How to Clean a Bathroom (with 6 DIY Cleaning Product Recipes!)

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About: I am a paper engineer, writer, maker and chemist wannabe. In addition to pop-up cards I design and build furniture, lights, costumes or whatever I happen to need at the time. Lipstick, a mixing studio, all-p...

If this sounds like a silly joke instructable, let me assure you I am dead serious. One assumes everyone knows how to clean a bathroom, but, having raised a couple boys, I know first hand that humans are NOT born knowing how to perform this vital task, and that it takes a good amount of determination and repetition to master all the necessary skills. Luckily (or unfortunately), because of the nature of this room's use there are plenty of opportunities to practice and master the art of cleaning your bathroom.

Step 1: The Toilet

The toilet is not JUST the toilet bowl. No. The toilet is the rim, it is the seat, it is the underside of the seat, and the lid -- both sides. It includes the flusher, and those annoying hinges which are so hard to wipe off. Don't forget the bowl exterior either! Defying all logic, the underhang of the toilet bowl is usually the grossest part. At the risk of being graphic, pee tends to dribble down the sides, leaving colorful residue right where it drips to the floor.

I use commercial cleaner for the inside of the bowl, because I like the bottle design which can squirts up to reach the hidden part inside the rim, but for the exterior I use a bathroom spray which I make myself:

Ingredients:

Material:

  • One empty, clean, 32 oz spray bottle with the label removed.

Directions:

Mix washing soda in 2 cups of warm water till it dissolves. Pour into an empty 32 oz spray bottle and add bleach, soap, and enough cold tap water to top off your spray bottle.

Shake the bottle before each use, spray the surface generously and allow it to sit for a few minutes before wiping it off.

Step 2: The Sink

Approach the sink with the same thoroughness as the toilet. They have many nooks and crannies, do not leave a single part untouched!

Besides the handles, the spout, the soap dish and the bowl itself (inside and out), unscrew the drain to remove any hair and gunk. Buying a proper brush (long, stiff and narrow enough to get deep into your drain) is definitely worthwhile, and it will cut down on your need for chemical cleaners.

When the water starts draining slowly I pour about 1/8 cup each of washing soda and citric acid into the drain. I'll let it foam for a while, which loosens up the gunk, then I'll scrub and rinse. If needed I'll repeat. Even when the drain was completely blocked I've never needed to use anything stronger. You will notice, if you clean the drain regularly (before it slows down), that you won't even need to use these mild chemicals. Your drain won't clog up anymore.

Step 3: The Tub

I am partial to bath salts, melts, bombs and other bath additives which feel great but then leave a horrific mess in the tub.

The most important time-saving tip is to rinse off the tub (and preferably wipe it down with a rag or a paper towel) right after use. Unfortunately that tends to cancel out your post-soak zen, so if you neglect this step, you'll need a stronger cleaning solution. I originally created this recipe for the oven, but it works for the tub as well:

Ingredients:

Materials:

  • Clean 32oz spray bottle

Directions:

Dissolve borax in one cup very hot water. Add vinegar or citric acid and liquid castille soap. Pour into spray bottle and fill to the top with water.

Use: To clean the tub, spray all the surfaces generously then sprinkle liberally with baking soda. It's hard to sprinkle vertical surfaces, so you can put some baking soda on a rag and rub it on the surface to make a paste. Leave this paste overnight (or an hour or two -- or less depending on how much oil is incrusted), then scrub off and clean with warm soapy water.

As always, don't forget the details! Spout, shower head, valve, drain, etc. Spray all corners with bleach based spray (recipe in step 1) to kill mildew!

Step 4: The Shower Curtain

Shower curtains (or glass doors) will quickly get coated with white mineral deposits, especially if you live in an area with hard water. The easiest way to deal with this is to clean it after each use, which is easier than it sounds. All you need to do is quickly spray the curtain, or if you have a clear glass door, use a squeegee to wipe off the water and soap residue.

Shower curtain spray recipe (more details in step 4 of my Clean Green instructable).:

Directions:

Dissolve citric acid in 1 cup of warm (distilled) water. Add liquid castille soap, pour into clean 32 oz spray bottle, and fill bottle to the top with cold (distilled) water.

****

If you failed to do this maintenance and you are faced with a filthy shower curtain, your only choice is to remove it, and either scrub it by hand or put it in the machine machine (cold, gentle cycle) with a few white towels, and some soap and bleach. It might come out a bit wrinkly, but it should straighten out after you hang it back up, and it will be perfectly clean!

Step 5: Floor

My bathroom is so small I actually clean it with my bathroom spray (recipe in step 1), but you can mop yours using this recipe:

Combine in a bucket and mop away! Pay special attention to the corners and the area around the toilet.

Step 6: Don't Forget the Walls!

Back in the horse and buggy days they used to scrape the walls of stables, and collect pee-soaked straw to leech out saltpeter, an important chemical for making gun powder and lots of other things. Now I suppose I could scrape these tiles carefully with a razor blade and collect the white powder to add to my hand creams for soft skin, dump in my garden to help my plants grow or use for other concoctions, but generally at this point in my cleaning frenzy I'm too riled up to start recycling the waste product. I'm cursing my houseful of boys and going through paper towels like climate change isn't a thing and I'm not a part of the problem. What can I say? I'm only human. Also, just scrub the walls. Pee splattered walls will spoil the effect of a gleaming sink, toilet and tub.

Step 7: All the Other Stuff

Don't forget to wash all the towels, wash cloths, bath mats, etc. Also wipe off the towel rack, toilet paper holder or any other built-in hardware.

The trash can, toilet brush, and any other accessory you have in the bathroom should be cleaned as well.

Empty out your medicine cabinet and discard out of date or unwanted medicine -- but discard them responsibly!

Clean out the medicine cabinet interior before replacing all the items you want to keep.

Clean your mirror with this DIY window cleaner recipe (from step 3 of my Clean Green instructable):

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp borax
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp liquid castille soap
  • 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1/4 cup ammonia
  • 1/2 cup white (distilled) vinegar

Directions Dissolve borax in one cup hot water. Add remaining cup of cold water, combine all other ingredients and pour into clean 32oz spray bottle.

To use, spray window and clean with crumpled newspaper or paper towel.

Step 8: Conclusion

If you didn't spend at least an hour cleaning your bathroom then chances are you missed a spot...

***********

If you're curious about these recipes, I developed them as part of a book project I started a while back, called Make Anything, a Handbook for Saving Money, Living Green, and Having Fun with Trash, a project which was unfortunately sidelined by the need to make money in the immediate moment as opposed to just saving money and having fun. Which is why I started selling my pop-up cards, and I've been (for the most part) focussing on paper engineering.

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    10 Discussions

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    Caddywoman

    4 months ago

    Aside from spreading the toilet down first, it really should be cleaned last... right before you put your cleaning cloths in the washer. Otherwise, you spread pee all over the walls. Just a thought.

    1 reply
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    belseyCaddywoman

    Reply 2 months ago

    Good point! I did not address the importance of the order in which the different bathroom parts should be cleaned... Though I actually (to my shame) use mostly disposable paper towels so for me the order matters less. But definitely if you are using a sponge or rag, don't start with the toilet!

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    DennisT33

    6 months ago

    Several of these and other homemade cleaning recipes mix chemical bases (washing soda, baking soda, ammonia) with acids (vinegar, citric acid). After an initial reaction, the solution will be composed of a salt and a reduced activity of both the base and the acid, i.e. the ammonia and the vinegar will form ammonium acetate, a rather innocuous salt, and neutralize both the acid and the base. I wonder if the recipes would work better with *either* the acid or the base, rather than both?

    4 replies
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    jjmcgaffeyDennisT33

    Reply 6 months ago

    I use baking soda and vinegar to clean... just about everything - but I do it as a fresh mix (usually, scrub the surface with soda, pour vinegar on it, scrub again while it's foaming). It seems to have less effect if I leave it (though I didn't know it was forming a salt).

    I'd be interested to know the why of the cleaning solutions here - how does the soap help, why the emphasis on washing soda in some rather than baking soda, and (as you say) why wait until the base-acid reaction stops to use it? The author says she developed these recipes particularly, I'd like to see something of the details of the development.

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    belseyjjmcgaffey

    Reply 6 months ago

    Pretty much all cleaners combine basic and acidic ingredients -- but that doesn't mean the end result is neutral! It all depends on the quantity and pH of the various ingredients you're using. Some cleaners such as glass cleaners) you want to be acidic, others, (like all-purpose sprays) are better if they're a bit basic. Not TOO basic mind you, or you'll harm painted surfaces, for example. Just the right pH... hence mixing acids and bases to get just the right combination. Washing soda is more basic than baking soda (so you'd need more baking soda for the same effect), plus I find it dissolves better and doesn't leave a grainy residue.

    Using soap is necessary because it's a surfactant: it reduces the surface tension of the water, which means the water spreads over the surface better and soaks everything, which means (if you let it sit a couple minutes) it dissolves gunk and cleans better. If you enjoy the exercise, a cleaning product with just vinegar and baking soda will do the trick with enough scrubbing... but I must confess I'm a bit lazy and prefer to just soak and then wipe clean without the extra elbow grease. That's what a surfactant (soap) will do.

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    DennisT33belsey

    Reply 6 months ago

    Actually, the traditional glass cleaner is basic, i.e. household ammonia. Glad that your concoction has reached the perfect pH.

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    jjmcgaffeybelsey

    Reply 6 months ago

    Thank you! That's precisely the sort of information I wanted. I see your point - the soda and vinegar do take quite a bit of scrubbing to work. I'll try some of your mixtures on my tough jobs, next time.

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    BeanieandCecilC

    Tip 6 months ago

    A gentleman might consider sitting rather than standing to take care of peeing and thus eliminate the rather nasty splattering that occurs and also reduce the need for constant cleaning of walls, floors, seats. It may seem less "manly" for some, but it sure cuts down on the mess.

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    obillo

    6 months ago on Step 2

    Nice going, Belsey. But why CASTILE soap specifically? Also, others wishing to benefit from Belsey's work please note that no one who can reach into a recycling bin ever has to BUY a spray bottle. This seems almost insultingly obvious but I've seen too many people buying spray bottles that are identical to those most people simply trash.

    1 reply
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    belseyobillo

    Reply 6 months ago

    Agree about recycling spray bottles -- with the caveat that they be very carefully cleaned, or at least that you pay attention to the former and future ingredients. You won't want to put a mixture containing bleach, for example, in a bottle with traces of ammonia (it will create toxic gases)

    I use castle soap because I prefer using traditional soap to other detergents (not only is it usually "greener" but I also bought a gallon a couple years ago which I still haven't used up), but feel free to replace it with another surfactant. Especially the curtain stray might benefit from using an alternate detergent as opposed to soap.