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, shower mildew, and hard water buildup grabbed my attention.


A bunch of items that are on display

I’ve been told that if one person actually writes to me with a problem, that represents a thousand other readers with a similar situation. True or just slightly exaggerated, either way, three in one day tells me there’s a lot of this problem going on!

How do you remove soap scum from shower walls and floor—and the 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

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

Quite possibly one of the best tips to ever land my mailbox came from a professional property manager guy. 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. 

This reader told me that the biggest challenge is always the bathroom, specifically the tub and shower. He kindly left specific details 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 selves.

I gave his unbelievably simple recipe a try. In what has to be more than 25 years since I got that letter (we’re talking pre-Internet, pre-Pinterest … maybe pre-historic), 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 must be rinsed off.


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

  • empty spray bottle
  • Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid
  • white vinegar

Shower and Bottle


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. (Or one-part blue Dawn to three-parts vinegar, regardless of the size of the spray bottle.) Apply sprayer top; shake gently to mix.

A bottle on a table

To use

Spray liberally on the area to be cleaned—shower and tub walls,* floors, doors and faucets. 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

While this 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.

MORE: Simple Solutions for 3 Common Laundry Problems

To maintain

Here’s the best thing about this cleaner—if you use it weekly you will never have to scrub again. 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 watermark to be seen. Simply brilliant! 

By the way, this homemade product works in other areas of the house, too. I’ve used it to remove watermarks that show up on the refrigerator’s in-door water dispenser area (letting it sit for a while then rinsing very well), the sink and faucets, too.

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

*And now for three important cautions …

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 this awesome homemade tub, tile and shower cleaner.

CAUTION: Always make sure you are using a non-slip rubber mat in the shower or tub before attempting in-shower maintenance!

CAUTION: Never use this on granite shower walls or countertops as vinegar can damage the sealant that makes granite look so beautiful. Granite needs to be re-sealed annually. Don’t forget! Alternatively, in this recipe, you can substitute rubbing alcohol for white vinegar. Just don’t expect the same dramatic, magical results.

First published: 3-30-15; Updated 8-20-23


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  1. Michelle Clark says:

    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 says:

      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

  2. NF says:

    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.

    • Stephanie says:

      I love this recipe and have used it for years. If shower/tub, needs alot of cleaning- I use this recipe and will spray, leave 15 mins, spray with hot water. Repeat and then lightly scrub/wipe with a bath scrubber and it comes up easily. My friend said, she thought it worked great to, but couldn’t stand the smell. Since it takes care of soap scum, I don’t mind the smell at all – but vinegar has never really bothered me. Note that when it dries, the smell goes away and you get a clean, not chemically or ‘perfumey’ smell. It’s a great cleaner!

    • Barbara J Pire says:

      When I used to do commercial window cleaning years ago, we were located in NJ by the ocean and bay that would leave water marks on the windows. We used Easy Off Oven Cleaner that would take away the marks.

      • LalaC says:

        I was thinking about trying this several months ago. Does this work on old water spots on shower glass?

    • Catherine Sykes says:

      If you want a streak free, spot free crystal clear glass, do this. I use this to wash windows but it would work on the inside of a shower door. Get one of the those pump sprayers a lot of people use to spray week killer. Fill it with water cold or warm. Put a drop of the glass rinse you use in dishwashers. Once you have cleaned the glass, I usually use soapy water with a soft brush. Spray it off with this mixture in the sprayer. No need to wipe dry. Let it dry on it’s own. You won’t see one mark! It will be crystal clear and takes half the time of wiping dry.

  3. Greta says:

    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.

  4. disqus_5H7xNwNl8Y says:

    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).

  5. ABC says:

    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?

      • Carolin meadors says:

        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

  6. Gena says:

    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!

  7. Qu says:

    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.

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