The story is the same in homes all over: Out of sight, out of mind until something goes wrong. The toilet tank is one of those items.
Practically, all home toilets have a tank or reservoir of fresh water ready for flushing a toilet bowl at the touch of a handle. Depending on the water quality in your area, the inside of the tank can develop mineral deposits that can damage or interfere with the operation of the components.
A toilet tank can also become a fungal or bacterial factory. Toilet water can develop mold and mildew, a common occurrence in hot, humid areas, especially if the toilet is not flushed often. People who are sensitive to molds can get sick. Also, if you ever notice a reddish ring around the water line, that might be the bacteria Serratia marcescens which feeds on phosphorus-rich soaps or excrement. That bacteria has caused pneumonia, wound infections, and urinary tract infections in hospital settings.
Cleaning the tank will help reduce hard water and rust stains in the toilet bowl and freshen the air in the bathroom. Fortunately, cleaning the tank is not difficult and can be done with products you likely have at home.
How Often to Clean the Toilet Tank
You should clean the toilet tank twice per year. If you are using water from a well in an area with hard water, clean the tank quarterly to keep the flush valves in good working order. If your bathroom is in a warmer environment that gets muggy or humid and gets mold often, clean the tank once a month.
Equipment / Tools
- Long-handled scrub brush
- Rubber gloves (optional)
- Wet pumice stone
- Disinfectant cleaner
- 3 gallons of distilled white vinegar (Optional)
How to Clean a Toilet Tank With Disinfectant Spray
Locate the Water Valve
You must empty the tank of water, which is simple if you use the water control valve to stop the water flow. Locate the valve, which is usually on the wall behind the tank or near the toilet's base. Turn it clockwise to shut off the water flow.
Empty the Tank
Remove the lid from the tank and place it out the way. Flush the toilet until the tank drains completely. Depending on the reservoir size, it may take two or three flushes to empty the tank.
Assess the Tank
If the tank is new or you live in an area with great water, you may only need to give the tank a good scrubbing with a disinfectant cleaner. However, if you see rusty discoloration in the bottom of the tank or a hard ring of minerals near the top, the tank will need a deeper cleaning with vinegar.
Do not clean the tank with full-strength chlorine bleach or fill the tank with chlorine bleach. Bleach can damage the inner components and dissolve some flapper valves. Also, if your toilet empties into a septic tank, bleach can kill the beneficial bacteria in the tank.
Clean With a Disinfectant Cleaner
Spray the inside of the tank walls and floor with a disinfectant cleaner. A foaming bathroom cleaner works well and will cling to the surface. Avoid spraying the cleaner on any metal components that may rust. Allow the cleaner to work for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing it away with a long-handled scrub brush. Reach into corners and the bottom of the tank.
Do not use your toilet bowl brush to clean the inside of the tank. A toilet brush can have lingering bacteria on it.
Use a dampened sponge and a bit of the disinfectant cleaner on the sponge to wipe all of the interior parts of the toilet: the ball float, flapper, handle chain or bar, refill tube, and any other components.
Turn the water valve back on and allow the tank to refill. Flush a couple of times to get rid of the cleaner and loosened soil.
Deep Cleaning With Distilled White Vinegar
Clean Mineral Deposits From Tank
To remove mineral deposits or mold, deep clean by using a wet pumice stone to dislodge the mineral buildup then wipe it away with water.
Clean With Disinfectant Cleaner
After the soaking period, empty the tank by flushing away the vinegar. Follow the same steps as with the disinfectant cleaner. Use a long-handled brush to scrub the loosened grime. Clean the working components with a sponge and a disinfectant bathroom cleaner. Turn on the water control valve and fill the tank with water to flush all the grime away.
Tips to Keep a Toilet Tank Clean Longer
To keep a toilet tank clean over time, some people like to add a cup or two of white distilled vinegar once a month to the toilet tank at night—topping it off to about an inch from the top rim, then flushing it in the morning.
Although some people swear by toilet tank drop-in tablets, they're not recommended in most cases. Many of those tablets contain bleach, which can eat away the metal interior parts of a toilet.
A tip for generally keeping your toilet in good working order: While the tank is empty of water, check all the toilet's functional components. If the toilet has not been flushing thoroughly, some parts may need to be replaced, most often the flapper.
Homemade Disinfecting Cleaner
You can buy a bathroom or all-purpose disinfectant cleaner to clean the inside of the toilet tank, or you can make a disinfecting solution using rubbing alcohol or white distilled vinegar.
For rubbing alcohol solution, use two parts rubbing alcohol to one part water. For a vinegar solution, mix half vinegar with half water. Add either to a spray bottle, label it, and use it for cleaning around the house or your other cleaning chores.
Keep vinegar-based cleaners away from marble, granite, and wood finishes. Acetic acid can react with those surfaces, potentially removing the shine and finish.
When to Call a Professional
If you have recurring toilet bowl mold, or the mold has spread to other parts of your bathroom, you should call a professional. In damp or humid places like bathrooms, mold can spread quickly if not treated. Treat a mold problem early to prevent further damage. You can potentially avoid calling a professional If you clean your toilet on a regular cleaning schedule, add more ventilation, or get a dehumidifier to mitigate mold growth.
Red substance in tub, toilet is bacteria. North Dakota State University Extension.