Cleaning Toilet Bowls with Dr. B’s

So let’s tackle one of the least romantic parts of housecleaning – toilet bowls.  I don’t need to tell you that these can get icky, especially if you have boys in the house.  (I love my boys to pieces, but they do – well – miss.)  Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds and Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap are both powerful enough to cleanse a commode.

Honestly, my conventional toilet cleaner was one of my last conventional products to give up.  There was something so confident and reassuring about the thick, beautiful blue gel with its minty fresh scent.  However, let’s just take a look at each of those features.  The reason it’s so thick is that it is supposed to cling to the insides of your toilet without dispersing in the water.  At the risk of stating the obvious, that means that it doesn’t disperse readily in water.  This means that if the gel goes down your pipes, it’s going to be in clumps.  It also means that if you or a little one gets it on your skin, it will cling and burn.  Next, I’ve already tackled conventional fragrance In “Changing the Smell of Clean” and the dye for the color is another melting pot where manufacturers can hide nasties.  Furthermore, toilet bowl cleaners are needlessly intense.  They are meant to disinfect the filthiest of toilets and then some with next to no effort from the user.  The cleaner then goes down your pipes and either into area water sources or, if you’re like me, into your septic tank and ultimately back yard.  Then what?  It doesn’t just vanish.  Conventional stuff doesn’t even break down readily.  It’ll be there long after you’ve stopped thinking about it.

Keep in mind what I’ve said about how things get clean: chemically, manually, or thermally .  If you just try to clean with one of these means – let’s say chemically, what you use is going to have to be really, really strong.  However, if you use an alternative cleaning method that combines the chemical (for this purpose, please accept that Sal Suds and soaps are technically chemicals, just not bad ones) along with the mechanical (i.e. your scrubbing) plus a little bit of time for the cleaner to sit and work, you’ll end up with just as clean of a toilet with no risk.

One of my favorite resources, the Environmental Working Group, gives over 56% of commercially available toilet bowl cleaners an “F” for safety – and some of these “F’s” have the word “Natural” in their name.  I’m sorry to pop any bubbles with that one.

What You’ll Need to Clean the Toilet

Either my Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds All-Purpose Spray or my Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile All-Purpose Spray with added pure essential tea tree oil (1/2 tsp. or 50 drops) which is a little more than what I normally use around the house.

Check out the links, but in a nutshell, the Sal Suds spray is a quart of water with 1 Tbsp. Sal Suds.  The castile spray is a quart of water with ¼ c. liquid Castile Soap.

Baking soda

A high quality plastic toilet brush (metal can scratch the enamel on the toilet and cause rust)


  1. 1. Turn off your toilet water.  There is a knob on the wall underneath the toilet.  It turns.  Turn it clockwise until you can’t (don’t wrench it).  The water is now off.
  2. 2. Flush the toilet.  This will drain the water out of your bowl.  You might need to do this twice.
  3. 3. Spray down the inside of the toilet bowl thoroughly with either the Sal Suds spray or the Castile soap spray.  While you’re at it, spray down the outside of the toilet, too, just not as thoroughly or else you’ll have lots of drips on your floors.
  4. 4. Let it sit for 10 minutes.  Perhaps clean the rest of the bathroom or just sit
  5. 5. Sprinkle baking soda on your scrub brush (while holding it over the toilet bowl).
  6. 6. Scrub the toilet bowl thoroughly, making sure to get under the rim of the toilet bowl which is where minerals build up.  If you sprayed the outside of the toilet bowl, wipe it down with a microfiber cloth.
  7. 7. Turn the water back on.  Let the tank fill with water.
  8. 8. Flush the toilet.

A Precaution:  Undiluted Sal Suds is about the same consistency as conventional toilet bowl cleaner.  However, do not use it as such.  If you coat the inside of your toilet bowl with undiluted Sal Suds, you will have a toilet bowl of bubbles for a week.  If you have a toddler who already loves to play in the toilet, this will not help.

29 thoughts on “Cleaning Toilet Bowls with Dr. B’s

  1. “If you have a toddler who already loves to play in the toilet this will not help.”

    This statement just made your article a hit! (:

    Thank you for sharing such an easy straight forward safe way of cleaning the toilet. Mine totally needs it and I had been putting it off. I was actually wanting to know your way of doing this but just hadn’t gotten around to emailing you. Thanks for antiscipating! (; And I DO love microfibers!

  2. I have been looking for information on “natural” toilet cleaning and this is the first I’ve seen. Great advice! I felt that I should be cleaning something that is so close to our skin on a daily basis with products that will not cause harm to ourselves or the environment. Thanks for being my go-to resource.

  3. I started ridding our house of “traditional” cleaners and chemicals two or three years ago, but, like you, the toilet bowl cleaner posed the biggest challenge.

    I carried the idea that the toilet is the filthiest thing in our house and it is impossible to get it truly clean without chemicals. Now, after hundreds of cleanings using natural products like vinegar and baking soda, I realize my paranoia was unfounded. Now our toilet is cleaner than it’s ever been and I don’t have to worry about trading my health and the health of the environment for a “clean” toilet.

  4. I stopped using conventional toilet bowl cleaner this past year and started using baking soda either alone or with white vinegar because the Sal Suds is N/A locally and I’m waiting to place an order for Sal Suds when I need some additional Dr. Bronner’s (at the moment I’m full up on nearly everything and love it all). The funny thing I took 40+ years to learn is, that clean is clean enough, disinfect is not necessary unless you plan on serving a meal out of the toilet bowl. Thanks for the recipe – I’ll be using it too!

  5. Thanks for this simple recipe. I was a little skeptical about this, actually, working well. I thought that the toilet would still smell like urine (like it did with my other natural cleaner), but it doesn’t. I used unscented Castile liquid soap and added the tea tree oil like you said, and I almost forgot that I was using a natural product because it was really strong due to the tea tree oil. Of course, most of the smell went away after it was wiped/rinsed off (which isn’t the case with toxic chemical cleaners). I did use this cleaner to clean the rest of the bathroom, too.

  6. Just to double-check: Do you add the 1/2 tsp of the tea tree oil to the spray bottle itself each time you make a batch OR do you just add the tea tree oil each time to the bowl after you spray the SalSuds and then brush? I am pretty sure you mean the former but just want to check. Thanks in advance for your help, and thanks so much for this nifty toilet cleaning method!

  7. Hi Rachael – Yep, add it to the spray bottle. You’re welcome!

    All the best,

  8. I now live in a house with a septic system and I have been researching natural, homemade cleaners that are safe forthis septic system. On a few websites (usually in the comments sections) someone using a very scientific voice will say that Dr. Bonner’s Magic Soaps (which I love by the way) are not safe for septic systems because they are made with oils. And I know that oils will harm a septic system. This seems to be especially true if something acidic (vinegar or lemon juice) is also making its way into the septic system. So I am looking to you for the answer! Can you clear up my confusion? Thank you!

  9. Where do you get the shaker bottle that you use for the baking soda? Thx for the video lesson, btw.

  10. Hi Lisa, My question has been cleared up a bit by your excellent post on not mixing Dr. Bonner’s with vinegar as it creates an oily mess. And I am thinking that the saponification process is what turns the product into soap with not much oil left behind …. so no harm to the septic system. Am I correct in this? And if the Dr. Bonner’s has been highly diluted due to the amount of water going down the drain with it, then any vinegar following is also highly diluted …. so not a problem in the septic system. Thanks for your patience!

  11. Hi Bonnie – Good questions! And I really should read all the posted comments before answering, because I wrote out all of what you just said. Yep on the saponification. Yep on the dilution. Also, I have greywater certifications (not the same as septic, but similar in outcome) that verifies the quick biodegradability of our soaps. If you’d like to see those, email me at

    Hi Audrey – That shaker bottle originally stored some sort of spice. Maybe cumin, which I go through quickly. I cleaned it out and it makes a great baking soda shaker!

    All the best,

  12. Hi Lisa
    Any chance you could do a blog about car wash/cleaning? I already use Sal Suds for most of my car (inside and out) but am curious to hear any tips you have that I haven’t already utilized. Thanks!

  13. Hi Ryan – Absolutely! We tried one car washing video but the wind was too strong in the microphone, so we’ll be reshooting it. You’re using the right stuff with the Sal Suds, though.

    All the best,

  14. I have hard water and use a water softener, but still have some orange stains form over time. How does your formula do with iron staining and/or is there a modification that could help?

    It is the hydrochloric acid in the toilet bowl cleaner that clears the iron off for me. About every 6 months I use it to clean my tub, but would love an alternative.

  15. Hi Lisa,
    You may have answered this already and I may have missed it, but is the Sal Suds going to kill germs just by itself, or is the tea tree oil going to do that?

  16. Thanks for this recipe for the toilet. I’m anxious to try it as I use the castile soap every day for showering and doing my hair (& dishes and cleaning…) I had found some recipes on the internet just recently for cleaning toilets. Simply pour in vinegar and sprinkle with baking soda. Allow to bubble and clean. Well, may I say this does NOT work. However, I read in several of your articles to not use vinegar and baking soda together as they work against each other and will not clean properly. Does vinegar and baking soda always have this effect on each other when cleaning? I am anxious to try your recipe to see if this works better. I have never seen sal suds, but am going to try to find it next time I need some cleaning stuff. Thanks for your side. I’ve enjoyed reading thru it.

  17. We have been “emptying” the water from a toilet bowl before cleaning by just quickly pouring a pail of water into it. That causes the water level to go down but if you don’t pull the flusher handle, it won’t fill back up. This saves some bending, reaching, and turning but doesn’t quite get every bit of the water out. Couldn’t see in the video whether yours emptied entirely. We’ll try your shut-off method to compare. Thanks!

  18. Kathy,

    I can answer your question about baking soda and vinegar. Yes, they always neutralize each other if they are at all close to equal parts. Vinegar is a weak acid (acetic acid) and baking soda is a weak base (sodium bicarbonate), so they neutralize to, basically, salt water. Vinegar may help with some staining, but it has to sit a little because it is a weak acid (toilet bowl cleaners use hydrochloric acid which is much stronger, but also burns the skin). Baking soda is nice because it absorbs odors and is abrasive. So it depends on what you are working on cleaning.

    I really enjoy Bronner’s for my personal cleaning and my daily household too!

  19. Elaine, many thanks for the excellent idea of pouring the pail of water in the toilet to lower the water level! Since starting Lisa’s wonderful toilet cleaning method months ago, I have been disappointed that both our toilets do NOT empty out any where near fully when using the shut off valves. Your pail method rids the bowl of nearly all the water and definitely much more than was emptied when we used the valve method. Valves surely work for some people’s toilets, but my toilets still had way too much water in them. Thanks so much for vastly improving my cleaning efforts. As you wrote, it saves the awkward bending and reaching, etc. 🙂

  20. Hi! I just started using Sal Sud cause I’ve heard lots of good things about it. So I used it yesterday to clean our toilet but I used it undiluted on our toilet bowl and then I finished cleaning everything then on the next day our sewage smells awful until now and then they said that it is coming in our apartment. Any insights about this? Thanks!

  21. Hi! I am new to the Bronner product line. Is this “recipe” for cleaning toilets safe for use in an RV? My concern is the rubber seal for flushing the commode. I do not want to use a product that might make it degrade faster. Our RV is brand new and has had no product used in it as of yet.

  22. Couldn’t you just plunger the toilet to empty it of water? It would save water, and then when you flush it, it would fill back up. The end of the plunger (rubber part) could then go into a decorative flower pot, or a regular one for storage. Just a thought…

  23. Hello Lisa, I love your blog. This tip is very useful. I hate cleaning toilet, too. It is unpleasant task but you can`t miss it. I am going to try your method of cleaning. I usually use bleach but I think that I am sick of using all this toxic chemicals. Thank you for sharing it. Best regards!

  24. “The reason it’s so thick is that it is supposed to cling to the insides of your toilet without dispersing in the water. At the risk of stating the obvious, that means that it doesn’t disperse readily in water. This means that if the gel goes down your pipes, it’s going to be in clumps.”

    I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to cling to the sides without *dripping down into the water*. If you’re squirting it below water level, you’re simply missing the point. It’s supposed to go right up under the rim. That it’s non-drip doesn’t tell you anything at all about it’s water solubility. Molasses isn’t too keen on dripping either!

    “for this purpose, please accept that Sal Suds and soaps are technically chemicals, just not bad ones”

    I have to laugh at “for this purpose.” Really? For any purpose *at all* everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical.

    (And by the way, your numbered list at the end has the numbers twice)

  25. Hi Lisa,
    Is this recipe safe to use on the toilet in my caravan as it is hard plastic material? Also will this be ok for the rubber seal on the removable toilet cassette?
    I have just moved into my caravan full time and am enjoying using your products (Pure Castile and Bar Soaps) that I have swapped out. My aim is to have everything swapped out for when I start traveling around Australia so all my used water is environmentally friendly no matter where I pull up camp.

    • Hi Tamara – My husband and I were talking just last night about how fun it would be to drive around Australia in a caravan! Yes, the castile soaps are great options for your caravan toilet’s plastic and the rubber seal. Have fun on your adventure!

  26. Hello Lisa,
    I am a brand new convert to green cleaning products: in the past week, I’ve made my own laundry liquid detergent using the Sal Suds and some Castile soap, I’ve made some all-purpose cleaners, and used the castile soap to clean veggies and fruits! I love your site, and find it full of help! 😀
    Like you said in this article, my super-chemical toilet cleaner is the only one I’m afraid to quit. The main reason is that I have 3 cats, on of which, for some reason, loves to climb on the toilet, and tea tree EO is unfortunately poison to cats, as are citrus EOs… My questions are:
    1) if I used the Tea tree castile soap, would the amount of tea tree oil be diluted enough to be safe?
    2) if not, I can stoll use the lavender one, but which “cat-safe” EO would you advise me to add for an extra sanitizing effect?
    Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Hi Morgane – I hope you’re still on the green road despite my delay in responding. The amount of tea tree oil is pretty small, but to be extra safe, if you dried the toilet seat after cleaning, there would be very little chance that the kitties would encounter any. The Lavender soap dilution would be very effective, also, as would the Sal Suds spray even without the tea tree oil.

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