Bathroom cleaning hacks for older homes?
April 3, 2014 12:45 PM   Subscribe

I thought I knew how to clean bathrooms? But my new bathroom is a dust-sink, hair-trap, and I can never seem to get the porous white sink, tub, and toilet to appear clean, despite frequent cleaning. Looking for practical hacks or product recommendations from people who have similar vintage or antique bathrooms.

In the past I've cleaned newer construction bathrooms weekly; a quick rinse/scrub of the fiberglass shower/tub, Clorox wipes for fixtures, and then a scrub/mop of the linoleum floor. Now I'm living in an old Victorian and I have no idea how to keep my bathroom looking clean. I think it *is* clean, but just looks dirtier faster; I have the same cleaning routine as before but the products I use and the methods I grew up with just don't seem to work. Dust and hair are always collecting around the baseboard molding, the toilet and tub have permanent discoloration from the porous material collecting stains over the years, and the floor is uneven and seems to collect dirt, dust, and hair by the acre. It's not horrifically dirty, it just seems to get really dingy-looking really fast, if that makes sense.

It's a small bathroom and I have no ability to remodel or change anything (renting). I'm really looking for practical hacks or product recommendations from people who have similar vintage or antique bathrooms, as well as an estimate of how long it should be taking me to clean the bathroom (e.g., 15 minutes at my old new houses used to be adequate, and in my new old house, that barely makes a dent).
posted by stellaluna to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser yet? In my experience that's one of the best things for quickly removing grime etc. from surfaces.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:47 PM on April 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seconding the Magic Eraser, or the generic equivalent, melamine foam/sponge. You can get them cheap on Amazon and eBay. It got the floor of my old tub sparkling white when everything else, including straight bleach, failed.
posted by Dolley at 12:56 PM on April 3, 2014

I had an older home, and it is more of a hassle. First, if you have a lot of dust, is there a furnace filter or something? It may need changing. Get a good one, and change it every three months. (The one that comes with our rental is nothing more than a seive!)

Do you have a Swiffer? If not, get one, you can easily swipe the floor with it daily and get up all the hair and dust.

Try Bon Ami and a toothbrush to get at the grout, that should help. Try Bon Ami in the tub and on the sink as well. It's a mild abrasive, and cheap as dirt.

Here's a great WikiHow for determining the kind of tub you have (porcelain or enamel) and some things to try to get it clean.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:58 PM on April 3, 2014

Bah, so sorry you are renting because I have some home owner hacks. Oh well. And I know the pleasure of living in old, but the pain of living in old and grubby.

I'm going to try the Jolie Kerr Oxyclean dump on my 50s tile floors this weekend, followed with grout paint, which is not practical for you. When I first moved in, I did hands and knees scrubbing of the floor grout (and counters) with Soft Scrub and walked away for a while to let it do its magic.

I've been focusing on things I can apply and then let set. I often let a slick of Soft Scrub with Bleach sit on my original porcelain sinks, and that gets out the "deeper" stains that I make, from cooking and hair dye. I use Method shower spray on my shower daily. I buy a shower curtain liner on amzn that really lives up to its claim that it does! Not! Mold! for a year. It's awesome and helps.

A thing that did not really work on my tile is Zep, which people seem to swear by.

It's a smaller cost fix and a wee time investment, but consider recauking tubs and sinks well, if the cauk looks old or was applied poorly. A smooth/new seal will trap MUCH less grime and hair.

I keep a dustbuster and hit up behind the doors and toilets every few days. And this is an "investment," especially since they tend to run down over time and do a poorer and poorer job, but I buy robotic vacuums and run them daily (2 dogs, 2 cats). I find that as I move around normally, I may dislodge dust bunnies that the vacuum cannot access on its own (like behind doors), but it will get them the next day. And then I come home to "clean enough" floors, in spite of my animals' efforts to use my favorite rug as a self-brush always.

I have been hacking away at my house for about a year now, and I feel the old owners were a little less "three day meth binge" in their cleaning philosophy than I am, so I do see grime lifting over time. Hang in there.
posted by Lardmitten at 1:03 PM on April 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ah, you have described my bathroom, to a t:

- Toilet: Use bleach. Period. Bleach in the bowl will clean up stains.
- Tub: Magic eraser about once a month, on top of your regular cleaning routine.
- Floor: Swiffer (off brand is fine) - not the wet jet, just what my grandmother would have called a 'dry mop". I do mine every night when I get home from work. Takes about one minute. Just run it around the baseboards and over the floor - zip zip zip. I have reusable pads that I wash in the machine.

I do the floors and sink daily, the toilet on an "as needed" basis (I have a boy child) and the tub about once a week.
posted by anastasiav at 1:31 PM on April 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are great ideas, thank you so much--I should note I have no forced air or other heating/cooling system in the bathroom, just a fan in the wall that vents outside.
posted by stellaluna at 1:46 PM on April 3, 2014

If you are thinking about using bleach on aged porcelain, think about using peroxide and baking soda or an Oxy powder.

I lived in a thousand aged apartments, including a fourth floor walk up so old the bathtub was in a closet by the front door and had been painted pink possibly during the Eisenhower administration.

There are some fancy things that are fun, but vinegar and baking soda really do a good job on aged ick. If you have any greasiness, Simple Green is magic.

Go buy a pile of bar towels. They make a lot of difference.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:52 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bleach is your friend. Some of the porousness of the porcelian could actually be from hard water build up, I have brand new fittings and fixtures and hard water build up makes them look dirty unless I get rid of it. I find vinegar in a spray bottle mixed with some water sprayed on and left a while then rubbed off helps. I use The Works in our toilet bowl inside and out to clean, it is the best cleaner out there bar none for hard water, but I believe it has acid in it to break up the hard water so be careful where you splash it as it can discolour metals. It is also great on toilet stains in general.

A damp microfibre cloth along the skirting boards and one of these to run over the floor helps with hair and dust.
posted by wwax at 1:53 PM on April 3, 2014

Best answer: I live in an older house (and this might sound insane) but I swear they actually generate more dust, or house more of it or something. We don't have forced air either.

I would advise against Magic Eraser if you have an older tub/tile. Magic Erasers are basically a really (really) fine sandpaper, and you can scratch the hell out of the finish on things.

When you clean your bathroom, start with the floor first, before you drip any water on it, which will stymie your efforts to pick up dust. For the floor and baseboards, use a broom gently. (Gently because otherwise you're just throwing dust around.)

Bon Ami for the toilet, tub and sink. Windex for mirrors. You can use pumice stone on really bad stains in your toilet without causing any damage. It works great. For where the dust and hair seems to electro-cling to the bases of our pedestal sink and the toilet, I wipe those down with a damp rag. Rinse and repeat.

My order of operations in cleaning the bathroom goes:
Sweep floor and baseboards
Swish and scrub toilet with brush, leave soaking
Wipe down dust on all the porcelain/ceramic surfaces, rinsing rag in the sink
Clean sink
Flush toilet
Victory dance!

(I don't clean the bathtub every week because it doesn't seem to need it and let's be honest, that's too much work.)
posted by purple_bird at 2:06 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My experience with the Magic Eraser is that it is indeed like magic, but I have to be VERY careful as to where I use it. I seem to be able to use it to get soap scum off tile walls of the shower/tub, but I used it on a test area of the tub itself and it was left a bit rough, which attracts dirt/soap scum just that much more quickly.

Also, bleach stains. I know, it's counter-intuitive, but if there's any part of your tub on which the finish is thin or old, bleach will turn it orange.

I have a tiny old bathroom and I don't really have room to use a mop, so I get on my hands and knees and clean the floor like any other surface. I'm currently experimenting with the e-cloth technology, recommended by a very fastidious friend, in part because it does not require the use of harsh chemicals. Or any chemicals for that matter. I'm still getting used to the idea because I want to KILL bacteria, but as I said, my friend is very fastidious and he is okay with the idea. Give it some thought.
posted by janey47 at 2:17 PM on April 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nothing bleach. Also try using white vinegar.
posted by floweredfish at 2:53 PM on April 3, 2014

I swear by HG products for my similarly hard-to-clean bathroom. They're pretty magical.
posted by neushoorn at 1:27 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'll be trying all these ideas--those marked best are things I haven't tried (I did try bleach and it didn't do much/stained a bit). I'm going to implement some new systems recommended here and also try to take apart the fan/vent to outside, I bet there's a lot of dust accumulated there that's contributing to the griminess. Thanks so much for the advice!
posted by stellaluna at 1:24 PM on April 4, 2014

One of those "clean toilet bowl" flush-y things that sits in the tank and slowly releases cleaner. They're a little bit expensive and I'm pretty sure they're terrible for everything your water empties into, but they work much better than I expected on the lingering stains.
posted by anaelith at 7:29 PM on April 4, 2014

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