Waging War Against Sink Smells And Gasoline Pants

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

My kitchen sink smells kind of terrible. I do not have a disposal, so I use a drain catcher, which I empty into the garbage quite regularly. I do think my drain is blocked, but nothing seems to really freshen it. I've tried dumping baking soda down the drain and sometimes I just like to sprinkle it around like fairy dust after I wash some dishes because maybe *this time* it will work. What do you suggest?

Like you said, the drain is the problem. But just a super quick check just in case … unscrew the spout cap and check to make sure that it and the screen haven't grown some fungus. The only reason I say that is that you're in a rental, and if it was unoccupied for some time the faucet might not have been run, which means that a small amount of standing water might have collected, evaporated and left behind a bit of funky-smelling mold. It's a longshot, but worth mentioning before we talk about how to get that drain clean. Because really, that's what's causing your problems.

As is usually the case, I've got some options for you to consider. We'll take them in order of how much of a PITA they are.

Baking Soda & Vinegar

Your instinct that baking soda was a good thing to put down that stinking drain was right on, it is a marvelous deodorizer. What it won't do, of its own accord at least, is clear a drain and since you're pretty sure you've got some stoppage on your hands that's what needs to be addressed. And the eruption of a baking soda & vinegar volcano will help clear things up, especially in a light-clog situation. So: sprinkle a liberal amount of baking soda, say a half cup or so, into that drain and follow it with about the same amount of white vinegar. You can more or less eyeball the measurements, but I like to give a ballpark amount in the spirit of providing as thorough an answer as possible. As you might imagine, thoroughness is an important thing to a loon such as myself. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Clean People. We're frickin' nuts.

You might also want to grab a bottle brush and use it to give the walls of the drain a good scrubbing. There might be some build up of food particles that got past the drain catcher, and sloughing that off will eliminate any smells that debris may be contributing to the situation.

Commercial Drain Clearers

These are your Dranos, your Liquid-Plumrs, Thrift Drain Cleaner, those sorts. Okay look, I'm gonna level with you because we're all pals here: these things work. But they're nasty on the environment and can, with time and excessive usage, also be nasty on pipes too. Buuuuuuuuuuuut … they work. So I mention them and shall leave the moralizing in re our Great Green Earth and your pipage situation to you to sort through.

Plunger

Most of us will have a plunger in the home, which makes it a pretty easy option for unclogging a sink drain. Plug the sink, fill it about halfway up with water, remove the plug and start plunging. That ought to do it for ya!

Snaking

If things are really, really bad you might have to resort to snaking the drain. Which is a foul thing to have to do, though really fairly easy. From the sound of it, though, the clog isn't bad enough to require the use of a snake; if you'd reported a problem with water backing up I'd push the snake on you moreso than I am. Quick primer on snaking a drain: the type of snake you want for sink (or tub) drains is a cable auger; closet augers are the ones you'd use on a toilet. For the rest of the instructions I'm sending you over to the fine folks at This Old House—truth be told, they're far handier than am I.

I'm having trouble getting diesel out of my fiance's EMT uniform pants—he was gassin' up the ambulance when he was startled, and spilled pure diesel down his right leg.

He rinsed the pants off at the firehouse and wore them home with the gross diesel residue. After I smelled how foul they were, I spot cleaned (and by "spot" I mean "whole right leg") the pants with a 5:1 Pine Sol solution, and then let them soak for a couple hours with Pine Sol and warm water. They seemed ... better, so I decided to wash them in the machine with unscented detergent, some borax, and the Pine Sol. When the pants came out smelling only of Pine Sol, I patted myself on the back and put them in the dryer on low heat.

Here's the thing, Jolie: it was like the pants had an EVIL TWIN. The second I took this THING out of the dryer, it was like I was back to square one. Like a diffuse whiff of old gas station and broken dreams. Can the pants be saved? He's a volunteer EMT with a backup pair of pants, but it's an avocation that's hard on the extremities, and he really needs a second pair to switch to after gross times in the ambulance.

There's a phenomenon attendant to this job in which, in the span of a few weeks, I'll receive several thematically similar questions for no apparent reason. Like, it's normal at the start of the summer to get a bunch of questions about bathing suits and then later on in the season for the dreaded bug horror stories to start rolling in, but this is something else entirely.

I mention it today because it's one of my favorite quirks of this very weird gig that I love so much and also because recently "Help! I spilled gasoline on my clothes!" seemed to happen to everyone all at once. So odd! And yet? Entirely delightful.

I also mention it because the first person out of the gate sent her query in along with some research she'd done on her own, asking which of these many (many, many) suggestions she'd read about would be the best option for her. And hey look, I'm a fun loving Clean Person, I'm happy to peruse any old cool links you turn up on our vast internet and offer my thoughts on the suggestions within, no prob! So I did, and of the tips the one I thought held the most promise was the one advocating for the use of Simple Green. I was also real, real curious about the Coke trick, though the feedback on that was so mixed that I suspect it to be an old wives tale without merit. BUT! (That's a Big But, you see?!) It's worth asking you: Has anyone had great luck with using a can of Coke to eliminate gasoline smells in clothing?

There was, however, one product that wasn't mentioned in that fairly epic display of laundering advice that I sort of knew was being grossly overlooked, and that product is Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Liquid Soap. So I mentioned it. She tried it. And that first person who was afflicted with the gasoline-smelling clothes reported back that it worked like crazy good.

I know it's been a long road to getting to the answer here. But I like a good story! Also, maybe it's cool for you to see how the sausage is made? I love a reader collaboration it's, like, so fun for me. And I'm blessed with ridiculously fun and smart and generous readers who often work with me in a way that lets me go back out to the entire audience and say, "HEY! THIS THING WORKED!!"

And oh man, do I ever love it when that happens.

Now we find ourselves back with our LW, whose correspondence I included especially for its very sage advice regarding the treatment of grease stains. We've def. talked about this before but Pine Sol (and Lestoil, which is harder to find, sadly) are two GREAT products to know about for treating greasy or oily stains on launderable items. Let's all take a moment to commend her for her good thinking and stain removal skills.

The other really good thing our LW did was that she pre-soaked the items in a wash solution before putting them into her washing machine. This is really important when you're dealing with gasoline, or anything flammable that's gotten into your clothes, and it's so important that I'm worried you might glaze over during this part so here I am yelling at you to make you pay attention:

IF YOUR CLOTHES HAVE GOTTEN SOAKED IN ANYTHING FLAMMABLE YOU MUST MUST MUST PRE-LAUNDER THEM BEFORE YOU TRY TO WASH THEM IN ANY SORT OF MACHINE THAT INVOLVES GAS OR ELECTRICITY OR HEAT.

Just … it might probably mostly be fine but let's not muck around with it. I don't need your darn dryer exploding on me. And you definitely don't need it exploding on you!

And yet! I still haven't really answered the question here and that's mostly because the answer is just Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Liquid Soap. And I say that with authority, since I now have two official success stories to point to.

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, 25 February 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.

Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.