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 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.

How to Clean A Very Dirty ToiletSo 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

The Unappreciated Importance of Regular Toilet Cleaning

Dear Home Ec 101,

I have a 9 month old baby girl and as she is becoming more mobile, it is becoming a lot more important to me to keep things really clean. She loves crawling into the bathroom and playing with those little plastic screw covers at the base of the toilet and as much as I try to wipe down that area it is never really free of grime and hair.

I am trying to train my husband to keep the bathroom door closed, but that may be a lost cause and I, of course, pick her up and take her out of there when she does find her way in there, but I would like to get that area cleaner anyway and then I wouldn’t feel like I have to disinfect her whole body if she escapes me and spends some quality time with her new favorite toy!!

Do you have any suggestions for getting the base of the toilet clean and keeping it that way?

Thank you so much for any suggestions you may have!

Signed,
Playing in the Potty

Heather says:

First of all congratulations, you’re about to enter the most harrowing phase of parenting, the toddler years. Once they hit three years, you can probably take a deep breath and maybe, just maybe a short nap. From now until that point your child is on a mission to road test your child proofing.

Before you worry about how clean the base of the toilet is, please get a lid lock. Yes it’s a pain. Yes, it’s one more thing to have to clean. The household toilet is actually a drowning hazard, especially so during the cruising months where infants and toddlers don’t have strong necks. Barring that, get a GOOD child resistant lock for the door or if you can’t find one of those, a hook and eye up where only adults can reach can keep your kiddo out of the bathroom and two small drill holes are easy peasy to patch in a couple years.

Cleaning toilets is one of those adulthood sucks kind of things. It’s not fun and there’s no big reward for having a clean toilet.  Most of you know that I rarely recommend convenience products. This is one of those rare exceptions.

Each morning, sweep the bathroom. Due to the temperature of your cold water, toilets often sweat. The hair and other bathroom gook likes to stick to the damp surface. If you are diligent in getting the hair and random fuzz balls out of the bathroom there is less stuff to stick to the base of the toilet, in general.

When men pee¹ they splash. The splashed liquid is a combination of urine and water which wipes up easily, if taken care of immediately, but if allowed to evaporate the ammonium salts left behind leave a nice little treat referred to as urine scale. Nice.

The best way to keep this from building up and becoming a nice, sticky germ ridden place is a regular wipe down.

You could keep a spray bottle of diluted vinegar and a collection of rags to wipe down the toilet each morning. You don’t have to do a super thorough cleaning, just a wipe down of the lid, underside of the lid, seat, under side of the seat, rim, and base. Since you’ve swept, there shouldn’t be a coating of hair to make this any more than a quick wipe.

Since you have a soon-to-be busy toddler to protect from herself, I highly suggest the disposable wipes. I recently picked up some Clorox Green Works  Compostable² wipes from Target just to see how well they worked -do you appreciate my level of commitment to you guys- and I was impressed. They work well and there’s a lower level of guilt with these than other disposable wipes.

Seventh Generation also has a similar product², but I haven’t tried it and I’m not sure if the Seventh Generation Wipes are compostable or not additionally the chemical in these wipes is a potential irritant (this isn’t a big deal, but if you have sensitive skin, you may be better off with the alternative).

I’m sorry there’s no magic way to keep your toilet sparkling clean. Regular maintenance is your best bet. Sweep, wipe, go.

I promise, your child won’t be fascinated with toilet forever. As soon as they are potty trained the porcelain throne loses much of its appeal.

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

¹Urinate really didn’t sound any better and all I can think of is the Little Johnny Joke – Urinate. Teacher, you’re an eight, but if you . . .

²Affiliate link

Pink Shower Mold, What is It? How do I get rid of it?

Dear Home Ec 101,

We keep getting these pale pinkish stains on the shower curtains and at the base of the tub…
Our neighbor has the same issue, and he thinks it’s metal in the Mt P. water supply.
Could it be mold?

I’ve found a weak bleach solution or most any bath cleaner completely fades the stains without much scrubbing – but the spots will return in less than a week if I don’t spray on a near-daily basis.

Signed,
~Pretty in Pink

Heather says:

You are right on target cleaning with a weak bleach solution.  The microorganism behind your bathroom cleaning quandary is Serratia marcescens and it loves damp environments.  The bacteria was once used for experimentation due to its coloration (it made it easy to track growth, even without a microscope).  However it has been found to cause urinary tract infections and rarely pneumonia.

Chlorine is an effective preventative and will wipe it out temporarily.  Unfortunately chlorine evaporates more quickly than water and eventually the airborne bacteria will reproduce in sufficient numbers to create the pink stain in showers, and in toilets that are used infrequently.  Remember to periodically clean your showerhead if you notice the telltale pink discoloration.