Why the Bathroom in Your Chinese Apartment Smells Awful (And How to Fix It)

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Nope, your poops aren’t suddenly waaay smellier now that you live in China (well actually, maybe they are). And it’s not just you: bathrooms often do smell worse here. If you’ve experienced a gag-reflex-inducing, sulphury, sewer smell emanating from your bathroom, that no deed of yours could ever explain, you know what we’re talking about. The good news is that there is a simple explanation for the problem, and a number of ways to deal with it.

READ: Dip It Low: How Mastering the Squat Toilet Will Improve Your Life

Know thine enemy 

Ready for a plumbing 101? Wastewater from showers, toilets, and sinks in individual apartments flow into underground sewer systems via one or more central vertical pipes. The top of the pipe usually vents out the roof into the outside air, while the bottom leads directly to the sewer. In most of the Western world, the wastewater plumbing systems incorporate P-traps, also known as U-bends, into every apartment. In fact, it’s illegal in many countries not to install them. Aside from catching precious items of jewelry that have been accidentally washed down the drain, traps are essential in creating a barrier between the sewer pipes and your apartment, which is created when an adequate level of water fills the ‘u’-shaped part. This barrier prevents smelly (and dangerous) sewer gasses from finding their way back up into your home. 

As you may have already guessed, many older Chinese buildings simply don’t have this plumbing feature, and the lack of a P-trap is the most likely (but perhaps not only) cause of bad smells in your bathroom. Short of ripping up the tiles and going all DIY on your apartment yourself, to counter this problem, the simplest thing to do is to create a series of physical barriers. 

The most likely culprits for bad smells are the shower drain, the washing machine drain, and the bathroom sink. Despite their bad reputations, toilets (which already have a water barrier) are actually not commonly the source of that special smell that we all know and love. 

So how exactly do you block the drains? Here are some handy products that we’ve tested around the Beijinger office over the years:

For the shower drain

For the washing machine drain

For the hand basin

But before you plug everything up…  

Clean the drains

Have a good ole dig around for trapped hair and built-up soap scum, and please, stop buying Draino. It’s unnecessarily aggressive, and terrible for the environment. Our favorite alternative is cheap, effective, non-toxic, and uses a combination of salt and hot water. Click here for more details

Now that you’ve got everything clean and tidy, it’s time to make new habits, namely… 

Stop flushing toilet paper

We know, we know, you think it’s gross. You know what else is gross? Plunging your clogged pipes every single day. The pipes in most Beijing buildings are just too narrow and old to deal with paper. Purchase a small bin with a flip lid, some biodegradable bin liners, and stash the paper there. You’ll get used to it. 

Create a smell-positive environment

Now you’ve got the bad smells out, you can treat your bathroom to the scent profile that it deserves with diffusers, incense, and scented candles. Not sure where to start? We’re quite partial to this Justin Trudeau-scented number, or if you like your design choices to be extremely literal, this one which smells like a urinal cake.

Just want the place to smell like absolutely nothing at all? Try a set of activated bamboo charcoal, which is an effective odor absorber.

Happy poopin’ Beijing! 

READ: 10 Ways to Make Your Home More Pollution Proof

Photos: the Beijinger, Baopals

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