Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, "Ask a Clean Person", debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we've launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
Photo: Kristian Thøgersen/Flickr
Hi! Messy Q for you! How do you effectively (but safely) clean toddler bathtubs?! And how often?! I'm always grossed out by that dirty soapy water … Thank you!
You're right to be grossed out by that dirty soapy water! Not because it's actually all that gross on its own, but because, when left to sit, soap residue and lingering moisture create an ideal home for mould, mildew and Serratia marcescens - that pinkish, orangish bacteria that often develops on grout and around drains - to thrive.
So regularly cleaning a child's tub out is a very good thing to do, indeed. Ideally, the tub should be wiped out after each use, though if you can't manage that because you're, you know, busy managing your toddler, it won't be the end of the world.
Some Quick Cleaning Options
Cleaning a plastic tub out is, fortunately, a very simple operation that should take less than a minute of your precious time when done regularly. There are a load of good options, and we'd love to hear any tips and tricks you use that aren't covered here.
Microfiber cloths: It might sound too easy, but using a microfiber cloth and water to wipe a tub out will remove soap scum without too much effort. I like these scrubby cloths from Casabella because of the slightly rough texture that scours off residue without requiring a lot of elbow grease on your part.
Lemon & salt: If you use a lot of lemons when you cook, save the remnants and get double duty out of them by using them to quickly scrub out the tub! All you need is the cut half of a lemon, even one that's already been reamed, sprinkled with salt - the acid and the salt will clean and scour.
White vinegar: Ahh yes, our old friend white vinegar! White vinegar has antibacterial properties and, unlike chlorine bleach, is mild enough that residue from using it as a cleaning agent won't irritate tender young skin. For ease of use, dilute equal parts white vinegar and water and pour the solution into a small spray bottle you can keep right in the bathroom. Spray the tub and wipe the solution away using a rag or paper towels.
Gentle all-purpose cleaner: If you like the idea of using a spray cleaner with paper towels or a launderable rag but would prefer a commercial product, there are plenty of good options out there that won't leave behind harsh chemical residue. Mrs Meyer's, Method and Puracy (Puracy is The Wirecutter's pick for best overall all-purpose cleaner) all offer effective all-purpose cleaners; if you prefer a fragrance-free product, check out the Better Life a-p cleaner. Method also offers an antibacterial spray for folks who prefer a more heavy duty product.
Disposable wipes: Just as with microfiber cloths, disposable wipes are a great way to quickly clean out a child's tub without too much effort. Baby wipes work! Or adult bathroom wipes, or a gentle commercial cleaning wipe.
Good Choices for Deeper Cleaning
From time to time, even with regular cleaning, you'll likely need to do a deeper cleaning of kiddo's tub. While the products are mostly the same - a gentle all-purpose or antibacterial cleaner, white vinegar, or even dishwashing liquid will be perfectly fine - when it comes to deep cleaning, you may want to switch to a different tool to help you really scrub the thing out.
A Dobie Pad, which is a scouring sponge that won't scratch plastic, is a fantastic product - but an old toothbrush will work just fine and will be helpful if your tub has grooves in which buildup can stubbornly linger.
Another technique to know about that's especially good if the tub has gotten stained is to use bicarbonate of soda mixed with just enough water to form a thick paste. I didn't include it in the quick cleaning methods since it's a little messy, but bicarbonate of soda is definitely a cheap and gentle option for cleaning - it's also pretty great at removing coffee and tea stains from mugs!