How to Clean a Grimy Bathtub and Surround

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a 25 year white tub surround that has accumulated a darkened tint due to left over scum even after cleaning it often enough for this very busy mom and full time art teacher.  What is fast and quick and odorless, green, effective, etc. Seems that I am also very good at damaging our home, as I tend to be impulsive when it comes to cleaning.
Help me please, thanks.
Grimy in Gridley

clean grimy bathtub

Heather says:

[pullshow id =”caulk”]  Before I explain how to clean a tub surround, I thought I’d explain exactly what a tub surround is for those who may be unsure. In some bathrooms the shower and tub are one unit. The walls that extend upward from the tub toward the ceiling are known as the surround and can be made from different material including tile and acrylic. The joints are often sealed with caulk or in the case of tile, grout (which also needs to be sealed).

[pullthis id=”caulk” display=”outside”] Over the years caulk, if it becomes moldy, will need to be replaced. Our bathroom has poor ventilation and consequently I have spent more time than I care to admit scraping and re-caulking our shower. If I had been consulted, I would demand that in shower pans all ledges should have a steep enough angle to prevent puddling. Unfortunately no one thought to ask and I spend time wiping ledges and replacing caulk. [/pullthis]

I contacted “Grimy” and asked about her particular surround. Her tub surround is acrylic which means if she ever used harsh chemical cleansers over the years, it’s quite possible that the acrylic surface was chemically etched or scratched.

Dirt and grime accumulates in these tiny scratches and is then sealed- in by soap scum and minerals which are hard to scrub away and just leave a dirty look.

Bar Keepers Friend is one of my favorite cleaning products in these situations. As you requested, it is environmentally friendly. Now because it is an acid, you will want to wear gloves or at the very least not get it on your hands or in your eyes. Keep in mind that vinegar or lemon juice wouldn’t be pleasant in your eyes, either. Oxalic acid is only a bit stronger than either of these and as BKF it arrives in a much more convenient form.

Since cleaning a tub surround involves removing accumulated grime on a vertical surface I would suggest the liquid version of the product. The powder version of BKF will work, but it will be a little more annoying to apply.

To clean the tub surround, apply the the liquid BKF to the shower walls and allow it to sit for a few minutes, to give the oxalic acid time to work on the soap scum. Then use a damp sponge or rag to wipe the walls clean and follow with a thorough rinse.

If you’re using the powder version of BKF wipe the walls with a damp rag, sprinkle BKF on the rag and apply to the walls. Again, give it time to work before removing. The point isn’t to use BKF as an abrasive cleaner, but rather to take advantage of the acidic nature of the product.

It may take a second application, since as you’ve noted, this grime has taken a long time to accumulate, it’s not going to come off easily.

bathroom cleaning
Tips to keep your bathroom squeaky clean!

To keep the clean look of your scrubbed tub surround, you can apply a protective coating of wax, yep just like you’d use on your car. Whatever you do, do NOT wax the floor of your tub. Can you say broken hip? I knew you could. To keep it environmentally friendly, use a carnuba wax.

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12 thoughts on “How to Clean a Grimy Bathtub and Surround”

    • @gardenJess Yes, it is! My shower surround is lovely white tiles, and it works great cleaning it up. I was worried that it would scratch the surface but it was so awful, I figured what the heck. After I rinsed all the BKF, I couldn’t believe how sparkly-shiny the tiles were.

    • @gardenJess the only thing to remember with an acidic cleaner and tile is that it may increase the frequency of re-sealing your grout. Use the water bead test on occasion and always rinse after using an acidic cleanser.

  1. Many years ago when I first got my stainless steel cookware set there were little samples of BKF in the box. They worked great for hard water stains. As I didn’t have the full bottle that listed all the uses, I thought it was just for cookware. So I was intrigued by previous posts here referring to BKF and decided to buy a bottle.

    Last night I used itto clean the underside of my stovetop (there’s got to be a word for that…the surface you clean when you take out the burners and lift up the top of the stove). Anyway, I almost cried, and it was not from the oxalic acid! Now, I don’t let that surface get extra gunky, but it was like I was the home-ec karate kid…sprinkle on, wipe off. No scrubbing, no mess, no burning nose from the chemical-y smell. It was AWESOME!

    BTW, because my immediate thought was “hey, what else can I clean with this?!?” I went to their website ( They’ve got a simple, nicely organized list of uses.

  2. I’ve used baking soda to get rid of the scum. It doesn’t take any more scrubbing than a chemical cleaner, but it might need to be rescrubbed a bit more often.

  3. I find that an acidic cleanser works better than a basic one for soap scum / hard water deposits. However the effectiveness of that may also be impacted by the type of water you have. 🙂

  4. Until a few months ago, I had never thought of using BKF in my bathroom (really, not sure why, it’s my favorite kitchen cleaner). My husband is a mechanic, and I’d kinda just decided that we’d always have a grungy tub. Then one day I was scrubbing it, and inspiration hit, and now I’ve got a can just for the bathroom! 🙂 Haven’t been able to find the liquid version locally yet (and the tab covering the holes on the powder can taunts me to try the liquid BKF), so I just wet the walls down really well, and sprinkle from the top. If I need a little more, I sprinkle some on my scrub brush or sponge and go at it!

  5. Where my shower tile walls meet the tub, there is a silicone sealant that has umm, turned black and well, icky looking.

    Whats the best way to clean it? Or should I just remove it and resealer the join?



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