What Does Sewer Gas Smell Like?

Sewer gas is normally collected in sewage systems, due to decomposition of industrial waste and organic household. The gas includes carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, esters, ammonia, methane, and hydrogen sulfide. It is a collection of toxic and non-toxic gasses. Do you think that you smell sewer gas in your house every now and then? Is it sewer gasses, really? What does it smell like?

What Does Sewer Gas Smell Like?

It has an odor of a rotten egg, mainly coming from the gas – hydrogen sulfide. Rarely, ammonia can be formed. All the other gasses mentioned above are odorless.

The odor threshold for hydrogen sulfide is between 0.001 and 0.01 parts per million (ppm). This is an extremely low concentration. Odor threshold is the lowest concentration of a specific gas that can be detected with the nose.

Health Effects of Expose to Sewer Gas

After a sewer gas exposure, the possible risks and health effects can occur:

  • Asphyxiation – It can occur when concentrations of methane in the air are higher than normal, decreasing the normal amount of oxygen in the air a person breathes. Signs and symptoms of a lack of oxygen include nausea, dizziness, headache, and unconsciousness. If the levels of oxygen concentration drop below 12%, death asphyxiation and death can occur very quickly.
  • Hydrogen Sulfide Poisoning – You already know the answer to "What does sewer gas smell like?" In cases of an exposure to low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, the following signs and symptoms occur: cough, sore throat, difficulties breathing and shortness of breath, eye irritation, fluid accumulation in the lungs, nausea, dizziness, headache, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, irritability, loss of concentration or poor memory. In cases when there is an extreme and high concentration of hydrogen sulfide gas, death occurs very quickly.
  • Explosion and Fire – Hydrogen sulfide and methane are both flammable and explosive gasses. A turning light, a small spark, a cigarette lighter or a match can lead to an explosion and fire when these gasses are present in the air.

What Can the Sewer Gas in Your Home Come From?

What does sewer gas smell like and what are the common sources of sewer gas in a home? The common causes are listed below:

  • Sewer Pipe Leak – It usually occurs due to rust, improper sewer vent locations, mechanical damage, missing waste pipe venting, pipe joint leaks, etc. 
  • Partial Septic Blockage – It can lead to the odor generation in or out of the building. The odor is more noticeable due to different seasonal wind patterns or warm weather.
  • Drain Trap Odors – They occur due to a trapped siphonage, a blocked sewer vent pipe or a dry trap. This problem can get worse in days with cold weather.
  • Toilet Sewer Gas Leaks – They occur if the toilet is not sealed correctly, if the wax ring is worn out or if the anchor bolts loosen up. 
  • Roof Vent Pipes – They should be checked constantly for any debris such as leaves, ice, dead animals or bird nests.
  • Frozen Septic Fields – They occur in very cold weather, especially when the system is not in regular use. 
  • Other Sulfur Type Gas Odors – The odor of a private well can contain sulfur and have the characteristic rotten egg odor. This is likely in cases when the water is contaminated with bacteria or hydrogen sulfide.

What to Do If You Smell Sewer Gas in Your Home

What does sewer gas smell like? What if you smell the gas in your home? Once you smell sewer gas in your home, you should try to locate its source. Check your drains, such as a basement floor drain, or your roof plumbing stack vent. If you can’t locate the source of the sewer gas by yourself, call a plumber. Normally, a plumber will be able to find the source of the sewer gas and suggest you options of how to correct this problem. Often, a home inspection is offered from some local public health departments.

  • While trying to locate the source of the sewer gas, make sure to keep your windows open. It keeps your air clean and fresh as much as possible.
  • If the smell is intense and you think that high concentrations of sewer gas are accumulated in your home, you should evacuate your families. It’s not safe living in such a home anymore until the problem is solved.
  • Make sure not to use any matches, cigarette lighters or create a spark from an electric appliance as there may be risks of explosion. 
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