A Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning the Bathroom, and Everything in It

updated Nov 3, 2022
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Credit: Rikki Snyder

I used to say that if you wanted to know how clean someone was, just look at their bathroom. That was in my more smug days when I didn’t have a bunch of kids, including three little boys. (I’ll leave it at that, you’re welcome.) But while I’m more humble, and hopefully less judge-y (sheesh!) about it now, I still feel like the cleanliness of a bathroom has a lot to do with how clean a house feels and is. Isn’t it, after all, the first cleaning priority when guests are coming?

But think about cleaning the bathroom, and you’re almost bound to feel disgust and dread. Cleaning the toilet is gross, yes, but even other parts of the bathroom that need to get cleaned can pose a challenge. From slimy, rust-colored bacterial growth to mildew, soap scum, grungy glass doors, and dirty grout, cleaning the bathroom is hard work.

Bathrooms, like many places around the house, are far easier to keep in top shape when they are regularly cleaned. Weekly and even daily practices keep the deep cleaning stints from taking all day.

Some households have more bathrooms than they need and end up dusting and cleaning spaces that people rarely use. Others have a single bathroom that gets used by the entire household—and the heavy-duty cleaning that regular and frequent use necessitates.

Whatever your bathroom-cleaning situation at home, it doesn’t have to be the cringe-worthy task we often make it out to be. Having a plan, knowing the most efficient and effective way to clean the tricky stuff, and just facing it head-on with a good old-fashioned positive attitude will transform your bathroom from questionable to spotless in no time, with a dash of pride and sense of accomplishment thrown in on the side for you.

Credit: Charles Dundas-Shaw

A Few Things to Remember While Cleaning Your Bathroom

Before we get into the step-by-step checklist, here are some tips and strategies that will help walk you across the clean bathroom finish line:

1. Clean Dry Before You Clean Wet

If you go to clean your bathroom and reach straight for the rags and sprays, you’re going to get frustrated. Dusting first, paying particular attention to the toilet and baseboards, but also running your duster over light fixtures, counters, and even the edges of the bathtub will make your work easier. You’ll be able to clean spots and smudges and dirt without making wet sludge of the hair and dust that a dry dusting addresses.

2. Save the Disinfectant for Where It Really Matters

I get it. Disinfecting every inch of your bathroom makes it feel—and smell—really, really clean. But none of us ever wants to waste a disinfecting wipe or a drop of bleach ever again. Save the disinfecting for the dirtiest parts of the toilet, and use regular, all-purpose cleaners or milder distilled white vinegar for the rest.

Read more: The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

3. Don’t Forget to Declutter

Although in bathrooms, as opposed to say, closets, we tend to focus on cleaning over decluttering and organizing, an organized bathroom with less stuff will stay and be a cleaner one. If you can, try to keep everything you use either in cabinets or drawers in order to minimize dust. Remember that getting rid of what you don’t use or what’s expired makes space for the things you always use and love to be accessible.

Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

4. Gather Your Cleaning Arsenal

Making sure you have all the cleaning tools you need to get your bathroom looking its best is an important first step to a thorough bathroom cleaning. Getting it all to your bathroom, so you don’t get distracted as you come and go looking for cleaning products and tools will keep you focused so you can get the job done as quickly as possible.

5. Clean Top to Bottom

This standard cleaning advice applies to the bathroom just as much as to any other room. By starting at the uppermost level and working your way down, you ensure that you aren’t sabotaging your own cleaning efforts by getting places you already cleaned dirty again.

For instance, if you wipe down your counters after you mop the floor, you’ll be getting your newly spotless floors dirty again. Instead, with each new type of cleaning, such as dusting, wet cleaning, etc., start at the top and work your way down.

Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

11 Bathroom Cleaning Tools You Might Like to Have on Hand

Here is a basic list of products, tools, and cleaners to have on hand for all your bathroom cleaning needs:

  • Microfiber rags. They pick up dirt, shine surfaces, and don’t leave lint behind on mirrors.
  • Glass cleaner. To get your mirrors and shower doors, if applicable, looking crystal clear, opt for a specialty glass cleaner that evaporates quickly and won’t leave streaks.
  • Scrubbing powder. Baking soda works great for sink basins, but you may need something a little stronger, like Bar Keeper’s Friend, for trouble spots in tubs and showers.
  • Vacuum cleaner. Get your best vacuum cleaner ready to go, along with a nozzle attachment.
  • All-purpose cleaner. You’ll use this to shine faucets, wipe down soap dispensers, etc.
  • Stone cleaner. If you have granite countertops, it’s important to use a cleaner that won’t damage them over time. Vinegar or any acidic cleaner can etch and dull granite.
  • Duster. Use a duster with an extendable wand to dust light fixtures, door frames, and other places that are hard to reach with a rag. Dusters also make cleaning baseboards and the toilet easier.
  • Scrub pads and brushes. Scrub pads are for scrubbing sinks and tubs. A larger brush is used to scrub the tub and shower floors and walls, where the bristles loosen dirt and grime so you can wash it away. Finally, a small detail brush can help you loosen dirt around faucets and drains and in any corners and crevices that a larger brush can’t tackle.
  • Distilled white vinegar and dish soap. They’re inexpensive, non-toxic, and so good at dissolving soap scum.
  • A plastic bag and rubber band. I know this sounds mysterious, but it’s the best way to clean scuzzy shower heads and bathroom faucets.
  • A squeegee. This can help you get mirrors, windows, and glass shower enclosures clean and streak-free.
  • Disinfectant. Whether you use a spray or wipes, using them sparingly in the dirtiest areas of the toilet ensures you aren’t wasting valuable product but are still getting the grossest parts of the bathroom safe and squeaky clean.
Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

Bathroom Cleaning: A Step-by-Step Guide

This 11-step checklist is a good rundown of a regular bathroom cleaning that’s best performed once a week or so. Here’s how to make your bathroom immaculate in about an hour:

1. Vacuum and Remove Bathmats and Towels

Vacuum any bathmats or rugs you have in the bathroom to remove excess dust and dirt. Then take your mats and towels to the laundry room to be washed and dried. You’ll want to put fresh and fluffy linens back into your newly cleaned bathroom, and you’ll want the floors bare for optimal cleaning.

2. Dust and/or Vacuum From Top to Bottom

Grab your duster or a dry microfiber rag and begin with the topmost level that needs to be dusted. This will include your light fixtures, the countertops, the outside of the toilet, and the baseboards. If you can vacuum instead of dusting, that’s fine. This could apply on the outside of the toilet, the baseboards, and, in particular, the floors.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

3. Clean Glass and Mirrors

Lightly mist your mirror and glass shower enclosure if you have one. Wipe down with a microfiber cloth or other lint-free material like an old t-shirt or coffee filter. Then switch sides on your cloth and buff to a dry shine. You can also use a squeegee to keep things streak-free.

4. Shine Faucets and Fixtures

Next, shine your faucets. You can use your glass-cleaning rag and more glass cleaner to wipe down sink and shower/tub fixtures. Or you can use an all-purpose cleaner. Use a small scrub brush to clean dirt from the seams of fixtures and wipe these areas clean as well.

5. Clean Soap Dispensers and Other Countertop Items

These should have already been dusted. Now it’s time to “wet” clean them. Use an all-purpose cleaner and a rag to wipe down your soap dispensers and any other items you have on the counter, such as a dish for jewelry or a vase.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Clean Counters

If you have granite, use a granite cleaner to keep your counters looking their best for the long run. Otherwise, use an all-purpose cleaner. It’s important to do this step before you clean your sink/s because you will knock dirt and dust into your sink as you wipe down counters.

7. Scrub Sinks and Tubs/Showers

Sprinkle baking soda or Bar Keeper’s Friend into your sink and tub, if applicable. Use a moistened, non-abrasive scrubber to scour the sink and tub, including the rims. Start at the outer edges and work your way toward the drain. Use a scrub brush around the edges of the drain and drain plug. Rinse thoroughly to remove all remaining dirt and cleaning product residue.

8. Clean the Toilet

For good measure, give the toilet one last dry wipe-down. Then spritz the outside with cleaner and wipe down from top to bottom. You’re going to work your way from the least dirty to the dirtiest parts of the toilet.

Once you finish the outside, open the toilet and spray down the inside of the lid and the top and bottom of the seat. Spray the rim on the top and sides. Last, sprinkle some baking soda (or your favorite commercial toilet cleaner) into the toilet and use a toilet brush to clean all around the inside. Sandwich the brush between the rim and the seat, leaving the lid open so that the brush can drip dry over the toilet.

9. Clean Floors

Start with the baseboards. Give them a quick wipe-down. Then wipe the floors. If the space is small, using a rag and all-purpose cleaner may be the easiest way to get clean floors. Don’t forget the space around and behind the base of the toilet, where dust and dirt tend to collect.

Credit: Grace Cary/Getty Images

10. Disinfect Where Necessary

You should only disinfect once you’ve already cleaned. Take a disinfecting spray or several wipes and use them on high-touch areas or spots that are especially dirty, such as cabinet and faucet handles, door knobs, and the toilet seat. You may also want to use a disinfecting wipe where there’s been over splash on the floor or walls near the toilet.

11. Do the Finishing Touches

To complete your bathroom-cleaning session, empty the bathroom trash can and wipe the lid down if it has one. Re-fill your soap dispensers, so no one runs out of soap right when they need it most. Make sure toilet paper and other necessities are well stocked. Replace your washed and dried bath mats and hang fresh towels.

Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

If You Need a Deeper Clean: Do These Tasks Monthly or Every Few Months

The checklist above will keep things in great shape, week by week. But your bathroom will require deeper cleaning monthly or every few months in certain areas.

Here is a breakdown of some tasks that don’t need to be done as often but still need to get checked off the list periodically:

  • Washing shower curtains and liners. These can get moldy and full of bacteria. Plastic shower curtains, as well as cloth ones, can be washed in the washing machine.
  • Scrub tile and grout. Plan to scrub tile every month or so and grout maybe three to four times a year, depending on the conditions of your bathroom. You can clean your grout with Bar Keeper’s Friend and a scrub brush.
  • De-scale shower heads. Fill a bag with distilled white vinegar and water about one-third of the way up. Affix to your shower head with a rubber band and let it sit for a few hours or overnight. Remove the bag, scrub any lingering dirt with a brush, and then run water through the shower head.
  • Clean under the toilet hinges. Stuff gets trapped in this hidden area. You can’t completely get to it unless you remove the seat. This is especially necessary if you’re noticing unpleasant smells in your “clean” bathroom.
  • Remove soap scum. Make a solution of distilled white vinegar, a squirt of dish soap, and warm water. Spread it over glass shower doors and on any fixtures with soap scum issues. Allow to sit for about half an hour and wipe down. Finish with glass cleaner to remove any remaining streaks.