How Baking Soda Took My Bathroom from “Yuck” to Yes!

By Linsey Knerl on 29 September 2008 (Updated 18 September 2009) 36 comments
Photo: Nico Kaiser

I’ll admit it.  I don’t always practice what I preach.  I love the idea of greener, simpler cleaning products.  I’m also addicted to those chemical-laden cleaning products that instantly transform a foul bathroom into something more shiny and apple-scented.  I know that what I’m paying for isn’t as safe or as economical as those natural and cheap remedies that often contain vinegar or baking soda.  I just needed to try it.

Frustrated by the dark black residue that was taking over my tile grout, I resolved to do something about it - today.  With 3 little boys in the house, it was impossible to keep my bathroom clean for very long, and the years of mud, sand, and you-know-what had left permanent reminders of their rambunctiousness.  Simply put, I had white tile and black grout.  It was really bringing me down.

I took a quick inventory of my bathroom cleaning supply.  Toxic, toxic, and even more toxic was the order of the day, but I had a headache, and didn’t feel like putting on my rubber gloves and handkerchief.  I grabbed a box of baking soda from the cabinet.  It had been successfully keeping my husband’s teeth whiter than usual, so it had to work on grout, right?

I dumped a bunch in a bowl, added just enough water to make a “paste” and went to work, carefully placing an even amount of paste down each line of grout.  Then I took the most frayed-looking toothbrush from the toothbrush holder (sorry, Kylin) and began brushing where I applied the paste.  Three words entered my mind:  “What the _____ ?”

 I couldn’t believe the results.  Less than a minute after I put the stuff on, I had sparkling (no kidding) white grout in the areas I cleaned.  A bit of water rinsed it right off, and when my toddler came busting through the door to use the can, I didn’t have to scream at him to avoid the toxic run-off from my cleaning project.  (It was, after all, just baking soda.) 

baking soda treated floor

 (Small area of bathroom tile after baking soda treatment  See how dark the "before" areas are?)

 Just for fun, I used some actual high-powered bathroom tile and grout cleaner, designed for such a task.  It burned my eyes as it came out, and after 5 minutes of setting on a reserved area of grout, took some of the black stuff off – kind of – with a lot of scrubbing.  Afterwards, I felt dirty, and considered hiring a HAZMAT team to rinse off my bathroom floors. 

Chemical Floor

 (Bathroom floor after chemical cleaner. The cleaner didn't get into every bit of the grout, leaving it looking cracked.)

The choice for me was clear.  All-natural, really effective grout cleaner for under a buck at my local grocery store (and the cost of a trashed toothbrush)?  Or that $4 specialty poison that works almost as well and leaves me coughing and frightened for the little toes that walk over it days later?

Is it really even a choice? 

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Myscha Theriault's picture

That's some pretty dramatic evidence, Linsey. And of course the price can't be beat, which is always a bonus in my book.

Guest's picture

I had a similar experience! I tried for months to clean my stove top with all sorts of nasty cleaners specially labeled for the job. I tried and tried, but finally figured that my lovely stove top was gone for good. Then I tried some baking soda one day since I had it out. The stain that wouldn't budge before started coming up like magic! Now I use it all around the house, including in my shower as well. And those expensive, poisonous, worthless cleaners? We've gotten rid of them -- passed them along to people we know who have yet to see the light. (Though, hey, we've tried to convince them!)

Guest's picture
Guest

Can baking soda be used to clean toilet bowl too?

Guest's picture
Christine

Yes! I use baking soda and white vinegar to clean the toilets. The vinegar reacts with the soda and fizzes up. Let it sit for a few minutes (while clean the rest of the bathroom) and then swish it with the brush. Works very well and you're not pouring nasty chemicals into the waste water.

Guest's picture
femmeknitzi

Baking soda will clean ANYTHING! For some reason, my bathroom sink drain tends to build rust. I take a potato, cut it in half and then dig a few holes the meat of it. I rub baking soda onto the potato (the holes allow it to collect inside the potato) and then rub the potato onto the rust stain. It works wonders! It sucks to waste a potato like that, but we usually buy new potatoes in bulk so it's not a large one.

I don't intend to buy any cleaning products anymore. Between baking soda, vinegar and microfiber cloths, there's just no need for toxic chemicals. I'm going to use the bottles that I have to mix my own cleaning products. I'd even like to try making my own laundry detergent.

Guest's picture

All cleaning products are a sham. No reason to ever buy anything that's not one of those three ingredients

Guest's picture
Jennifer S. S.

If you just "paint" the mold with bleach it disappears inside an hour with no scrubbing. It smells bad but its easer.

Guest's picture
Guest

Caereful with bleach - we used to do that on our grout - thenI had to retile an area where the grout was bleached into disintegrating LOL!

I'm trying the baking soda asap - thanks for breaking trail Linsey

Guest's picture
Amy

Wow, I can't believe how well that worked. As soon as I use up the last of my cleaning products, I'm switching to all "homemade." It's amazing how easy they are to use!

Linsey Knerl's picture

All-homemade is a goal, but I'm switching slowly.  This was one thing I tried that got amazing results, so I'm hooked.  Each homemade remedy might not work as well, so it will be a gradual switch to only those homemade remedies that give me better results.

And the bleach idea is something I have considered, but with the fumes not being that healthy, and my kids walking across with bare feet, I have to be careful.  Two of my guys have eczema and are very, very sensitive to bleach.  This just wasn't an option for me.  The baking soda needed no time to sit, I just sprinkled and lightly rubbed the toothbrush in.  Little to no rinsing was what got me hooked!

Carrie Kirby's picture

i have scrubbed grout with bleach and a commercial bleacher that required covering it w/ saran wrap for hours after using, and i never got results that good. i will try it.

I blog at www.shopliftingwithpermission.com.

Guest's picture
dannatx

We have a running joke in our house...my husband thinks pepto bismol cures everything and I think baking soda cleans everything!

This weekend my hubby asked what we had to clean the shower with and then he answered his own question "baking soda". :)

I have this huge box sitting on the counter right now. It will take red coolaid stains out of counter tops and off your hands too! It really is amazing stuff. There are a lot of websites out there that will tell you what all you can use it for.

Guest's picture

I have recently realized that baking soda & vinegar are all you need to clean almost anything. It is great to no longer spend money on more expensive and more toxic cleaning products.

Guest's picture
Guest

I use baking soda and vinegar on everything from stains on our clothing to toilets! I also use it on the counters and to clean the tubs/shower stalls. I found that I was wasting too much by pouring it out of the box, so I went to the dollar store and purchased a parmesan cheese shaker container and use it to sprinkle baking soda in areas I'm cleaning! Works great and doesn't come out in big clumps or piles.

Guest's picture
Lucille

The fiberglass bathtubs when we bought our house were all gray and nasty. I thought they had paint dumped in them. None of the toxic cleaners would make a dent.

Lemon juice and baking soda with a scrub brush and a magic eraser and they both looked like new. Considering we were thinking about removing and replacing both tubs this was a huge savings.

Another trick that worked pretty well. The toilets were all covered under the rim with rust, water deposit and who knows what else. It would not come off no matter what I used. I got a bar of lava pumice soap and a cheap pumice stone from the beauty aisle and a good pair of rubber gloves. What the lava bar didn't break loose or scrub off the pumice stone did.

Guest's picture
Guest

>If you just "paint" the mold with bleach it disappears inside an hour with no scrubbing. It smells bad but its easer.

Bleach whitens (or lightens) mold. It doesn't kill or remove it.

Thanks, Lucille, for the tip for cleaning rust and hard water deposits from the toilet. We have that problem. I'll try what you suggest.

Guest's picture
Kim

I use baking soda to clean my sink and stovetop. Works wonders. Also, vinegar does a bang up job getting the shower sparkling. Our showers were very stained because of iron in our water and had tons of that icky "shower residue" left by our home's previous owners. I used straight vinegar and a brush and it all came off. In that moment, I became believer in natural products.

Guest's picture
Amanda

I hadn't considered tile & grout cleaning. I'll try it.

What I did know is that baking soda in water cleans microwaves. Just put a little baking soda and water in a bowl or cup and microwave for 3-5 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave and the age of the gunk inside). I usually do 1 part baking soda to 3 parts water--it doesn't take much. Remove the pasty miracle and wipe down the microwave. It might take a little experimentation in each case, but it's worth the effort.

Guest's picture
Amanda

I forgot to add that I'm very excited to try the baking soda. I'm 9 weeks pregnant, and smells are driving me batty. I've been needing to clean my bathroom for a while, but the thought of combining the dirty bathroom smell with harsh fumes has had me wanting to invest in barf bags...

Thanks! :)

Guest's picture
Jamie

For those with boys and men in the house, you know how stinky the bathroom can become after awhile. Regular household cleaners just weren't getting that smell out. Now, I throw baking soda on the floor and scrub it in with a wet scrub brush (around the toilet, the floor boards) and let it sit until it dries. Then I vacuum it up (you have to use a dry scrubber to get all the baking soda up). It completely eliminates that smell. Love it!

Guest's picture
christine

just wanted to add..i use h2o2 to get rid of the "smell." it works everytime! just use the cap several times and pour it on the edges of the toilet and leave until the you are done cleaning the rest of the bathroom and rinse or mop up whatever is your preference.I love it!!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Don't get me started.  We have 4 :)  And half don't have their "aim" yet.

Thanks for the tips!

Linsey

Guest's picture
susan

man, this is like a hat trick for me. the tub needs cleaning. i just spotted baking soda at sam's club, 12# for $5.83. and, the best part....I JUST REPLACED MY TOOTHBRUSH SO I ALREADY HAVE A SACRIFICIAL ONE! i know what i'm doin' while my husband is working on his bike tonight. thanks for doing the legwork and reporting the results, linsey. you've made my day.

Guest's picture
A

Thanks for the great post. A little searching on this topic led me to a Web site with additional info:
http://www.getridofthings.com/get-rid-of-mold.htm

Guest's picture
wildgift

My name's link goes to a page about low-impact cleaners and why they work. Baking soda is a little alkaline (like lye) and that causes it to rip proteins apart. What's in the grout stains? Proteins.

Guest's picture
LB

I love to use baking soda to clean also. Just don't do this one dumb thing I did. Lots of places tell you to use baking soda and vinegar, followed by boiling water, to speed up slow drains. Well, I over did it, and made a pretty bad clog of baking soda that my sweet hubby was not too happy about. Took some serious disassembly to fix.

I keep old, splayed toothbrushes in a cup with my cleaning things, then use them for cleaning till they're really yucky. Then I don't feel guilty at all about finally throwing them away.

Guest's picture
Laurie

I use vinegar for a disinfectant on the surfaces of the toilet. It is supposed to kill up to 99. whatever percent of germs. Sounds somewhat similar to a brand name cancer causing disinfectant that I used to use.

I use Borax for in the toilet and my sink.

I use a laundry detergent of 1 c. real soap flakes (grate them myself), 1 cup of washing soda and 1 cup of borax. i only need 1 Tbsp./load...if heavily soiled I MIGHT use 2 Tbsp.

For my floors, I use hot water with a touch of dish detergent (no bleach added)and some vinegar.

For stinky bathroom floors I use vinegar and for the faucets I also use vinegar.

For dirty cloth diapers, I found soaking and washing them with borax got the smell out better than with vinegar which seemed to set the smell.

I am always looking for low cost natural ways to clean everything.

Guest's picture
ainwa

Once you get your grout white, you need to seal it or it will just get dirty again soon.

I "accidentally" discovered a way to do this v. cheap which adds to the appearance. A gallon can of white latex paint spilled in our tile entryway (then the cat ran through it and all over the house... lucky we don't have carpet).

After wiping it all up, we noticed the white paint lightened and sealed the grout lines so we went over the rest of the grout with the paint.

Basically, put on a thick coat of paint, let it soak in, then wipe off the excess. It does not stick to the tile. It does not turn the grout white like a painted wall, but a lighter gray.

The pumice stone is a great toilet bowl cleaner. They sell one in hardware stores under the name "Pumie". I discovered it once in desperation when we were selling a house that had hard water lines in the toilets.

Also the Mr. Clean=type melamine pads which clean everything with no chemicals can be purchased in the cleaning section of asian grocery stores for way less. We have a Japanese dollar store here that sells a big package of the same stuff for $1.50.

Linsey Knerl's picture

This is really great to hear.  I always read about natural cleaners, but the devil is in the details -- and that's what I'm glad to be learning about from the readers!  Thanks!

Linsey

Guest's picture
steve

A rotary tool (like a cordless Dremel) with a nylon brush attachment and baking soda would do wonders. I would use my corded Dremel tool but water and electricity are two things I don't like to mix.

I haven't seen a nylon attachment for them, though. They do have felt polishing disks that would probably do the trick (at 15,000 rpms!).

Guest's picture
steve

As far as *killing* germs on bathroom surfaces, it mostly isn't necessary. Soap and water washes them away, so you don't need to kill them.

Guest's picture
Guest

I work at an apartment complex cleaning vacated apartments & helping with maintenance. Every time I clean a refrigerator, as a little nicety, I put a box of BS in the fridge & one in the freezer. They are usually still in there when the folks move out. I take them home & use them for cleaning. After absorbing odors, it's still good for this.

As for my toilet, after getting the hard water ring out with pumice stone, I keep it from coming back by doing what Flylady.net recommends. Wash out your toilet daily. It takes less than a minute. It doesn't matter what kind of soap you use (I haven't bought cleanser in a very long time) & it takes very little. Of course, I add a little baking soda, also. Right now I'm using some baby shampoo that someone left at moveout. It's not PH balanced for hair, but eyes so it won't sting, so it's not good to use on adult hair anyway.

Guest's picture
Guest

I tested the vinegar in my bathroom, it took my breath away! Wonderful! So easy to get it shiny white! But then the smell took my breath away also.. what do you do to take away the smell?

Guest's picture
Guest

Nope bum idea does not work, just tried it.

Guest's picture

Is there any other posibbility to clean the bathroom beside baking soda..

Guest's picture
Guest

We just laid ceramic tile in my kitchen. Can't get the "grout haze" off. Even have circles where the rinse bucket sat. Would baking soda be safe for this? Bought a commercial grout haze remover that has toxic symbols on it with precautions about safety glasses and gloves. Really don't want to go that route. Any suggestions?