Cleaning The Bathtub

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I’m hoping you or your readers can help me with this household problem.  Our bathroom has a plastic-inserted bathtub, and it seems as if no matter how much I clean and scrub away at it, the tub still has this scummy ring around it that won’t go away.  I’ve tried several commercial bathroom cleaners and scouring powders, all to no avail.  Can you or anyone out there let me in on the trick to a white, dingy-free bathtub?
Ring Around Rosie

clean bathtub ring

Heather says:

The phenomenon of which you speak is the dreaded bathtub ring. Every time someone takes a bath, all of the dead skin cells, grease, and oils wash off their body and float in a layer on top of the water. Add soap to the mix and these lovely little particles are trapped in a sticky residue that clings to the side of the tub.

The simplest way to prevent a ring is to rinse the tub after a bath. This is why in some older children’s books you’ll see a reference to a parent nagging a kid to rinse out the tub and wring out the wash cloth. Prevention is the best cure, keep this in mind in the future.

You mention a plastic insert. I’m going to assume you’re referring to an acrylic tub liner. These are quite easy to scratch with abrasive cleaners. Do not use any type of scouring powder. When the acrylic scratched, those sticky bathtub ring bits of goo have even more surfaces and crevices to cling to. This makes the already tenacious bathtub ring extremely difficult to clean. It’s going to take some elbow grease, chemicals, or a combination to tackle your problem.

If you want to take the least toxic route grab a box of baking soda. Use a damp sponge or rag to generously apply it to the ring in a thick paste.  Then spray with white vinegar, this acid base reaction will help get to the dirt down in the tiny scratches. Wipe the tub down, rinse it well, and  then tackle remaining problem areas with Bar Keepers Friend®. This oxalic acid cleaner is mild, but should never be mixed with bleach or other household chemicals.

A second technique is to grab an old bath pouf and baby shampoo. Load the pouf up with baby shampoo, get it nice and foamy and attack the ring. It may take a few rounds of scrubbing and rinsing, but your ring didn’t get there overnight, either.

An intriguing trick, that I have not tried is using a damp dryer sheet to wipe away the ring. If you have dryer sheets on hand, it can’t hurt to try. If you do try this trick, please report back. I don’t use dryer sheets as the perfumes  make me sneeze, but I just might invest in a box if it works as well as the Interwebz claim.

bathroom cleaning

Tips to keep your bathroom squeaky clean!

If the bathtub ring has been around a while, it has many layers of dirt and soap. In that case, I may take the chemical route and use a commercial cleaner. I personally like Scrubbing Bubbles, but I live in an area with soft water. If you have hard water, this adds mineral deposits to your mix and something along the lines of CLR may work better. Again, it may take several applications / rinses to notice an effect. Do not use scouring powders on your acrylic tub, it will create new scratches and make your bathtub ring more difficult to remove in the future.

If your water is hard, it’s especially important to wipe down the tub after each use. A weekly wipe with dilute vinegar, lemon juice, or even rubbing alcohol will help keep things looking good.

Good luck!

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  1. Rose on March 8, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    The dryer sheets where amazingly easy. The ring in the tub was horrible and we have hard water that has that brownish color from clay as it is ground water. Came right off with very minimal scrubbing and left smelling pretty great too. I think it may be the fabric softner that did the trick. I would be interested in trying that.

  2. Ed Palmer on February 23, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Don’t know why…Blue Dawn and white vinegar 1:1. Use for all bathroom and it’s like magic

  3. Deb on August 17, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    I used a damp wet Bounce dryer sheet and it worked like a charm! Ring came off easy and also cleaned the bottom of the tub that has the no skid texture built in. 2 Dryer sheets and a quick rinse and tub looks like new, The dryer sheets cleaned what Scrubbing Bubbles and Clorox bleach spray couldn’t. Love the dryer sheet thing! Thanks!

  4. Josie Tripp on January 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm


  5. Karen on March 15, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Just wondering which Scrubbing Bubbles product you use on your tub and why it’s good for soft water? I live in Australia in an area with soft water as well so I thought I’d look for a similar product.

  6. Valerie on November 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Please don’t use the MR. Clean product, it supports the devil’s work

  7. Phil on October 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    I recall using a product called Calgon in the bath water. It is a water conditioner and as far as I know we never had a tub ring problem unless we ran out of the Calgon. Works great and is also inexpensive.

  8. Coco Deng on July 17, 2012 at 4:53 am

    please use cleaning cloth with ethyl alcohol

  9. natoshiadennis on January 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    dryer sheets AMAZING… not just for the ring but for the scum on the tile too!!!

  10. deneicer1 on September 10, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    …another vote for Greased Lightning!

  11. on June 21, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    to remove that dreaded soap scum that accumulates on the bottom of the tub, I use granulated dish washer detergent. I use it like scouring powder, but it is not abrasive, and the bleach in it is disinfecting.

  12. henryfenton on June 15, 2011 at 3:45 am

    I thought this would have been mentioned, but shaving creams do work on tub rings. Spray generous on the affected area, leave on for 20 minutes and then scrub off. Repeat if necessary. 

  13. beth on April 18, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Dryer sheets work amazing with very little scrubbing. You can actually use a used one. I use them in the winter in my laundry and save them for use year round. I have heard that liquid fabric softener works well too but I have never tried this as the sheets work so well.

  14. tammy on March 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    my bathtub is so stained i have tried everything so i am going to try koboom and a magic easer wish me luck tammy virginia

  15. A P on January 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    My apt's tub surround had clearly been scratched up–the finish of the walls was dull and dingy…. so after throughly cleaning the tub/surround and not being terribly happy with the result I found some 'Turtle Wax" (car wax) under the kitchen sink– after some (2-minutes or so) consideration I applied the wax to the walls of the tub surround (followed the directions for use on cars) and after it 'dried to a haze' I buffed it off. Viola! Shinier walls! Over all I gave it about two coats of wax (just on the walls– and above where a tub full of water would reach… I don't really want to be bathing in turtle wax). It filled in the scratches and has helped keep my tub surround much cleaner (it sheds water faster too!) 😛 It may be completely mad but it has worked for a couple months! 😛

  16. […] Ec 101: Cleaning the Bathtub Shower Cleaner […]

  17. Lara on June 15, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I actually tried the dryer sheets and to my amazement it work very well actually!

  18. tried it all on February 9, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I have had issues cleaning my tub as well which is a plastic material, I can't replace the tub because I am renter. My husband is a mechanic and brings in so much grease and grim so. So what I tried was mr. clean magic erasers they worked but it took so many to do the job they were to time cosuming and costly, so I tried lime a way no sucess, crl helped some but wasnt quite doing the job, recently i found spray power made by crown it works great and costs about 3 dollars at my local walmart. I do recommend when using to buy a good scrubbing sponge and use hot water to loosen gunk and rise with ofter use.

  19. Kassandra on January 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    A very good solution for this problem is to mix juice with baking soda. Once you have mixed this spray it all over the tub and let it sit there for about 15 minutes. Then scub it down. The next step is to mix a little bit of Dawn dish washing liquid and baking soda. Spray this solution to the tub and scrub again. Since the dishwasing is very slippery make sure you rinse very well. If this doesn't work nothing will.

    Good luck!
    My recent post Limestone Tiles – Creativity with Unlimited Horizons

  20. Kassandra on January 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    A very good solution for this problem is to mix juice with baking soda. Once you have mixed this spray it all over the tub and let it sit there for about 15 minutes. Then scub it down. The next step is to mix a little bit of Dawn dish washing liquid and baking soda. Spray this solution to the tub and scrub again. Since the dishwasing is very slippery make sure you rinse very well. If this doesn't work nothing will.

    Good luck!
    My recent post Limestone Tiles – Creativity with Unlimited Horizons

  21. Velveeta on December 3, 2009 at 12:36 am

    KaBoom and magic eraser.

  22. CanadianCarrie on December 1, 2009 at 6:16 am

    We use Shaklee Basic H instead of bubble bath, it's safe, cleans the kids, AND the tub!! Seriously, then after I make sure to rinse it in hot water. I use basic H for everything!! I'm sure I've seen a shaklee link on this site, contact me if you are interested in Shaklee products! malaik114athotmaildotcom
    Otherwise, the baking soda and vinegar sounds pretty safe for the environment,and the tub. good luck!

  23. Milehimama on December 1, 2009 at 1:32 am

    I have a secret, tried and true with my construction worker husband and grimy little boys. After you get the tub clean, take a paper towel and wipe on a coating of Spray N Wash or JetDry onto the sides of the tub. DO NOT do the floor, just the sides or you'll slip and kill yourself.

    Tub rings will never stick again! You'll need to redo it once in awhile.

  24. Jackie on November 30, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    My favorite cleaner for this (and many other applications) is Greased Lightning. Spray it on and you really don't even need to scrub just wipe it around and the ring/soap scum comes off.

  25. Tinkerschnitzel on November 30, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I will second (or third) the Mr. Clean eraser. Works on those horrendous white formica countertops as well.

  26. Steven Berry on November 30, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    I'm still having bad luck with the water spots on my glass shower enclosure doors and frame, tried several things. even went with magic erasure, clr, and other products.. any suggestions?

    • sheri on December 2, 2009 at 6:44 pm

      Best water spot trick ever… Pour baby oil onto a soft cloth, and rub over the spots. It takes a little scrubbing, but they will come right off, and they will be much slower to return. (Just be careful not to drip any on the floor of the shower.)

    • Angelina on April 9, 2015 at 10:37 am

      For the any hard water spots grime etc. located on the FRAME of your glass doors, the sliding door tracks and the knobs & faucets, i recommend using a wad of foil. This method leaves all stainless steel/metallic surfaces sparkling like no other! Although I suggest doing so after you’ve carried-out your usual scrubbing of the area. And BE SURE to wear gloves Ladies!! Otherwise your hands & nails will be left looking as dingy as your bathtub once did!! Ugh…

  27. Carol Shive Mirek on November 30, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I didn't have a ring around my tub, but staining on the bottom where the non-slip stuff is. I tried everything, and then one day I was cleaning the toilet with the no scrub vanish toilet cleaner (it is a foam) i sprayed it on the tub, because I was disgusted by the stain. It was gone, and I didn't have scrub. LOL You never know what might work.

  28. ruthann on November 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    the one tip I dont see mentioned is that to make it the EASIEST to clean – take a bath first! (or at the very least – fill the tub up with warm, sudsy water – over the ring area.
    This does two things – first – it warms up the gunk – and if we think about it – when oils are warmer they are softer and easier to srub (think about your dishes- dont you soak them first??) and secondly – it also puts some cleaner/soap/detergent onto the problem to help you out.

  29. lotte on November 30, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    I have had some success using a Mr Clean Magic Eraser on my bathtubs

  30. HeatherSolos on November 30, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Are you saying the spots won't come off at all or that they return? (They will always return unless the doors / walls are wiped down after each shower. It's just the nature of the beast.

  31. @joyebb on November 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I had a heinous ring around my tub and, like lotte, used a combo of magic eraser and Comet. It cut right through the ring. Bath oils are the devil!

    • HeatherSolos on November 30, 2009 at 5:12 pm

      Just make sure Comet is safe for your surface. Comet can't be used on some plastics or imitation marble. 🙂

  32. Annie Jones on November 30, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I get great results using a mixture of Dawn dishwashing liquid and baking soda. This mixture is very slippery, though, so I always make sure to rinse very well.

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