Damp weather conditions means that getting rid of mold is the number one challenge in my bathrooms. Adding to that, our water leaves lime deposits, so my spring-cleaning chores include tackling all the hard-water deposits that build up all winter long.
Conventional cleaning products designed to combat mold and hard water are full of toxic chemicals, such as harsh acids and chlorine bleach, which you don't really want to be inhaling in a steamy shower. My nontoxic cleaning tools, on the other hand, didn't cost me much in time or effort, and all I was left with were sparkly-clean surfaces and clean-smelling air.
Coping with Mold and Mildew
I started by tossing the mats and fabric shower curtains in the washing machine and hanging them out on the line, where the spring sunshine emerged to do its mold-killing magic. If your curtain is a bit musty, you may want to give it a presoak for a few hours, or even overnight, in a bucket of water with a cup of white vinegar added before tossing it into the washer.
Then, I tackled the grout. No matter how diligent you are at giving your bathroom its weekly once-over (and I am very not diligent), the joints where one material meets another are prone to dirt buildup and mildew. A number of natural cleaners are equal to the challenge, but the type and condition of your grout, tile, and other surfaces need to be taken into consideration when you select one so you don’t damage them. Also, steer clear of scrubby pads if you have materials that could be scratched (my surfaces are tough and were marred long before I owned them, so I don’t sweat a little more scrubbing once in a while).
A good basic cleaner to start with is baking soda dissolved in water for spraying or sponging (1/8 cup per quart of water), sprinkled dry on a damp sponge, or made into a paste with a little water for tough areas. Baking soda has been found to kill certain types of mildew, and for the types it can't kill, its mild abrasiveness allows you to scrub the stuff away. It's safe for most surfaces, but you might want to test a small area first if you have any doubts. Apply the baking soda, either in spray or paste form, leave it alone for an hour or so, and then scrub with a soft brush (a retired toothbrush is my favorite). Wipe and rinse well when finished.
White vinegar or lemon juice (full strength or mixed with half water) are also good for cleaning mildew-stained grout, but they are acidic and can start to eat away at grout as well as certain hard-surface finishes, so be sure to rinse completely; neither is a good choice for natural marble. To use, sponge on, scrub with a soft brush, and rinse. If you can't get your grout clean with either of these cleaners, you may want to consider looking for a company that offers professional steam cleaning, which is nontoxic and very effective. Just make sure the company is clear that you don’t want toxic chemicals used.
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In areas where mildew is a chronic problem, you can keep it from growing by applying citrus or tee-tree oil regularly. Put 10 drops of lemon, orange, grapefruit, or tea tree oil and a few drops of dish soap into an empty quart spray bottle, add warm water almost to the top, and slosh to mix. Spray down areas that are prone to mildew once a week or so.
Depending on the dissolved minerals in your water, you too may get white, gray, or even rusty stains on bathroom surfaces. If I had a magic bullet that would banish these with no effort, I’d be a millionaire, but I don't. However, with a little trial and error and even more elbow grease, you can take care of soap scum and mineral deposits as effectively with natural products as you could with the latest toxic panacea being pushed on TV (which probably isn’t nearly as effective as they want you to believe it is anyway).
As with grout, baking soda is a good basic cleaner to start with: Use it dissolved in water for spraying or sponging, sprinkled as is on a damp sponge, or as a paste for tough areas. Apply baking soda to your surface, let it sit for an hour or so, and then remove it with a soft cloth or brush.
If baking soda isn’t up to your challenges, vinegar is quite effective at dissolving soap scum and water stains. Sponge it on full strength (or mixed half and half with water), wipe with a sponge or soft cloth, and then rinse well. To remove hard-water buildup from showerheads, remove the showerhead and let it soak in undiluted vinegar for a few hours while you're cleaning. Vinegar works because it is acidic, but for the same reason it can also eat into grout or damage the finish of marble, tile, and other surfaces. Check with the manufacturer for advice or test it in an inconspicuous area.
Should both of those fail, a good next step is a product called Bar Keepers Friend (the dry, powdered type). Its active ingredient is oxalic acid, a natural chemical found in rhubarb leaves and various other plants. It is very good at dissolving mineral deposits, even rust stains, without a lot of scrubbing. Just remember that even though it is natural, it can still hurt you if you get in on your skin or in your eyes, so be sure to follow the simple label cautions. Look for it in the cleansers section of your local supermarket, or order it from Barkeepersfriend.com.
A few other alternatives are Bon Ami cleanser, powdered pumice or a pumice stone, or even very fine wet/dry sandpaper. But as with any other cleaning method, test a small area first to make sure they won't damage surfaces. In the event that you abandon homemade cleaners for premade products, make sure you pick some of these green bathroom cleaners, which are free of hazardous chemicals.
Published on: April 14, 2010