Thursday, April 14, 2011


Ask a Clean Person: The Answer Is Always Bleach

Is there a trick to getting all the soap scum and mildew and grossness off the bottom of my plastic shower curtain liner? I once heard that you could put it in the dishwasher, but that didn't make a lot of intuitive sense to me. I hope your answer isn't "lay it out and scrub it by hand," but I fear that it might be!

Lay it out and scrub it by hand.

OH HA HA JUST KIDDING! (You asked for that.)

The easiest way to clean a murky, moldy shower curtain liner is to toss it in the washing machine with laundry detergent and a half cup of bleach. If you’ve got a top-loading machine, you’ll also want to throw in a towel or two as buffers so that the curtain doesn’t end up in tatters from the agitator. (This is a good time to clean your rags and such, actually! The bleach will help get rid of all the filth you’ve removed from your home and who cares if they get bleached out — they’re rags.) Once it’s clean, re-hang it to let it drip dry; don’t put it in the dryer, it will melt.

The dishwasher suggestion actually does compute for me and is a good option in that there’s no agitator part that might potentially rip your liner to shreds. If you opt for this method use a dishwashing powder that has a bleach or oxygen element to it. Heat + bleach will help get rid of that nasty mold.

Preventative tip: Close your curtain fully after every shower. This will allow the water to drip off, rather than collecting in the folds and giving mold a happy home in which to thrive.

Would you like to discuss what is the orange mold that can build up on shower curtains and in the toilet bowl?  I'm pretty sure it's mold, anyway.  Regular bathroom cleaner seems to get rid of it (or a bleach bar in the toilet), but perhaps you'd like to educate me further.

I most certainly would! The good news is that orange stuff is not mold! The bad news is that it’s bacteria. It’s called serratia marcescens and it can be cleaned up with a bleach solution (3/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon water) or a bleach-based cleaning product like Clorox Clean-Up.

Important information about bleach: Never ever (ever ever) mix bleach with ammonia or vinegar, or with products that contain either of them! Literally, you’ll kill yourself. (FUMES! TOXIC FUMES!) So please don’t do that. I’d be sad to lose your pageviews.

Is there a good way of getting red hair dye out of various bathroom surfaces?  No matter how vigilant I am, I will always find a missed splotch somewhere the next day, by which point it has had oodles of time to stain and won't come off.  After a few rounds of this, I start to worry about looking axe-murdery and gross. Is there a trick or will I just have to start dying my hair on the roof/covered in newspapers?

Oh lady, have you ever come to the right Clean Person! I’ve been dyeing my hair red for 20 years. TEN YEARS, I MEAN TEN YEARS.

I know your question is specifically about the one spot that you manage to miss every single time but first let me say: I do a ton of prep before coloring my hair. I have Soft Scrub and a damp sponge on hand, I line the countertop with a layer of paper towels on which to set my coloring utensils, and as soon as the headful of dye is applied I eyeball every surface for splotches of red goo.

That said, there is always that one damn splat of dye that gets missed, giving it plenty of time to become one with your bathroom. If the stain is on the wall or another non-tile/porcelain surface use our beloved Magic Erasers to get it out. For porcelain, a couple of applications of Soft Scrub should take the stain out. (Splurt a blurb out directly onto the spot and let it sit for 10 or so minutes before wiping down.) For tile, spray with bleach solution or bleach-based cleaning product, get at the soiled area with a short-handled scrub brush, and then let the cleaning solution sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing with warm water and your scrub brush.

Previously: Stinky Bedding, Tiny Vacuums, and More Vomity Things

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Is anything you own dirty?

67 Comments / Post A Comment


I really thought (or really convinced myself) that the orange stuff was just some kind of water stain. Aaaaaaaand now I'm afraid of my shower.


@Nutellaface I'm kind of freaked out as well, because I've definitely seen that stuff in my humidifier.


@Nutellaface I always assumed it was iron? What is wrong with me?


@heb I thought it was iron too! Now I am going to be obsessed with it.

anna to the infinite power

@Nutellaface and here I thought it was something similar, or maybe even hair dye? I just added bleach to my shopping list, and soft scrub, which I forgot about until just now (my Mom used to use it and that shit werks!)


@anna to the infinite power Mine is pinkish red. I had decided it was shampoo residue, even though my shampoo is clear.


I mean we're all still alive so that's good?


I feel so understood! I clean almost everything with bleach! There are spray bottles of diluted bleach in each shower and in the kitchen of my house, to keep the mildew away before it starts. I even put a half cup in every dishwasher cycle.


Hooray for Bleach!!!!!
If a surface cannot be cleaned with diluted bleach, Bon Ami, a vinegar/water solution, Nature's Miracle, or Murphy's Oil Soap, whatever it is is just going to stay dirty or go out in the trash.


@City_Dater: OMG I love Murphy's, the smell of it is AWESOME. I use it on the leather seats in my truck. Maybe not good for the seats, but I love opening the door to that smell! Also, rubbing alcohol.


Cleaning Products Party! Wheeee!


@MoonBat: bleach in the dishwasher? Is that OK for your innards?

But hooray for Murphy's and vinegar! Half a cup of vinegar in each load of dishes keeps spots off glasses better than anything else.


@Bittersweet: It warshes off. I put it into the bottom of the dishwasher before I start the cycle. Can't smell it on the dishes at all, even wooden spoons or plastic cups!


Okay, can I just ask, where do you get your shower liners? Are they made of gold? Cause I think you might be paying too much for them if the respones to "My shower liner is gross" isn't "Time for a new one!" Not that I don't love bleach...but seriously, even if you're broke, $3-$5 once or twice a year? Easier (and possibly cheaper?) than washing your liner.


@BethH I have been tempted to do this many times, only to be stopped by a crippling attack of guilt over the Pacific garbage patch. I still always forget to bring my own bags to grocery store though, so clearly it's a very selective guilt.


@BethH I wash them due to plastic guilt, like Katerrific.

However, when I moved to my new apartment I bought a fabric one like they have at hotels. It was less than $10 at TJ Maxx. It's washable too, and no plastic!


@Cavendish The other good thing about the fabric ones is that there are no phthalates! (Chemicals that leach out and can do terrible things.)


@Cavendish Plastic guilt is a problem--and I do stick mine in the recycle bin. Those cloth ones sound cool though--I also usually have to get rid of the plastic ones because they start to tear at the ring holes, and then they're all saggy and sad


@BethH I didn't know you could wash them! I'm going to now though, because yes, I'm cheap as shit and $3-5 will buy me a drunk meal from Taco Bell.

Lizzy Hovanetz@twitter

@BethH I have no idea how much my curtain cost (it was my old roommates), but it's a durable vinyl one that probably cost $20. Here's the thing. You can keep tossing the $5 ones every six months, or just toss a heavier vinyl one in the wash with towels (I have never had any need for bleach), and it comes out looking like new. No mildew, no soap scum. It really does save money and the environment in the end, and it's ridiculously pain-free and easy.


Aaaaaa Macbeth references aaaaa!


I use the fabric shower liners because they don't stink up the whole house when new like the plastic ones do, and they wash up beautifully with a little bleach. They're more expensive initially but they will last forever.

gin twin

Ha! I actually love that new plastic smell. What is wrong with me?


@gin twin Bummer news about that smell--it's toxic to you :(

"Vinyl shower curtains sold at major retailers across the country emit toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems, according to a report released Thursday by a national environmental organization.

The curtains contained high concentrations of chemicals that are linked to liver damage as well as damage to the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, said researchers for the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment & Justice."




@CheeseLouise You can buy plastic liners that through some sort of hippie wizardry don't emit any off-gassing. They'll advertise it loud and clear on the packaging.


@madamvonsassypants But I don't need to because my fabric ones don't require replacment.


Oooh WHY did I not think of using the Magic Eraser on red hair dye stains on my wall? This is super-useful.


@cherrispryte I know! And I forgot about even the existence of Soft Scrub. We are lucky to have a titian-tressed Clean Lady!



Sure they're "red hair dye stains." Sure they are. <3

Jolie Kerr

@cherrispryte They also now make Magic Erasers for the bathtub, which I bet would take up the stains from tile & porcelain. If only Mister Clean would send me some free samples with which to test this theory...


Hurray shower advice! Okay, Jolie, is it bad to spray shower cleaners (Fantastik) and just leave it there? I did it this morning and then just left, are the fumes going to be really bad? It said to wipe down after 10 seconds but I thought leaving it all day would really attack the grossness (black and orange stuff). My bathroom is not terribly well ventilated and I cannot stay in there with nearly anything.
Oh and if I decide to use vinegar, will the residual cleaners fume up and kill me?


do not attempt to use scrubbing bubbles on a glass shower door, and then accidentally forget and let those scrubbing little fuckers dry on the glass. you will permanently etch the pattern of soap scum into said shower door and you will be a very sad clean person.


When my brother was little he could watch every scary movie known to man or child without flinching but was absolutely terrified of the Scrubbing Bubbles mascot.


True story. I was working at a Cub Scout camp one summer, and at the end of the season, I got stuck on latrine duty with this excruciatingly annoying kid. In lieu of like, an actual urinal, the latrines had these cisterns full of gravel that kids would pee in. So after a whole summer of this, I told my partner it might be a good idea to toss a bucket of water in there to rinse it out. I'm outside of the latrine, scrubbing the wash basin, and I hear him say "I've got a better idea." Seconds later, he's leaping out of the latrine screaming and running away. Seconds after that, I'm enveloped by a thick cloud of noxious smoke. I was lucky to escape with my life!

The "better idea" he had was to pour half a bottle of bleach into this cistern that had been peed in for six weeks. So yeah, don't mix ammonia and bleach.


So I was moving out of my house last week and there was an unfortunate corner in the laundry room where the cat's litterbox was kept. I swept, scraped, and then dumped bleach and some warm water before getting to the scrubbing. The fumes were so bad I could only scrub for 5 seconds before stepping out of the room, breathing fresh air, and going back in. Eyes burning, the works. Does that mean I was breathing in toxic fumes? Is this how crazy cat ladies launch into the world of crazy?


@madamvonsassypants There's ammonia in litter, that might be your problem.

Jolie Kerr

@madamvonsassypants That's exactly what happened - pee pee has ammonia in it.

Feminist Killjoy

i <3 bleach! i think i'm kind of a germ freak? i bleach ALL my towels and underwear. it sort of fucks up the elastic but hey, my panties are STERILE! also you can buy bleach-proof colored towels online. or, you know, like, white ones.

Hot mayonnaise

@Rosemary: Sterile Panties would be a great band or commenter name.


Thanks to an email FWD from my mom about using Hydrogen Peroxide for all of one's household needs, I use it to clean everything. It's probably the only FWD from her that I've paid attention to.

The email claims that this is what doctor's offices use to keep shit clean and without the bleach smell. It acts like bleach in that it isn't color safe, but there is no nasty smell. Dilute it as you would bleach. Also, it's very inexpensive!


@katie: It makes a good face toner too, just keep it away from your eyebrows. (Learned that the hard way.)


@katie: it's also a GREAT deodorizer for cat pee.


Speaking of how great bleach is, and how awful germs are, does anybody else have the anti-microbal kitchen towels & dishrags by Clorox?


I may be the dirty, dreadlocked voice of hippie dissent here, but bleach is bad, yo. For humans and for the water supply. Germs are not horrible in moderation. We keep our house super clean with baking soda, diluted vinegar, peroxide, simple green, and Barkeeper's Friend.


Maybe this makes me immoral or something but I'd way rather pour bleach into the water supply than have awful smelling mildew and bacteria littering the damp surfaces in my household. The idea that bacteria is OK in moderation, to me, mostly applies to yogurt and playing outside rather than to the singularly awful smell of the bacteria produced by leaving a damp garment wadded up on the floor. I'm all for playing outside but there's no way I'm not bleaching that shit.


@Ellie - I don't see how the two are related? Regular cleaning prevents that stuff from growing. A clean surface, even if anti-bacterials aren't used, is a pretty inhospitable place for germs. I don't know. We clean everything once a week. I do laundry once a week. I don't have mildew lurking in corners? I never ever get sick. My mother is finally pleased with the level of cleanliness in my household.


Oh thank god. Someone else. Bleach is super bad, not only for your health, but for the earth as well. I'm a little appalled that the hairpin isn't at least mentioning green cleaning options.

The other day I had a huge plumbing crisis, long story short, sewage in way too many places in my home, I busted out the bleach for the first time in years and years. Vinegar cleans almost everything and there are even pre-made disinfectants that don't use bleach. Get with the program Hairpin!

simone eastbro

@magnificentjane it's not like Jolie is "The Hairpin" or anything anyone says is part of a monolithic Hairpin voice. She cleans with bleach, so that's what she wrote about. Someone has to want to write it in order for it to show up here. So green cleaning came up in the comments! Yay! That's part of how it's supposed to work.


@listen, lady I also felt a sort of sinking feeling when I read this far down into the comments before anyone mentioned that BLEACH IS POISON. It's killing you a little bit, as it kills those (mostly harmless) germs. It should be used with caution (gloves, face coevered) and then only in emergencies. In my (scientifically informed) opinion. Plastic shower curtains are also poison, by the way, unless they're BPA-free, and then still maybe. And sure, Jolie can write about whatever she wants; it's just weird to realize I'm this much of an outlyer on a site that I generally appreciate so much.

simone eastbro

@ladylaw I mean, I get all of that. I just don't think it makes a ton of sense to tell "the Hairpin" to "get with the program" on green cleaning, rather than, say, email Jolie and ask her if she'll write about it or note in the comments that you just don't care to use bleach.

Jolie Kerr

@listen, lady @ladylaw: Hey there, was in meetings for most of the afternoon and just saw this. I actually have a question in the queue about green/alternate products, and often advocate for the use of vinegar, baking soda, and other natural products for cleaning. I'm disappointed that this column inspired so much ire (actually if I'm being honest it feels totally shitty to come back to this comment thread in response to something that I just want to be positive and fun and helpful [sadsie face]) but I completely understand where you're coming from and of course you aren't thinking in terms of the real person behind my beribboned hat so I'm going to go get right over it now.

ladylaw, I would love it if you would email me (nicely? please?) with some of your favorite products/natural alternatives. cleaning @ thehairpin dot com. Look forward to hearing from you!


@Jolie Kerr, I don't think there was ire, at least not in my comment. Don't feel bad about saying what you said. I just wanted to present the counterpoint that there are other ways to keep the nasties away from your house without resorting to something that can also be used as a weapon.

Method products are good for the earth and smell great to boot. They're good for making the transition.

Jolie Kerr

@notjenny Your comment was lovely and nicely put and speaks to the small part of my soul that runs to hippie. I would love any input from you about products you like, please email me if you have a moment.

I really appreciate your kind words.


Oh my stars, please use chlorine bleach sparingly. I think people forget that it's a toxic chemical because it's been around and in our homes for so long. Replace it with oxygen based bleach whenever possible.

I wash my shower curtain once in a while, and I do put it in the dryer! Only for a about 5-6 minutes before hanging it. I've never had a problem with it melting, but YMMV.


I have had a Soft Scrub shaped hole in my life (and under my sink, next to the Bon Ami), of which I had a sense but could never put my finger on .. thank you, our Clean Heroine!


I prefer bourbon, myself. Pricey, yes, but clean and delicious.


What's the deal with using bleach in your laundry? Obviously white things only (duhhs!) but there's some ratio of bleach to water that one is meant to mix up, yes? And then a certain moment in the cycle in which one tosses said mix in?
Is there something you're supposed to do to your washing machine after using bleach so that residual bleach doesn't get onto future loads?
Sorry I'm such a bleach newb...


@CupKates Clorox recommends 3/4 cup per load--if you have a dispenser, use that, it mixes it in with the water as it fills, otherwise, you should do what we're all supposed to do, but (I'm) usually too lazy to actually do--turn on the water, add the soap (and bleach) AND WAIT FOR THE WASHER TO FILL before putting in sheets. I actually put bleach in with some non-white things (colored towels and sheets), but smaller amounts, because I watched Oprah, and the skin flakes, oh the skin flakes. And don't worry about residue, it's too diluted by that point to do anything.


@BethH Thanks Beth!


Is anyone else imagining Jolie prepping her bathroom for hair dying like Dexter prepares for a kill? No? Just me?

Daisy Razor

Oh honey, you are not kidding about the TOXIC FUMES. I had a roommate who was germphobic and cleaned the bathroom every other day, alternating between bleach and ammonia-based cleaners. Even with the day between, the fumes were so bad we'd have to open the windows, and we had to wear flip flops in the shower (even though it was totally clean!) because the chemical residue started peeling the skin off of our feet!

...And that is why I clean my tub with Method/Seventh Generation stuff.


If you have a coloured shower curtain and you have orange/black spotty mould, you can put it in a bucket with boiling water and half a dozen steralising tablets (the kind you use for babies' bottles). You can also use Milton steralising fluid (don't know if this particular brand is available outside the uk, but there will be something similar). It will smell a bit funky for a few minutes but your shower curtain will be clean and shiny and won't have bleached out!
You can also use steralising tablets to clean manky loofahs or sponges, and I've also used it for my army husband's platypus/camelbak thingy when he comes back from exercises and they're flippin disgusting. Pretty much any bacteria-y type mould will go away with enough fizzy tablets and boiling water, plus it's cheap as chips- I get mine from the pound shop! It's not as though you need to feed the baby from your shower curtain...



BTW, you can use this method with any kind of shower curtain- the fabric ones or the vinyl/plastic kind!
And when I say it will smell, it just smells kinda weird, but the fumes won't do you any harm.

Jackie G@twitter

I noticed that the gross stuff on the shower curtain liner is always in that seam at the bottom. I think the seam catches water and lets the nasty stuff grow. So I just cut the last inch off the bottom, including the seam. It's plastic, so it's not going to unravel or anything.


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