How to Make Ugly Soap Scum, Mildew and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic

When all three messages landed in my inbox on the same day, the problem of soap scum, mildew and hard water buildup grabbed my attention. I’ve been told that if one person actually writes to me with a problem, that represents a thousand with a similar situation. Three in one day tells me this is a common problem.

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We recently remodeled our kitchen with stainless appliances. We have treated well water. The very first week we had a large water stain in water dispenser area that I can’t get off. It looks terrible! Is there anyway to remove it? Help! Pat

How do you remove hard water spots from shower doors? Diane

My shower mat has turned almost black. I have tried to clean it, but unsuccessfully. Can you help me? Ronnie

Quite possibly one of the best tips to ever land my mailbox came from a guy who is a professional property manager. He handles rental apartments, and lots of them. As an apartment is vacated, his job is to see that it is thoroughly cleaned and made ready for the next occupants. 

He told me that the biggest challenge is always the bathroom, specifically the tub and shower. He kindly left specific details up to my imagination but let me know that “gross” is not strong enough to describe what he often finds. And that’s when he gave me his super magical potion—the only product he uses to return showers, tubs, tile, enclosures, faucets and doors to their sparkling clean and sanitized condition.

I gave his unbelievably simple recipe a try. In what has to be at least 20 years since I got that letter, I’ve used nothing else to clean tubs, showers, sinks, toilets, patio furniture—just about anything that will stand still long enough to get sprayed, and can be rinsed easily. This product must be rinsed off.

To make your own Tub, Tile and Shower Cleaner you will need three things:

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An empty spray bottleDawn dishwashing liquid (any variation as long as it is Dawn and it is blue) and white vinegar.

TO MAKE: Pour one cup blue Dawn into a 32-ounce spray bottle (1/2 cup Dawn if you are using a 16-ounce bottle). Fill the bottle the rest of the way with white vinegar. Apply sprayer top; shake gently to mix.

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TO USE: Spray liberally on the area to be cleaned. Allow to sit from 30 minutes up to overnight, depending on the severity of the problem. All of the offensive gunk and grime will break down and become soft and gooey. Simply rinse it away. For especially challenging situations—or if this is the initial treatment—use a sponge or brush to gently scrub the surfaces before rinsing.

TO TREAT MILDEW, MOLD. While the Tub, Tile and Shower Cleaner works to loosen and remove most mildew, if you see a lot of black growth you will want to pretreat with full strength liquid chlorine bleach before proceeding as above. CAUTION: Never, ever allow chlorine bleach to come in contact with other products, especially vinegar. This could produce chlorine gas, which is deadly. Don’t panic. Simply make sure you rinse the chlorine bleach away completely before proceeding to clean with the homemade tub and tile cleaner.

TO MAINTAIN: Here’s the best thing about this cleaner—if you use it weekly you will never have to scrub again. Here’s what I do: Once each week I spray down the walls, doors, tracks, faucets, shampoo caddy—everything within reach—with this magical cleaner while I am in the shower. Before I step out, I use the handheld sprayer to rinse it all away. No scrubbing required. It dries sparkling clean without using a squeegee or wiping down with a towel. And not a water mark to be seen. Simply brilliant! 

I use this stuff in the kitchen, too—on my appliances, stainless steel sink and faucets (never on the granite counter tops), but only where it can be rinsed away. That means I don’t spray it on the floor or into the air. That would create a slippery, soapy mess.

I can’t wait to get your feedback once you give this super simple cleaning and maintenance method a try. Before and after pictures would be great!

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • disqus_2crryd8LVc

    After cleaning, I have used Gel Gloss to coat the shower. You CAN’T use it on the BOTTOM because it’s SLICK though. It helps keep the surfaces clean because ‘stuff’ doesn’t stick to it. Good on mirrors too, esp. in a bathroom. Lasts several months, takes about 15 minutes to apply, dry and wipe off to a sheen.

    • Sara

      What is gel gloss?

  • Laurie

    Does this work on fiberglass?

    • Mary Hunt

      Yes!

  • Gena

    Yes! It works on fiberglss! I read about this wonder cleaner here on EC and it is all I use! Also, if you have very hard to clean area, heat vinegar first (be careful putting into plastic spray bottle… Don’t overheat!) it will literally melt the stuff away!!! I keep a bottle of the original blue dawn. Cheaper and it works great!

    • Mary Hunt

      yes … just know that heating vinegar will release a very strong smell. But heated makes the vinegar work faster

  • Bob

    “Fill the bottle to with white vinegar.” to… full? Just making sure; I want to get it right when I try it

    • Mary Hunt

      Yes. It’s not an exact science but close to the top.

  • ABC

    I’ve been using this for a couple of years, but I’ve been mixing it 50/50 because that was what the “recipe” was wherever I saw it (thought it was here). I’ve always thought it was a little too thick…and it doesn’t “melt” the soap scum away, I always have to give a little more than a “gentle” scrub. Maybe too much Dawn and not enough vinegar?

    • Mary Hunt

      Yep. Follow the recipe … you’ll be happy.

      • Carolin meadors

        I was told the vinegar dissolved the grout. Want to make sure it can be used on tile in my shower. It was great in my fiberglass shower though. I dreaded cleaning that shower as it never ever got that clean. Now spotless. Thanx and let me know about grout. Carolin

  • disqus_5H7xNwNl8Y

    I just want to say that the first time I heard about this I was simply told “dish detergent” not specifically Dawn, and it still works great (which is a good thing because I live outside the USA and can’t buy Dawn).

    • Upsamom

      Just read your comment & will give this a try. I had wanted to try it in the past but I refuse to buy Dawn since it is a Proctor & Gamble product. For those of you who don’t know, Proctor & Gamble tests on animals.

      • Teawano

        Test away P&G, doesn’t bother me a bit.

    • Mary Hunt

      Good to know! Thanks.

  • Greta

    Mary, this is great stuff, but don’t forget to use Nok-out on the mold/mildew — it is MUCH nicer than chlorine bleach….ugh.

  • JOJO

    Does this work on water marks on windows because of the hard water

    • Mary Hunt

      If those marks are fresh and have not been sitting on that glass for a long time. Scroll up and read my response to Elle on this

  • NF

    This works great on vinyl siding, also, as long as u don’t have a heavy buildup of algae/mildew.I’ve been told by several contractors not to heavily pressure wash vinyl siding as it could lift/damage it. We use a hose end sprayer or apply it with a hand held pump sprayer, let it sit a few minutes and rinse gently with clear water. U may have to scrub some areas before rinsing. Works great with no real damage to plants, pets and humans. Does not work well to remove lichens but does halt their growth somewhat. Dirt cheap to make, too. I always have vinegar and dawn somewhere around the house.

    • Mary Hunt

      Just be careful. It is so soapy it makes surfaces very slippery. And you must rinse it all away.

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  • Michelle Clark

    This mixture was way too soapy. It took forever for me to rinse it out of the tub. Next time I will use a lot less Dawn.

    • Judy

      Michelle if when you rinse use warm water then getting the last of the suds out, use cold water to do the final down the drain…that will get rid of any suds…you really ought to stick with the recipe that’s what makes it great…just saying

      • Mary Hunt

        Totally agree with Judy. Stick with the recipe if you want the great results.

  • Jane Berry

    amazing! I just cleaned my 40+ year old white tile in my shower with this and they look fabulous. thank you so much!!

    • Mary Hunt

      You bet!

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  • Celine Seguin

    Hello Mary,
    I tried this mixture in my shower which is made of 2 big glass panels and it really didn’t do a good job! I have soap marks residue from this mixture which I didn’t have before. My shower needed just regular maintenance since it’s a new house I built in 2012. Now I don’t know what to do to remove the soap marks. I tried with a gentle scrub sponge, water, windex… nothing works. I’m thinking of scrubbing bubble, but it’s really agressive, and I don’t know if I will make things worst. Help!

  • LYNN SNOW

    can I use cleaning white vinegar?

    • Mary Hunt

      Yes! Cleaning Vinegar (you can get it at Home Depot etc. pretty cheap) is 30% acidity whereas White Vinegar in the grocery story for cooking is 5% acifidty. That means cleaning vinegar will make this magic product much more powerful. I’m talking super miracle! Just make sure you don’t try to make vinegarette with 30%. It won’t be harmful but it will be way toooooo strong. Crazy strong.

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  • Lolliemouse

    I have been using this combo for EVERYTHING ever since I read this article. My elderly kitty had bowel accidents on a friend’s rug where we were staying and THIS. DID. THE. TRICK – it was magic! Now I am in an apartment where the well water runs high in magnesium. High magnesium = blue bath tub! The landlord suggested “Lime Away” but hey, I already had my handy bottle of Dawn/Vinegar mix and I cleaned every bit of blue away effortlessly. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe with us!

    • Mary Hunt

      You are so welcome!

  • Elle

    I have glass windows in the shower. After A LOT of hard work, using different products, they now “feel” clean, but still have the white spots. Will this take care of that?

    • Mary Hunt

      Those are hard water marks and if they didn’t come off with this formula, you have a more serious problem—minerals in the water over a long time can actually etch the glass. But don’t give up yet: Get a can of fume-free cold Easy Off Oven Cleaner. Spray that on the glass and let it stand overnight. If that doesn’t do it … check the last letter in this post: http://wp.me/p2Emiq-3Dh

  • Nick the plumber

    As a plumber for 23 years I ve heard many tales buuuuuut using auto PASTE wax on every thing after its clean prolongs maintenance to infinity and beyond, not really, but a long time. Shower glass , faucets, ss sinks especially oil rub bronze because it’s a LIVING finish it wears off quickly leaving a BRONZE finish

  • Donna

    I have a stall shower with black tiles. The hard water stains and soap scum are a major chore to remove. It takes days to clean it. I tried the vinegar and dawn, scrubbed a little with a scouring pad, and the stains came off! I am amazed! Thank you so much! As an added tip, I keep a spray bottle of vinegar and water underneath the sink in my bathroom to clean the mirror, faucet and vanity. It’s cheaper than buying what’s out there and works great.

  • Jodie Cohen

    GREAT!! took the ring right out of the bathtub, and the haze off of the wall tiles. I let it site about an hour. A little light help from a scotch brite sponge (really no muscle needed)
    Thank you!

  • Chewbacca2000

    Let it sit for 10.mins on some old soap in the shower scum. I’m not going to lie, my shower looks new. 10 minutes. Perfect portion for me seems to be 1 part soap to 4 or 5 parts vinegar. I used the concentrated dawn, shook it up then squeezed out the bubbles. In flippin’ credible. I’m doing the other 2 bathrooms in the house now. Works on shower curtain, sinks, tubs, you name it I have a house of 4 females and me. Beauty products, moisturizers, hair spray you name it. This is a miracle In a bottle. Don’t recommend buying the @$ndex brand of vinegar cleaner as it doesn’t hold a candle to this concoction. There is a smell, no doubt, but it dissipates soon after rinsed away. Bravo!

    • Mary Hunt

      Yes vinegar has a strong smell … but it is not harmful. So happy your a new fan of this magical formula. Maybe you should start a cleaning business. Haha. Just an idea.

  • Chewbacca2000

    Also, used on glass surfaces and a lot of mirrors. Used newspaper instead of papertowel. Looks like a professional cleaned. Tooth paste, hairspray, god knows what else is gone. Zip, zero nada.

    • Mary Hunt

      Yes!

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  • Juan R

    Thank you very much for this information. The soap scum on the bath tub floor melted like jelly and was super easy to clean. No more “elbowgrease” needed.

    • Mary Hunt

      Yes that’s it exactly. I call it magic 🙂

  • Annette Krznarich

    Thank you! I tried today on our shower which was sooooo bad, I wish I would have taken a before pic. sprayed down and let sit a few hours. Worked great! I no longer fear the shower!

    • Mary Hunt

      Fabulous!

    • Jen

      LOL… I thought I was the sole person in the world who was afraid to enter the shower in my home.

  • AeshA

    Great stuff want to try asap. Just one question. Can I use seventh generation or Castile soap instead of dawn? Just wanted to be lil natural due to my lil one. Thanks in advance.

    • Mary Hunt

      Nothing else works as well as Dawn. I wouldn’t waste my time and money on anything other than blue Dawn. Procter & Gamble owns the formula and it is carefully held secret. So my best advice is don’t try to improve on perfection. You need to use blue Dawn.

      • EML13

        what about green Dawn? That’s what I have. Is it the same?

  • Chippy

    I have used all the name brand cleaners, nothing has worked. Even the ones that burn your skin don’t work on my soap scum. I had given up hope – even thinking of buying a new tube! I found this and decided to try. WOW, two treatments and it’s like a new tube. Thank you.

    • You are welcome! Magical, isn’t it!

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  • Mary Hunt

    Your success makes me so happy!

  • Kalli Reid

    Does it have to be blue as long as it’s dawn?

  • Melissa melech

    I cant use dawn due to an allergic reaction. Its too harsh on my skin. I have used vinegar to get body oil out of bed sheets. I spary the bad spots with half water half vinegar let sit for a few hours. Then into the wash with more vinegar my normal soap and a little dish soap. I let it soak on the longest hottest setting. Then i wash normal.

    So its no shock that these two works great on bathroom. It cuts through so much. I love vinegar i use it for so many things even fabric softener.

    • Danny Smith

      You can use baking soda and vinegar and it works perfectly! Just finished using it in my tub and I am blown away at how clean it is. Feels brand new! Pour some baking soda in a bowl. Slowly add vinegar to it to make a paste. It will foam up like a volcano so pour slowly and let the fizz slow down before adding more. Rub this into the soap scum and let it do its thing for 15 minutes then scrub with a soft brush. Melts right off!

  • Aoraki

    Whats Dawn? or should I say what is the equivalent in other countries?

    • Tracy

      I did some checking and found in Europe and Australia, Fairy and Texol brands are the closest. I don’t know if you have those but Dawn is formulated to cut grease and fats from dishes using just a drop or two then people found out it could do tons of other things. I have no connection to the company but do like the brand.

  • Joy

    We just used this recipe and it was amazing! My husband and I kept walking back into the bathroom all day to admire the long lost white in our tub. He earned years of recognition for finding your post and giving me a “like-new” bathroom. Good for our marriage. 🙂

  • Sheri Jatzlau

    Doesn’t it stink though??

    • Karen Cutler

      ROTFL! Yes, it stinks of vinegar, which is much healthier than all the chemicals I had been using

  • Jess

    It worked wonderfully for me. Thank you very much! I had tried many cleaners with no results.

  • WW

    I followed your directions and it left a white glaze, looked like soap scum. It was worse than when I initially started and it was very difficult to remove. I tried to scrub it off and I tried to scrape it off with no luck. I ended up going back over the tiles in the shower with another shower cleaner, scrubbing bubbles and it helped. Any feedback on what would have caused this?

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  • jules

    So what do you use on granite?

  • Adam Sant

    Duuuuude! Thank you! 10 years of soap scum gone!!! We had tried so many products and I found this recipe, we had the ingredients on hand and whipped some up. We doused our (fiberglass insert) shower with it, waited only 30 minutes and all the soap scum that had been so stubborn for years was all jellied-up and gooey and with a bit of gentle scrubbing, it came right off! Like the couple below, we spent the rest of the day marveling at our re-born shower. And all the shower fixtures are free of hard water stains and look re-born as well! Again…thanks so very much for posting the recipe and how to use it!

  • Theresa

    Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! best stuff ever!!

  • Sage0925

    Well, just made my first application. The shower wasn’t too bad to start with (spent the day scrubbing it, which is why I’m now on this website), but I have one stubborn corner in the downstairs shower. I hope this stuff is as advertised, because both of my bathrooms are tile, and I don’t fancy having to spend an entire day in each scrubbing it down.

    I don’t ever take anybody’s word for anything on the internet. but I researched other sites and their comments, and seems this is the way to go.

    30 mins later, well, I’ll give you that it’s good with soap scum. Easy removal. Removed some of the hard water stains, but not most, so I’m giving it another go. In defense of this product, though, I will say that I don’t know how long that stuff has been there (just bought the house last September, and I don’t use that shower, and my husband just doesn’t pay attention to that sort of thing), nor how badly the previous owner may have scratched up the tile in attempt to clean it. Does a bang up job on soap scum though, very easy to remove.

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  • AAEJ

    Amazing– I actually can’t believe how well this worked on my tub fixtures!

  • Marilyn B

    So Jules (below in thread) asked what do you use on granite. My shower has 2 large glass sides and 2 tiled walls. BUT I have a granite floor in the shower stall. My shower has had 25 years of hard well water. I can see using your formula on the vertical walls but HELP …. My floor of granite is not to have vinegar on it. (I’ll lay towels down)
    Suggestions???

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  • SteveH

    Kudos the the gentleman that came up with this concoction, and to you for publishing it. This stuff is nothing short of amazing. It might take a second application for particularly stubborn spots. I used this for the first time today. I sprayed down the tub at lunch time, and let it sit until early evening. Stuff that I would normally have to scrub till my arms hurt using the commercial cleaner and a brush took a minor brushing and came right up. What I like the best is that you don’t need to wear a gas mask or scuba gear while using it. Even my wife’s sensitive nose wasn’t offended in the least by it. Thank you!

    • Jen

      LOL… Thank you for this comment. I thought I was the only one who needed a gas mask or scuba gear while cleaning. I hope this product works, because my tub gets seriously neglected and it is gross and embarrassing but I get bronchitis when I clean and am sick with it for MONTHS!

  • EML13

    I have green Dawn, is it a waste of time to use it? Or is it the same as blue Dawn? Thanks.

  • EML13

    OMG, cancel the grouters! It works like a miracle!

  • Guest

    I’m allergic to Dawn and my husband,doesn’t care that our white shower looks like an abstract painting. Is there something else I can use?

    • Dave Anthony

      I believe the soap is the carrier for the Vinegar and makes it stick. I don’t see why you can’t try another dish soap that agrees with you.
      And “Relief Art” is kewl 🙂

      • talula

        I used Persil laundry detergent because I was out of Dawn and it worked just fine. Dawn is wayyyy cheaper though!

  • Dave Anthony

    All I can say is WOW!! It worked where others wouldn’t!! Thank you so much!

  • Karen Cutler

    I don’t have the strength in my hands to use a spray bottle for the whole shower, so I mixed a big batch in a garden sprayer, pumped it up, and was able to clean two tub/shower combinations in no time. It’s a miracle!

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  • Jefferson

    Dawn contains Methylisothiazolinone. This is a potentially dangerous chemical, and certainly if it is inhaled. When you spray this, unlike using it as it was designed, it atomizes. You will then breathe it in. If you spray this, especially in the confined space of a tub or shower stall, I recommend you use a respirator.

  • GiftofGalway2015

    This also works as an excellent way to kill houseflies. Just be careful where you spray it. If it happens to be the windows, when you wash it off, you get the sparkly clean results described above. Dilute it in water, wash your dog with it, let it sit a few minutes, rinse it off and the fleas go with it, plus you have a lovely shiny clean dog. Is there anything blue Dawn can’t do?

  • Bob

    Hi – All I could find was Dawn 3 in blue – states it has 3x the grease cutting power…should I be using a different ratio of this with the vinegar? Could you guys chime in on how well it works with bathtub mildew? How about shower tile grout mildew? Thanks!

  • Sandee Conn

    This sounds great! I can’t wait to try it. I have a cleaning business and the vinegar smell may to too strong for my clients liking….Can I add essential oils to help with the vinegar smell, or will they ruin the effects?

  • Karinna Sanchez

    I did exactly as you suggested and it worked beautifully. My bathroom shower never looked better. I will only use this going forward. Thanks again!