How To: Clean a Toilet Tank
Tackle the germs and mineral build-up you almost always miss on chore day with these easy steps.
If the last time you got the bathroom sparkling did not fully mask a foul odor or required a concentrated effort to remove brown rust stains from the rim of your toilet bowl, your job may not be done. Don’t kick yourself yet for missing a spot, because this one often goes overlooked: the toilet tank. Its lid keeps any dirt, bacterial contamination, and mineral build-up out-of-sight until you need to lift it off to reach in and stop the toilet from running manually or assess the parts for some other repair. These poor conditions can also cause the metal parts in your toilet tank to corrode and lead to bowl staining—most homeowner’s first clue of a problem.
By cleaning your toilet tank regularly—twice a year, at least—you may extend the life of your toilet and all of its parts, freshen your bathroom’s smell, and save yourself some elbow grease the next time you sanitize your toilet bowl. Everyone wins! So what are you waiting for? Knock out one job quickly and keep it fresh following this guide on how to clean a toilet tank.
First, empty the tank. To do this, locate the water valve (the “tap” valve on the wall behind or near the base of the toilet) and shut it off. Then, lift the lid from the tank so that you can eyeball the water level inside and flush the toilet until it drains completely. Depending on your flow rate, this may require two or three flushes.
Assess the condition of your tank. If you’re only looking at surface grime and dirt, that’s a straightforward cleaning job that a bit of scrubbing should mitigate. Move on to Step 3.
If, however, you see a discoloration from mineral deposits and residue built up at the bottom of the tank and ascending the walls, opt for a more forceful method: vinegar. This all-natural all-star is a great line of defense against mold and mildew, hard water deposits, and more. You’ll need enough vinegar to fill the tank up to the overflow valve, which could mean as many as three gallons depending on the size of your tank. (Fortunately, at roughly $3 a gallon, it’s not as expensive as it sounds!) Pour in the vinegar and let it sit for 12 hours without flushing. When ready to get cleaning, flush the vinegar out. Again, this may take two or three flushes.
Wearing rubber gloves, spray the tank interior generously—along the walls and the bottom—with your preferred disinfectant cleaner. Do your best to direct the spray away from metal parts, in case there are corrosive additives that could react with metal. (Bleach, for instance, is very corrosive.)
Check the label for the dwell time recommended by the manufacturer. Generally, you’ll let the disinfectant sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
Grab a scrub brush! Some how-tos recommend using your go-to toilet brush for cleaning the inside of the toilet tank, but, considering the cleaning job they do on a regular basis, we recommend using a new scrub brush. (Then, you won’t accidentally introduce other contaminants from previous dirty jobs to the tank.) It should be a long, narrow scrub brush with medium-to-firm bristles and a shape that allows you to scour corners and the bottom of the tank.
After the wait time is up, scrub thoroughly—into corners, around fixtures, all over the bottom—to remove all grime and/or build-up. Apply additional cleaner as necessary.
STEP 5 (optional)
While you have the lid off, consider whether your toilet needs any maintenance. If your toilet has been operating less than optimally, now is a good time to replace any parts that might need replacing, like the flapper.
If your toilet has been functioning fine, though, carry on to Step 6.
Clean all the working parts in the tank. Instead of spraying them directly and dousing the metal parts with a cleaner that may or may not be corrosive, dilute it first. Simply soak a sponge with clean, warm water and spray some cleaner onto the sponge itself. Then, wipe down the ball float, flapper, and other toilet tank workings with the diluted disinfectant. Rinse and re-soak the sponge as needed.
Turn the water back on and let the tank fill. Flush it a couple times. Does the tank seem clean enough to you? If not, drain the tank once more as you did in Step 1 again, then repeat Steps 3 through 6 again.
When happy with how sparkling clean your toilet tank is, turn the valve back on, fill it, and then it’s business as usual!
Keeping the Toilet Tank Clean
To keep life simpler in the future, here are some steps to keep the tank in a better state of cleanliness day in and day out.
• Consider putting tank tablets in the toilet. These can keep mildew, minerals, and contaminants at a minimum. Be careful not to buy tank tablets that contain bleach, as it is known to corrode metal. Do your homework and read online reviews thoroughly before purchasing any. To reduce the use of chemicals in the home and the risk of damage, keep in mind that tablets marketed as “natural” or “chemical-free” may be best suited for the job.
• If you’re not using tablets, drain your toilet tank and fill with vinegar (as in Step 2) on a more regular basis. The vinegar kills mildew and dissolves mineral deposit build-up before it becomes a problem. Simply leave it in there overnight and flush it out the next morning.
• You might hear suggestion a monthly cleaning regiment for toilet tanks, but we think twice yearly will suffice for small households with more than one toilet shared by the family. Situation dictates maintenance needs, though. If you have hard water, mineral deposits may build up more quickly. If the toilet is located in a high-traffic area, whether in a home with a big family or your place of business, the heavier use will require more frequent cleaning too. Lift the tank lid to inspect it every two weeks, and then you’ll know what kind of cleaning cycle your toilet might need. Track your inspections and cleanings on a calendar so you remain on top of things.