How to Clean the Toilet: Should You Use Vinegar, Bicarb Soda or Something Else?

How to clean the toilet with no nasties: when to use vinegar, when to use bicarb soda and when to use something elseAfter I launched my free Non-Toxic Cleaning Printables, a reader asked why I didn’t include information on cleaning the toilet.

The simple answer? Space. Also, it’s pretty simple, but there are a few variations, and which one you use will depend on your toilet and your water.

You will also need a different method for a badly stained toilet, or a urine stained toilet floor (toddler training anyone?)  but we’ll come to those last.

So how do you clean your toilet effectively, without using nasty chemicals?

Updated 2018 to add: Before you read on, let me give you a tip: for a badly stained toilet, or one with a thick build up of calcium, lime or other minerals, try using a spirinet, with any of the solutions below (wear gloves! LOL). This is a stainless steel scrubby, it comes in a two-pack for $8. It is 100% stainless steel, which makes it less likely to scratch than some supermarket equivalents, and won’t rust, so it lasts and lasts. I have used it on numerous glass oven doors, without scratching, but only just recently discovered that it is AWESOME on a nasty buildup in the toilet.

I am now recommending it with the the Norwex Blue Diamond (a no-nasties general purpose bathroom cleaner, that comes very concentrated) as my number one choice for toilet build up, however, you can also use the spirinet with one of the other options below, DIY or otherwise. (The Blue Diamond can also be used for faster general bathroom cleaning, as long as you don’t have natural stone – it contains citric acid which is a natural descaler, but you don’t want to demineralise your slate/marble/granite etc! Same goes for using vinegar on them. Don’t do it! More on the how to use, dilute etc the blue diamond for general use here.)

Two methods for a weekly or biweekly clean of an unstained toilet

Method one: Vinegar only

Use vinegar if you have hard water, because the the acidity works well against mineral buildup. Vinegar is also a disinfectant.

  1. Pour 1 cup of distilled white vinegar into your toilet bowl & swish it around using the toilet brush.
  2. Allow to sit for at least ten minutes.
  3. In the meantime, spray the outside of the toilet bowl with a vinegar spray (Use 50/50 with distilled water in a spray bottle, or use a citrus infused vinegar spray), and wipe down with a cloth.
  4.  After the vinegar has soaked in the bowl, scrub out with the toilet brush, and flush.
    Tip: For mild hard water stains, leave it for longer (anything from an hour to overnight) before scrubbing. For serious hard water stains, see below.

Method two: Bicarb soda

  1. Flush the toilet to wet the sides of the bowl, or spray with plain water.
  2. Sprinkle bicarb soda around the toilet bowl and leave for half an hour (or overnight is good too). 
  3. Scrub out with your toilet brush.
  4. You can make a paste with bicarb soda and a little water or castille soap and use it on the brush or on a cloth for any slightly stubborn stains. (You can also use gloves and just get in there with your envirocloth or Norwex scrub cloth, without needing anything else but water, but most people seem to prefer to use a brush!)
  5. Flush the toilet.

Combine the two:

Vinegar and bicarb soda fizzing together in the toilet, making a foamIf you find your toilet cleaning needs a bit more omph, you can combine the two methods.

DON’T leave both vinegar and bicarb soda to soak though. You need to use the chemical reaction as it happens, which is the moment you combine them. So choose either vinegar or bicarb soda to use as above, but then when it comes time to scrub, add some of the other product and use that fizz to help loosen any dirt as you scrub.

Tip: Use the fizzing bicarb and vinegar mix to clean around the toilet seat hinges. Mix it together in a bowl and pour over the hinges immediately while its still fizzing.

How to clean hard water stains in your toilet bowl and cistern

If you have mineral build up in your toilet bowl, you might need to use the vinegar neat.

  1. Empty the toilet bowl. You can do this by using a large absorbent sponge, soaking up the water and then squeezing it into a bucket. Wear gloves!
  2. Fill with straight vinegar and let sit for a couple of hours or overnight.
  3. Scrub as usual and flush.

Obviously there is quite a gap between using one cup of vinegar mixed in the water and using neat vinegar – you can experiment and use your judgement, depending on the state of your toilet bowl.

If the neat vinegar doesn’t work, you may have to repeat a couple of times (for a serious mineral build up).

Alternatively you can use the Norwex Descaler, which is an enzyme-based cleaner especially designed to work on mineral build up, like lime, calcium and rust stains. This is a lot more powerful than the vinegar while still being a safe product to use. You will still want to empty the toilet bowl, but then just spray on the descaler and leave it for about ten minutes before scrubbing. (see my note at the top for using a spirinet for this – you can use it with either the descaler, blue diamond or vinegar)

Even with the descaler though, if you have a serious build up you may need to use it a couple of times.

To descale the toilet cistern

  1. Pour about 2 cups of distilled white vinegar into the full toilet cistern.
  2. Leave for up to an hour while you clean the rest of the toilet and bathroom.
  3. Flush a couple of times to make sure all the vinegar is gone – vinegar is great at descaling mineral buildup (use it in your kettle too), but it is an acid, so you don’t want to leave it for a long time and risk damage to the metal or rubber seals in your tank.

How to clean a badly stained toilet bowl

If your toilet bowl is badly stained, you may find that plain vinegar and bicarb are just not enough. If that is the case (and you don’t want to go the Norwex descaler), you can try using borax.

  1. Flush the toilet to wet the sides of the bowl.
  2. Sprinkle borax around the inside of the toilet bowl.
  3. Leave overnight
  4. Wearing gloves, scrub the stains using the sort of scouring pad that is suitable for porcelain cooktops. Many people recommend using pumice, but depending on the surface of your toilet, this could abrade the surface, which means the staining will return twice as fast. If you do want to try pumice, test it on a small patch on the outside first.
  5. For extra power, make up a paste of 1 cup borax with about 1/2 cup lemon juice and apply immediately using a sponge or the scouring pad.

Remember:  There is no way to store a cleaner that mixes a base (borax or bicarb) and an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) – it must be used immediately, while the chemical reaction is taking place.

Cleaning the toilet floor

If you have toilet training toddlers – especially boys – you will know that floor around the toilet can get quite pungent. Even fully toilet trained boys seem to “miss” quite a lot, especially at night (or maybe that’s just mine?). So how do you clean urine stained tiles and grout, with no nasties?

Guess what? You use vinegar and bicarb soda. 

Vinegar is your first step.

Your basic homemade vinegar floor cleaner is simply about 1/2 cup of vinegar in 1/2 a  bucket of warm water (about a gallon/4 litres).  But for the toilet floor in the middle of toilet training, I would mop with a solution of 50/50 white vinegar and water.  Alternatively, thoroughly spray the floor with a neat vinegar spray, leave for 1/2 an hour, and then mop.

So where does the bicarb come in? Well, if your grout is stained and the vinegar hasn’t cleaned it, make a paste of bicarb soda with a little water. Use an old tooth brush to apply it to the grout and scrub. For extra omph, spray on some vinegar for the lovely cleaning fizz. Rinse well with warm water.

Not enough? Add some enzymes…

Once again, if this doesn’t work (and let’s face it, if you have boys learning to aim, sometimes it seems that smell just WON’T GO AWAY), you can go the next step to an enzyme based cleaner. If the urine smell has really worked its way into the grout, the vinegar just won’t be enough. In that case you can try either one of the Norwex Odour Eliminator or Mattress Cleaner. yes, you read that right. The Mattress Cleaner works really well on urine in grout!

So which one would you choose? Well, it depends what else you will use it for.

The Mattress Cleaner will eat up all the dust mite poo and dead skin etc (that dust mites feed on) in your mattress, sofa, and other soft furnishings, so it’s great if you sufferer allergies and hey fever, especially at night – you may find reducing the dust mite population puts an end to the sneezes. (It can be a LIFE CHANGER for people with asthma especially!)

On the other hand, the Odour Eliminator is great for spraying in the smelly bin, kitty litter, cat peed on carpet or cement floor (but the mattress cleaner is good for this too), and can also be added to a load of laundry that is stinky. The Mattress cleaner is also ready to use, whereas the odour eliminator needs to be diluted with water, 1:7, in a spray bottle (except for putting it in the wash). So that makes the mattress cleaner a bit easier to us, but more expensive, mil for mil.

Did I miss anything? What green cleaning techniques have you tried in your toilet or bathroom?


Updated to add: Since writing this post I have become so gung ho about high quality microfibre that I’ve actually become a Norwex “Independent Sales Consultant”. Consequently, the links to Norwex products in this post, now go to my own online store. Woohoo! (It used to go to my friend’s store. Sorry Lis!)


This post was shared at Mop It Up Monday; Better Mom Mondays; And possibly somewhere else but I’ve forgotten where, oh no! Leave me a comment if you know the answer 🙂

  32 comments for “How to Clean the Toilet: Should You Use Vinegar, Bicarb Soda or Something Else?

  1. May 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Can one use vinegar in a toilet which empties into a septic tank? Will the vinegar not affect the bacteria in the septic tank?


    • Kirsten
      May 27, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Hi Dani,

      Apparently it’s fine. According to this guide on the NSW gov site, vinegar is a good alternative to conventional cleaners for *protecting* your septic system.

      “You can protect your septic system by using
      traditional non-toxic cleaners, like vinegar and
      bicarbonate of soda, in the kitchen and bathroom” (p. 14)

      • May 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm

        Brilliant – Thanks for coming back to me, and for the link 🙂

        • Editor
          May 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm

          You’re welcome 🙂

      • Lorraine Bull
        November 20, 2017 at 5:33 pm

        Hello Kirsten, I love this page.
        I have a septic tank system and to clean my drains I have a great trick.
        Have ready boiling water, vinegar and bi-carb soda and the all important plug.
        You drop a heaped tablespoon of carb soda into the plug hole, and follow it up with a cup of vinegar.
        IMMEDIATELY hold the plug in the hole. The fizz cant escape upwards so is forced downwards and around the bend. When it stops fizzing, pour the boiling water down to clear.
        Does a great job.

        • November 21, 2017 at 1:39 pm

          Awesome tip Lorraine, thanks!!

  2. Penny
    May 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Thanks – I’m just about to give the toilet a quick clean (I’m expecting a visit from my cousin today), my young kids never give the toilet a clean – I’m lucky if they remember to flush it – and as I tend to use my ensuing, the main bathroom can often be a bit of a mess. Yuck! Someone once told me that the lowest ranking member of the household usually cleans the toilet!!!!… Anyway, I’m about to give the bicarbonate and vinegar a go. I just love natural cleaning methods that work.

    • Kirsten
      May 27, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      Yeah, my kids are the same Penny! 🙂 I don’t know about that lowest ranking member thing. I think I clean our toilets more often than Chris (or certainly than the kids), but I’d honestly rather clean toilets and bathrooms than fold washing or than tidying generally. Though you wouldn’t know it to look at the state of my bathroom right now, which I noticed *after* a friend took her 3 year old in there to wash his hands this morning. At least the toilet’s okay! 🙂

    • Kirsten
      May 27, 2013 at 10:21 pm

      And by the way, how did it go?
      I cleaned our toilet out in the garage yesterday, in the middle of writing this article. It doesn’t get used often, so it gets the water staining, so I let the vinegar soak for a while, but used some bicarb as well – came out beautifully 🙂

      Usually inside I just use bicarb, but possibly would get a better result from using both! The kids don’t flush at all during the night, so it does get pretty grotty…

  3. May 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    We’re supposed to clean the toilets?! I was hoping the magic cleaning fairy would just clean mine! 😉 We use the blue loos things from Woolies and hardly ever have to clean them! Hooray! -Aroha (#teamIBOT)

    • Kirsten
      May 30, 2013 at 9:49 pm

      Haha, if only the magic cleaning fairy would bring her friend the magic *tidying* fairy over to my house…

  4. May 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I don’t like chemicals either anymore. Thanks for the tips about little boy wee stink and spills.

    • Kirsten
      May 30, 2013 at 9:49 pm

      You’re welcome Trish, thanks for stopping by 🙂

  5. May 28, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    I have a little spray bottle of vinegar and another of metho in my bathroom. Not sure if the metho is environmentally friendly but it’s a nicer alternative to all the smelly stuff on the supermarket shelves. I’m forever cleaning the loo with my little leaky ones, so I’ll give your tips a go.

    • Kirsten
      May 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm

      Hi Robomum,

      I think metho, like a lot of things we use, could not be classified as strictly non-toxic – you certainly wouldn’t want a child to drink it! – but used as a cleaner it’s fine, and also okay for the environment. I use it in my wool wash recipe, and I know it can be used for other things too, though I haven’t tried it. Do you use it for it’s disinfecting properties in your bathroom?

  6. May 30, 2013 at 1:02 am

    When I use lemon juice does it need to be fresh lemons or lemon juice out of a bottle? or any juice with similar acidity?


    • Kirsten
      May 30, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      I don’t see any reason lemon juice out of a bottle wouldn’t work. Lemons, as well as being acidic, can have a very mild lightening action, but you could probably just use white vinegar here as well truthfully. Lemons also contain d-limonene, which is a disinfectant and is, I believe, a big part of it’s cleaning power, although there’s more in the rind than the juice I think.

      You could try it with the citrus infused vinegar too 🙂 Though I suspect if you tested all three options, mixed with the borax, you wouldn’t find much difference.

  7. May 30, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Vinegar and bicarb really do clean everything don’t they?

    • Kirsten
      May 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      They really do seem to 🙂

  8. May 12, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I was searching for ways to clean or toilet then I was surprised after I read that vinegar and bicarb soda can be used to clean toilet. After I read this I tried it to our toilet and it was pretty cool how effective vinegar and bicarb soda. Thank you Kirsten for sharing this useful tips to us. Keep sharing!

  9. Julie
    January 3, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I believe that the most important person in the household cleans the toilet ?

  10. April 5, 2016 at 4:38 am

    Vinegar is a great, non-toxic cleaning product. I like that you listed how to use different levels of vinegar and bicarb soda to clean out different levels of grime in your toilet. Plus, as you mentioned in the comments, using vinegar can actually help protect and clean your septic tank, so there’s no harm in using it! Thanks for the article.

  11. June 10, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Tips don’t get any easier than this. Put the kettle on or use the stove or microwave if you don’t own a kettle and boil up as much water as it will hold. Now pour it slowly down the drain in two to three stages, allowing the hot water to work for a several seconds in between each pour. This is usually the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain.

  12. August 9, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Vinegar and baking soda does an excellent job specially when cleaning clogged pipes and drains. I use it in the kitchen sink and bathroom basin and it works perfect. Lot better than using toxic drain cleaning chemicals.

  13. Mary evans
    May 29, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    My daughters toilet is very bad it is stained in the bowl like lime scale I am at a loss what to use

    • May 30, 2017 at 11:21 am

      Hi Mary,
      For serious limescale build up, the best thing natural product I can recommend is the Norwex descaler. You need to empty the water out of the toilet, then spray it on and leave for a few minutes before scrubbing. If it is very severe you may need a few applications.
      You can use vinegar in the same way, but it is much less effective – also, instead of spraying it on, you probably need to fill up the bottom of the toilet bowl with it, and leave for a couple of hours or overnight.
      If you are in the UK (as your email address suggests) you can buy the descaler online from – just click “connect with a consultant” to find the one closest to you. Or, if there is a consultant in your area, you might like to get them to come do a demo for you and try the descaler out.

      Of course, if you are in Australia you can buy it from me here 🙂

      Hope that helps!

  14. November 15, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    A toilet is one of the most used things in every home and when you have kids, its the toughest task to keep it clean. But now I think its no more difficult for me. Thank you for sharing great toilet cleaning remedy.

  15. December 7, 2017 at 3:04 am

    Great article, and thanks for taking the time to publish it; really opened my eyes for some new perspectives that I hadn’t thought of before.
    Toilet cleaner is very important issue for our daily needs.Natural cleaning product is perfect for for kitchen, bathroom and also floor cleaning.

  16. April 24, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    This is really a great article. I also think that A toilet is one of the most used things in every home. I prefer on vinegar. Vinegar is a great, non-toxic cleaning product. I like that you listed how to use different levels of vinegar and bicarb soda to clean out different levels of grime in your toilet.? Thanks in advance for giving me the clarification and also for your helpful article.

  17. Alexander Brandon
    July 31, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    really a nice article and very informative thanks for sharing it.

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