How to Remove Soap Scum and Tackle the Stubborn Grime in Your Bathroom

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated November 17, 2022
Woman cleans her deep bathtub with a cloth
Photo: SolStock / E+ / Getty Images

Scrap bathroom soap scum in a snap

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Soap does a great job at cleaning where you want it to, but you can’t always count on it to wash itself clean when it’s all said and done. Ironically, that filmy, lingering gunk can be one of the trickiest messes to clean in your bathroom, and most of us have wondered how to get rid of soap scum without having to put up so much of a fight. Here’s how to keep your sink, bath, and shower scum-free.

What Is Soap Scum?

Learning how to get rid of soap scum begs the question: Why does soap—which is supposed to make us clean—leave behind a grimy film? And what is it?

Soap scum is a mixture of hard-water mineral deposits with fatty acids, talc, and other ingredients from your soap. If you want the grosser part, it also contains dirt, bacteria, body oil, and dead skin. The harder your water is, the more soap scum you’ll have to deal with, and the longer you wait, the harder it will be to remove.

How to Get Rid of Soap Scum

In a perfect world, you’d give every surface a daily wipe down, and you’d never have to worry about how to get rid of soap scum, but it’s easy to miss the grimy deposits until they become an icky, impossible-to-clean film. When the inevitable happens, there are a variety of store-bought cleaners you can use, or you can turn to homemade cleaners like vinegar and baking soda

Here’s how to remove soap scum from the different surfaces in your kitchen and bathroom.

How to Remove Soap Scum From Tile, Ceramic, and Porcelain Surfaces

Getting rid of soap scum on ceramic and porcelain is the simplest, since these are hard surfaces that can stand up to tougher cleaning methods.

  1. Mix white vinegar with baking soda to form a paste—a ratio of one part vinegar to four parts baking soda will do the trick.

  2. Once the paste stops fizzing, apply it to the scummy areas.

  3. Allow the paste to sit for around 15 to 20 minutes.

  4. Wipe the surface clean with a damp microfiber cloth.

How to Remove Soap Scum From Natural Stone

Vinegar and other acidic cleaners, as well as most commercial soap scum removers, are generally not safe for use on natural stone surfaces. If you encounter soap scum on your natural stone tile or basin, stick with a commercial cleaner that’s meant for natural stone and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Since these surfaces are sensitive to harsh cleaning methods, it’s best to clean them as often as possible to minimize the need for scrubbing.

Removing Soap Scum From Shower Doors (Glass and Fiberglass)

You can use a 1:4 mixture of vinegar to baking soda to clean glass and fiberglass shower doors as well. Spread this on the gunk and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before wiping it clean. You can also use this mixture to clean crusty mineral deposits from your showerhead: Simply place the mixture in a bag, rubberband the bag to your showerhead, and allow it to soak overnight.

How to Clean Soap Scum From Metal Fixtures

To tackle soap scum on your metal fixtures, spray them with a 1:1 solution of water and vinegar before wiping them clean. If you have bronze or brass fixtures, clean these according to the manufacturer’s instructions, as vinegar and other cleaning products can damage the finish.

Preventing Soap Scum Buildup

Clean bathtub with open window above
Photo: alexandre zveiger / Adobe Stock

Maintaining a diligent cleaning routine is your best line of defense against soap scum. If you quickly wipe down your tile walls after each shower, you'll make quick work of would-be scummy deposits before they become a problem. 

Some other strategies for preventing soap scum include:

  • Switch from bar soap: Liquid gel cleanser is less likely to create soap scum than bar soap.

  • Always pull the shower curtain closed: Mildew and other buildup grow quickly when your curtain is folded up.

  • Wash your shower curtain liner: You can wash it in the washing machine on a quick cycle with a mild detergent and hang it to dry.

  • Open your bathroom windows and doors: Opening windows and doors can help to decrease moisture levels and increase air circulation.

  • Combat hard water: Consider investing in the cost of a water softener system to reduce the number of mineral deposits in your water. 

How to Get Rid of Soap Scum: DIY vs. Hire a Pro

Staying on top of soap scum—and cleaning in general—is no easy feat. If you’re having trouble, it’s worth looking into the cost of hiring a house cleaner. A local house cleaning service can help you keep up with the cleaning regularly so gunk won’t have the time to build up.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, if you’re strapped for supplies, boiling hot water can be a great alternative for getting rid of soap scum. However, as this method calls for a bit of soaking, it’s best used to combat scum in your sink or bath basin (or on small objects that you can submerge.) 

All you have to do is plug your sink or bathtub drain and pour in enough boiling water to cover the soap scum. Allow it to soak for five minutes, drain, and follow up with an additional hot water rinse to remove any lingering residue.

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