How to Clean a Bathtub So It Sparkles—with Minimal Scrubbing
Looking for a comprehensive guide on how to clean a bathtub? Follow these steps, and you'll have a sparkly tub with minimal effort.
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Insider how-to-clean tips from experts can make chores a lot easier—you don’t have to question whether you’re using the right products, cleaning solutions or doing anything to damage the finishes and appliances in your home. Learning how to clean your bathroom, how to clean a shower, how to clean a faucet head and how to clean glass shower doors like a pro ensures you’re getting the maximum effect with minimal effort. And because no one wants to bathe in a space that’s visibly dirty, learning how to clean a bathtub (pink gunk and all) is all about consistency.
According to Alessandro Gazzo, cleaning expert with Emily’s Maids in Dallas, the biggest mistake homeowners make is not keeping up with the little things before they become a big chore—water spots and soap rings become more difficult to remove the longer they sit, for instance. Here are the cleaning tips that actually work to keep your tub clean, sparkling and ready for that next relaxing soak.
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How often should you clean your bathtub?
Not following a regular cleaning schedule will make the job more difficult and make stains harder to remove (some might even become permanent if not looked after). Gazzo’s cleaning-frequency rule of thumb is once a week for frequent use and once a month for occasional use. Wiping the tub dry after each use can also increase time between cleanings.
If your bathtub isn’t looking or feeling as clean as it used to, then it’s time to bring out the cleaning supplies. How can you know when it’s time to clean? “Touch the surface,” Gazzo says. “You will know the difference between a smooth, clean surface and a dirty one.” White-ish stains, water streaks or dark stains are telling signs. But remember: Not all dirt and germs are visible, so be consistent with your bathtub cleaning, regardless of how it looks.
Does the type of bathtub affect how you clean it?
Knowing the type of tub you have will help you pick the best way to clean a bathtub. If you are ever unsure, contact the manufacturer. Then, always do a spot test in an inconspicuous area to ensure you’re not ruining the finish of the tub.
Fiberglass and acrylic tubs
Common in homes and apartments because they’re both lightweight and inexpensive, fiberglass and acrylic tubs look like they’re made of a plastic material and are fairly porous. Acrylic has a little give to it (press the side and feel slight movement). But both are softer materials that require nonabrasive cleaning products and supplies. Avoid scratching the surface by using soft nylon brushes, baking soda and white distilled vinegar.
Enamel and porcelain tubs
Porcelain tubs have a smooth sheen and luster and might be found in older homes. If your tub sounds metallic, there’s a good chance you have an enamel or porcelain tub. If a magnet sticks to the tub, it is enamel. Both styles are sensitive to bleach, including cleaning products made with bleach.
No matter what type of tub you’re cleaning, pay attention to bathroom ventilation. “Some cleaning solutions release toxic fumes, so you certainly need good ventilation both during and after cleaning,” Gazzo says. Combining certain products can create noxious fumes and cause surface damage, so never make these bleach mistakes (mixing the cleaning agent with acidic solutions such as white distilled vinegar, ammonia or limescale remover). Consider wearing gloves and goggles, and shield your clothes and bathroom textiles (bathmat, shower curtain, towels) from cleaners that can discolor them.
How to clean a bathtub
- 2½ cups baking soda, divided into ½ cup and 2 cups
- ½ cup distilled white vinegar
- Cleaning bucket
- Bleach-free liquid dish soap
- Nylon tub-scrubbing brush
- Microfiber cleaning cloths
- Old toothbrush for cleaning
- Long-handled brush (optional)
- Dental floss (optional)
- Bath towel (optional)
Give yourself easy access to the tub and prep the area for cleaning—you don’t want to splash cleaning solution on your bar soap. Toss your bathroom rugs in the laundry pile (here’s how to clean a bath mat). Remove and wipe down or thoroughly clean all tub toys, toiletries, bottles and loofahs. Discard anything that’s empty, broken or you won’t use. And consider keeping the tub edges clutter-free by installing a shower organizer or other bathroom storage ideas (dripping bottles, pumps and damp tub toys create more mess to clean).
2. Address the drain
Remove the drain stopper. If it has been a month or more since the drain was cleaned, pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by ½ cup of white distilled vinegar. Let it sit for two minutes before turning the water on and flushing the solution for two minutes with hot water.
3. Wet the tub
Get the tub wet with a hand shower sprayer. If you don’t have one, use the Rinseroo or fill a cleaning bucket with hot water, then pour the water all over the inside of the tub.
4. Distribute the cleanser
Sprinkle 2 cups of baking soda across the tub interior, and be patient, says Gazzo. One of the biggest mistakes amateur cleaners make is rushing the process and not giving cleaning agents enough time to act on the surface. Leave the baking soda for 30 to 60 minutes while you clean something else. Since you’re in the bathroom, use these expert tips to clean the toilet, clean your bathroom mirror, clean tile floors and wash your shower curtains.
Fill your bucket with ½ gallon of hot tap water and 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap. Fold an old towel lengthwise several times and place it alongside the tub to create a comfortable pad for your knees. Dip a nylon scrub brush into the bucket, then rub all bathtub surfaces, starting at the top so the cleaner drips down into the tub, giving it more time to work on the bottom. (If you prefer to stand, use a long-handled scrub brush.) Whichever method you choose, dip the brush back in the bucket after every foot of cleaning. “And don’t use a scouring pad or any other abrasive item or cleaner, as this can scratch the finish,” Gazzo says.
6. Clean tub spout
The hardware on your tub might dictate the cleaning method you use. Certain cleaners can destroy the finish on polished chrome, nickel, stainless steel, brass or oil-rubbed bronze fixtures, so make sure you know which type of finish you have. In general, warm soapy water will do the trick.
To clean the bathtub spout and drain, fill a bucket with dish soap and warm water. Dip the toothbrush into the cleaning solution and use it to clean hard-to-reach places in and around the spout and drain. To clean crevices, cut a 6-inch piece of dental floss and use it to remove gunk from where the spout meets the wall. Slide it back and forth to release buildup.
7. Rinse the tub
When the tub looks and feels clean, use the hand shower sprayer, Rinseroo or a bucket of clean water to rinse and remove all the leftover cleaning solution.
8. Dry the tub
Use a dry cloth (Amazon reviewers love this microfiber cloth) to dry the surface of the tub. Pay extra attention to the edges and corners, where water pools. If you prefer to stand, wrap the cloth around the bristles of the long-handled brush and secure with a rubber band.
9. Shine the hardware
Finish by buffing the tub spout, drain and handles with a new clean and dry microfiber cloth.
How do you clean bathtub jets?
Fill the tub with hot water until the highest jet is covered by two inches. Pour in 2 tablespoons of dish liquid and 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. You can also use Oh Yuk Jetted Tub Cleaner; just pour in the recommended amount. Turn on the jets and let them run for 15 minutes.
Drain the tub and run a microfiber cloth over and inside the jets. Then, refill the tub with cold water (again, cover the highest jet by two inches) and run the jets for 10 more minutes. Drain the tub and wipe away excess moisture.
If you don’t remember the last time you cleaned the jets, prepare yourself for what gunk might be released now that you know how to clean a jetted tub. And remember: Not all jacuzzi-style tubs are the same. Before cleaning, consult the user’s manual to find out if your air controls should be open or closed during the cleaning process, and if there are any specific cleansers you should avoid. Not following directions can cause damage and void your warranty.
What’s the best way to get rid of soap scum?
Wondering how to clean a bathtub with soap-scum buildup? Gazzo says a surfactant, like liquid dish soap, is best to break down soap scum. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda and a squeeze of dish soap to make a thick paste. Dab it onto the spot and let it sit for five to 10 minutes. When time is up, rub it away using a wet toothbrush. Gross pink gunk is not actually soap scum but an airborne bacterium. However, the same method should work to resolve it. Otherwise, grab a jar of the popular Pink Stuff, a cleaning paste with more than 87,000 five-star Amazon reviews.
What’s the best way to get rid of tough stains?
Although tough stains may appear to be permanent, with a little extra attention you can usually remove them. Use a commercial cleaner, like Lemi-Shine LCR Remover, which is specifically formulated to combat lime, calcium and rust. If you prefer to make your own cleaners from common household ingredients, try these.
For limescale, calcium and hard-water stains, soak a paper towel with distilled white vinegar. Lay the towel over the stain and let it sit for up to 30 minutes. Dip an old toothbrush into baking soda and scrub the spot before rinsing clean.
For rust spots, reach for Borax laundry powder and a lemon. Cut the lemon in half, and dip the interior of the halved lemon into the Borax powder. Rub the lemon (powder side down) onto the spot. If the spot persists, allow the lemon powder mixture to sit on the spot up to 15 minutes before rinsing and wiping dry.
When dealing with the toughest stains, Gazzo reaches for a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. But do not overdo it, and test it in a small area first, he warns. “This eraser is slightly abrasive and will (very slowly) wear down the surface.” Only do this step once a quarter.
What’s the best way to clean grout?
Commercial cleaners like Zep Grout Cleaner will get the job done. But there are other ways to clean grout and grime quickly, including mixing 1 cup hydrogen peroxide with ½ cup baking soda. Cover the grout lines with the paste. Once the mixture stops foaming, gently scrub with an old toothbrush, grout brush or battery-operated grout scrubber. Rinse with water and wipe dry. Worn grout or spots that won’t come clean might just need a touch-up with a grout pen, but chipping, cracking or loose grout is a sign it’s time to re-grout.
Keep in mind that hydrogen peroxide will discolor fabrics, so watch your clothes, towels, bath mat and shower curtain.
The best bathtub cleaners
Are some bathtub stains permanent?
If your homemade cleaner didn’t get the job done, there are still some options for how to clean a bathtub with permanent stains. First, give a commercial cleaner, like Zep Power Foam Tub Cleaner, a try. If it still won’t budge, you may be able to hide it. Cover spots on the bottom surface with an anti-slip shower sticker or non-slip shower mat.
Otherwise, it might be time for a more involved refresh, like a new tub liner. Much like a slipcover on a couch, the liner is designed to fit over the existing tub. Reglazing may also be an option. It’s meant to get your tub looking new again and features a two-step process of painting a hard epoxy coating onto the entire surface. If you’re handy, grab the do-it-yourself Rust-Oleum Tub Refinishing Kit. If that’s outside your comfort zone, it’s best to call in a pro.
Tips to keep your bathtub clean
- Wipe the tub dry. Rubbing the tub down with a soft, dry cloth to remove excess moisture after every use is one of Gazzo’s top tricks.
- Let the bathroom dry out. Leave the exhaust fan on or open a window. This is especially important if you indulge in steamy baths or live in a high-humidity region.
- Keep a towel nearby. If the microfiber cleaning cloth is easy to grab, you are more likely to do quick touch-ups as needed.
- Reconsider your products. Using oily or dyed products in the tub (like essential oil bath salts or bath bombs) can leave behind a difficult-to-remove film.
- Let your bar soap dry. No more goo with this bar soap grip. It allows the air to circulate and dry your soap bar faster.
- Alessandro Gazzo, cleaning expert at Emily’s Maids