So your bathroom smells like pee…

Some people offer slippers or nice, cushy socks to guests who enter their homes. The floors stay pristine in their unscuffed beauty, and the guests are comfy.

Well, it’s way too late for our floors. That ship sailed a decade ago, and these days we regularly beg our guests to remain shod. There are two things that are unknowable: 1) the day and time that Jesus will return to take us to Glory, and 2) the mysterious ways of the omnipresent goo and gunk into which you will certainly step at my house. For Heaven’s sake, people, keep your shoes on.

But filthy floors don’t mean I should relinquish my hostess duties entirely, and the tremendous lowering of my standards doesn’t mean I can’t try to accommodate my guests in new and meaningful ways. And that’s why I’ve decided, rather than a Longaberger basket of funky, fun, fuzzy socks, I will heretofore keep a giant tub of Vicks VapoRub at my front door and offer an undernose schmear to any brave enough to enter.

The truth is, I can clean my house by shoving things in closets and cupboards like the best of ’em. I can pull off parties and events, and only the people who come over very regularly know to comment on the difference between my Usual Housekeeping and my Presentable Housekeeping. Only my family, for example, watched me move my couch last Thanksgiving to make way for the Thanksgiving Table and scrape lakes of petrified milk from our cheapest of the cheap Ikea laminate floors.

My fake-it method of housekeeping, though, loses steam when it comes to the bathrooms.

THE BATHROOMS, you guys. The bathrooms which we let our boys use, and which I suspect will someday require a thorough gutting down to and beyond the subfloor in order to eliminate the persistent smell of pee. And I’ve tried – I’ve tried – to stuff the urine smell into closets and cupboards along with all the other superfluous clutter, but it refuses to be stuffed and lets itself out from its prison to run roughshod over my guests.

I’ve Febreezed.

I’ve lit smelly candles that give people blinding headaches.

I’ve shut the door and prayed this prayer,

Dear Jesus,

Let no one need to use my potty.


But Jesus is funny about the prayers he answers in the affirmative and the ones he doesn’t.  And Jesus remains very stubborn about acting like the magic wand I think he should be.

So my bathrooms are consistently hideous and terrifying, and I’m consistently embarrassed that I can’t completely cover up the smell.

I came home from camp on Saturday, and the house was clean. The clutter was picked up. The dishes were done.

It was almost bliss.

Except for the bathrooms.

Of course.

Because they’re a force of nature.

Even the upstairs bathroom. The one that’s out of the way. The one that’s seldom used but manages to smell like old pee anyway because that’s the popular thing for bathrooms in our house to do, and, I swear, if the downstairs bathroom jumped off a bridge, then the upstairs bathroom would jump, too.

Except this time, the upstairs bathroom smelled even worse than old pee.

It smelled like the Old Pee invited his friends over for a party after which they all vomited, passed out, died, and left their rotten pee corpses behind for giggles.

And that’s when Greg discovered it.

The Ocean of Urine.

In the bathtub.

With a washcloth blocking the drain.

Because someone, or as I like to call them, someones, thought it would be a super fun game to see how high, over days and days and with a cleverly blocked drain, they could fill a bathtub with pee.

The answer, for those of you keeping track at home, is about 1/8″.


About an eighth of an inch of urine at the high spot, accounting for the crusty, ring-around-the-tub evaporation effect.

I tell you this story because I love you, friends.

I love you. I do.

And I know that we mamas sometimes hang our heads, shame-faced, over our housekeeping shortcomings.

We blame ourselves for shoving clutter into closets and faking clean houses.

We pray that no one will need to use our potties.

And we apologize, apologize, apologize for our imperfections, unconsciously raising the bar of comparison higher and higher.

But I am here to tell you, friends, if your bathroom smells like perpetual pee, you are not alone.

And if you lack a Pee Ocean in your tub, you are, in fact, ahead of the game. You should sit straighter, mama, and hold your head high and banish shame.

And me, too.

Me, too, even with my anointed tub. I will also banish shame to the same place my pride and my dignity went – never to be seen or heard from again – ’cause who needs ’em?

As for me and my house, we will pray to Jesus. And arm ourselves with Lysol. And burn our tubs to the ground. (Or at least douse them in enough chemicals to ruin the local water supply for the next 20 years.) And offer our guests generous schmears of VapoRub for their upper lips. Because I will do what I can do, and I will release what I can’t do, and I will  live life love-loving my little pee-ers.

The End

Except, thank you, Greg, for taking on the Ocean. You really took one for the team. True truth: men who clean up oceans of pee are sexy, sexy beasts. (x’s and o’s, baby. x’s and o’s.)

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. […] For the record, I don’t always smell bad. Sometimes they say I smell like skin or like the sun or like a campfire or like the bathtub, though that last one certainly isn’t always a good thing. […]

  2. I personally think all males should have to pee sitting down!

  3. Every mom can relate to this post. I mean I think that it happens in every family. The toilet does smell like pee especially when the kids are so young. Such a common issue around.

  4. oh my! Again, our worlds travel a parallel course! I have recently tracked the overwhelming stale urine smell to my 6 year old’s room. Apparently waking up in the middle of the night and walking across the hall…ACROSS THE HALL! to the bathroom is too difficult, so much easier to pee in your garbage can and HIDE IT FOR WEEKS AT A TIME! It was 3/4s full! Blech!

  5. My youngest, who isn’t all that young, seems to find joy peeing in our garage! To be more specific, in his Power Wheels Jeep! Better his jeep than my SUV but still unacceptable.

    I have 2 boys so often times, I don’t know who peed on the toilet seat or even worse, on the floor around the toilet. I’ve threatened to have them ingest food coloring of some sort so that I can identify the perpetrator! Could someone please invent this? 🙂

    Also, I have one bathroom that has the pee smell that won’t go away. I’ve bought Urine cleaners, tried vinegar, clorox…and prayer. Unfortunately, I think God has more important prayers to answer so I’m on my own!

    1. It already exists, AZO Pyridium you can buy at wal-mart (nuclear orange) and the other is methylene blue (Funky Blue/Green)

    2. Nature’s Miracle is sold at pet stores. I use it on my laundry, around the base of the toilet, and around the bathroom baseboards.

  6. Hi! I use ‘natures air sponge’ to drain the piss smell from my bathroom, changing table area and litter box area. It works better than any candles or sprays I’ve tried and is non toxic, which means that if the kidos try to eat it they won’t get poisoned or fuck with their digestive system. It comes in a container that you take the lid of so you can just close and move it with you if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for.

  7. OK…maybe I’ve found a fix for this. Carousel does this, I think. Thanks!

    1. Oh shoot…this was supposed to be a reply to something in the dropbox forum, not here…sorry. “This is not the post you were looking for”

  8. God bless you! And I’m not saying that in the condescending way…cause I need that blessing too…I have three boys.

    They have not filled the tub, but they have added an inch to the lego duplo box (which thankfully only had a few legos in it at the time).

  9. I suppose it wouldn’t help to cause to tell young boys that pirates (and others) used to all pee in a barrel and they kept it and used it for a variety of things, including some of the laundry. . .

    Adding pirates to the glory of peeing might be just too much joy.

  10. […] writes about our family, openly, honestly, and transparently, and she writes about the importance of community and finding the […]

  11. After your “Bath tub” bliss post of several months ago – I hope this was not the tub of that same bliss! Fortunate to only have one son – who apparently never thought up of this fun-time activity!!

  12. For all those living with pee, I bring hope! I feared we would have to rip up our floors if we were ever to get rid of the smell. In desperation, I poured half a gallon of white vinegar around the toilet. I let it sit, and sit, and poured more and let that sit. After a few days of soaking my floor in vinegar, and many complaints from the boys about the smell, I mopped it all up. It has been over a year and the smell that would not leave, has LEFT!! Their bathroom may still be neglected, but it no longer reeks like an ocean of pee:)

  13. You know I was going to recommend apple cider vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle because it has worked wonders for my house. But, that was before I got to the part about the bathtub filled with pee. Oh my stars! There’s really nothing I can do for you at all except to give you a virtual hug. Today, I cleaned two bottoms with poop on them, and I cleaned dog poop off the floor. But, nothing I did today compares to a bathtub filled with old pee!

  14. I keep a spray bottle of white vinegar in the bathroom. Seems to be the only thing that gets rid of that smell.

  15. My boys have a bathroom that is mostly their own. Also a very small bathtub (mobile home) and no concept of what a shower curtain is for.Combine this with a very slight slope in the floor that heads toward the corner right next to the toilet, where there is always a small puddle. I’m actually rather grateful that the broken door handle means I always, always have guests use the master bath. I’d rather have them see the mound of clothes on my dresser than use the other bathroom.

    I have to clean it tomorrow. Pray for me.

  16. Our youngest child was 4-1/2 when he came to live with us. The pee-wars have been long and eventful. He peed into/onto dresser drawers, toy bins, wastebaskets, bottles, furniture, walls, and other people. There was the day we had a mental-health team meeting at our house and I discovered that our son had emptied the liquid hand soap dispenser in the guest bathroom and replaced it with his own urine. Then, there was the year that we started assembling the Christmas tree only to realize that it was moist and that some branches were actually dripping urine. Of course, we had the science experiment that studied the effect of mixing silicon water crystals, green slime, gravel, a little olive oil, and copious amounts of urine in a big plastic jar and letting it sit for several days in the back of a cubby. (The pee-smell was so ubiquitous in our house that I couldn’t find where it was coming from.) I arrived home that day to find my son and his mental-health support worker locked in mortal combat over the jar, just in time to see my son manage to tip the contents into the disposal of the kitchen sink. It took me 30 minutes of running water into the disposal to keep those water crystals engorged enough that they couldn’t get through the screen and enter the plumbing and sewer lines while I fished every last one of them (and the gravel) out of the disposal. Lucky me having the only hands small enough to fit into the disposal.

    We ultimately removed all of our carpet and tiled the entire house. But the best news is that at almost 11 years old, our son rarely wets his bed any more and only pees on the toilet seat or into the bathtub or wastebasket once in a while–just to remind me of how good I have it now.

  17. […] our kids are consistent (that questionable hallmark of good parenting), which they exhibit by dependably peeing on and around toilets no matter where we reside and reliably making messes in mere hours that would […]

  18. I could not, NOT sit and read this post without sharing this, you know, the picture of the Purell bottle full of pee I ran errands with.

  19. Thanks for your post, I can totally relate and makes me a feel a little more normal! I didn’t quite get time to read through the entire comments section, so forgive me if this is a double-up.. Just thought that I would share with you that after SUCH a long time trying to find something that would not mask but ELIMINATE bathroom odours, I found this recipe! 1/4 cup baking soda,1/4 cup vinegar,1 T dish soap and a couple of litres of hot water. Was the relevant areas and VOILA! It seriously works, it makes the bathroom smell like… NOTHING AT ALL. I’ll be keeping an eye out for your future posts, I have a good-sized heap of children too, would love it it you popped over to visit me sometime at 🙂

  20. […] pins pulled, so boys have to keep one hand on them at all times. And all of us who’ve ever shared a bathroom with small boy children know the implications of penis explosions. It’s not good. Not good at all. They’re […]

  21. […] here on the 5 Kids blog, where I write a lot about pee, occasionally about penises, often about the magic in the mess, and sometimes about Jesus, […]

  22. I really enjoyed this post, and appreciate you being honest enough to write it! While we didn’t have trouble with this particular issue, we had plenty of other (house-keeping-related) problems to deal with!

    Prevention is always better than cure. This suggestion might be too late for those with “already-potty-trained” (?? — as in “no-longer-in-diapers” boys), but it might help mothers with very small boys.

    When I was potty-training our oldest son (now mid-30’s) and another little boy I was babysitting, I challenged them to see how many bubbles they could make in the water. I repeated this with our second son (now late 20’s). This might not work in all cases, but it seemed to work for us — I can’t remember either of our boys EVER using anything but the water in the potty as a target, and our bathroom never had “that” smell.

    I hope this will help someone out there.

  23. Oh, I am crying tears of joy and relief! I was thinking just this morning, “I wish the boys knew that using the back of toilet lid as a backboard does not create any points… it just splatters. All over. Everything. I closed my eyes and ignored the pee splatter on MY WALL next to the toilet. I may invest in blinders and nose plugs.

    1. OMG! My boys totally use it as a backboard! Ick! And I’m sure we have to rip up the subflooring to get rid of the smell. Sigh.

  24. There was a day when my (at the time) 1 and 3 year old sons came down with the stomach flu the same day. We had an old 80’s type sectional sofa that was basically upholstered in carpet. It had survived poodles peeing on it, it had survived my husband and I making out on it when we were dating, it had survived 6 years of marriage. And then this day came. I was out of carpet cleaner, and couldn’t drag the vomiting children to the store to get some and it didn’t occur to me in my survival-mode self to call my neighbors and ask to borrow any. By the time my husband came home it was too late. Forever after, if I sat on it for longer than 15 minutes, I started to smell… THAT smell. So we bought a more cleanable leather sofa, and gifted the sectional to some very loud college students renting the house across the street from us. One of them called over to us “WOW! Thanks SO MUCH! This is, like, the best make-out-couch ever!”. “Yes, I know”, I said.

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