Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a 25 year white tub surround that has accumulated a darkened tint due to left over scum even after cleaning it often enough for this very busy mom and full time art teacher. What is fast and quick and odorless, green, effective, etc. Seems that I am also very good at damaging our home, as I tend to be impulsive when it comes to cleaning.
Help me please, thanks.
Grimy in Gridley
[pullshow id =”caulk”] Before I explain how to clean a tub surround, I thought I’d explain exactly what a tub surround is for those who may be unsure. In some bathrooms the shower and tub are one unit. The walls that extend upward from the tub toward the ceiling are known as the surround and can be made from different material including tile and acrylic. The joints are often sealed with caulk or in the case of tile, grout (which also needs to be sealed).
[pullthis id=”caulk” display=”outside”] Over the years caulk, if it becomes moldy, will need to be replaced. Our bathroom has poor ventilation and consequently I have spent more time than I care to admit scraping and re-caulking our shower. If I had been consulted, I would demand that in shower pans all ledges should have a steep enough angle to prevent puddling. Unfortunately no one thought to ask and I spend time wiping ledges and replacing caulk. [/pullthis]
I contacted “Grimy” and asked about her particular surround. Her tub surround is acrylic which means if she ever used harsh chemical cleansers over the years, it’s quite possible that the acrylic surface was chemically etched or scratched.
Dirt and grime accumulates in these tiny scratches and is then sealed- in by soap scum and minerals which are hard to scrub away and just leave a dirty look.
Bar Keepers Friend is one of my favorite cleaning products in these situations. As you requested, it is environmentally friendly. Now because it is an acid, you will want to wear gloves or at the very least not get it on your hands or in your eyes. Keep in mind that vinegar or lemon juice wouldn’t be pleasant in your eyes, either. Oxalic acid is only a bit stronger than either of these and as BKF it arrives in a much more convenient form.
Since cleaning a tub surround involves removing accumulated grime on a vertical surface I would suggest the liquid version of the product. The powder version of BKF will work, but it will be a little more annoying to apply.
To clean the tub surround, apply the the liquid BKF to the shower walls and allow it to sit for a few minutes, to give the oxalic acid time to work on the soap scum. Then use a damp sponge or rag to wipe the walls clean and follow with a thorough rinse.
If you’re using the powder version of BKF wipe the walls with a damp rag, sprinkle BKF on the rag and apply to the walls. Again, give it time to work before removing. The point isn’t to use BKF as an abrasive cleaner, but rather to take advantage of the acidic nature of the product.
It may take a second application, since as you’ve noted, this grime has taken a long time to accumulate, it’s not going to come off easily.
To keep the clean look of your scrubbed tub surround, you can apply a protective coating of wax, yep just like you’d use on your car. Whatever you do, do NOT wax the floor of your tub. Can you say broken hip? I knew you could. To keep it environmentally friendly, use a carnuba wax.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.