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!


Ugly soap scum, mildew and water marks disappear like magic

How do you remove soap scum from shower walls and fl00r—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

Outside soap, vinegar and spray 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.

Inside vinegar, spray bottle and soap

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. Joy says:

    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. 🙂

    • Tracy says:

      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.

    • Saty14 says:

      Dawn is liquid dishwashing soap — the kind you use when you wash dishes by hand. Dawn seems to be a tiny bit stronger than other brands here in terms of cutting grease, but it does dry out your hands more than other brands too.

  2. Melissa melech says:

    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 says:

      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. Rinse and watch it disappear!

  3. Chippy says:

    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.

  4. AeshA says:

    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 says:

      Nothing else works as well as Dawn. I wouldn’t waste my time and money on anything other than blue Dawn unless you live in a country where blue Dawn is not available. Procter & Gamble owns the formula and it is carefully held secret. So my best advice is don’t try to improve on perfection. Use blue Dawn.

  5. Annette Krznarich says:

    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!

  6. Juan R says:

    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.

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