How To Clean an Old Porcelain Enamel Bathtub or Sink

updated Sep 27, 2022
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(Image credit: Viv Yapp)

Cast-iron bathtubs and sinks are a common fixture in older homes, and now we’re seeing them pop up in newer remodels because of their unique vintage charm. Unfortunately, years of use or neglect can make for a discolored and dingy tub. Luckily, we have some tips to help you keep your tub looking new. The biggest takeaway: for the best results, always start with the gentlest cleaner and work your way up to more powerful applications.

Cast iron is traditionally covered with a porcelain enamel that’s fused to the cast iron in a furnace. While porcelain is a highly durable surface, it’s susceptible to chips, cracking, and a dulling of the finish. If you use the wrong products, you will accelerate the degradation of the surface, so let’s begin by talking about what not to use.

Abrasive cleaners such as scouring powders, white vinegar (or other cleaners with a high acidic content), and steel wool should all be avoided, as they can damage the finish. Remember, proper care will simplify ongoing maintenance.

How to Clean a Porcelain Bathtub or Sink

When done correctly, your porcelain bathtub or sink can be beautiful and kept in excellent shape. Here’s what you’ll need.

Materials and Tools

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

How to Clean Your Porcelain Fixtures Weekly

Like anything else in your bathroom, your charming bathroom fixtures need weekly cleaning. Here’s a routine we recommend:

  1. Mix 1 gallon of hot water with 2 tablespoons of dishwashing soap (anything with a grease cutting agent will work)
  2. Use a soft rag or sponge to dip into the soap mixture and scrub the tub or sink
  3. Rinse well
(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

How to Deep Clean Your Porcelain Fixtures

Weekly cleaning with hot water and dishwashing soap is great, but for deep cleaning, we recommend baking soda and ammonia. Try this routine if you have a brand new fixture that needs a deep clean (when moving into a new home or cleaning up a newly purchased vintage tub or sink), and keep it up at least once a month or every other month:

  1. Pour warm water into a bucket and mix ¼ cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of ammonia (While baking soda is slightly abrasive, it’s mild and generally safe to use on porcelain. The ammonia is great for cutting grease and removing soap scum buildup.)
  2. Soak a non-abrasive sponge in the baking soda/ammonia solution and scrub the surface of your porcelain bathtub or sink, paying particular attention to stained areas
  3. Dip the sponge in the solution, scrub and repeat until you’re satisfied
  4. Rinse well
  5. After rinsing, wipe thoroughly with a clean rag or the baking soda will leave a white film behind
(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

How to Remove Rust Stains From Porcelain Tubs and Sinks:

If you have a rust stain (or any other marks or filth that the above techniques can’t touch) you can try this method as a last resort:

  1. Cover the stain with table salt
  2. Take half of a lemon and squeeze the juice over the salt
  3. Scrub the salt/lemon mixture with a clean cloth or a nylon sponge
  4. If the stain still doesn’t come up, leave the paste mixture on the stain for an hour or so, then squeeze more lemon juice on the stain and try scrubbing the stain again
  5. Rinse and wipe clean
(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

To Shine and Add a Protective Coating

As a finishing touch, here’s how to give your porcelain bathroom fixtures a little sparkle. The lemon oil will help repel soap scum and other dirt to keep the sink/tub clean longer (and it smells good, too):

  1. Squeeze a small amount of lemon oil onto a clean rag
  2. Rub the lemon oil into the sides of the porcelain bathtub or sink, avoiding the bottom of the tub to prevent slipping

Additional Notes:

  • Bathtub rings can usually be blamed on oily bath products or clogged drains. Keep the drain clog-free, and if you use a bath oil product, make sure to do a quick cleaning afterward.
  • It’s always wise to test a small hidden section first to ensure that the cleaner will not cause any adverse effects to the surface of the porcelain.
  • If none of these suggestions work and your tub or sink still looks a bit lackluster, it might be worth the investment to have your fixture re-glazed by a professional. While there are DIY re-glazing kits on the market, the results are usually shoddy and do not last. Unlike fiberglass or acrylic, your cast-iron fixture can stand the test of time, so it’s well worth the expense to hire a specialist for the job.

Edited from an original post published on 1.20.11 by Kimber Watson – TW