Why Does My Peace Lily Smell Bad?

holes in peace lily leaves

The peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is one of the most popular indoor plants, prized for its ability to thrive in low light conditions and its beautiful white flowers that symbolize peace. However, many plant owners have experienced their peace lilies emitting unpleasant odors that can range from mildly stinky to downright noxious.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the reasons why peace lilies smell bad, along with tips on how to fix smelly peace lilies and prevent foul odors in the future.

Table of Contents

Causes of Smelly Peace Lilies

There are a few key reasons why your peace lily might start to smell bad:


One of the most common causes of foul peace lily odors is overwatering. Peace lilies prefer evenly moist (but not soggy) soil and can easily be harmed by too much water. When overwatered, the roots begin to rot, creating a stagnant environment perfect for bacteria and fungus growth. This decaying plant matter is what causes the nasty smell. The smell is the plant’s way of signaling that something is wrong.

Poor Drainage

Similarly, poor drainage can also lead to smelly peace lilies. If the soil takes a long time to dry out after watering, this can indicate that the soil is too dense or the pot does not have adequate drainage holes. The thick, soggy soil prevents oxygen from reaching the roots, again leading to rot and smelly byproducts.

Old Flowers

As peace lily flowers age and wilt, they can begin to emit unpleasant odors. The smell is caused by microorganisms breaking down the dying plant matter. Some people describe the smell as being fishy or resembling rotting meat. Trimming off old flowers as they decline can help prevent this.

Bacterial or Fungal Disease

If foul smells persist even after addressing overwatering, the cause could be a bacterial or fungal infection. Diseased roots often emanate nasty odors. The most common peace lily diseases associated with smells are root rot and botrytis blight. Examine the entire plant closely to check for signs of disease like wilting, discolored or slimy leaves, and black or brown spots on leaves and flowers.

Pest Infestation

Certain pests like fungus gnats and shore flies are attracted to plants already suffering from root rot. Their larvae feed on diseased roots, creating additional decay and smelly byproducts. Also inspect plants for signs of infestation like bugs flying around the soil, small white larvae in the soil, and sticky honeydew on the leaves.

Improper Fertilizing

Excessive fertilizer or the wrong type of fertilizer for peace lilies can burn the roots and lead to – you guessed it – stinky roots. Brown, shriveled roots are a sign of fertilizer burn. Only apply fertilizer at half strength a few times per year, and choose a balanced liquid fertilizer.

Poor Air Circulation

When air cannot freely circulate around the peace lily, this creates a prime environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive in the moist soil. Ensure your peace lily is not cramped in a corner or surrounded by other items impeding airflow. Place a small fan nearby to keep air moving gently around the peace lily.

Water Quality

Using low-quality tap water can also contribute to smelly peace lilies over time as salts, chemicals, and microorganisms build up in the soil. Filtered or distilled water is preferable. Allow tap water to sit out overnight before using so chlorine can dissipate.

Incorrect Potting Mix

A very dense potting mix that retains a lot of moisture can lead to decaying roots and smelly soil. Use a lightweight, porous potting mix specifically formulated for peace lilies and other tropical plants. Add perlite or orchid bark to improve drainage.

How to Fix a Smelly Peace Lily

If your peace lily has a foul odor, take action right away. Here are some tips to clean up smelly peace lilies and prevent the problem in the future:

Rinse Away Debris

If there is decaying plant matter like dead leaves or flowers contributing to the smell, rinse the debris away with water. Be gentle when cleaning around the stems and flowers.

Prune Affected Areas

Use sterilized scissors or garden shears to trim off any mushy, slimy, or rotting roots and stems. Removing the infected plant material will get rid of the source of the smell. Dip tools in rubbing alcohol between cuts to avoid spreading disease.

Repot in Fresh Mix

Repotting in fresh, sterile potting mix will help remove foul-smelling old soil and completely replace the root zone with clean medium. Choose a pot with drainage holes and use a well-aerated mix like peat-based potting mix amended with perlite.

Treat Disease

If a bacterial or fungal disease is causing the smell, use a fungicide like neem oil or copper-based spray to treat the plant according to product instructions. Remove any leaves or flowers that cannot be saved to prevent the infection from spreading.

Adjust Watering Habits

Going forward, allow the top few inches of soil to dry out between waterings to prevent oversaturation. Pour water until it drains from the drainage holes, then discard any water in the saucer. Letting the plant dry out between waterings will deprive rot-causing microbes of needed moisture.

Use Filtered Water

Use filtered or distilled water when watering for cleaner, purer irrigation water. Let tap water sit out uncovered overnight before using so chlorine and other chemicals can dissipate.

Increase Air Circulation

Place the peace lily where air can freely circulate to prevent fungus and bacteria from thriving in stagnant conditions. Place a small fan nearby to keep air gently moving around the plant.

Apply Hydrogen Peroxide

For quick odor relief, combine 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide with 4 parts water and apply it to the smelly potting mix. The hydrogen peroxide will help eliminate bacteria and associated smells. Rinse the soil afterward.

Repot Annually

Repot peace lilies annually in fresh potting mix to prevent salts and microorganisms from building up to smelly levels. Annually dividing overgrown plants will also help improve airflow at the roots.

Control Pests

Use yellow sticky traps and neem oil to control pesky fungus gnats that are attracted to wet, smelly soil and can make odors worse. Prevent infestations by allowing soil to dry adequately between waterings.

Preventing Smelly Peace Lilies

Once you’ve cleaned up a smelly peace lily, adjusting your care can help prevent foul odors from returning. Here are some tips:

  • Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out between watering. Do not overwater.
  • Water with room temperature filtered or distilled water.
  • Ensure the pot has drainage holes and use a light, porous potting mix.
  • Increase air circulation around the plant.
  • Only fertilize every 2-3 months at half strength.
  • Repot in fresh mix annually.
  • Remove old flowers before they start to wilt.
  • Prune away any diseased or dying leaves and stems.
  • Control fungus gnat infestations.
  • Use a humidity tray with pebbles and water to increase humidity.
  • Keep the peace lily away from heat and AC vents.
  • Maintain proper light conditions.

By adjusting your peace lily care to avoid overwatering, provide adequate airflow, use proper fertilization, and control pests, you can prevent those undesirable foul smells from developing. Pay close attention to your plant’s needs and take action at the first sign of odor to get your peace lily thriving smell-free again.

Troubleshooting Common Peace Lily Problems

Smelly flowers are just one of many problems that can plague the peace lily. Here are some other common issues and how to resolve them:

Drooping Leaves

If the lush green leaves of your peace lily start to droop, it often signals overwatering. Drooping leaves can also indicate low humidity or a need for repotting if the roots are severely crowded. Let the soil dry out and provide a humidity tray to perk leaves up.

Brown Leaf Tips

Dry, crisp brown edges on the leaves usually appear when the air is too dry. Peace lilies prefer 40-60% humidity. Group plants together, use a pebble tray, or use a humidifier to boost moisture in the air.

Yellowing Leaves

Leaves that turn entirely yellow and eventually drop signal a problem with overwatering, lack of nutrients, or insufficient lighting. Repot in fresh soil, apply balanced fertilizer, and move to a bright spot out of direct sun.

Few or No Flowers

When a peace lily isn’t blooming well, the cause is usually insufficient light. Although they tolerate shade, peace lilies need some moderate ambient brightness to trigger flowering. Move the plant to a location with bright filtered light.


If the leaves dramatically droop and wilt, this quick change in appearance indicates the plant is severely dehydrated and needs immediate watering. After watering, monitor moisture more diligently to prevent future wilting episodes.

Moldy Soil

White fuzzy mold growing on the surface of the potting mix is caused by overly wet conditions. The solution is to allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. Repotting in fresh mix can also help eliminate mold spores.

Insects Like Mealybugs

Sticky, cottony masses on the leaves or stems indicate a mealybug infestation. Wipe away visible bugs using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Apply insecticidal soap weekly until they are gone. Isolate to prevent spreading.

Black Leaves

If older leaves turn almost entirely black, it is usually a sign of root rot from overwatering. The youngest leaves will show symptoms first. Propagate any healthy stems while you can to rescue the plant.

Causes & Solutions For Other Flower Smells

While we’ve focused on peace lilies in this guide, homeowners may encounter foul odors from other houseplants as well. Here is an overview of some common smelly flowers and the usual causes:


Orchid flowers or leaves that smell bad are often infected by fungus or bacteria that entered through wounds or unsterile pruning tools. Wash tools, remove affected parts, apply fungicide, and increase air circulation.


Stinky lily flowers can mean the plant was kept in water too long after being cut or has a fungal/bacterial disease. Recut stems and change water daily. Don’t leave cut lilies in water for more than a week.


These fragrant flowers will start to smell rotten if their soil stays too wet. Allow more time between waterings for better drainage.


A foul, rotten egg scent from hydrangeas results from sulfur deficiency. Apply sulfur-containing fertilizer according to label directions to remedy.


Petunias can take on a putrid smell when weather is hot and humid or they get overwatered. Improve airflow and drainage to eliminate bad smells.

When To Call A Professional About Smelly Plants

Dealing with a foul odor from your peace lily or other houseplant isn’t always a DIY job. It’s smart to call in a professional plant care expert if:

  • The smell persists after trying all troubleshooting tips
  • Multiple plants are affected by the smell
  • You see signs of a serious infestation or disease
  • The plant is rapidly declining in health
  • You don’t have the time or ability to thoroughly address the issue

A plant health specialist can isolate, diagnose, and methodically treat smelly plants so they return to vigorous health. They also have access to heavy-duty disinfectants and pest control chemicals beyond what is available to homeowners.

Key Takeaways On Smelly Peace Lilies

To wrap up, the key points to remember about managing smelly peace lilies are:

  • Act quickly at the first sign of odor to diagnose the cause
  • Overwatering is the primary culprit behind foul peace lily smells
  • Adjust watering habits to avoid soggy soil; allow the top few inches to dry out between waterings
  • Repotting, pruning affected parts, and rinsing away dead material can eliminate smells
  • Look for signs of disease, pests, and improper care
  • Increase airflow around peace lilies and provide proper light and humidity
  • Use filtered water and diluted fertilizer to prevent future issues
  • Monitor closely for any signs of distress and troubleshoot promptly
  • Call in an expert if the smell persists despite your best efforts

With attentive care, pebble trays, and well-aerated soil, your peace lily can thrive smelling as fresh as the day you brought it home.

FAQ: Smelly Peace Lily Questions

Why does peace lily smell?

The main cause of a smelly peace lily is overwatering, which leads to rotting roots. Poor drainage, old flowers, disease, pests, and improper care can also cause peace lilies to develop unpleasant odors.

Can you stop lilies from smelling?

Yes, there are several ways to stop peace lilies from smelling: allowing the soil to dry out between waterings, repotting in fresh mix, pruning affected parts, treating disease, improving air circulation, using filtered water, controlling pests, and proper fertilization.

Why do lilies smell so bad?

The foul smell of peace lilies comes from microorganisms and bacteria breaking down decaying organic matter in wet conditions. The byproducts of this process have an unpleasant odor. Overwatering and poor drainage provides an optimal environment for stinky compounds to form.

What does an unhealthy peace lily look like?

Signs of an unhealthy peace lily include yellow, shrivelled, or dropped leaves, brown tips, wilting, spots, fuzzy mold growth, and blossoms that fail to open or turn green. A foul odor is another indicator of an unhealthy peace lily.

How do you fix smelly flowers?

To fix smelly flowers, remove and discard any rotting or dead plant material, prune affected areas, clean the flowers with mild soap and water, spray flowers with hydrogen peroxide or vinegar solution, change the vase water frequently, and add fresh charcoal or copper pennies to the water.

How do you get rid of plant smell?

Tips for eliminating plant smells include identifying and remedying the underlying cause (such as disease or overwatering), rinsing away debris, repotting in fresh soil, using hydrogen peroxide on smelly areas, improving air circulation, keeping leaves dry, and using activated charcoal.

What can I spray on my lilies?

To help eliminate smells and disease, you can spray peace lilies with hydrogen peroxide, neem oil, or copper fungicide. Always follow product label instructions. You can also mist peace lily leaves with room temperature purified or distilled water to increase humidity.

Should you remove lily stamens?

Yes, it’s recommended to remove the pollen-covered stamens found inside peace lily flowers once the flower has finished blooming. The stamens will eventually die and decay, releasing unpleasant odors. Gently pluck the stamens out by the base to extend the lifespan of the flower.

Wrapping Things Up

The unpleasant odors that can emit from peace lilies are commonly caused by overwatering, which leads to decaying roots and leaves. Adjusting care to allow the soil to dry out between waterings, providing good drainage, pruning dead material, treating disease, and improving air circulation can eliminate nasty smells.

With preventative care like using filtered water, fertilizing correctly, controlling pests, and repotting annually, peace lily owners can enjoy their flowering plants smelling fresh and clean. Act quickly at the first whiff of odor and make cultural adjustments to get smelly peace lilies back to their sweet-smelling selves.

Cathryn Thompson

Hi, I am Cathryn Thompson. I am a full-time blogger. I ditched my 9-5 job many years back to explore life a bit more. In this blog, I like writing about everything that can save us from the monotony of regular life and live our life to the fullest.

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