Does it smell?

Jul 12, 2021

“Is it me or the dog?” Worrying about smells is a common preoccupation for ostomates.  

First, remember that it may not be as bad as you think. Ostomates are often convinced there’s an odor coming from their pouch, even when friends and loved ones insist there’s nothing. We tend to be overly sensitive about it.  

A properly sealed pouch shouldn’t emit any odors at all, so if you’re sure there’s a smell coming from it, check for leaks.  

If your pouch has a filter (designed to let gas out but keep odors in), it could mean that the filter is clogged.  

If you want an extra boost of confidence, sprinkle a drop of two of an essential oil on the outside of your pouch. I use an orange oil, but there are lots of choices. It helps you feel fresh & clean. 

It’s true that some people’s poop smells more than others’, and can vary with different foods. See the Eating & Drinking section for more on that. And it’s generally believed that the output from a colostomy is stronger smelling than that of an ileostomy, because it consists of fully formed stool.  

In the pouch 

There are a few things you could try, to mask any smells inside the pouch. Most ostomy companies make liquid or gel deodorants to drop into the pouch. Many people swear by TIC TAC® mints (the white ones, not other colors). Drop one or two in the pouch with every change. I’ve heard of people adding a spoonful of 3% hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, or minty mouthwash (the kind without alcohol!), or a couple of drops of peppermint oil on a cotton ball dropped into the pouch.  

Breath fresheners meant to be sprayed into your mouth can also be sprayed into the pouch after emptying it or with every new pouch.  

Personally, I use baby oil. Every time I empty, just before reattaching the pouch to the baseplate, I put a few squirts of baby oil into the new bag liner. It acts as a lubricant, encouraging output to slide down to the bottom, but a nice side effect is that it leaves a light, fresh smell. There are also lubricating deodorants designed just for this dual purpose and available from ostomy suppliers. 

In the toilet 

Toilet sprays like POO-POURRI® or V.I.POO® are made to be spritzed into the toilet before anything else hits the water. The idea is that it spreads out like a film over the surface. As your output breaks through and submerges beneath it, odors are trapped under there. These products aren’t specifically made for ostomates, but we’re probably their best customers! 

I don’t do this daily, but I do carry a small bottle of toilet spray in my emergency kit for more public occasions, like when I’m using the bathroom in someone’s home or on an airplane.  

In the bathroom 

Keeping the bathroom smelling fresh is important for your psychological well-being. Ventilation fans are a big help. I don’t have one, or even a window to crack open. So I use an automatic air freshener that emits a quick spritz every few minutes.  

Make sure your discarded supplies (emptied pouches or bag liners, used wipes, etc.) are well sealed before disposal. If the sealed bags are left in a trash basket for any length of time, a couple of drops of an essential oil will help keep things even fresher.   

I’ve lived in an all-female household for several years now, where the toilet seat remains down at all times. So I used to forget about the seamy underside of the seat until scrub-down day. But once I had an ileostomy, with all its splashy output, I quickly realized how important it was to clean under the seat frequently.  

Tiny brown splashes can defy the laws of physics and find their way to the most unlikely places, like under the toilet bowl or the toe kick of a vanity. A thorough cleaning of all these nooks and crannies, particularly after a “splashy” landing, will help keep the bathroom fresh.   

Courtesy Joan Scott, author of The Ostomy Raft