Scum, Scum, Go Away

Let’s not pretend here. The drawback to using real soap in the bathroom is that you have to face the reality of scum. Soap scum, to be exact. It’s gonna happen. So let’s face it head on. (As a sidenote, if you don’t have scum in your sinks or tubs, you might want to check and see if your body cleaning products are actually detergents.)

First off, what it is. Soap scum is a bit of a misnomer because there is not actually soap left on the sink or tub that just didn’t get rinsed away. Instead, it is a salt produced from a reaction between the soap and minerals in the water. This is why, if you have hard water (i.e. more minerals), you have more soap scum. If you have soft water, you won’t have as much.

Be that as it may, let’s get rid of it. I have two preferred ways of getting rid of soap scum.

The Dissolving Method
The first is to dissolve it with vinegar. Dilute a cup of vinegar in a quart of water and spray it on the scummy surfaces. Let it sit for about 5 minutes (not long enough for it to dry), and then rinse it away with very hot water. If your scum is really thick, you may have to do this again or use a stronger concentration of vinegar. (As I’ve said before, take care with using vinegar on soft stones like marble. It will etch.)

The Scouring Method
The second method uses brute force. This involves scouring the scum off with baking soda sprayed with castile soap household cleaner. (Wait! Spraying soap scum with soap? I know it sounds like this will compound the problem. I’ll get to that.) To do this, I spray the sink or tub with my Antibacterial Bathroom castile soap spray. Then, I sprinkle a cupful of baking soda liberally on the sink or tub. With a washcloth, scrub all the surfaces and rinse with very hot water.

Lastly, after either method, dry the surfaces.

Here is the trick to preventing future soap scum, and why the second method works. If you dry the water off the surfaces, there are no dissolved salts sitting there that would later cling to the surfaces when the water evaporates. For large, flat areas, such as shower stalls, especially with glass, use a squeegee. I keep a squeegee in my shower stall and do this after every shower. Sounds like a pain, but it greatly cuts down on my work in the long-run.

I prefer this second method because the antibacterial spray eliminates the germs that may be residing on the surfaces as well. Vinegar does this to an extent, but the soap does it better. And I like scrubbing. It’s cathartic.

28 thoughts on “Scum, Scum, Go Away

  1. I love to read your posts! I have switched my whole family to Dr Bronner and we love it!
    I am going to try your suggestions for cleaning our bathroom as soon as we finish the remodel!! I cannot wait!

    Love this stuff – thanks for all you share through your blog!
    Blessings,
    Janelle

  2. what type of antibacterial spray are you using? Have you been able to find one that works and is all natural by chance?

  3. With all the bad press antibacterials soaps get because of superbug resistance I’d be interested in what you are using.

  4. @Kim and Valerie – My Antibacterial Bathroom spray is my castile soap spray – when I use the Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree castile soap and add about 1/2 tsp. of pure essential tea tree oil. (Take care handling the pure tea tree oil – it burns.) This works really well.

    The superbug issue arises around antibacterial cleaners that are not soaps – ones that use primarily Triclosan for cleaning. Triclosan is truly ubiquitous – from hand cleaners to toothpastes to socks to cutting boards. Anything that has the term “antibacterial” labeled on it probably contains Triclosan. This substance is blamed for creating the superbugs. You can check out more about this in my post “Who gave soap a bad name”.

    Hope this helps!

    ~Lisa

  5. Hi Lisa,
    I, too, had the same question when I saw antibacterial. It gave me pause for a second, but then I assumed you probably mixed something up with tea tree in it. As a suggestion, you might want to create a link, so that the term “antibacterial spray” links to your recipe for the spray, just to clarify for others who don’t take time to read or make comments. I just found your blog today, and I’m looking forward to reading more posts. I’ve enjoyed Dr. Bronner’s products for years.

  6. Triclosan is a common additive found in antibacterial soaps and personal care products.

    Rolf Halden, an environmental engineering expert from ASU’s Biodesign Institute and an associate professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and researcher at Biodesign’s Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, led a research team that has found triclosan – and another antimicrobial additive called triclocarban – to persist during wastewater treatment and cause environmental contamination nationwide. Triclosan and triclocarban pose risks to ecological and human health due to their potential to disrupt proper endocrine function and to cause cross-resistance to life-saving antibiotics used in human medicine.

    The chemistry behind these compounds makes them notoriously difficult to break down, thereby enabling them to persist in the environment for years to decades. Halden’s team found significant concentrations of these chemicals dating back to the 1950s in sediments of the Eastern Seaboard near New York City and Baltimore, where sewage treatment plants discharge their treated domestic wastewater. In fact, both triclosan and triclocarban are present in 60 percent of all rivers and streams in the United States. Wastewater treatment processes do not fully eliminate them, so the chemicals persist in sewage sludge, which is then used to fertilize crops on agricultural land.

    Closer to home, antimicrobial chemicals appear in household dust where they may act as allergens, and alarmingly, 97 percent of U.S. women with newborns show detectable levels of triclosan in their breast milk. Such unnecessary exposures carry risks that, at present, are ill-defined.

    “The culture of fear leads people to make impulsive decisions and buy a lot of antimicrobial products that are not really needed,” Halden said. “It’s a profitable market to be in, but not one that is ultimately sustainable or a good idea.”
    http://asunews.asu.edu/20110215_halden_triclosanbriefing

    CDC: Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern

    The recent entry of products containing antibacterial agents into healthy households has escalated from a few dozen products in the mid-1990s to more than 700 today. Antibacterial products were developed and have been successfully used to prevent transmission of disease-causing microorganisms among patients, particularly in hospitals. They are now being added to products used in healthy households, even though an added health benefit has not been demonstrated. Scientists are concerned that the antibacterial agents will select bacteria resistant to them and cross-resistant to antibiotics. Moreover, if they alter a person’s microflora, they may negatively affect the normal maturation of the T helper cell response of the immune system to commensal flora antigens; this change could lead to a greater chance of allergies in children. As with antibiotics, prudent use of these products is urged. Their designated purpose is to protect vulnerable patients.
    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no3_supp/levy.htm

  7. I really enjoyed this article. Couple of questions though. Do you dilute the castile tea tree soap? If so how much water do you use? Lastly where do you get essential tea oil?

  8. For those folks asking about antibacterial cleaning – put a few drops of GSE (grapefruit seed extract) into your cleaning supplies. Google the powers of GSE – I use it in my cleaning products, and in my own drinking water too.

  9. I’ve found that Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds works really well in our tub and shower. I use it full strength, but it does the trick!

  10. @Laura – My tea tree soap spray is 1/4 c. tea tree pure castile soap in 1 quart of water. I add about 1/2 tsp. of pure tea tree oil. I buy mine through Frontier Natural Products, but you can also find it in health stores that sell essential oils. In southern California, we have Henry’s and Jimbo’s, but even the independent ones usually carry essential oils. Call around.

    Glad this is helpful to so many of you! Thank you for the encouragement. Happy cleaning!

    ~Lisa

  11. Hi,
    I’m just curious to know if you use Borax on anything in your home. If so, do you like it? how do you use it AND where you use it? If you don’t use it, why not?
    Thanks!

  12. Hi Lisa, Loving your blog. I’m having a hard time to figure out when to use sal suds for cleaning and when to use dr. bronners castile soap for cleaning. For instance, what is best to use for all purpose cleaner, windows/mirrors, toliets. Also, how much and how to use them for those purposes. What is your preference?

  13. @Tanja – I do have Borax, but I don’t use it much. Although it is considered non-toxic and does biodegrade, it is still extremely caustic to the touch. The only place I use it is to clean the inside of the toilet bowls. It’s a super lazy way to do it, but I sprinkle it in the bowls just before I go to bed and swish it around. Then, first thing in the morning, I scrub them with a toilet brush and flush.

    @ Crystal – I just tackled that question in response to another posting about Sal Suds in a spray bottle. If you wouldn’t mind checking there, the link is http://lisa.drbronner.com/?p=180#comments. Let me know if you need more specifics.

    Thanks for reading!
    Lisa

  14. Lisa..I just used a version of this and it was a miracle. The soap scum came off so easily. I used baking soda and lemon juice. Then I pour hydrogen perioxide in the brown bottle on with that mixture. This is great because the hydrogen perioxide whitens and kills the bacteria that is living in the shower. Got rid of the mold looking spots in the corner of the shower. I use this combo and vinegar for just about everything. Look to sharing stories with you and reading more!

    • @Katrina – Glad to hear it! I’ll try out that hydrogen peroxide tip. Peroxide is very strong stuff. In my search for a laundry stain removers, I tried it on some rust spots on a shirt – the spots were gone, but then so was the fabric. It ate right through! I have colored grout, so I think I’ll do a spot test first. I’ve been looking for a better solution to cleaning my shower corners, too.

      All the best,
      Lisa

  15. Nice posts!I’ve been using all different kind of natural soaps from abroad & states. Why this pure castile soap left white scums only in one day?

  16. Hi Rupi – The residue left after using the castile soap has to do with the hardness of the water. The soap reacts with the minerals in the water and leaves deposits behind. The best treatment is to make sure soap itself isn’t drying on surfaces, and then if possible, dry or squeegee surfaces to prevent the mineral deposit. I keep a squeegee in my shower to clear the glass doors after every shower. It saves a lot of work in the long run.

    All the best,
    Lisa

  17. Lisa,

    This is a little off topic, but still about soap scum. I really want to use more natural products. I’ve tried to use both Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap and other solid “shampoo bars” (that are definitely soap, not detergents) for my long hair, but I can’t get past that first wash. Actually, I can’t leave the shower until giving in and going back to the shampoo. One wash with the natural stuff and it feels like I’ve poured tacky goo on my scalp. Vinegar or lemon juice rinses don’t help at all. My water is hard – very, like 380ppm. I realize your hair conditioning rise should help, but with water that hard, do you think it’s enough?

    I’d like to use natural soap for my laundry too, but same problem – what can I do with water that hard?

  18. Hi Anwen – I apologize for my delay in responding. I definitely understand about that first wash. I have used the soap for shampoo in incredibly hard water, and it really is incredible how sticky my hair feels. I think the Dr. Bronner’s Hair Rinse will resolve this, although there still is that transition time from conventional products. For the Hair Rinse, I would recommend not diluting it in water and putting a tablespoon or so directly on your washed and very wet hair. This way the rinse will cling to your hair more. Let it sit for several minutes and then rinse it out. You may need two rinses at first – I did, but after my hair got used to it, I need only one. Your hair will still not have that slippery feel as with conventional hair care, but let it rest and brush it out.

    For laundry in hard water, I highly recommend Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds all-purpose cleaner. This is a detergent, but exceptionally mild and non-toxic. It does not react with hard water and rinses very well.

    All the best,
    Lisa

  19. I have natural stone (tumbled marble/limestone) in all my bathrooms…how do you keep these surfaces clean with your products? I get that your soaps work all right on granite, but what about more porous surfaces, and which products work best? I’ve been having problems with mildew…probably need to regrout/reseal everything first, but then what? Thanks1

  20. Hi Cam – The issue with natural stones like marble and limestone is that they’re soft and they dissolve in acids. This is why vinegar or any sort of acidic cleaner is out of the question. Dr. Bronner’s products are alkaline, and thereby are safe for these surfaces. I would use the All Purpose Sal Suds spray (1 Tbsp. Sal Suds in a quart of water in a spray bottle) along with a nice bristled brush. This should clear up mildew as well. If it’s been a while since you’ve grouted/sealed that would be a good step, too.

    All the best,
    Lisa

  21. Thanks, Lisa, for the article. I plan to try your method of getting rid of soap scum in the shower as just baking soda and water doesn’t seem to work. However, I’ve found that I can’t use vinegar on tiled/grouted areas because vinegar breaks down the grout even when diluted. Do you know if lemon juice causes the same issue?

  22. How can I get rid of the residue left on my sinks, tub and shower by the bronner soap? I hate it.everything get cover in this thick, sticky gray residue. Didn’t have this problem when using other natural soaps.I have had this issue in different houses, 2 different cities. I have to clean my bathrooms every other day.thnx.

  23. Hi Lisa!
    I’m excited to find your blog. I stored Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap in a Waterford lead crystal decanter in my bathroom, thinking that it might be a good bubble bath (I kept other bubble baths and bath salts in Waterford decanters also). Unfortunately, Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t bubble, but it does leave one squeaky clean! Needless to say, it set in the decanter for an extended period, because the true bubble baths bubbled better. Recently, I emptied the decanter, and it has terrible white “soap scum” stains that I have tried practically everything to remove. I started with an extended vinegar soak, and then all the other remedies I could find online to remove crystal cloudiness. I even tried Liquid Plumber, and then bleach! Nothing has worked so far. Do you have any recommendations? Thank you!

    • Unfortunately your glass decanter is probably etched. Alkaline materials attack glass, albeit slowly. I wouldn’t’ve guessed liquid soap to etch glass quickly enough that you’d ever notice it, but I can’t think of another reason you’d have such a resistant cloudiness. If it’s etched, that means alkaline silicate is now in the glass, forming permanent opaque discontinuities or crystals. It’s not a scum on the surface.

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