How to Turn Your Stained And Moldy Bathtubs Into a Spa-Like Oasis


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 roommates and I scrub our bathroom from top to bottom every other week. Somehow, no matter how much I tire myself out trying to scrub down the bathtub it always still looks dirty. I use Soft Scrub with bleach in the bathtub while scrubbing. The tub should be white, but it is discolored just a touch in places that look like dirt but when I scrub nothing happens. Perhaps the bathtub is just stained and there is nothing I can do about it? However, if you have any solutions I would love your help!

The other day, I was working on achieving a prune-like state and writing lists in my bathtub when it occurred to me that I’ve not yet spent any time talking to you about your bathtubs. Mercy! What sort of Clean Monster doesn’t take the time to help get your tubs into a bubblebath-safe state? It’s an outrage! (Mostly I’m trying to distract you from the confession that I spend my soaking time making lists. What can I say? I’m not super great at relaxation. I also just really love making lists. Do you have any lists that are in need of making? I’m your gal.)

Before we talk about how to clean a stained bathtub, there are two general points to make; the first is that a stained bathtub can still be a clean bathtub, so as long as you know you’ve given it a nice scrubbing, you should feel okay about climbing in for a swim. Still though, the visual of a discolored tub can override your rational knowledge of cleanliness and leave you feeling squicked out, which is why we’re going to get into stain removal techniques. The second, and more important, thing to address is that the products you choose need to be right for the type of tub you have.

The three most commonly used bathtub materials are enameled metal (steel or cast iron), porcelain and acrylic. If your tub looks like plastic, it’s acrylic. If it doesn’t look like plastic, it’s one of the other two; to tell the difference between enamel and porcelain, put a magnet on the side of the tub—if it sticks, the tub is enamel. There are, of course, other kinds of tubs out there, those beautiful and indulgent copper numbers for example, but those two are the biggies so they’re what we’ll talk about today.

Stain Removal for Porcelain Tubs

This one is really easy and allows me to introduce you to a nifty little product called a pumice scouring stick. Fun, right? Right. (Humor me, my idea of fun and yours are probably really, really different.) You can find them for just a few bucks at any hardware or home improvement store. They also work to get rid of stains on porcelain toilets! Yay for scouring sticks!

Stain Removal for Enameled Tubs

Enameled tubs are a little more fragile than are their porcelain brethren, so pumice sticks shouldn’t be used on them because they’ll cause scratching. The same goes for anything overly acidic, so say bye-bye to bleach and vinegar and the like, as it will cause pitting in the enamel.

Abrasive powders—your Comets, Ajax Powder Cleansers, Bon Amis (which is a gentler alternative when it comes to a choice of abrasive powders)—can be used, but do take the time to test a small area of the tub to be sure the enamel can’t handle it. They should also be used sparingly; think of them not as your regular cleaner but as the big guns that get trotted out only from time to time. For really tricky stains, make a paste out of the powder, apply it to the stain and allow it to sit for 30 minutes before rinsing away.

Of all of your choices, good old hydrogen peroxide is actually the best bet. And it’s very cheap, which we like! You’ll have money left over to treat yourself to a fancy new bottle of bubble bath!

Stain Removal for Acrylic Tubs

Acrylic tubs are the ones most prone to scratching, fading and cracking, which will inform your choice of cleaning product, as you’ll want to avoid anything overly abrasive. Cream cleansers like Soft Scrub are a good bet, but when it comes to really tricky stains they may not be tough enough. You should, however, try covering the stained area with the cream cleanser and allowing it to sit for 30 minutes—prolonged exposure may be the ticket.

If not, a Magic Eraser will do ya. Also, and I can’t believe I’ve not yet talked about this product yet in our time together, Simple Green is a freaking miracle in a bottle when it comes to getting grimy things clean.

Okay now that I’ve told you all of those things, I’ve a question for you: What brands of bubble bath do you like? I’m in the market. Thanks!

I have a SERIOUS dirty problem: Moldy, mildewy disgust on my caulk in the shower. (No grout as we have sad, plastic-like shower walls.) I went to my local hardware store in search of some serious aid/a solution, as we are way beyond Tilex at this point, and was told to rip out my caulk and re-do it all. Ain’t nobody got time for that during the holidays!

Ah, how it makes my Clean Heart sing when “way beyond Tilex” problems come my way! How thrilling! Mostly because I somewhat recently treated myself to a beyond-Tilex product and now I get to tell you about it.

This X-14 stuff is no joke. It works like crazy, but when I say no joke I really and truly mean it—IT STINKS. So you must (must must must) use it with protective gloves and open your windows. Another similar product in terms of no jokery is Zep Mold and Mildew Stain Remover.

If you want to give it another go with the Tilex, since you already have it, or if you’ve got some straight up bleach hanging around, here are two application tricks for you to try:

1. Spray the area with bleach or apply blurbs of a bleach-based cream cleanser like Soft Scrub, then cover the area tightly with plastic wrap to keep the bleach in place. Let that sit for a few hours so it does the work for you—you should see a HUGE difference with very little work. Then scrub as needed.

2. Roll up paper towels into a cylinder-like shape, soak with bleach and place along the edges of the tub where the mold is. After they’ve sat and done their thing, go in and scrub scrub scrub.

With all that said, you should think about eventually getting around to replacing the caulk. And here’s why: That mold is going to just keep making an appearance, and you’re going to spend a lot of time and money trying to beat it back.

If you live in a city that’s served by TaskRabbit, you could go that route; estimates begin at $42, which isn’t a total bank-breaker. If you choose to DIY it, a tube of caulk will cost as little as $5, and a not-fancy-but-gets-the-job-done-type putty knife to remove the old caulk will run you $5 up to $20. You’ll also want painter’s tape, which I mention because if you don’t have that, and/or a putty knife, on hand and have to buy them you may decide to outsource the job when you do a total cost comparison.

The Squalor Archive: Armpit Stain Eradication | Blood Stain Removal | Booze Stench Elimination | Brightening White Towels & Sheets | Cleaning Car Consoles | Caring for Athletic Clothing | Cat Pee | Dirty Ball Caps | Dog Mess on Carpet | Filthy Couches | Football Glove Care | Gasoline on Clothing | Grain Moth Infestations | Grease/Rubber Stain Treatments | Gross Computers | Guests & Bedbugs | Halloween Cleanup | Karategi Cleaning | Ketchup Stains | Ladies Underpants | Laundering Bathmats | Lube Stains | Makeup Debris in Bathrooms | Makeup Stains On Upholstery | Marijuana Stench | Mayo Stains | Melted Microfiber on Enameled Cast Iron | Menstrual Cup Care | Mildewed Towels | Moldy Trousers | Mustard Stains | Nail Polish Stains | Odor Removal for Non-Launderable Items | Oven Cleaning | Pee-Smelling Bathrooms | Rank Roller Derby Pads | Rust Stains on Clothing | Scorched Pots | Scummy Glass Shower Doors | Semen Stains | Sheet Changing Cycles | Sheet Changing Etiquette & Tricks | Skidmarks | Stained Tennis Whites | Stinking Sinks | Stinky Feet | Stinky Slippers | Sunscreen Stains | Thanksgiving Stain Primer | That Orange Stuff In The Shower | The Great Bra Washing Extravaganza | Toilet Mold | Towel Laundering Cycles | Treating Testicular Odor | Washing & De-Pilling Sweaters | Wax Removal Techniques | When Butter Attacks | Yellowed Fingernails | Yellowed Sheets | Yellowed Swimsuits

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. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.

Image via Shutterstock.

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