How do I de-stench my toilet without killing my cat?
March 20, 2007 2:47 PM   Subscribe

ToiletFilter: How do I de-stenchify a smelly toilet and not kill my cat in the process?

I just moved into an apartment with a tiny bathroom and a toilet reeking of old pee (the bathroom is lovely in all other aspects). I really would like to be rid of the smell. The toilet bowl itself is clean, and I'm guessing the stench is coming from the tank or the pipes (or the goblins).

I've thought of putting some kind of Magic Toilet Cleaning Tablet (like 2000 Flushes) in there, but the problem with this is white and has four paws. My cat drinks out of the toilet. I can't stop her. I can't train my husband to always close the lid. Trying to do either would be trading the stench problem for a re-programming another mammal problem.

So, what products or methods can I use to get rid of the stench, but not kill the cat?
posted by grapefruitmoon to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
Replacing a toilet is actually a pretty easy job for a DIY with even just a little experience. I haven't priced toilets lately but I'd say you could get a basic model for like $70. I don't know how much the trouble is really worth it to you, but I just wanted to point out that you are not stuck with the toilet that came with the place. I know you're renting, but I can't imagine any lardlord would be that upset about such an improvement. Unless you install a hot pink toilet or something.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:09 PM on March 20, 2007

Oh and I forgot to mention that the problem could just be that the drain isn't sealed properly, and you're getting a wiff of the sewer gasses. In that case you can just replace the wax seal for like $5 and fix the problem.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:14 PM on March 20, 2007

I wouldn't buy a toilet for less than $200 without doing some serious research - the new low flush toilets, which are pretty much mandatory across North America, vary quite a bit in quality and you don't want to get stuck with always plunging.

Is there caulking along the base of the toilet where it meets the floor? You might be able to turn off the water and take apart the toilet to clean underneath it - take the seat off too and clean the bolts holding it all together. Make sure you buy a new $10 wax ring because you will need a new one when you reinstall it.
posted by jeffmik at 3:18 PM on March 20, 2007

Are you sure it's the inside of the toilet? The outside -- where it rests on the floor -- could be mighty stinky if the former residents were males with bad aim. I can't think how the tank could get pee in it (well, I can, but I choose not to). Seconding Rhomboid that replacing the wax seal might fix it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:19 PM on March 20, 2007

Toilets aren't porous, so it's hard to imagine that the toilet itself is smelly (assuming that you have cleaned it thoroughly, including down behind it, and the gap between the tank and the bowl) -- the porcelain can't absorb odors or liquids. It's more likely that the previous tenant had really poor aim and saturated the floor or walls near the toilet. You can try cleaning those areas really thoroughly, but you may need to repaint to get the smell away. So I would suggest first doing the most thorough and vigorous bathroom cleaning you have ever done in your entire life, and if that doesn't work either complain to the landlord, hoping for repainting or reflooring, or just mask the smell with potpourri or an air-freshener.
posted by Forktine at 3:20 PM on March 20, 2007

My mother swears by cleaning things like pet pee with vinegar. I don't know if pouring some white vinegar into the toilet/tank would help with the problem or not.

Cats are smart animals. If you use the toilet tablet and the water smells/tastes all cloroxy, the cat isn't going to drink out of it. One little taste won't kill the cat and should be enough for the animal to get the "this is not a water source" message.
posted by necessitas at 3:25 PM on March 20, 2007

Men can learn to close the lid. Show your husband the article on the plume effect.

If a liberal application of bleach, and running a strong solution of bleach through a couple of times does not kill the smell, then I don't believe it's the toilet at fault. It might be underneath, in which case you'd have to lift it up and clean under it. If it's soaked into the underlayment, then you'll need to throw yourself on your landlord's mercy.
posted by adamrice at 3:26 PM on March 20, 2007

By the way, if you do go the in-bowl cleaner route, don't get the kind that's a puck that you just drop into or clip onto the tank. This exposes all the valve and flush mechanisms in the tank to the harsh chemicals, causing them to fail sooner. Instead try something like this that injects the cleaning solution into the bowl only, keeping it out of the tank.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:40 PM on March 20, 2007

If you want to go a natural route, before going all DIY on ripping up the floor, get some Orange Essential Oil. (Also, Grapefruit, Lime and Lemon.) All citrus oils are naturally disinfecting and deodorizing. Orange oil is not expensive, the others depend on supplier, but none of them are OMGWTF prices. (Neroli, they aren't.)

What I would recommend is using orange oil at full strength, and with a candy decorating bottle (available in grocery or craft stores) or a veterinary syringe (available at feed stores), and applying a "bead", ala caulk bead, to the caulk line around the potty. Caulk is often more porous than you might think it would be.

Then make a solution with 1 oz orange oil (other citrus oil) to 4 oz water in a spray bottle. Using a fine mist, spray down the walls and the floor. Let dry. You may want to do that twice or thrice.

If that doesn't fix need the landlord to come replace the flooring, and possibly replace the drywall.

Let me know if you can't find EOs locally, and I'll hook you up.
posted by dejah420 at 4:10 PM on March 20, 2007

Cats are smart animals. If you use the toilet tablet and the water smells/tastes all cloroxy, the cat isn't going to drink out of it. One little taste won't kill the cat and should be enough for the animal to get the "this is not a water source" message.

I second this notion, as a general rule, but also agree with others that suggest your problem likely isn't the inside of the toilet.
posted by The God Complex at 4:38 PM on March 20, 2007

Um, did you not see the episode of Golden Girls where they tried to install their own toilet? Granted you might not be four retirees for whom anything and everything you do results in grosteque misadventure. But still. It's just a warning. I'd hire a plumber.
posted by sneakin at 6:35 PM on March 20, 2007

If you can identify the source of the smell, you might try Nature's Miracle. This stuff works wonders on cat pee, and claims to be safe for pets and humans. There are other brands of similar stuff, but none of the ones I've tried have even come close in terms of effectiveness. The cleaner itself is, as far as I can tell, odorless.
posted by Caviar at 6:38 PM on March 20, 2007

In the 90s, our apt building replaced old flush-o-meter toilets with low-flow toilets and we apparently bought some cheap toilets that weren't completely glazed up under the lip of the bowl. Trust me-- you want a full glaze. Disgusting. I'd do a good scour under there (with a stiff brush and an empty stomach) and be sure you haven't come upon one of these ill-made things being foisted off on yuppies as eco-friendly.
posted by eve harrington at 7:18 PM on March 20, 2007 I got one of these things about a week ago. I used the spray bottle to clean out my trash compactor and I have to say that it really knocked the smell completely out and has no chemical side effects. It has some other benefits you can check out on the page.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2007

You could install a self-closing toilet seat.

I support the smell's-outside-the-bowl theory. Don't forget the seat. If it's painted wood, it may have absorbed some smell. You can replace it with a basic seat for $10 or so.
posted by chazlarson at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2007

I second jeffmik regarding cheap toilets. We went that route in our new apartment (they said they would reimburse us if it was under $100). Not a good deal - the plunger probably gets used 2-3 times per week. We should have bought a better one and asked them to only reimburse the first $100.

However, installing it ourselves definitely was pretty simple (though we did have the help of a friend who had done it before. Ok, my husband had the help....)
posted by timepiece at 8:22 AM on March 21, 2007

I'm assuming the use of the word 'apartment' rather than 'condo' implies it's a rental and grapefruitmoon is not going to be replacing any toilets.

I second the above vinegar suggestion. Buy a liter of white vinegar and a generic spray bottle and spritz the hell out of everything. Feel free to let it stand and soak on the tiles - grout can pick up and retain a lot of stuff if it's not sealed.
posted by phearlez at 11:27 AM on March 21, 2007

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