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The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning a Toilet

Let it shine.

white bathroom interior with clawfoot tub
Photography by: Marlene Ford/GettyImages

The toilet is one of the most-used seats in your home and—no surprise—one of the ickiest. But it doesn’t take tons of time or loads of elbow grease to get that porcelain throne sparkling clean. Here’s your no-fail, no-germ-left-behind guide to getting the job done.


Gather Your Supplies

Trust us, you don’t want to stop mid-task to search for a pumice stone. Instead, have all of your tools within arm’s reach, perhaps organized in a handy bucket.

  • disinfecting spray and wipes (like those from Seventh Generation)
  • paper towels
  • a sturdy pair of cleaning gloves (Melissa Maker, author of “Clean My Space,” is a fan of the cuffed kind that guarantee yucky runoff won’t hit your wrists)
  • a toilet bowl cleaner. You can DIY your own with salt, oxygen bleach, and baking soda or white vinegar and baking soda (see below). Or opt for a store-bought brand that uses hydrogen peroxide or oxygen bleach for its cleaning muscle, such as Lysol or Greenworks
  • tiff-bristle toilet brush
  • pumice stone on a stick, such as Pumie


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Make the Outside Sparkle

When cleaning the commode, most people tend to focus on (dread?) the bowl’s interior—but every inch deserves attention, says Donna Smallin Kuper, certified house cleaning technician and author at Grab that disinfecting spray and liberally spritz the entire exterior of the toilet, including harder to reach areas like the back of the base and the underside of the seat. Also spritz the walls behind and beside the toilet. A University of Arizona microbiologist found that, with each flush, bathroom particles can launch into the air like a fireworks display before settling onto nearby surfaces (blech). That makes the floor and walls around the toilet prime spots for microscopic splatter.


Then—and here’s a crucial step—let the cleaner sit for at least five minutes. “So many people spray and then immediately wipe away, but you have to give the cleaners time to do their thing,” says Maker. While you’re waiting, move on to the toilet’s interior.

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Clean the Inside

“A lot of super-strong toilet cleaners are so harsh because they then get diluted when you put them into a toilet bowl full of water,” says Leslie Reichert, green-cleaning coach and author of “The Joy of Green Cleaning.” She recommends draining the water out and then applying the cleaning solution. 


“If you get the water out of toilet, you can use a milder cleaner with the same squeaky-clean results,” she says. Plus, you get a better clean with less work. It’s easier than it sounds: Simply turn the water valve at the base of the toilet off, flush once, and you’re good to go.


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Reichert mixes her own big batches of toilet bowl cleaner using 1 cup table salt, 1 cup baking soda, and 1 cup oxygen bleach (such as OxiClean). When it’s time to tidy the bathroom, she grabs her container and sprinkles the toilet bowl liberally. “The baking soda removes any gunky build-up, the salt is a natural abrasive for scrubbing, and the oxygen bleach cleans and disinfects,” she says.


Smallin Kuper prefers to pour one cup of baking soda and one cup of distilled white vinegar directly into the toilet bowl, for similar sanitized-and-sparkling results. If you’d rather a store-bought solution, look for brands that rely on hydrogen peroxide or oxygen bleach, rather than chlorine bleach, which can be a lung irritant. If you rather stick with chlorine bleach, make sure to prop open a window and wear gloves when using.


Whichever toilet bowl cleaner you prefer, use generously and remember to apply some under the bowl’s rim. Then, while you’re waiting 5 to 10 minutes for those suds to fully work, turn your attention back to the toilet’s exterior.


Wipe it Down

“I’m not usually a fan of disposable products, but wiping down the toilet is one task where durable paper towels are ideal,” says Maker. And while you might be tempted to use a wet cloth, when it comes to a disinfectant spay, water isn't necessary. Using a paper towel, wipe the disinfectant off the toilet’s exterior, working from the top to the bottom. Don’t forget to run a clean paper towel over walls and then floor surrounding the toilet as well. “Especially if you live with men or have guests with bad aim, you’ll be amazed at how yellow and dirty your paper towel gets,” says Smallin Kuper. Toss those paper towels straight in the trash rather than letting them pile up nearby.


Scrub Out Stains

Grab a stiff-bristled toilet brush to scrub the bowl’s interior and under the rim. If you notice a rust-colored ring in the bowl’s interior, the culprit is likely minerals in your water system. Cleaning experts agree the surefire way to attack such stains is with a pumice stone. Opt for a stone on a stick, so your hands don’t have to get too close to the toilet bowl. A few swipes with the pumice stone should do the trick—and don’t worry, the pumice, a softer stone, won't scratch the porcelain surface. Turn the toilet’s water back on, then flush to rinse the bowl.


Sanitize Your Tools

Prop the wet toilet brush under the seat cover and pour bleach or cleaning solution over its business end, into the toilet bowl. Let sit for a minute, then rinse with a pitcher of water. Clean the brush’s canister by filling it with warm, soapy water; you can dump it right in the toilet, too. Resist the urge to stick the damp brush back in the canister and be done with it, says Maker. Instead, you want to let the brush air out completely before putting it away, to ensure you’re not encouraging bacteria growth.


Once the toilet’s clean, you’ll probably want to peel off your gloves lickety-split. But before you do, head for the sink and give your gloved hands a good scrubbing with soap and hot water. “It’s the best way to make sure you don’t get your hands dirty and get every inch of the gloves clean,” says Maker. Hang or prop them up to fully dry before putting them away. Then give yourself a high five—your toilet couldn’t be cleaner!


Now, watch as Martha share what she keeps in her bathroom cleaning bucket: