Soap Scum and Acrylic Bathtubs

Dear Home-Ec 101,

How do I remove built up soap scum from my acrylic tub?

Signed,
Scummed in Scuddy

Heather says:

Soap scum is a generic term for that funky film that is created by soap and hard water creating a loving bond with your tub or shower.

It’s ugly and a pain in the rear to remove without scratching the surface you’re trying to clean. Once you scratch your tub or its surround, you create all kinds of new nicks and crevices for the next layer of soap scum to adhere to, which lets soap scum build up even faster.

Bar Keepers FriendSince I started writing Home-Ec 101 back in 2007, I have often recommended Barkeeper’s Friend and once again it is my go-to recommendation.

Why? It’s cheap and effective. Barkeeper’s friend relies on oxalyic acid to clean. This is a mild acid that you can find in foods like spinach and tea.

We’ve covered Bar Keepers Friend and acrylic in the past, if you want to read. The quick and dirty version is, follow the directions* and don’t forget to rinse to prevent chemical etching.

*Do not apply with steel wool or a honey badger, even if he don’t care.

As a consumer you may find the liquid version of Bar Keepers Friend easier to apply to vertical surfaces like the side of your acrylic tub or the shower doors. But if you only have the can lying around, just make a paste and gently apply.

Do not use Bar Keepers Friend or any acidic cleanser on natural stone, it’s a bad idea. Try not to get acidic cleansers on your grout or it will need to be resealed more often -use the water bead test to check.

Yes, you still need to use common sense when you use Bar Keepers Friend and not rub it in your eyes -ever squirt a lemon in your eye? It’s not pleasant, is it? And you probably should wear gloves if you’re going to be in contact with Bar Keepers Friend more than incidentally. Why? Acids aren’t great for your skin. You’ll get raw hands if you spend a lot of time, cutting up fruit, too.

And finally, don’t let your kids or pets eat your cleaning products.

Got it? Good.

If you want to prevent soap scum, use a squeegee on your tub after use.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

PS Thank you all for sending in these great questions. You’re helping me get back into the habit of writing consistently and often which is good for both Home Ec 101 and me. It is deeply appreciated. <3

How to Clean a Bath Mat After a Toilet Overflow

Dear Home Ec 101,

I found your article on How to Clean Up After a Toilet Overflow useful, but I was wondering if you could tell me how to clean my daughter’s colorful bath mat?

Thanks!
My Cup Overflows With Gratitude

Heather says

Isn’t adulthood fun?

The good news is that your bath mat is not a table cloth.

If you have a clothes washer, between it, 2 TBSP of household bleach, the dryer, and some sunlight, your bath mat will be more than clean enough to avoid spreading things like e. Coli to the entire house.

First take the bath mat outside and shake it out as much as thoroughly possible. If you can still see some -ahem- organic matter, grab the hose and rinse the bath mat until all visible particles are gone. Wring the bath mat out as thoroughly as possible, while you’re still outside.

Wash the bath mat on the largest load in warm water with regular detergent and then follow that up by adding 2TBSP of household bleach to the rinse cycle. 

The University of Kentucky’s County Cooperative Extension says:

 

Brightly colored fabrics that may fade when chlorine bleach is used at higher levels, generally can be successfully sanitized with 2 tablespoons of liquid chlorine bleach per washer load without significant color loss

Dry your bathmat thoroughly in the dryer, on tumble or low. The rubber backing of the mat will disintegrate if you dry it at higher temperatures. Once the bath mat is thoroughly dry allow it to sit in the sunlight for several hours.

At this point, it’s okay to stop worrying. Bath mats are intended for feet and really, when your child plops down on the bath mat with their bare bottom, they are probably adding more germs to the mat than they could possibly pick up.

Remember your home isn’t an operating room and a sterile environment isn’t necessary to maintain good health. Using proper hand washing techniques, getting adequate sleep, and a good diet will do far more for a family’s overall health than spending too much time and energy on trying to rid your home of all potential germs.

Have fun?

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Related Posts:

The differences: Organize, Clean, Sanitary, and Sterile

Cleaning Up After a Toilet Overflow

Bathroom Cleaning 101

Hard Water Deposits in a Toilet Bowl

Dear Home-Ec 101,

During the walk-through when we purchased our current home, we flushed our toilets, but did not raise the lids. After we moved in, to our horror, two of our toilets were gross!

First problem, I am told that it is hard water deposits, so when toilet waste is flushed down, stuff catches on the way down. I have been able to remove what I can see after repeatedly cleaning. But there is still a smell. Second toilet, the bowl is black. Have tried a few cleaners, but with little results.

Help!!

Signed,
Down and Dirty in Delaware

Heather says:

I do not envy your grungy toilet problem. Nope, not even a little bit.

GlovesGet yourself some rubber gloves. You know, the heavy duty, no-nonsense, I’m about to use cleaners that mean business kind of gloves.

Now don’t worry, I’m not suggesting anything toxic, but acids, even those from non-toxic sources are not good for your skin. Ever cut a ton of citrus fruit and had your hands feel raw for a couple of days? It’s like that.

So get your gloves and either Bar Keepers Friend of your other favorite acidic cleanser.

Why acidic?

You’re going to be cleaning up some foul funk known as lime scale and urine scale. You know where the lime scale comes from -hard water- but urine scale is a special treat all on its own. It forms from the ammonium salts left behind when urine splashes and evaporates.

Yum.

I kid. Well, about the yum part, the urine scale is a fact of life, disgusting but we all have to deal.

Your also going to want some kind of scrubber – a generic scrub brush or even one of those nylon kitchen jobbers, but know that you WILL BE THROWING THAT OUT AFTERWARD, right? You can of course, wash and reuse the scrub brush, but please delegate it to the floors or bathroom use only.

Now turn off the water to the tank. (Righty tighty, lefty loosey)

Flush the toilet so there is no water in the bowl.

Put on your gloves, apply the cleanser to the bowl and give the inside a good scrub, as far down as you can reach and spend a lot of time up under the rim. (Many people forget to clean this area and all kinds of heinous funk can hide up here.) Don’t spend a lot of time with this scrubbing, you’re mostly just trying to make sure that the cleaner has gotten into every nook and cranny in the toilet bowl.

Now stand up, put the lid down on the toilet, take off your gloves, wash your hands, and set a timer for 30 minutes.

Go entertain yourself. Welcome back.

Remember when we’ve talked about how cleaning takes a few kinds of energy:

Thermal -not applicable or safe in this case – never, never, never pour hot water into your toilet, the thermal change can crack your bowl and that’s not fun for anyone. I don’t care what you read where on the interwebz. No. No. No. Got it?

Chemical – your cleanser -and with chemical energy comes the need for time for those chemical reactions to take place, that’s why you left the room for a little while.

Physical – yup, here’s where you and the scrub brush come in.

Now, put your gloves back on, wet your scrubber and go scrub the ever-living-snot out of that toilet bowl.

When you’re sure you’ve gotten as much as will come off this round, turn the water back on to the tank, and flush the toilet.

Flush it one more time and give it a little scrub with a standard toilet brush.

Flush again.

Now, leave the room for five minutes or so and come back and give the area a smell.

If it still smells funky, it’s not the bowl.

Turn the water back off. Empty the tank, and carefully remove it. (You’re going to have to disconnect the water line and undo a couple of bolts to do so).

Give the area that you couldn’t reach with the tank attached a thorough cleaning. Rinse, dry, give the area a little while to air out and come back. Do you still smell the funk?

If so, it may be either urine or other filth between the flooring and toilet or the wax ring may need to be replaced. Be prepared for this job to turn into more, if there is water damage to the flooring and / or sub flooring.

If you are a dude, this could be a one person job. I’m not a wuss, but ladies, moving a ceramic toilet bowl is more than I can handle on my own -those suckers are HEAVY- so you may have to call in a friend or significant other for physical help with this job. Do not hurt yourself trying to move more than you can do so safely.

Loosen the bolts that attach the toilet to the floor. Move the toilet out of the area and clean the area up to the drain as thoroughly as possible. Use a cleaner safe for your flooring.

Inspect the wax donut -or since you already have the toilet moved, replace it, while you have it out of the way and save yourself a project 3 years from now.

Look for water damage that may indicate the seal was compromised. If there is damage, that may be the real source of your odor,  but the repair is out of the scope of Home-Ec 101. That’s more of a 300 level course. Hire out if you must. You can, of course, put the toilet back together until you can afford the repair, just be glad you know the source and make sure this repair is high on your list of MUST-Dos, as water damage can get ugly in a hurry.

Put everything back together and enjoy your funk-free bathroom.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

How to Fix Stained Acrylic Tubs and Shower Pans

Dear Home Ec 101

How do I get rid of the dirt and grime stains on the bottom of acrylic bathtubs? Same for the acrylic floors of most stand-up showers? I have tried cleaners and bleach to no avail.

Thanks!

Signed,
Scratched in Screven
Heather says:

Surfaces such as acrylic while fairly inexpensive when compared with other building materials are relatively easy to scratch which is why you now have the dirt and grime stains.

What you’re seeing is the result of tiny, tiny scratches trapping particles of dirt. These tiny scratches are generally caused through normal wear and tear -remember nothing ever stays new-in-box quality, once it’s actually being used- and improper cleaning techniques or chemicals.

Since you already have these fine scratches and bad staining, trying to clean this is like shutting the barn door after the horses are gone. The damage has been done and even if you manage to clean the shower, it will be dirty the moment someone steps in with dirty feet.

It’s time to refinish your shower pan and acrylic tub. Thankfully refinishing is an option as it is much cheaper than replacing a shower pan, especially if there is a tile surround in good condition.

Here’s a video that thoroughly explains the acrylic refinishing process (I am not affiliated with this product / company I just found it to be a good overview of exactly is involved with an acrylic refinishing project:

Now that you know what needs to be done to make your acrylic tub and shower pan look new, you have a few choices:

  • you can live with the stains for a while longer
  • you can slave over the frustrating process of trying to keep it looking nice (obnoxious at best, exhausting, too)
  • you can do the refinishing yourself with equipment from your local hardware store
  • you can hire someone else to refinish your shower and tub

If you do decide to go the refinishing route, be sure to only use the proper cleaners in the future. This means NEVER USING ABRASIVE CLEANSERS like Comet on acrylic.

Got that?

Never.

It’s nearly time for me to undertake this project in my upstairs shower, but I am currently living with option number one. I know the shower pan doesn’t look great, but there are other more pressing household repairs at the moment (water damage from a clogged gutter -this is why you need to clean them out every once in a while)

I’m sorry I don’t have a quick and easy solution for you, but the damage to your shower pan has already been done.

Good luck!

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

How to Clean a Very Dirty Toilet

Dear Home Ec 101,

How do I clean a really gross toilet? It has all that yellow and brown crud inside that just won’t come off. I heard that pumice stones scratch the porcelain and only make it worse.

Please HELP!

Signed,
Skeeved in Skaneateles

Heather says

Since people searching for how to clean a really dirty toilet may have a completely different type of dirt or filth in their heads, I’m going to give you the lowdown on cleaning a grimy toilet top to bottom, even though I know Skeeved is mainly interested in removing mineral deposits from the bowl. It’s also possible that the yellow brown build-up inside the bowl is actually urine scale from *ahem* splashing. Either way the remedy is the same.

Pumice stones do work, but since they have the potential to scratch vitreous china (the finish of your bowl) it is a LAST resort and not your first choice for cleaning, even serious mineral build-up.

Since Skeeved is having serious problems with mineral build-up in the bowl of the toilet, I am going to suggest a stronger acid than my usual household cleaner white vinegar. Go ahead and buy actual toilet bowl cleaner. If you purchase toilet bowl cleaner from the store, read the label very carefully to ensure the active ingredient is an acid.

Longtime readers of this site know I often recommend dilute white vinegar for cleaning, but over the years I’m finding I’m relaxing my stance on that. In the past 5 years, more and more environmentally acceptable cleaners are becoming more readily available. If I have some on hand, great, if not just mix up vinegar and water in a 50:50 ratio for general cleaning.

Chlorine bleach is great for disinfecting, but will do NOTHING to help with mineral deposits. Since we are using acid based cleaners to clean the toilet, bleach shouldn’t even be in the same room. You do NOT want to mix chlorine bleach and acidic cleaners.

So let’s get started with cleaning a very dirty toilet.

Gather:

  • a toilet scrub brush
  • gloves (recommended)
  • acid based toilet bowl cleaner (Method. toilet cleaner uses lactic acid)
  • a bucket of water
  • a spray bottle of dilute vinegar or your favorite all purpose cleaner*
  • paper towels or rags – I use paper towels for toilet cleaning, it’s a personal choice, really
  • distracting music

*If you use all purpose cleaner, this is VERY important, only spray the toilet with the lid closed

Empty a bucket of water into the toilet bowl to trigger flushing without refilling the bowl. What we’re doing is allowing the acid that we’re going to use to work on the stains without dilution. If you are using the kind of toilet cleaner that you squirt up under the rim do so with a generous application. Use the scrub brush to spread the cleaning agent evenly all over the inside of the toilet bowl, you are NOT scrubbing at this point, just applying. Try not to dip down into the water in the bottom of the bowl and then add a little extra squirt to the water in the bottom.

Now close the lid to the toilet and set aside the brush for the moment. We are going to give that cleaner time to work thirty minutes or so.

Spray your cleaner of choice onto your rag or paper towel. Now work from the top of the tank down. Wipe down the top of the toilet tank, the handle, and then the front and sides of the tank. Then wipe the top of the lid, the under side of the lid, the top of the seat, and scrub the heck out of the under-side of the seat.

I generally have to switch to fresh paper towels or rinse and reapply cleaner to a rag at this point.

Now wipe the rim of the toilet and under the hinge of the seat and that aggravating place between the seat and the tank where hair just loves to collect. Ugh.

Now wipe down the sides of the bowl and don’t forget the little ledges where the bolts attach to the flooring. At this point I generally give the flooring around the bowl a spray of cleaner and wipe it down, too.

Now clean something else in the bathroom. How about the sink or mirrors? How is your tub looking? Exactly. Just give that toilet bowl cleaner some time to work. If you leave the bathroom, be sure to let other household members know that there are chemicals in the toilet and to not use it.

Whenever you are ready -twenty, thirty minutes later. Revisit that toilet and scrub it with the brush. Don’t forget to get that area up under the rim.

Finally, flush the toilet, allow the bowl to fill, and step back and admire your handiwork.

If you still see mineral deposits, repeat the acid treatment one more time. (Remember you only need to repeat the steps pertaining to the inside of the bowl) If the stains still remain, it may be time to give in and use a pumice stone.

Have, umm, fun?

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com