What's the best way to keep the toilet bowl clean?

By: Kim Williamson  | 
The toilet bowl may not stand out in the bathroom but it sure needs to be clean.
Key Takeaways
  • Cleaning the toilet bowl requires different methods for various types of stains, including hard water marks, rust and organic waste.
  • Using commercial cleaners with acid can effectively remove hard water stains, but you should always wear gloves due to the harshness of the chemicals.
  • For general disinfection, chlorine bleach is effective, though you shouldn't mix it with other products.

As the mother of a six-year old and twin four-year olds, I discourage "potty talk." I squelch conversations about poop, pee and the giggles during these exchanges. But I'm breaking my own rules; it's time to get down and dirty and talk toilet.

First, let's think about what makes your toilet dirty, and no, this is not your opportunity to name names. Really, should the toilet get that dirty? Clean water flows after each flush, washing away everything you did to ruin the bathroom's air quality. Sometimes, you even flush twice. So why all the stains, water rings and to use the technical term, "ickiness"?


First, let's address the white elephant in the room. Toilets get dirty because they are the unlucky recipients of our bodies' waste products. Let's face it -- if you have children, those bodies are not very good at aiming! With both little and big boys, there's the urine "splash effect." And number one, we have Number Two -- this particular process leaves residue over time, especially if you have children, men and newspapers, digestive issues, or just a family bathroom getting a lot of daily traffic.

You're also fighting the elements. Many households have hard water, or water containing a high amount of dissolved minerals like calcium, copper and magnesium. These minerals separate out of the water as salt-like substances, and can leave a scaly buildup or dirty water rings in the toilet. Rust is another culprit that makes cleaning a challenge, thanks to high iron contents in hard water.

So, all those different stains require different cleaning methods. Since you're now of the edge of your seat -- or toilet seat -- with anticipation, read on to learn exactly what to do.


Steps to Cleaning the Toilet Bowl

Before you battle in the bathroom, choose your weapons.

  • Commercial cleaners are best for hard water stains because they contain acid and also disinfect. Look for ones containing hydrogen chloride, HCL or muriatic acid. Unfortunately, they can be hard on your skin and eyes so it's good to wear gloves. Don't use bleach, as it will set the rust stain.
  • If your toilet doesn't have hard water stains, you can use a general toilet bowl cleaner. Mild acids, like vinegar or lemon juice, are eco-friendly alternatives but not always strong enough to do the job.
  • Chlorine bleach is great for general disinfecting but it too can irritate skin and eyes, so again, wear cleaning gloves. Be careful because spilled bleach can ruin your bathroom rug or floor or fade out colored porcelain enamel. Don't combine bleach with another product as you could create a toxic substance and a possible explosion!
  • Use a toilet brush with flexible, plastic bristles; avoid metals as they can scratch. An easy-to-grip handle and contoured body help you get under the rim and deep into the bowl. Now, it's time to clean:
  1. Remove the water by turning off the valve on the toilet. Flush and plunge out the remaining water. This helps your cleaner work without dilution.
  2. Pour in your cleaner per bottle directions. With bleach or vinegar, use a quarter cup and let the product sit for about 30 minutes, with the lid closed.
  3. Tackle the rest of the toilet with a disinfectant cleaner or disinfecting wipes (use bowl cleaners just for the bowl). Working top-down, clean the tank, handle, lid, and both sides of the seat. The base of the toilet and surrounding floor area will need wiping too, thanks to the men in your life.
  4. Use the toilet brush to clean the bowl and under the rim. If you still have stains, reapply cleanser and repeat.

It may not be the most exciting 45 minutes of your day, but at the end, you'll have the cleanest toilet in town.



Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I clean my toilet to keep it free from stains and bacteria?
Regular cleaning once a week is recommended to prevent stains and bacteria buildup, with more frequent cleaning as needed for high-traffic bathrooms.
What natural alternatives can I use for cleaning my toilet bowl?
Baking soda and vinegar are effective, natural alternatives for cleaning the toilet bowl. They can remove stains and eliminate odors without the use of harsh chemicals.

Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • The Family Handyman. "How to Remove Water Stains." (June 6, 2012). http://www.familyhandyman.com/DIY-Projects/Indoor-Projects/Bathrooms/DIY-Tips-For-Bathrooms/how-to-remove-water-stains/Step-By-Step#step2
  • Household Management 101. "How to Clean a Toilet." (June 3, 2012). http://www.household-management-101.com/how-to-clean-a-toilet.html
  • The Natural Handyman. "Toilet Cleaning Methods and Chemicals Q & A." (June 2, 2012). http://www.naturalhandyman.com/qa/qatoiletcleaning.html
  • Rathey, Allan. "Pick a Brush Four out of Five Janitors Recommend." Housekeeping Channel. (June 5, 2012). http://www.housekeepingchannel.com/a_90-Pick_a_Brush_Four_Out_of_Five_Janitors_Recommend