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3 Clever Tricks For Cleaning Your Moldy, Scummy Bathroom

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

My girlfriend and I have mold in our toilet bowl. We're both in our mid-30s, so we're not disgusting kids fresh out of college who have gross cleaning habits. The rest of the house is nice and clean (not just tidy), and this was not a problem in our last apartment, nor is it an issue in the first floor of this two family home. It's not in the shower, sink, or anywhere else in the house. It's black spotting that starts out light around the area where the toilet water rinses down from under the rim, starting at the water line. From there it grows darker and further outward, even collecting underwater. It goes away with a light brushing, but it always comes back, no matter what I use. I've even taken the entire bowl apart, replaced the whole tank assembly (flapper, floater, fill tube, etc.) and then bleached the hell out of everything, but the mold comes back. Any ideas? It's become a personal battle for me at this point.


The culprit is likely the design of that particular toilet. Which is probably not news you want to hear! I'm guessing you probably aren't game for replacing the entire toilet itself, and I don't blame you, and so let's move quickly onto the next part of our discussion in which we reinforce the armaments being used in this very personal battle of yours.

Any time we talk about mold removal, the three products you'll want to call to mind are bleach, white vinegar, and/or tea tree oil. Note: Tea tree oil is highly toxic to cats and dogs, so if you're a pet owner and you'd like not to be one anymore, tea tree oil is your ticket. Ha ha no just kidding! Don't kill the kitties and the doggies please! Well. Maybe some of the cats can go?

When it comes to toilet care, bleach should be trotted out sparingly, and in supervised play only, as overexposure to it can cause brass parts—you know, bolts and such—to corrode. The same thing applies to white vinegar, though it is slightly less damaging than bleach. Both can be flushed through from the tank without damaging any hardware. Just be sure to flush the toilet at least three times so that the water in the tank is fully replaced with clean stuff, which will help you avoid damage to the toilet's innards.

Tea tree oil isn't corrosive to metal, but you run the risk of breaking down the rubber parts of the toilet's mechanism, and so I also would avoid putting it directly into the tank. The same advice applies to those toilet tablet thingies that get dropped in the tank—even though it's tempting to go the hands-off route to eliminating the mold, it's just not a good idea in the long run.

So while I want to be able to give you the simple instruction to regularly pour some magic liquid or drop a tablet made by sorcery into the tank, I can't do that with a clear conscience. There's also a measure of self-preservation going on here: I don't know if my heart can take "Dear A Clean Person, The brass bolts holding my toilet tank together corroded and now my entire home is flooded with toilet water. Help!"

Unfortunately, that means that regular, hands-on cleaning is going to be your best bet in this situation. Since the mold is particularly virulent, you may want to keep a small spray bottle filled with either bleach solution or white vinegar tucked near the toilet so you can give the bowl a spritz and a swipe with a toilet brush in between deeper cleanings.

I have this orange-ish shower scum problem and have attacked it a couple of ways but I just can't seem to win.

I've used Scrubbing Bubbles, kitchen sink bleach-type products, I've religiously wiped down the shower after every use, but still this orange scum persists. I've removed any and all shower caddies that my wife seems to think helps us organize the shower, but which I think are just repositories for bacteria and their ilk. Is there any longer-term solution that I can use other than spending a couple of hours every Saturday scrubbing the shower clean?


The orange-ish shower scum is bacteria called Serratia marcescens and, much like mold, it's one of those things that's almost impossible to rid yourself of completely. You'll clean … and then it will come back. That is unfortunately the way of the world sometimes.

To make a few more comparisons to mold, Serratia marcescens enjoys feeding on soap products and thrives in warm, moist environments, which means it absolutely loves loves loves your shower. It also hates bleach, white vinegar, and tea tree oil.


Just like with our pal up-column, the trick here is regular cleaning. Which it sounds like you're doing! I am, however, a little confused as to why cleaning your shower is taking you multiple hours? Shall I presume that to be hyperbole? Because if not, you're doing something really wrong. Cleaning a shower should take 20-30 minutes tops, unless you've got a seriously filthy situation on your hands, in which case a deeper cleaning that takes longer will be required. But if you're doing regular cleaning, that shouldn't be the case.

Since the bacteria infestation you've described sounds like some serious build-up, what I want you to do is to remove everything from the shower and place it in your kitchen sink. Then open a few windows, don a pair of rubber gloves, and spray the entire shower with a DIY bleach solution (three parts water to one part bleach) or a bleach-based spray cleaner like Tilex. Then leave it to marinate for 15-30 minutes. While that's going on, wipe down all of your shower accessories—caddies, bottles of shampoo, razors, whatever you've got in there—with a small amount of the bleach solution or product, then rinse and dry them off thoroughly. That will help to eliminate any bacteria lurking on those items. If you hate bleach, substitute white vinegar or tea tree oil diluted with water.


Once the shower has marinated, go back in with a sponge and a scrub brush. You will probably already notice a difference! Wipe everything down well using the sponge, and employ the scrub brush on any really stubborn areas. A toothbrush might also be helpful for getting into corners, which is oftentimes where bacteria and mold like to congregate to smoke cigarettes and swap vicious rumors about that nasty Tanya girl.

Going forward, using a squeegee to wick water off the shower walls after use will go a long way toward keeping S. marcescens growth to a minimum. It won't completely prevent the problem, but it will help. The use of an automatic shower cleaner can also serve to keep the problem at bay.

My glass shower doors resist any type of cleaning. There is an opaque build-up that resists all cleansers to the point that I use a razor blade scraper to scrape off the soap residue. I’ve tried CLR, Soft Scrub, OxyClean, Clorox, Scum-B-Gone and I am at my wits end. I spend more time devising a way to be rid of these doors than I care to admit.


You are going to think I'm a loon (I am a loon): dryer sheets. Get 'em wet and scrub those doors. For serious.

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Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.


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