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Spring Cleaning Day 12: Let’s Tackle the Tub and Shower

A brightly lit bathroom with a sparkling clean tub and shower.
Joe Hendrickson/Shutterstock

Put off deep cleaning your tub for a bit? We feel you. But getting your tub and shower enclosure clean is a big part of bailing out your bathroom during this spring cleaning bender, so let’s dig in.

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Yesterday, we decluttered the bathroom to pave the way for easier cleaning for the rest of the week. Today, we’re getting started on the actual cleaning in a more traditional scrub brush ‘n’ cleanser way.

What You Need to Clean Your Tub and Shower

Let’s take a look at the tools we need to get the tub and shower enclosure clean and shiny. While you can typically deal with just about anything in your home using plain old dish soap, white vinegar, and warm water, the bathroom offers some unique challenges.

Note: The following cleanser suggestions and methods assume you have a common tile or fiberglass tub and/or shower enclosure. For natural stone or other more exotic materials, please contact the manufacturer or installer for an appropriate substitute cleanser.

When it comes to the tub and shower, there are three primary issues to deal with: soap scum and mineral buildup, rust stains, and mildew. A good cleaner or two will take care of all of those things without issue.

While a little mineral buildup isn’t uncommon around the kitchen sink—and we used white vinegar to deal with it the very first day of the cleaning challenge—the mineral buildup in the bathroom is a little different. Yes, you can grind your way through it with white vinegar, but the way mineral buildup and soap combine over time in the tub makes it a huge pain to power through it strictly with elbow grease, vinegar, and a scrub brush.

Warning: Never mix cleaning products to avoid hazardous reactions and fumes. When using multiple cleaning products, always rinse the first cleaning product away fully with clean water before applying another cleaner.

You can tough it out with vinegar if you’re sticking strictly to using really natural cleaners, but we’re recommending something a bit more potent to make short work of the job. Here’s what you need.

You’ll notice that we suggested two different kinds of Soft Scrub. The original Soft Scrub blend is a very mildly abrasive cleaning cream that’s not unlike slightly watered-down toothpaste in terms of consistency and color.

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It’s safe for pretty much any surface, especially if it isn’t applied aggressively. However, if you want to play it extra safe, especially if you have an older fiberglass tub or shower enclosure you’re concerned about scuffing up, you can use Soft Scrub Gel instead—it’s a stay-put gel form of Soft Scrub with no abrasives, gentle or otherwise, included. Lots of folks love it because the gel formula makes it super easy to put directly on grout lines.

Both variations of Soft Scrub are great when you’re getting into the thick of it, but we’ll be the first to say that anything you can spray on and rinse off with positive results is always a more pleasant experience—which is why we’ve included CLR’s soap-scum cutting spray in the mix, too. It’s a great tool to start with if you’re looking to dodge a whole lot of scrubbing.

Many people clean their bath and showers using only a sponge, but in our experience, it’s tough to beat using a stiff scrub brush. While you always want to avoid using a really abrasive cleaning tool like a scouring pad or steel wood, a good stiff brush cuts through soap scum and built-up grime so much faster than a sponge and cleanser alone.

Start with the Enclosure Walls

Whether you have a tub surrounded by tilework or a fiberglass shower stall, or some combination thereof, it’s best to start high and work your way down.

Not only is that just a pragmatic way to not have to double back over the same space to clean up later but, hey, maybe some of the cleaner dripping down towards the drain as you work will do a little cleaning along the way.

  1. Put on your gloves and safety goggles. Lots of people skip both, but that’s a great way to get dried up and cracked skin or a chemical burn in your eyes.
  2. Liberally spray the CLR cleanser along the walls of the tub/shower area.
  3. Let soak for around 3 minutes.
  4. Use a damp sponge to wipe a portion of the wall to gauge how well the cleanser has worked.
  5. If the CLR spray has successfully cut through the soap scum, rejoin and simply wipe clean using a damp sponge refreshed and rinsed frequently (or, if you have a detachable showerhead, rinse freely that way).
  6. If the buildup persists, you can reapply additional spray and repeat the above steps or begin scrubbing with your heavy-duty scrub brush.
  7. The CLR spray can work well on grout that has rust stains, but for general discoloration, you might find that applying Soft Scrub directly to the grout lines and scrubbing it firmly will remove the discoloration faster.
  8. Rinse with cool water.

If your grout still isn’t looking quite as fresh and lovely as you’d like despite the effort you’ve put in, it might simply be stained beyond resurrection—or you might need to review the grout-cleaning section in our kitchen floor guide and tackle your bathroom grout with dedicated grout cleaners and sealers.

Scrub the Tub or Shower Pan Thoroughly

A clean white porcelain tub.
Jean Andrian/Shutterstock

A little soap scum may build up on the walls of shower enclosures (whether it’s a tub surround or a stand-alone shower), but the bulk of the staining and mineral buildup is where the bulk of the water goes: into the tub basic or the shower pan.

This is where most people will spend most of their time (and elbow grease!) getting the stains out.

  1. Spray the surface of the tub or shower pan liberally with the CLR cleaner.
  2. Let it soak for 3 minutes again.
  3. Rinse by running the shower or tub and wiping it clean with your sponge.
  4. If the CLR does the job, move on to the next section. If not, liberally apply Soft Scrub to the entire body of the basin or pan as if painting the surface.
  5. Using your heavy-duty scrub brush, firmly scrub the tub or shower pain in small circular and overlapping motions, working around the entire area.
  6. Don’t forget to scrub the caulk (though be forewarned that aggressively scrubbing old and brittle caulk can dislodge it).
  7. Repeat until the stains are removed and the surface is clean.
  8. Rinse thoroughly.

Clean the Shower Glass

For those of you with a glass shower door instead of a curtain, there’s a final step: descaling the glass. Even if you have a textured glass door and not a perfectly clear one, you should still tackle this. Water spots and soap scum aren’t as obvious on heavily textured shower glass, but they still limit light transmission—once you give it a good cleaning, you’ll definitely notice the difference.

  1. Spray the shower glass down with your CLR foaming cleaner.
  2. Again, leave it to soak for 3 minutes.
  3. Wipe down with a damp sponge.
  4. If mineral buildup persists, continue to spray but agitate with your scrub brush.
  5. Significant buildup will require repeated cleaning and scrubbing to fully dissolve.

Wipe Everything Down

Your last step, after rinsing, should be to simply wipe everything down with a towel. Although most people don’t wipe down their bath or shower after every single use, taking a moment to do so now will give you a chance to look over your handiwork and keep water spots from showing up immediately after all your cleaning.

The tub and shower are clean and the single most laborious bathroom cleaning task is now behind us—so yay, it’s an easy downhill stroll for the rest of the week! Speaking of the rest of the week,  follow along on our Spring Cleaning Challenge landing page or get the lessons, along with all our other great content, delivered right to your inbox!

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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