The Best Thing We Did To This Rental Bathroom Was (Almost) Free

updated Dec 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

It’s hard to make an old rental bathroom look new again, deep down in its bones. You’re limited to surface moves: decluttering the medicine cabinet, painting the walls, or buying a new shower curtain and towels — but those largely gloss over the real heart of darkness — the moldy corners and rusty crevices —that make your bathroom feel gross and icky. This is where a weekend shower tile refresh comes in, and it’s both transformative and cheap.

(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

I tackled this shower one weekend as part of a larger makeover of Joseph’s rental bathroom. Check out the before photos, and our plan for the space:

Now, Joseph assures me that his endless scrubbing couldn’t get rid of the nastiness you see, and the usual cleaning products weren’t able to loosen all the persistent rust or mold. So, while browsing the tile aisle at the hardware store, I gathered an armful of supplies and vowed to win the grout wars. This is what I tried:

#1: Bleach Pen ($5.97 at Home Depot )

This worked fairly well on the grout where there were a few spots here and there. But I quickly realized this was not going to make a dent on the rest of the shower. If I had to do an entire tile floor or tub, rubbing that little pen tip across every inch of those grout lines would get old really fast. I’d use this to touch up a small tiled space, but leave large jobs to something more effective.

#2: Sulfamic Acid Crystals ($6.47 from Home Depot)

I had never heard of this powder before, and wasn’t sure what to expect. To start off, I mixed a small amount of the crystals with some warm water to create a fairly weak solution. As it was, I barely had to scrub at all. The minute it touched the grout, all the orange-y crap just started melting off. This stuff is major duty, so I would try all other methods to clean and renew grout first, before you hit this stuff up. Only use it in worst case scenarios. But damn did it work.

#3: Fresh Caulk ($5.21 from Home Depot)

After cleaning, there was still some mildew and peeling caulk in the corners of the shower and around the soap dish. We scraped off the old stuff and recaulked. This was the final step and really made the shower feel fresh and brand new again. There are companies who will do this for you, but it’s easy enough to scrape away old caulk yourself with a sharp blade, then lay a fresh bead. It takes more time and patience than skill.

(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

So, if your shower looks similar, know that for under $15, a sparkling fresh and clean shower is within sight. Now, want to see what we did to the rest of the bathroom?

Re-edited from a post originally published 3.7.17