What is that HORRIBLE SMELL? VACANT Home, or went on a VACATION?

Services for Real Estate Pros with Retired Realtor / Retired Home Inspector

What is that HORRIBLE SMELL?

Selling a home and have to leave it vacant? Going on an extended vacation? Have a rarely used sink, tub or toilet in your home?

Be aware that failure to run water down ALL of the drains can cause sewer or septic tank gas to invade your home.

It is caused by the water in the S traps and/or P traps evaporating enough that it siphoned out (breaking the seal) leaving the traps empty.

 p trap

Sewer gas odor comes from the decomposition of waste, and when the traps in your sinks, laundry, showers, toilets or floor drains dry out, (The water IS the seal) sewer or septic tank gas comes in.

This gas is combustible, contains methane and can make you sick!

This will emit sewer gas odor into the home.

If you have a vacant home for sale, be sure to run water down ALL the drains occasionally to replace the water in the trap that evaporated.

When going on extended vacations, have someone check in and run some water in all the drains. Also run water occasionally in a tub, sink, shower, or toilet that you rarely use. This will replace the water that has evaporated, and prevent sewer or septic tank gases from invading your home.

If it's too late, and your home is overwhelmed with THAT Horrible Smell...

Place a FAN blowing the air outside.
Run water down the drain.
Add a deodorizer to the running water (Pine Sol, Mr. Clean, etc.)

Hope you found these tips helpful!


Posted by

Cheryl Dickson
970-462-5100 Wichita Falls, TX

Staff - Wichita Falls Association  of Realtors

eMail: InspectASAP@aol.com

Retired Realtor-GRI / Retired Home Inspector

Comments (20)

Cheryl Dickson
Retired Realtor / Retired Home Inspector - Oklahoma City, OK
Retired Realtor, GRI / Retired Home Inspector

A very special THANK YOU to Andrea Bedard, M.A.; an awesome Realtor in Central Maryland, and fellow RainMaker, for suggesting I write this blog post.

Nov 19, 2011 08:16 AM
Lorraine or Loretta Kratz
Crescent Moon Realty, Inc. & Land N Sea Auctions. - San Marcos, CA
Certified Negotiation Consultants


I have walked into vacant homes and wonder "WHY" does this home have a scent? I am glad that I found your advice. Thanks --wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving 2011.

Nov 19, 2011 06:28 PM
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Cheryl, Good info. This is also very common in floor drains also. Like you I recommend running some water into seldom used traps.

Nov 20, 2011 02:29 AM
Cheryl Dickson
Retired Realtor / Retired Home Inspector - Oklahoma City, OK
Retired Realtor, GRI / Retired Home Inspector

Lorraine, Your Welcome! Happy Thanksgiving wishes for you too.

Donald, Thanks for commenting! Yes, I find floor drains and laundry tubs are the most frequent causes.

Nov 20, 2011 03:21 AM
Karen Anne Stone
New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County - Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Real Estate

Sometimes Cheryl, that "awful smell" could be from the last Realtor who had the home listed... but had it way, waaaayyy overpriced... LOL.  Not a good plan.

Even though Thanksgiving is coming in a few days... it is never a good idea to have an "over-priced turkey" for a listing.  <dorky smile>

Nov 22, 2011 11:23 AM
Andrea Bedard
Thompson Company, REALTORS® 240.593.2860 - Silver Spring, MD
Fluent in Real Estate & German, M.A. ABR ASP CIPS

Cheryl, I'm glad you decided to put this into your very own blog! It's good stuff and I added it to my "must do checklist".

Miss Karen Anne is on to something here, too!


Nov 22, 2011 01:43 PM
Virginia Hepp - Mesquite NV REALTOR
Desert Gold Realty - Mesquite NV Homes For Sale - Mesquite, NV
Mesquite NV Homes and Neighborhoods - Search MLS

Cheryl - homes here in the desert suffer from the Bad Smell Syndrome very quickly.  The air here is so dry.  I have a lot of 2nd home owners who come in the winter.  oooh- oooh that smell!  I usually go over and run all the water, then pour a little Fabulouso down the drains and in the toilets for their welcome home.

Nov 22, 2011 02:25 PM
Lynn B. Friedman CRS Atlanta, GA 404-939-2727
Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty - Love our Great City - Love our Clients! Buckhead - Midtown - Westside - Atlanta, GA
Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers

Dear Cheryl,

Don't forget to remind folks of the drain under the washing machine as well. 
Unless the washer has actually "overflowed", the drain needs water added every so often.
The same p-trap situation exists there - not only when it is vacation-time - but even when at home!

Have a happy daay -

Nov 22, 2011 03:30 PM
Tim Bradley
Contour Investment Properties - Jackson Hole, WY
Commercial Real Estate Expert in Jackson Hole, WY

Yep, I've smelled that smell! Sometimes it takes me a week to figure out that the basement floor drain is the culprit...

Nov 22, 2011 03:52 PM
Joni Bailey
101 Main St. Realty - Huntsville, TX
Your Huntsville / Lake Livingston Area REALTOR®

This would be a great post for our area as we have a lot of weekenders. Will re-blog!!

Nov 22, 2011 11:53 PM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Cheryl -- excellent advice --- sometimes you go into a property and something is just a bit off (or is that off-putting).   It's a simple and very effective fix.  

Nov 23, 2011 08:36 AM
Cheryl Dickson
Retired Realtor / Retired Home Inspector - Oklahoma City, OK
Retired Realtor, GRI / Retired Home Inspector

Karen, You're a Hoot! Yes but that is not only a bad smell, it also leaves a bad taste, and a whole lot of work for the next listing agent!

Andrea, Thank You for the nudge, I needed that. I'm glad you suggested I follow thru and post it.

Virginia, that's so nice of you, and I'm gonna check out that Fabulouso stuff, Pine Sol is a bit strong.

Lynn, That's the first time I ever came across that smell, It was from the Washing Machine drain, and took me awhile to find it. Great heads up! It is often the offender!

Tim, It's so odd that it's often difficult to pinpoint the source, but floor drains are another main offender for sure. I've spent quite awhile sometimes locating the source of the odor, especially if it just barely has evaporated.

Joni, Thank You! Your support is so appreciated, hope it helps some of the weekenders!

Mike, That's the best part! It's not very often that we can "FIX" something just by simply turning on the water.

THANK YOU all, for the comments and support! :)

Nov 25, 2011 04:04 PM
Dawn Crawley
Dawn Crawley Realty - Pinehurst, NC
Find Pinehurst Homes

What a great reminder and a good lesson for those who might not think of it. I'm going to go run some water down the sinks in the bathrooms I don't use often right now:) I'll also remind my clients!

Nov 27, 2011 02:52 AM
Cheryl Dickson
Retired Realtor / Retired Home Inspector - Oklahoma City, OK
Retired Realtor, GRI / Retired Home Inspector

Dawn, Now that you mention it, I've gotta do the same in the garage laundry sink. I ALWAYS forget that one is out there, as there is one in the laundry room in the house. It reminds me from time to time tho! LOL!

Nov 28, 2011 01:12 AM
Susan Neal
RE/MAX Gold, Fair Oaks - Fair Oaks, CA
Fair Oaks CA & Sacramento Area Real Estate Broker

Hi Cheryl - This is great advice.  Occasionally when I am showing property I will pick up a smell, and to keep it from getting worse, I run a bit of water in the sinks.  Some listing agents don't seem to visit their vacant listings very often, which is a mistake because they might lose some offers from folks who are turned off by the smell.

Nov 30, 2011 12:10 PM
Kathy Sheehan
Bay Equity, LLC 770-634-4021 - Atlanta, GA
Senior Loan Officer

This is very good advice especially for agents with vacant listings.

Nov 30, 2011 12:12 PM
Cheryl Dickson
Retired Realtor / Retired Home Inspector - Oklahoma City, OK
Retired Realtor, GRI / Retired Home Inspector

Susan and Kathy, Thank You. Yes, this happens ALL the time on vacant properties. As soon as you run water and fill the trap, it will STOP the odor from entering, then to remove it from the house, I open up everything and air it out.

Nov 30, 2011 02:46 PM
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA

That is a great advice, it is very important not to disconnect utilities during sale. 

Oct 20, 2018 01:04 AM
Cheryl Dickson
Retired Realtor / Retired Home Inspector - Oklahoma City, OK
Retired Realtor, GRI / Retired Home Inspector

Thank you Inna, I do prefer to have them on, because you can then keep the home temperature comfy in the summer and avoid freezing pipes in the winter. Also easier to add water to all the drains, so you don't have to haul water in.

Aug 19, 2019 03:56 PM