By Real Simple
Updated August 12, 2013
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Toilet and bath
Credit: Marlene Ford/Getty Images

What to do: Start by pouring a cup of baking soda into the bowl. Let sit for a few minutes; brush and flush. Still seeing spots? A damp pumice stone is abrasive enough to remove stains caused by mineral deposits and lime scale but gentle enough not to damage surfaces (try US Pumice Scouring Stick; $26 for 12, amazon.com). Then tackle the toilet brush itself, which you should be cleaning after every use. Here’s how: Secure the brush handle between the already-cleaned seat and the basin so that it hovers over the bowl; pour bleach over the bristles. Let stand for a few minutes, then douse with a pitcher of clean water. Next, fill the brush canister with warm, soapy water and let sit; dump the dirty water into the toilet. In cases of extreme grime buildup (or acute toilet-crevice trepidation), you might want to invest in a small, light-duty electric pressure washer. It lets you blast hard-to-reach areas, like the spots where the hinges meet the seat, from a safe distance (try AR Blue Clean electric pressure washer; $99, homedepot.com). Start on the lowest setting—you’ll be amazed by what comes out.

Why: Gerba says that a flushing toilet, when viewed in slow motion, resembles a fireworks display. And since germs linger in the bowl even after flushing, bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella can fly into the air and land on the seat, the handle, and other surfaces at any time.

Best practices: Always close the lid when you flush, and use the vent fan (it sucks up bacteria before they can settle). If you’re not already storing toothbrushes and contact lenses inside the medicine cabinet, you may want to start now.