Eradicate Bathroom Mildew!
January 8, 2018 9:53 AM   Subscribe

The bathrooms in my townhouse have no windows and poor ventilation. It makes mildew an ongoing problem -- what's the best products, tips, and advice you all have for keeping the problem at bay?

The grout in the bathtub we use regularly is deeply stained, although things left in the tub tend to get stained eventually.

Ideally, I need two solutions:
1) Something to get rid of the really gross stubborn mildew, particularly in the grout; and
2) Something to keep it from coming back this badly.

I live in Florida, where everything is humid; this is probably contributing to the problem. I'm also sensitive (get migraines) from strongly scented products; however I'm reasonably sure the mildew is doing me no favors, either.
posted by PearlRose to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A professional painter and decorator of 30+ years experience told me the problem is caused by people taking a shower or a bath without opening the window first to let the steam out.
posted by jacobean at 9:58 AM on January 8, 2018

There are no windows in any of my bathrooms!
posted by PearlRose at 10:03 AM on January 8, 2018

What is the "poor" ventilation system and is it improvable? If not, could you literally just set up fans pointing into or out of the bathrooms and make sure the doors don't close?
posted by brainmouse at 10:12 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

The vent fan in the bathroom has to run much longer than just the duration of the shower. I've installed a timer on the switch (that has 4 buttons, corresponding to 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes). When I take a shower, I just punch the 60 minute button.

Use a squeegee or something similar to remove the moisture from surfaces after a bath or shower.

Extra heat in a bathroom will also reduce mildew, by drying it out relative to the unheated bathroom. A timer on a baseboard heater might do it. If you want to use a little ceramic cube heater, remember that you can only plug it into a GFCI outlet if you are going to use it in a wet area.

When you are done with your shower or bath, leave the door or curtain open, so the tub or stall can dry out better.

A weak bleach solution will prevent mildew, although you will probably need a stronger bleach solution to eliminate an existing mildew problem. Get the unscented bleach, and use the fan. I keep a bottle of weak bleach in the shower, and dribble it on the problem areas after I squeegee down the stall after each shower.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:18 AM on January 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

can you upgrade your bathroom fan?
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:18 AM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

My coworker says diluted bleach sprayed onto paper towels and left to soak on the grout is the easiest way to clean it. If bleach sets off your migraines, try a respirator.

Installing a proper vent fan is going to be less of a hassle than the alternative -- removing mold once it gets into the walls.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:21 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

First thing I'd do is check the bathroom fans. Clean their grates and wipe the crud out as well as possible, and see if that helps suck more moisture out of the bathroom when they're turned on. Cleaning them will probably be disgusting. If cleaning them doesn't help them function better (and if they didn't need cleaning, they're probably not pulling enough air), consider replacing the fans. New ones aren't all that expensive and aren't likely to need an electrician depending on how they're plugged in.

If you mean the grout around the edges of the bathtub, it's probably time to remove it all, clean the hell out of the whole area, and reapply fresh bathroom sealant. You've got a few options for cleaners, but make sure you use something that'll really kill the mildew, like bleach. Given your sensitivity to odors, try using a sanitizer like Five Star Star San. It'll kill everything and it doesn't smell. You can buy it at shops that sell homebrewing equipment.

This should help deal with what's already there and prevent some problems, but if it's not enough, try using a dehumidifier.
posted by asperity at 10:22 AM on January 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

A shower squeegee might help.

If it were me, I'd also look into using Damp-Rid regularly.

I'd also consider setting up a system of fans to circulate air not just in the bathroom, but in the adjacent rooms.
posted by amtho at 10:25 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

For 1): Scrubbing Bubbles (basically lye+), and as per professional Clean Person, don't do the generic) or Vim (might be Canada-only?). Make sure the surface is cleaner-safe by spot-testing.

Alternatively, a whole whack of appropriately-diluted bleach. You can google 'bleach dilutions' for different needs; please note that most bleaches sold in the US and Canada are now 'concentrated' so you'll need to know that bottle's specific concentration for accurate dilution. Wear protective gear; bleach is no joke. *Do not use undiluted bleach.*

Because you're scent-sensitive, I strongly recommend setting up a floor fan outside the door when you use ANY heavy-duty cleaning product (+30-60 minutes after), and doing it in shifts. I'd also recommend a respirator.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:27 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also have a bathroom with no windows and no fan. We've kept the mildew at bay by showering with the bathroom door open. Even halfway helps.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:39 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use a Karcher Window Vac to suck away all the water left on my shower enclosure and tiles after every shower. It's made a huge difference to the condensation and mildew that I used to get. It takes about 30 seconds and you'd be amazed at how much water is sucked into the reservoir.

Plus, you can use it on windows too, obvs.
posted by essexjan at 10:39 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

We had this problem and a good dehumidifier mostly fixed the issue.
posted by onecircleaday at 11:17 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Both our cleaners and my mom's professional cleaner recommended Clorox Clean-up spray. It does smell like bleach (and I could've sworn there was a blue and a green that were slightly different), but once the mildew was mostly scrubbed off, they recommended hitting the inside of the shower After each time you shower to help keep the mildew from reforming.

It's made a big difference.
posted by ldthomps at 11:38 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

White vinegar is not the best option for removing mildew, but it does keep it away for longer than bleach does.
(Don't mix vinegar and bleach. Use one or the other at a time.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:22 PM on January 8, 2018

Tilex spray is extremely strong smelling, but it works better than anything I've ever used. Better than straight bleach. Maybe wear a respirator or have someone do it for you. Then use a fan religiously and always keep the door open if you can. Consider resealing the grout after you Tilex it back to white.
posted by quince at 1:38 PM on January 8, 2018

I concur with bleach on paper towels suggestion listed above. We use the gel bleach (easier to apply) and then cover it with folded paper towel strips or cotton balls/pads in corners or smaller areas. Let it soak for a while with the house well ventilated.
posted by raspberrE at 4:35 PM on January 8, 2018

Yes, Tilex. I also live in Florida and also have a horribly vented bathroom. Tilex got it looking as good as original 1950s tiny tiles with miles of grout can look. Wear a mask, that shit will make you sick to breathe in.
posted by gatorae at 7:27 PM on January 8, 2018

posted by HMSSM at 8:46 PM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I will say that I have tried all of the above cleaning tips and tricks and I think they all work perfectly fine for aboveground, window'd, well-ventilated bathrooms. but the only thing that kept the mildew at bay in the unventilated, windowless, below-ground bathroom that I have here in Atlanta was running a 50-gallon dehumidifier on high for at least 20 minutes after a shower. that thing would pick up about a gallon of water in that time and there's not a lot you can do to protect your bathroom from a gallon of trapped water in a tiny space that isn't sucking it out in some way, especially when the ambient humidity stays at above 50% for 3/4ths of the year
posted by runt at 8:19 AM on January 9, 2018

Some small things that help: keep the bathroom door open as often as possible, hang towels (and bathmat) outside of the bathroom to dry, squeegee the walls/shower curtain after showering.
posted by simplethings at 9:24 AM on January 9, 2018

I was going to say dehumidifier as well. My sister has a bathroom with no windows and a poor ventilation fan, and she uses a dehumidifier in there. I do believe hers has a thermostat where it comes on at a certain humidity level and then switches off when the humidity drops to a designated level. (I had one like that in my damp basement and it worked like a charm!) Using a thermostat setting might keep it from running 24/7 and wasting electricity.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:22 AM on January 9, 2018

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