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.

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!


A bunch of items that are on display

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 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. 

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!

RELATED: Some (But Not All) Spray Bottles are Designed to Fail

*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 4-22-19


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  1. Chewbacca2000 says:

    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.

  2. Chewbacca2000 says:

    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 says:

      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.

  3. Jodie Cohen says:

    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!

  4. Donna says:

    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.

  5. Nick the plumber says:

    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

  6. Elle says:

    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 says:

      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:

  7. Lolliemouse says:

    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 says:

      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.

  8. Celine Seguin says:

    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!

  9. Jane Berry says:

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

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