How to Clean a Toilet Tank

preparing to clean a toilet tank

​The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

There are certain items in our home that we tend to ignore. Out of sight, out of mind until something goes wrong. The toilet tank is one of those things.

Almost all home toilets have a tank that acts as a reservoir for fresh water that is used to flush out a toilet bowl. Depending on the quality of the water in your area, the inside of the tank can develop mineral deposits that can damage or interfere with the operation of the components. In hot, humid areas the tank can develop the growth of mold and mildew especially if the toilet is not flushed often allowing the tank to refill with fresh water.

Fortunately, cleaning the tank is not difficult and can be done with products you probably have in your pantry.

How Often to Clean the Toilet Tank

Every toilet tank should be cleaned twice per year. If you are using water from a well in an area with hard water, it's a good idea to clean the tank quarterly to keep the flush valves in good working order. Cleaning the tank will also help reduce hard water and rust stains in the toilet bowl and freshen the air in the bathroom.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Long-handled scrub brush
  • Sponge
  • Rubber gloves (optional)

Materials

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Disinfectant cleaner

Instructions

items for cleaning a toilet tank
The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  1. Locate the Water Valve

    The tank must be emptied of water and this 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 base of the toilet. Turn it clockwise to shut off the water flow.

    water valve
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  2. Empty the Tank

    Remove the lid from the tank and place it out the way. Flush the toilet until the tank drains completely. It may take two or three flushes depending on the size of the reservoir to empty the tank.

    removing the tank lid
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena

    Tip

    Since you will need to flush the toilet several times to empty the tank, why not give the bowl a good cleaning before you begin cleaning the tank so the water can flush away the grime? No need to let the water go to waste.

  3. Assess the Tank

    If the tank is new or you live in an area with really 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 of the tank, the tank will need a deeper cleaning with vinegar.

    assessing the tank for discoloration
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

    Warning

    Do not clean the tank with full-strength chlorine bleach or fill the tank with chlorine bleach. The bleach can damage the inner components and even dissolve some flapper valves.

  4. Cleaning 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 corrode. Allow the cleaner to work for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing it away.

    Use a long-handled scrub brush to scrub away grime. Do not use your current toilet bowl brush! No need to introduce potential bacteria into the tank. Be sure to reach into corners and the bottom of the tank.

    Use a dampened sponge and a bit of the disinfectant cleaner to clean all of the "working parts" of the toilet. Wipe down the ball float, flapper, handle chain or bar, refill tube, and any other components. Spray the cleaner on the sponge to prevent using too much that could corrode metal 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.

    scrubbing the tank
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  5. Deep Cleaning With Distilled White Vinegar

    The acetic acid in distilled white vinegar will breakdown minerals gently so that you can scrub them away. Empty the tank of water, remove the top, and fill it with distilled white vinegar up to the level of the overflow valve. It may take up to three gallons of vinegar to fill the tank depending on its size.

    Allow the vinegar to sit in the tank (no flushing) for 12 hours.

    After the soaking period, empty the tank by flushing away the vinegar. Following the same steps as with the disinfectant cleaner, use a long-handled brush to scrub away the loosened grime. Clean the working components with a sponge and a bit of disinfectant bathroom cleaner. Turn on the water control valve and fill the tank with water to flush all the grime away.

    pouring distilled vinegar into the tank
    ​The Spruce / Ana Cadena

    Tip

    While the tank is empty of water, it's a good time to check all of the working components of the toilet. If the toilet has not been flushing completely, some parts may need to be replaced, most often the flapper.