Ask a Plumbing Expert: Jon in Galt, CA Writes, “Why Does My Shower Water Smell Like Rotten Eggs?”

why does my shower drain smell like rotten eggs galtJon in Galt, CA hasn’t been enjoying any hot showers as of late, mostly because his shower has started to smell like rotten eggs whenever he uses it. He says:

“A few months ago, I started to notice something was odd about my shower water. Every time I shower, the entire bathroom smells like rotten eggs. This smell has gotten steadily worse, although I think it’s stopped now because, to be honest, I can’t imagine it getting any more pungent. Where is this smell coming from—and how can I get rid of it?”

Jon, I know the exact smell you’re talking about, and it’s a bad one. There’s good news, though. I can tell you just what the cause is and how we can start getting it fixed so you can get back to enjoying relaxing showers, rather than ones forcing you to plug your nose.

Bad News Bacteria

Sulfate-reducing bacteria, a bunch of nasty guys that, other than their offensive scent, are mostly harmless, are usually the cause of a rotten egg smell in the shower. They live in damp places without air creating hydrogen sulfide gas as a byproduct of their appetite for sulfate minerals. And, that hydrogen sulfide gas smells a whole lot like rotten eggs.

What’s likely happening in Jon’s case is that minerals in the ground are soaking into his water and the bacteria are feeding on them. The cause, however, is the easy thing to figure out. What’s a lot trickier is finding out where the bacteria are living since they’re microscopic and invisible to the eye. There are three places where they’re commonly found:

  • Inside a shower drain
  • Inside a hot water heater
  • Inside an actual water source

The thing is, if you can find the bacteria, they’re pretty simple to clean. You can use a baking soda and vinegar mix, hydrogen peroxide, or an enzyme cleaner. But the problem with two out of three of those places is that Jon isn’t going to be able to clean them easily by himself, if he’s able to clean them at all. More than likely, Jon will have to call a professional to get rid of that rotten smell.

Rid Yourself of Rotten Eggs

As I mentioned above, two of the three potential problem areas where bacteria is housed require complex measures to clean. The third, however, does not. So, first try cleaning your shower thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide, being sure to dump some down the drain. If the smell persists, you’ll need to search deeper for its cause. Chances are this isn’t Jon’s problem since he tends to get a whiff of rotten eggs after a shower, rather than at all times.

If cleaning your shower drain doesn’t work, the most common place for the smell to be coming from is inside the hot water heater, which is why he smells it whenever he showers. There’s an easy way for Jon to figure out if that’s the actual root cause; he just has to run the shower with cold water for 5 to 10 minutes, then sniff. If he doesn’t smell rotten eggs, the odor is without question due to sulfate-reducing bacteria growing inside the water heater. I’d say 9 times out of 10, this will be the case. And it’s a pretty easy fix, one any trained plumber can handle.

Water Filtration: A Fantastic Fix

The hot water heater isn’t the only possible place inside Jon’s plumbing system where this odorous bacteria might be living, though. If the rotten egg smell happens after running cold water through the shower, that means the bacteria is elsewhere, likely in the actual water source. And there are two potential sources for a home’s water—a well or the city’s supply.

If Jon gets his water from a well, he’ll want to call a professional to have it drained and properly cleaned. But if his water source is the city water supply, things become a bit more complicated, though not hopeless. There’s no way for Jon to clean up the city’s water, so he has to focus on the things he can control. I’d recommend investing in a water filtration system for his home. Or, if there’s an existing system, think about bringing in a professional plumber to help you upgrade to a better or more efficient one.

So, Jon has a bacteria problem on his hands, or, to be more precise, somewhere in his plumbing system. That’s the bad news. The good news is, other than a rotten egg smell, these bacteria don’t pose any great danger to Jon. He will, of course, want to go ahead and get it fixed, unless he wants to shower with his nose plugged forever.

Seeing as most of the time this unfortunate stench happens to come from either the water heater, a well, or the city water supply, Jon is probably going to be unable to fix it without some help. He’ll want to hire a trained professional. Despite what Jon’s nose is telling him, there isn’t a cache of rotting eggs down in his pipes. I’ve seen things in my time as a plumber, but I’ve yet to see that.

Stop showering with your nose plugged. Contact the professionals at Bell Brothers today to rid yourself of that rotten egg smell.