How to Get Rid of Odors in Toilet Tanks

By: Julia Layton  | 
Clean green bathroom
If an odor in your bathroom just won't go away, check the toilet tank. stocknroll/e+/Getty Images

The sources of most bathroom odors are obvious, considering the purpose of this often-windowless space. Accordingly, eliminating most bathroom odors is a straightforward (if not pleasant) task.

But every now and then, a bathroom mystery arises, a smell that hangs around despite the usual cleaning methods. The toilet bowl is clean. The shower is clean. What's that lingering smell?


You might want to lift the lid on the toilet tank.

Most people don't pay much attention to the tank, but the water standing inside there can trigger smells — typically musty ones related to mold and/or mildew, which can grow in any consistently moist, closed space. Just ask your shower.

Cleaning a toilet tank is not all that complex, but the ultrasimple method of dumping in bleach that some people use can actually damage certain tank components. So, what to do when you find the tank is the culprit?

First, you ask your co-inhabitants to use a different john for a bit, since this can take a while ...


Steps for Removing Odors From Your Toilet Tank

You'll find lots of easy odor fixes in the cleaning aisle. It doesn't get much simpler than dropping a bleach-containing puck into the tank and walking away. As noted however, bleach can cause erosion of rubber components like seals and floats, which makes it a less-than-ideal cleaning method for a toilet tank.

A better approach is to use vinegar, liquid detergent or baking soda as your cleanser.


It's a simple process:

  1. Gather your supplies: Towel, cleanser and a long-handled scrubber (the toilet-bowl brush is fine), along with gloves.
  2. Remove the tank lid and set it aside on a towel so it doesn't get your floor or bath mat dirty.
  3. You only want a small amount of water in the tank while you clean, so lift the float (this tricks the tank into thinking it's full) and secure it gently to the flusher. Flush once to drain the tank and allow just a small amount of water back in.
  4. Add your cleanser to the tank: A few tablespoons of a liquid soap, a half cup of white vinegar or a half cup of baking soda. Swish it around with the brush to mix it up.
  5. Using the long-handled brush, gently scrub the bottom and sides of the tank using the cleanser-water mixture. You probably won't get it totally clean at this step, and that's fine.
  6. Let the cleaner sit in the tank for at least several hours.
  7. Scrub a bit more. The tank should be clean now.
  8. Release the float so the tank fills, and flush a few times (until the cleanser is gone).
  9. Replace lid. Enjoy.

Once you complete this process, your mysterious-odor issue should be solved. But before you dig in, just a few additional tips ...


Tips for Removing Odors From Your Toilet Tank

Before you begin your odor-eliminating endeavor, consider this:

Black mold: If you see a spotty black substance on the inside walls of your tank, this could be black mold. This type of mold can be a health hazard, so clean the tank immediately and make sure you get it all.


Resorting to bleach: Occasionally, the problem might be too intense to solve with mild cleansers, and bleach might be necessary. In this case, start diluted, with a cleanser of one part bleach to 10 parts water. Only increase the strength if you find you need to.

Protection: When working with bleach or other harsh chemicals, be safe about it. Wear gloves and a mask, make sure the bathroom has some airflow (an open window or a fan is fine) and never mix multiple chemicals in the tank.

Quick fix: Company coming over in an hour? Strike a match in the bathroom to temporarily mask any unpleasant smells with the less-unpleasant (and to some people, downright wonderful) smell of sulfur dioxide. A candle can work, too. Just don't leave it burning unattended.

And the best approach of all to freeing your bathroom of a musty tank smell? Once you clean the tank, follow the prevention method. Getting in there a couple of times a year will help ensure you don't have to do it in a pinch.

To learn more about bathroom odors, mold and other household cleaning topics, look over the links that follow.


Odor Toilet Tank FAQ

What can I put in my toilet tank to make it smell better?
White vinegar and baking soda in equal parts is a cost-efficient and effective means of getting rid odors in a toilet. Add them to the tank, mix them in and then use the toilet brush to gently scrub the tank. Let it sit for a few hours, scrub the tank again and flush. The ingredients break down minerals build up and have a deodorizing effect.
What causes rust in a toilet tank?
Rust stains in the toilet are caused by hard water that evaporates and leaves behind residue such as calcium and iron. These chemicals are hard to remove without cleaning products such as bleach.
Is it safe to put fabric softener in your toilet tank?
Laundry detergent and fabric softeners generally are not good for plumbing and can be harmful for the environment. In a worst-case scenario and if used regularly, they can actually destroy your plumbing and require costly repairs.
Is mold in a toilet tank dangerous?
Over 12 types of mold can grow in homes, some more dangerous than others. To get rid of mold in your toilet, use the vinegar and baking soda combination.

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