AD It Yourself

How to Clean a Toilet and Keep It Stain-Free

Say adieu to the toilet-bowl ring
Cleaning advice you won't want to flush away.
Cleaning advice you won't want to flush away.Illustration: Julia Abbonizio/Getty Images

Cleaning your home is a skill, and knowing how to clean a toilet is the most important one of all. Hint: The space around the toilet bowl is one of the dirtiest in the whole house. According to a household germ study done by NSF International, 27% of toilet seats and 14% of handles reached an unhealthy level of dirtiness. But it’s not just the grime that should get you to clean bathrooms; sloppy toilet-bowl cleaning may lead to bigger concerns. “A dirty toilet can cause plumbing issues,” says Ben Goldzweig, owner of Gold Plumbing in Cleveland. “If there is heavy calcium buildup, it could clog up the little holes on the inside of the toilet bowl, as well as the toilet jet hole at the bottom, and cause flushing problems.”

That’s why toilet cleaning is not something you should slack on. With proper cleaning products and tools and a bit of elbow crease, you can have a sparkling clean toilet bowl in no time. Here is how.

What is the best cleaner to use on toilets?

For a toilet that just needs a refresh, Goldzweig recommends a homemade formula of one cup of white vinegar and one cup of baking soda followed by two more cups of vinegar to create a fizzing cleaner. Use the toilet brush to get under the rim and over stains above the water line. Let this sit for about 10 to 30 minutes to break down the stains.

While white vinegar and baking soda are typically solid players when it comes to cleaning tips, this DIY hack doesn’t always cut it when it comes to serious toilet-bowl stains. You need a stronger all-purpose cleaner to get rid of hard water stains and calcium buildup, and particularly something with hydrogen peroxide or bleach. Make sure you use a bathroom-specific disinfectant and follow the directions on the bottle.

Start by coating the toilet-bowl interior entirely in the Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Bleach. Start by squirting the cleaning solution along the top rim of the bowl, letting the cleaner trickle down, toward the toilet water. Next, grab a toilet brush and physically scrub the solution onto the surface. The bristles should create a light lather. With a handheld brush, get deep under the rim of the toilet. The underside is where those little water holes, are and this step will help prevent calcium and mineral buildup. Let the cleaner sit for about five minutes, then flush and the mess will be gone.  

If your toilet bowl is really stained—think that gross ring or icky marks­­—it needs a deep clean. In this case, a basic toilet cleaning product may not be enough, and you will need to use undiluted bleach. As a one-stop cleaning solution, pour one cup of bleach around the bowl. Then tackle every inch with a toilet brush or a handheld scrub brush. Let it sit for five minutes, then flush. 

How do you clean stained toilets?

You can start with a disinfecting toilet cleaning solution, or you can make your own by adding a spray nozzle to a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. This will allow you to spray all over the toilet bowl and get under the rim, and you can even spray the toilet brush when you’re done. Tempting as it may be to put cleaning products in the tank, skip this step, as doing so could void manufacturer warranties, Goldzweig warns.

While the toilet bowl is getting a cleaning solution soak, clean the exterior of the toilet. Start by putting on rubber gloves—you definitely don’t want any of this residue on your hands! Grab a disinfectant wipe, run the wipe along all surfaces: Under and around the toilet seat, in the groves under the toilet bowl, the space between the toilet and the floor, and don’t forget that dirty toilet handle. This step gets rid of dust, dirt, and unpleasant stains that may have dripped down the toilet bowl. 

You might notice that the grout or caulk around the toilet has yellowed or that there are hard-water stains.  To tackle the stubborn messes, use an old toothbrush and Lysol Power bathroom cleaner. Spray from the base of the toilet up, double-checking that you’ve covered the underside of the bowl and that snug space between the bowl and the tank. Be sure to spray both sides of the toilet lid and the seat, and then nab the top of the toilet tank too. Let the spray set for 10 minutes, and then use a sponge, paper towels, or microfiber cloth to clean up any remaining residue. No rinsing required.

How many times should I clean my toilet a month? 

The entire process of getting rid of tough stains and germs can be accomplished in about a half-hour, or the length of a podcast episode. If you clean the toilet once a week with a toilet cleaner and a toilet brush, stubborn stains shouldn’t even be a problem in the first place. A quick weekly run-through with Lysol disinfectant wipes on the exterior of the toilet should keep it sparkling. If someone in your household has the stomach bug, however, you’ll want to clean the toilet and the rest of the bathroom every couple of days. Don’t forget to disinfect your supplies too. Soak sponges and rubber gloves in equal parts bleach and water. Use a disinfectant spray, like Microban, on the brush and plunger. Air dry.

How do professionals clean toilets? 

If you want to do your toilet cleaning like a professional, the most integral aspect of this task is separating your bathroom supplies from the rest of the cleaning solutions and tools you use in the rest of your home. This will ensure that there’s no cross-contamination of germs—you don’t want any toilet residue to end up on your kitchen countertop. 

Professional cleaners often use the same household supplies as you would: toilet-bowl cleaner (or bleach), disinfectant wipes, rubber gloves, as well as a nonscratch scrub sponge, a microfiber cloth, or paper towels. A handheld scrub brush or a pumice stone can get to especially tough stains. Goldzweig suggests an emery cloth to scrub with more power. Serious hard-water buildup may require heavy duty acid solutions, but these are dangerous and should only be applied by a professional.