January 16, 2023
Get the down and dirty on how to clean your bathroom—yes, including the trick to descaling a shower head.
By Nicole Sforza and Lisa Milbrand
Rid your bathroom of lurking germs with these bacteria-targeting bathroom cleaning tricks. From how to descale a shower head to the easiest (and least gross) way to scrub the toilet, consider this your ultimate bathroom-cleaning guide.
The process of deep cleaning your bathroom isn’t as complicated as you might think—follow these expert-recommended steps to make every inch of your bathroom sparkling and germ-free.
According to University of Arizona professor of microbiology Charles Gerba, who has conducted many studies of household bacteria, the bathroom is pretty darn gross. With supereffective tactics from Aggie MacKenzie, a coauthor of How Clean Is Your House? —and Gerba’s gory details to spur you on—you can clobber germs like never before.
Rule #1 for how to clean a bathroom? Keep it dry—so as you’re cleaning, make sure you dry all surfaces well afterward.
Whether you divvy up your antibacterial blitz into small sessions or complete your bathroom deep clean in one fell swoop, implementing these habits every couple of months will be like flushing your worries down the…well, you know.
Why: The showerhead can harbor Mycobacterium avium, a pathogen linked to pulmonary disease. Gerba says that turning on a neglected shower can send millions of germs straight into your lungs.
What to do: Take it from the top: Pour an ample amount of white vinegar into a plastic grocery bag (enough to fully submerge the showerhead nozzle) and tie it in place for an overnight soaking. Remove it in the morning and run the water to rinse.
Why: Those germs from your shower head (and your body) can linger in your tub.
What to do: Give plastic shower curtains and liners a spin in the washing machine with your regular detergent and a few old towels, which help scrub away soap scum and mildew. Rehang to dry.
For shower doors, make a paste by adding a few drops of distilled white vinegar to a cup of baking soda; apply it directly to the door (it’s nice and thick, so it will stick). Let sit for an hour, then rub with a microfiber cloth. Rinse and buff dry with a fresh, dry microfiber cloth. As a preventive measure, routinely spritz all surfaces with a shower cleaner to keep odors, soap scum, hard water stains, mold, and mildew at bay.
The tub is less of an issue—a weekly scrubbing is usually enough. But for extra gleam, fill it with hot water, then drain. Apply a bathroom cleaner and let sit for 15 minutes before scrubbing. It’s also good practice to routinely clean and scrub shower caddies. You can cut down on gunky buildup with a good soap scum remover.
To maintain it, wipe condensation from all surfaces after showering, and leave the window open for one hour a day to lower the room’s humidity level.
Why: Grout is porous and highly susceptible to bacteria growth.
What to do: Dip a grout brush in straight bleach and scrub any discolored areas; rinse well. Be sure to ventilate the room.
Seal grout every six months to help prevent moisture and grime from infiltrating. For pesky grout and tile stains, use a good tile and grout cleaner.
Why: Gerba says that a flushing toilet, when viewed in slow motion, resembles a fireworks display. And since germs linger in the bowl even after flushing, bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella, can fly into the air and land on the seat, the handle, and other surfaces.
What to do: Pour a cup of baking soda into the bowl. Let sit for a few minutes; brush, and flush. Still seeing spots? A damp pumice stone is abrasive enough to remove limescale and mineral deposit stains but gentle enough not to damage surfaces.
In cases of extreme grime buildup (or acute toilet-crevice trepidation), invest in a small, light-duty electric pressure washer. It lets you blast hard-to-reach areas, like the spots where the hinges meet the seat, from a safe distance. Start on the lowest setting—you’ll be amazed by what comes out.
Close the lid when you flush, and use the vent fan (it sucks up bacteria before they can settle). Start now if you’re not already storing toothbrushes and contact lenses inside the medicine cabinet.
Why: Prepare to shudder: The sink drain wins for the highest bathroom bacteria count—topping even the toilet seat. In his research, Gerba has detected as many bacteria down there as you would find on a cutting board used to slice raw meat. And faucet handles? You touch them after using the toilet and before washing your hands.
What to do: You don’t need heavy duty cleaners to make the bacterial stew disappear. The best tip for how to clean bathroom sinks? Pour white vinegar or baking soda down the drain and flush with hot water.
For the faucet, Gerba recommends disposable disinfecting wipes, which significantly reduce bacteria. (In contrast, cloths may just move germs from one spot to another; Gerba has even found bacteria from the toilet bowl living in the kitchen sink.)
If you must use cloths, be fastidious about where each one is employed and stored. When the handles are done, floss the faucet (yes, you read that right). The stringy stuff is perfect for tackling that narrow, grimy space where the base of the faucet and the taps meet the sink. While you’re at it, give the bathroom mirror a once over with glass cleaner.