How to Prevent Odors in Toilets

woman pointing at stinky toilet
We don't have to tell you that toilets are stinky and no fun to clean. We can tell you how to make it a little easier.
Photodisc/Getty Images

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our attempts to keep the bathroom clean and smelling fresh just go down the toilet. Bubbly, foamy scrubs, battery-powered cleaning brushes, super-powered drops and good old-fashioned muscle power might get the toilet clean and odor-free for a time, but hours or even minutes later, it smells like a Porta-John.

We all know what causes odors in the bathroom, but what causes toilets to hold and re-create them over and over again? A constant state of wetness can be part of the problem, with curves and upside-down channels of cool porcelain creating a home for mold and bacteria growth. Not cleaning often enough is often a culprit, depending on the amount of traffic to your toilet. And the types of products used to clean the toilet and area around it also contribute.


Let's tackle this problem and flesh -- or flush -- out some ideas for preventing odors in the first place.

Soaping and Rinsing the Toilet

Let's jump from the toilet to the kitchen sink for a minute. Have you ever had a kitchen dish sponge develop an odor after just a couple of uses? It can happen when we've left it sitting in a pool of water and soap, and some blame the smell on certain brands of dish soap, which somehow speed up kitchen-sponge odor. Whatever the reason for this rapid smelliness, the same happens in the bathroom, but without the sponge: Odors start or come back very quickly even after a good cleaning.

One key might be in the products and amount of water used. Products only work as well as they're used and rinsed. Spraying something on without thoroughly scrubbing and rinsing can leave a layer of gummy "cleaner" that merely looks clean but's actually attracting more mold and keeping old bacteria hanging on with a vengeance.


Unfortunately, some of the stronger and more tacky-feeling cleansers just sit on the bowl, inside and out, and the surfaces never get clean. Cleaners with fewer ingredients, such as more natural or homemade products with citrus, vinegar or baking soda compounds, may be worth a try. Liquid castile soap is another option. Generally, these go on thinner and may require a little more elbow-grease at the start of using them, but over time they prevent malodorous buildup.

Tips for Keeping Your Toilet Smelling Fresh

cleaning toilet
Using a water-soluble, or easily dissolved, cleanser and some muscle power goes a long way toward preventing odors in and around the toilet.
Polka Dot/Thinkstock

Using a water-soluble, or easily dissolved, cleanser and some muscle power goes a long way toward preventing odors in and around the toilet, and doing it often enough can keep smells away longer because there is less time for mold and gunk to form on top of other bacteria and junk. Once a week is probably enough for low-volume households, but if you have a family of six or share a house with four roommates, for instance, you may want to rotate bowl-cleaning duties a couple of times a week. No matter the household size, you can even do a quick wipe-down daily to avoid a more intensive cleaning later.

Adding disinfectants after cleaning (and being careful not to mix bleach with other chemicals) cuts down on the germ factors behind odors. Deodorizers also eliminate unwanted aromas by masking or neutralizing odors but don't do much, if anything in the way of cleaning. Some home plumbing systems have additional smells just because of the water source or system, such as septic tanks or well-water versus sewers, but neutralizers can help cut down on those as well.


Despite how it looks in advertising, having a clean and odor-free toilet takes a little work and some regular appointments with a toilet brush. If only it were as easy as dropping in a tablet, flushing up a tank of cool, blue water and seeing flowers float up from the bowl.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Hevrdejs, Judy. "How to Clean a Bathroom." July 1, 2011. (May 19, 2012)
  • Joliet, Laure. "How to Clean Your Toilet." Jan. 19, 2011. (May 19, 2012)
  • Stewart. Martha. "Bathroom Cleaning Tips." 2012. May 18, 2012.
  • "Clean Up Your Act: All Natural Homemade Cleaners." Oct. 21, 2009. (May 18, 2012)