don’t worry about the smell of vinegar lingering—it quickly dissipates.

Other bathroom cleaning products

Besides the usual suspects (toilet bowl cleaner and toilet 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 (cat urine) 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.
Bathroom smells like urine, natural cleaning products
Credit: Vector State

8 reasons your bathroom smells like urine

If you’re asking yourself, why does my bathroom toilet smell like urine, let’s go over the most common reasons.

Sometimes the reason for a lingering odor is simple, such as a dirty toilet, or an unseen urine stain. 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

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup borax
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • Spray bottle
  1. Add vinegar to a spray bottle.
  2. Liberally sprinkle borax into the bowl/basin of the toilet.
  3. Spray vinegar, targeting stained areas.
  4. Leave overnight to soak in.
  5. Scrub with a brush the next day.
bathroom smells like urine, cleaning toilet
Credit: Vector State

#2. Stained flooring or bath mats

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 bath mats 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!

First, if you know there’s a pet accident such as cat pee on the flooring or carpet, tackle it at the source with an enzymatic cleaner. 

If after you’ve thrown the bath mats or floor towels into the laundry and you still wrinkle your nose in disgust, try this carpet cleaning hack.

Easy rug deodorizer

You’ll need:

  • A stiff-bristled cleaning brush
  • 1-gallon bucket filled with warm water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Optional: a splash of lemon juice
  1. Fill a large bucket with 1 gallon (roughly 4 liters) of warm water. Add 1 cup of white vinegar and mix.
  2. Dip the brush into the water and 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

Unpleasant odor in your throne room? 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.

First, scrub the trash can with a solution of hot water and dish soap, and rinse it clean. Follow up with a DIY disinfecting spray.

Easy disinfectant spray

Make the following DIY solution to disinfect a variety of surfaces in your bathroom, such as garbage cans, toilets, shower walls, etc.

You’ll need:

  • Hydrogen peroxide (medical-grade at 3 percent; this is the stuff you can find at the drugstore)
  • Water
  • Clean spray bottle

According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can make a DIY disinfectant using just 2 ingredients:⁴

  1. Make a solution of equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide. Pour into a spray bottle. 
  2. Spray the soiled area. 
  3. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes. This sitting time is important, as it kills germs.
  4. Wipe clean.

#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 after first scrubbing with a soapy solution.

#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 such as a sewer smell?

If so, an easy remedy is to use the disinfectant properties of white vinegar.

You’ll need:

  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • Rubber cleaning gloves
  • A sponge, or small scrub brush
  1. Remove the lid of the toilet tank and pour around ½ cup of white vinegar into the toilet tank.
  2. Using gloves and something to clean with, scrub the inside of the tank walls.
  3. Flush the toilet.
  4. Repeat as needed.

Tip: You can add ½ 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. Proper ventilation is a key component of keeping bad smells at bay.
  • Vinegar rinse to deodorize: Add ½ 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.

Related questions

What causes an RV toilet to smell like urine?

If a strong pee odor is wafting from your RV toilet, there are many causes. One of the most common causes is a blockage in the black tank’s vent pipe. The vent pipe allows gasses to release as needed. If this pipe is clogged, you’ll notice strong odors each time the toilet is flushed.

There could also be a buildup of bacteria in the toilet bowl or tank. This can occur if the toilet is not cleaned regularly or if the RV’s water supply is contaminated. Another possible cause is a faulty seal or gasket in the toilet, which can allow urine to leak and cause odors. 

With a bit of regular maintenance, you can prevent these issues and keep your RV bathroom smelling fresh.

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  1. Mayo Clinic, Urine Odor, https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/urine-odor/basics/causes/sym-20050704. Accessed November 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chemical Disinfectants, https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/disinfection/disinfection-methods/chemical.html#Hydrogen. Accessed November 2023.
  3. University of Arkansas, Clean and Green Homemade Cleaners, https://www.uaex.uada.edu/environment-nature/water/quality/clean-green-homemade-cleaners.aspx. Accessed November 2023.
  4. Cleveland Clinic, What Is Hydrogen Peroxide Good For? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-hydrogen-peroxide-good-for/. Accessed November 2023.

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