How to Clean a Toilet Tank for Sparkling Clean Results

Becca Stokes
Written by Becca Stokes
Updated September 16, 2021
Modern bathroom with toilet
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Hard water is most likely to blame for that mess in your toilet tank

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Ever lift the lid of your toilet tank and shriek at the moldy mess inside? You aren’t alone.

The reason for your dirty toilet tank might not be exactly what you think—hard water is responsible for most of that build-up. And while installing a water softener will help solve the problem in the long run, there are easy steps to cleaning your toilet tank right here and now. 

Difficulty: 1/5

Time: one to two days

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • White vinegar

  • Protective gloves

  • Baking soda

  • Dish soap

  • Scrub brush

1. Open and Inspect the Tank

As part of proper toilet maintenance, inspect your tank at least twice a year. Make sure that the toilet flapper opens and closes well, and check the rim of the tank for mold or dirt buildup.

A quick look-over will help you know whether you can go ahead with cleaning as planned, or if there are any broken components (like the aforementioned toilet flapper) that need to be repaired first.

2. Shut Off the Water

In order to clean your toilet tank, you need to empty the dirty water inside of it. 

Locate the toilet’s water valve—it’ll be either near the base of your toilet or on the wall right behind it. Turn the valve counterclockwise to stop water from flowing to your toilet. Flush the toilet until the tank is empty—this might take two or three flushes.

3. Clean With a Vinegar Solution

There’s more than one way to clean your toilet, but a vinegar soak is one of the most effective ways of treating the mold and mineral buildup that hard water forms inside the tank. 

Vinegar Soak Method

  • Fill the tank with 3–7 gallons of white vinegar

  • Do not go past the tank’s overfill line

  • Let sit for 12–24 hours

  • Flush out vinegar

  • Cover the wet tank with baking soda

  • Scrub away any remaining debris

  • Go to Step 4

If you don’t have time for a soak, you can use vinegar and baking soda for a quick scrub.

Vinegar and Baking Soda Cleanse

  • Put 2 tablespoons of dish soap, 1 cup of vinegar, and one-half-cup of baking soda in the empty tank

  • Using a brush, distribute the mixture throughout the tank

  • Scrub the sides and bottom

  • Let it sit for 60 minutes

  • Scrub away any remaining debris

  • Go to Step 4

A Note on Toilet Tank Cleansers

If you decide not to use dish soap, vinegar, or water, be mindful of the type of cleaner you select. Because of the internal tank components, some abrasives can damage your toilet. If you’re using a commercial cleanser or a toilet tank cleaning tablet, make sure it is actually designed for toilet tanks. 

4. Turn the Water Back On

Contemporary bathroom with vanity and toilet
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Once the tank has been soaked and scrubbed, turn the water back on by rotating the valve clockwise. 

5. Flush and Scrub

Flush the toilet, let the tank refill with water, and spot clean any soapy or scummy patches that linger. Don’t worry if your toilet tank takes more than three flushes to refill—that’s fine!

6. Buy a Hard Water Softener

Unless you want to make tank cleaning a regular house cleaning task, test your water to see if it’s the cause of any problems. You can buy a hard water testing kit at most hardware stores or online. 

Hard water causes buildup because it’s high in minerals like calcium and magnesium. Buying a hard water softener and having it installed by a plumber can soften your water and make future cleaning sessions a breeze.

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