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No-Scrub Tub Cleaning: How to Make Your Shower Sparkle

When I discovered this trick, it was like a beam of cleansing light bursting from the heavens.

Powdered borax. It's a cleaning miracle!

Powdered borax. It's a cleaning miracle!

Removing Rust and Scaly Mineral Deposits

My house has hard water. It turns the toilet bowl a rusty color and coats the shower walls with scaly mineral deposits. Because it's hard to clean (not to mention, I'm kind of a lazy cleaner), I don't clean my shower that often. So, when I do, it's a project. I use multiple bottles of toxic tile cleaner, lots of brushes and scrubbies, and it takes a very long time.

But no matter what I do, there are always places I can't quite get clean. Oh, sure, they look clean. But if you run your hand over the shower walls, you can feel rough spots: soap scum and mineral deposits that just aren't going anywhere.

But Then! A Cleaning Miracle

This fall, on Thanksgiving morning, I was frantically trying to get the bathroom presentable for guests, when... I ran out of cleaner.

And in a fit of inspiration, I grabbed a box of borax. And the result was like a beam of cleansing light bursting from the heavens.

Borax (just plain borax!) is AWESOME.

I sprinkled it in the bottom of the tub, swished it around with a scrubber, and it was amazing. Soap scum gone, rust stains gone, mineral scale GONE.

The whole thing took about 90 seconds. I wasn't even aiming for super-clean—a lack of visible dirt would have been just fine—but that tub got cleaner than it has in months.

Did I mention how awesome this was?

A (Slightly) More Scientific Explanation

When mixed with water (especially hot water), borax converts some molecules to hydrogen peroxide, which helps clean and bleach. It also produces a basic solution, allowing detergents and bleaches to work more effectively—which is why it's so often used as a laundry booster.

Borax also can interfere with the metabolism of certain organisms, which makes it useful as a fungicide, herbicide, and insecticide. (This is also why you shouldn't eat or breathe it.)

Why Borax Rocks the Cleaning World

So borax is itself a mineral, which apparently gives it superpowers against other minerals. Like baking soda, it's long been recognized as the workhorse of the cleaning world. It's an ingredient in lots of cleansers, and it's been sold for a long time as a laundry additive.

I've even used it myself when I get motivated and make my own homemade spray cleaners.

The reason that I had a box in the first place, actually, was that I was planning on mixing up a bottle of Alice's Wonder Spray, which is a fabulous and yummy-smelling kitchen cleaner. But before I got around to Alice, I read the back of the borax box, which suggests using it as a toilet bowl cleaner.

So (this was sometime before the fateful Thanksgiving morning), I dumped a bunch in my rusty toilet (which, I swear, has started developing mineral deposits that look chunky. It's like the water in my house gets harder by the day). I let it sit, swished it around with a toilet brush, and voila! It worked really well. But still . . . it never occurred to me to use borax in the tub. Until the no-cleanser emergency, anyway.

More Reasons to Love Borax

  1. It's cheap: A medium-sized box of Twenty Mule Team Borax will run you $4 or $5, depending on where you shop. It'll last a good while—and an even bigger box will save you more moolah.
  2. It's safer: So borax is not completely non-toxic—but it's got a pretty low level of toxicity, especially compared to pretty much all other commercial cleaners. Like anything toxic, borax can kill you if you ingest enough of it, and chronic exposure (including breathing it) can cause severe problems. So you shouldn't eat it (or let pets or small children near it) and you shouldn't wallow in it or breathe it (so be careful when you're sprinkling it around)—but some incidental skin contact (as when you're scrubbing, for example) is unlikely to cause any damage. And it's much less likely to cause damage than whatever caustic cleaning product you're likely using now.
  3. It's endorsed by Ronald Reagan: No, that's a lie. As far as I know. But I found this photo of Reagan with a box of borax (why?), and it's too good not to use.

So Get Thee to a Box of Borax!

You won't be sorry, I promise. And don't forget—it's multipurpose! Use it in the toilet, add it to your laundry, scrub your shower (or, dare I suggest, your bathroom sink??) with it. Borax can handle it all. And if, like me, you're plagued with hard water deposits... prepare yourself for cleaning ecstasy.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Alice p on October 13, 2018:

OMG i hate cleaning..and right now i have so much love for you !!!i purchased borax for our ant problem recently and then used it for laundry and now i find this.. i just used it on our tub which has like a minimum of 30 yrs of nasty buildup around the plug and corners .. CLR should be ashamed , i was yelling from the bathroom "AAAAA honey loook looook its white its white ..nearly cried hahahaaaaa huge love for this tip !!it works , dont even scrub i jist kind of mashed it in with my hand and a glove and the stains started washing away instantly!

Larry Dinkoff from Houston TX USA on August 15, 2017:

Ronald Reagan, during the show Death Valley Days, was the endorser for Borateem, which later became 20 Mule Team Borax.

Whether or not he actually used it was another question, but I remember watching Death Valley Days and seeing him doing the endorsements.

icleanstuff on April 17, 2016:

What state are you in with the hard water?

lizlauder (author) from Western New York on November 29, 2012:

You'll love it. I can't believe I didn't stumble on to this earlier!

Faythe Payne from USA on November 28, 2012:

Wow..Guess what I will be doing tomorrow...LOL