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 will only make it worse in the long run.
Skeeved in Skaneateles
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* pee 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 toilet bowl), it is a LAST resort and definitely not your first choice for cleaning, even serious mineral build-up.
Once you have scratches on the surface of your toilet’s finish, minerals have more surfaces to cling to, which causes new stains to show up faster than before.
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 using dilute white vinegar for cleaning, but I’m finding I’m relaxing my stance on that over the years. 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, 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 should NOT even be in the same room. Put it away.
DO NOT to mix chlorine bleach with acidic cleaners.
So let’s get started with how to clean a very dirty toilet.
Gather into your toolkit:
- a toilet scrub brush
- gloves (strongly recommended)
- an acid-based toilet bowl cleaner (Method. toilet cleaner uses lactic acid, for example)
- a bucket of water
- a spray bottle of diluted 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 or vinegar this is VERY important, only spray the toilet with the lid closed, you don’t want to mix the two cleaning compounds.
Empty a bucket of water into the toilet bowl to trigger flushing without refilling the bowl or turn off the water line that runs to the toilet and flush. The goal is to empty the bowl as much as possible. We want to allow 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, this isn’t the time to be stingy. 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 remaining water in the bottom of the bowl, and then add a generous extra squirt to the bottom into the water to allow the cleaner to work there, too.
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, about thirty minutes or so. Please run the ventilation fan while you are cleaning and leave the bathroom door open. Ventilation is vital.
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 the tank’s front and sides. Then wipe the top of the lid, the underside of the lid, the top of the seat, and scrub the heck out of the underside 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. Don’t do this if you have hardwood flooring or carpet (I know, it happens) in your bathroom.
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 not to use it. Or be like my teenagers and just watch videos on your phone. Who cares, it’s your life, I’m only judging if your sister needs to use the bathroom before school.
Whenever you are ready—twenty, thirty minutes later. Revisit that toilet and scrub it with the brush. Don’t forget to get that area 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).
You can also try using the same steps with CLR if the acidic cleaner isn’t enough.
Barkeepers Friend has a thick cleaner that may be useful for this task. Use a plunger to force as much of the water out of the toilet as possible and apply the BKF to the inside of the entire toilet bowl.
If the stains still remain, it may be time to give in and use a pumice stone.
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