There is only one way to avoid soap scum in a bathroom; never allow anyone to use soap and water! Soap scum happens when the fatty ingredients in bar soap react with minerals in water and cling to surfaces. If you must rely on a hard water source, there will be more soap scum; and when it is allowed to build up and harden, removing it can be difficult.
What Is Soap Scum?
Similar to hard water stains, soap scum (or lime soap) is the white chalky residue composed of calcium stearate and magnesium stearate (among other materials). When they mix with hard water, soap scum can form.
Here's how to remove soap scum from every bathroom surface from glass shower doors to fiberglass tubs/showers.
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Glass Shower Doors
There are plenty of commercial cleaners that promise to remove soap scum from glass shower enclosures. Most of them do a good job if used weekly or more often. The key is to follow product directions and give the cleaner time to work before wiping or rinsing away.
If you would prefer to make your own cleaner, all you need is baking soda and distilled white vinegar. Pour one cup of baking soda into a small plastic bowl and add about one-fourth cup of distilled white vinegar, or just enough to form a thick paste. The mixture will fizz and when it stops, dip a microfiber cloth or sponge into the paste and apply to the glass doors. Let the paste remain on the glass for at least 15 minutes. Then wipe down the surfaces with a microfiber cloth and plain water. Rinse very well and dry completely to prevent spotting.
If the soap scum is particularly heavy, make the baking soda and vinegar paste as directed. In a separate bowl, pour one-half to one cup table salt. After dipping your sponge or cloth into the baking soda mixture, dip it in the table salt and begin cleaning. The table salt will add a bit more abrasiveness to the mixture, which will help to cut through the build-up.
Be sure to keep the salt away from any natural stone surfaces: These are soft enough that salt could easily scratch them, particularly during scrubbing.
For daily cleaning, mix one cup of distilled white vinegar, one cup of water, and one tablespoon of dishwashing detergent in a spray bottle. After a shower, spray the solution on the glass and allow it to work for several minutes, then rinse with hot water. Use a squeegee to remove water or dry the glass completely.
One of the toughest parts of a shower stall to clean is the sliding glass door track. You can use a commercial cleaner or your homemade mixture and an old toothbrush to reach all the tight spaces. Again, give the cleaner plenty of time to work, rinse with plain water, and dry well with a cloth or paper towel wrapped around the toothbrush to absorb all the moisture.
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Fiberglass Shower Enclosures
Fiberglass tubs and showers are a durable and cost-effective addition to bathrooms. However, fiberglass finishes can quickly become dull due to soap scum, and fiberglass cannot stand up to harsh cleaners and abrasive scouring pads.
There are commercial cleaners made specifically for fiberglass enclosures, or you can make your own.
For weekly cleaning, make a paste of one cup baking soda and one-fourth cup white distilled vinegar. When it stops foaming, spread the paste on the floor and walls of the enclosure with a non-abrasive sponge or microfiber cloth. Allow it to work for ten minutes and then rinse away. Dry the surfaces completely with a soft towel.
If you have missed a few cleanings and the soap scum is heavy, substitute a tablespoon or more of hydrogen peroxide instead of vinegar in the baking soda paste. Spread the mixture on the fiberglass enclosure and let it work for 15-30 minutes. Rinse well and dry.
For tough stains left by bath products sitting on a shelf or floor, grab some borax from the laundry room and add a bit of lemon juice to form a paste. Spread the mixture on the stain and allow to work for 15 minutes before wiping away with a microfiber cloth. Rinse well and buff dry.
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Metal Shower and Sink Fixtures
Soap scum and water spots show up very clearly on metal shower heads and faucet handles. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning, but here are some tips on how to remove soap scum and mineral build-up.
Chrome and Stainless Steel Fixtures
Distilled white vinegar is best to cut through soap scum and mineral deposits on these protected metal finishes: Use a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water for chrome surfaces to avoid damaging them, and rinse stainless steel surfaces thoroughly after applying undiluted vinegar to prevent corrosion.
For crusty showerheads, fill a plastic bag with vinegar (or a vinegar and water solution) and attach the bag over the fixture using a rubber band with the showerhead completely submerged. Allow the vinegar (or vinegar and water solution) to work for at least one hour and then remove the bag. Rinse the surfaces with plain water and dry with a soft cloth or towel.
Oil-Rubbed and Brass Fixtures
For fixtures with oil-rubbed bronze or brass finishes, it is often recommended that you use only water for cleaning. This is especially true of fixtures with "living finishes" that are intended to change over time. Refer to the manufacturer's care instructions since cleansers can damage a specialty surface. And if in doubt, always test a cleaning product on an inconspicuous part of the fixture so that any damage to the finish is hard to spot.
If you choose to tackle soap scum with a home mixture, dilute the distilled vinegar with an equal amount of water. To remove tough spots, mix a paste of baking soda and distilled white vinegar or lemon juice. Use a non-abrasive cloth or sponge to apply the mixture. Let it dry and then rinse and buff with a soft, dry cloth.
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Glazed ceramic tile and porcelain tubs are hard finishes that make removing soap scum easier than other finishes. You can use commercial soap scum removers or a homemade version of baking soda and distilled white vinegar.
If you have discovered really heavy soap scum, you can actually use a wet pumice stone to carefully remove the buildup. NEVER use the stone when it is dry because excessive scratching can occur and NEVER use a pumice stone on a fiberglass tub or shower or an enameled surface.
Double-check that your tub is ceramic or porcelain and not enameled: An enameled finish can be permanently scratched by a pumice stone. If your tub is enameled, use a baking soda and vinegar paste instead.
Wet both the pumice stone and the tile or porcelain surface. Gently–very gently–rub the wet stone over the soap scum. Work in a small area and as the scum is transferred to the stone, rinse the stone in plain water and scrub the stone with a stiff-bristled brush. Move to the next area. Finish by wiping down the tub with distilled white vinegar to remove the final traces of soap scum, rinse with plain water, and dry with a soft cloth.
For hard-to-clean areas, you can try using a power washer. Keep in mind that the process for setting up and taking down is burdensome.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Natural Stone Tiles
Natural stone lends a luxurious spa feel to a bath. But depending on the stone and how it is sealed, water spotting and soap scum can be a problem.
Most commercial soap scum removers should not be used on natural stone. They can be abrasive, damage finishes, and leave the stone looking dull and chalky.
Instead, opt for a natural stone cleaner. Follow product instructions for dilution and cleaning. You will have the most success if the cleaner is used weekly to prevent excessive buildup of soap scum.
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Fabric and Plastic Shower Curtains
For plastic liners and shower curtains, use equal amounts of distilled white vinegar and plain water. In a bathtub, large plastic container, or washing machine drum, mix enough of the solution to completely cover the submerged plastic curtain. Allow it to soak for at least eight hours (overnight is better). To machine wash, toss the curtain into the washer with a few towels and wash with regular detergent on a warm water cycle. Hang to drip dry. NEVER place a plastic shower curtain in a clothes dryer.
For fabric curtains, follow the washing instructions on the tag but add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the washer drum at the beginning of the cycle. This will help cut through any soap scum build-up. Hang to drip dry or toss in a tumble dryer for a few minutes to remove wrinkles. Do not overdry. Remove while still slightly damp and hang to dry.