No-Scrub Homemade Soap Scum Remover

Clean

A simple homemade soap scum remover to tackle stubborn buildup plus the best ways to keep it off of your bathroom surfaces.

Photo of woman using homemade spray and microfiber cloth to remove soap scum from glass shower door

What Is Soap Scum?

Soap scum is a white, chalky film similar to hard water stains. At first, it’s a thin crust that most bathroom cleaning products can easily remove. But, without regular cleaning, more layers will form every time you bathe. These layers can become very hard, almost like cement, so you need a stronger cleaner to power through them. Fortunately, you can make an effective soap scum remover at home.

What Causes Soap Scum?

Soap scum results from calcium and magnesium particles in water combining with the oils and other ingredients in soap. So, the easiest way to prevent soap scum is to stop using soap! But not every “soap” is actually soap: liquid body washes, body gels, and most shampoos don’t cause soap scum because they contain detergents. Those detergents break the surface tension that leads to soap scum formation.

Natural Soaps

It’s the more natural or gentle soaps and shampoos that lead to soap scum, including Castile and goat milk soaps. These soaps contain fatty ingredients, which make them better for your skin but harder to rinse off bathroom surfaces. And the harder your water is, the more likely soap scum will occur.

Hard Water

The harder your water is, the more likely soap scum will occur. That’s because hard water contains minerals that bind with the fatty ingredients in soap and help them stick to your shower or tub’s surfaces. (They can build up on your skin and hair, too!) Not sure if you have hard water? If you have soap scum, you probably do since soft water contains salts that prevent buildup.

Is Soap Scum Harmful?

Every time you use soap and water, a new layer of soap scum forms over the existing one. These layers trap skin flakes and other organic substances, producing a bacterial biofilm. That bacteria includes staph and others, which can cause skin and breathing problems. Then, when you’re taking a nice hot shower, the bacteria become airborne in steam and bounces onto your skin. So, yes, soap scum can cause health problems.

Unfortunately, most cleaning products don’t completely remove soap scum from glass doors, tubs, and showers. Over time, that can lead to tough stains that make bathing an unpleasant experience.

How Do You Get Rid of Soap Scum?

To remove soap scum from shower curtains, wash them using your machine’s delicate cycle using a cup of baking soda but no laundry detergent. Add a clean towel to the load to act as a scrubber. Put it back in place once you’ve tackled soap scum on the rest of your shower’s surfaces.

To get soap scum off of your tub or shower walls, use one of these homemade spray recipes. Be careful if you’re climbing into the shower to clean it, though, since the sprays are very slippery. If your shower doesn’t have grab bars, consider using a long-handled mop to wipe the walls.

Removing Spots on Glass Shower Doors

If you still see spots on your glass shower doors after using the homemade soap scum remover, it’s probably from hard mineral buildup, not soap. To fix the problem, make a paste of baking soda and water and rub it on with a damp sponge. Then, spray the surface with heated vinegar and wait 5 minutes to dissolve the mineral bonds. Wipe with a Magic Eraser or heavy microfiber cloth and rinse well.

More Tips to Prevent Soap Scum

Switch to body wash. Synthetic soaps like body wash don’t contain the organic fats that bar soap does. So, they’re less likely to create soap scum.

Soften your water. Adding Epsom salts to your bath softens the water and keeps soap scum from forming in your tub. Or consider adding a whole-home water softener system to remove the calcium and magnesium ions in your home’s water that contribute to soap scum and water spots.

Dry your shower after you dry off. Wiping your shower walls and doors with your towel after you’ve dried off will remove a lot of soapy water, so you’ll see less soap scum. A squeegee works, too. Neither method completely removes the soapy layer, though, so you’ll still need to clean your shower weekly to prevent soap scum buildup.

Or use homemade shower spray daily. You can keep soap scum, mold, and mildew from forming at all with this daily homemade shower cleaner spray. Spritz it on glass shower doors, walls, and even the tub. No rinsing, wiping, or squeegee required.

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25 Comments

  1. I shall give this a try.  I’ve got some on our shower door that I keep looking at… Luckily it’s just a film and the door doesn’t have a metal surround where black gook builds up.  When I work up the energy to do it, I’ll let ya know how it goes 😉

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Please, do! Mine does have that metal surround, so I sprayed this stuff in the nooks and crannies then got out an old “spin brush” toothbrush and whirled it clean.

    2. I don’t have a microwave how else can I warm the mixture.

    3. Katie Berry says:

      You can heat the vinegar in the stove in a non-reactive pot until it’s very warm but not yet simmering. Be careful when pouring it into the spray bottle, and then add the liquid dish detergent.

  2. Definitely going to have to try this- we have a curtain, not doors, but we get lots of soap scum on the tiles in the shower itself. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for this!! I tried it today on my shower doors and was amazed at how easy it cleaned them!

  4. This was a miracle for my shower…I thought the staining (dirt and black mildew) in there was permanent, I’ve tried all types of cleaners on it. We are in a rental and the bathtub surround is super cheapo. The walls and tub are now white again. Thanks so much for providing such great tips on your site. I also used the hydrogen peroxide mix for the mildew and that helped a lot too. Planning to mix up the daily shower spray too 🙂

  5. I forgot to heat the vinegar…..I hope it still works….I’m desperate…..it’s disgusting and nothing works….sure hope it works cold…lol

  6. My shower head doesn’t reach the glass enough to spray it clean. Will it matter if I just towel it off or wipe with a wet cloth or something?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Mine doesn’t reach, either. I wipe with a wet cloth and rinse it repeatedly while I work. 🙂

    2. Cynthia Wyman says:

      I usually use either a plastic cup or a plastic pitcher to rinse the very top. I also lay down an old towel (folded double) so the run-off doesn’t flood my bathroom (yes, even with the door closed!)

    3. Katie Berry says:

      That’s smart, Cynthia!

  7. Wow amazing result. Only issue is it’s so cleanbi really don’t want to use it and make a mess of it.
    Note to self… if you get the mixture on the floor use boiling water to wipe it up otherwise it’s A over T.

  8. Obviously years after you originally posted this. But I came across this recipe today and tried it immediately! I have tried SO many things before and I can honestly say this stuff is the BOMB!!! It worked so well! I left in on for around an hour.

  9. Why Dawn? Can other dish soaps be used?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I recommend Dawn because it’s the best grease-cutting dish soap I’ve ever used. You’re welcome to try whatever brand you prefer, but if you’re disappointed in the results you might want to give Dawn a try before deciding the recipe doesn’t work for you.

  10. This is amazing!!!!! Moved into a rental home, and nasty, nasty, nasty. Oh, can I say that one more time, NASTY! This recipe took it right off. I used a majic eraser to scrub. The results where, simply amazing.

  11. I just used this to clean my shower curtains—perfect—no scrubbing!

  12. Debra R Mox says:

    Katie, Thank you thank you thank you! I just finished rinsing my glass shower doors. No scrubbing needed thanks to your DIY. Not only is my shower sparkling clean again, this also worked on the scum build up on the porous floor to the shower. My 20yr old nephew uses all types of body washes and doesnt have the “time” to squeege the door or the tile walls etc. I did have to scrub the floor but I used a teflon safe sponge scrubby and used my feet to scrub! At 65 yrs old I don’t bend over in Any shower lol.
    Debbie

  13. Katy Warwick says:

    Any idea what I can use if I can’t get my hands on Dawn, only able to get it online and it takes ages for it to be delivered

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Katy,
      In the U.K., Fairy works in place of Dawn. It’s very similar, aside from the color. (Colour? ?)

  14. Hi Katie,

    If using cleaning vinegar (10% acetic acid), should it be diluted first? or should I reduce the amount of vinegar vs Dawn?

    Thanks,
    Sally

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Sally,

      Since cleaning vinegar is twice as acidic, I’d dilute it.

      Best,
      Katie

  15. Barb Chamberlain says:

    I read somewhere in a similar recipe that it needs to be heated when you make the mixture so the soap and vinegar can combine chemically, but after that it isn’t necessary to reheat. I haven’t fully tested this yet.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I have not read that, but my recipe does recommend heating the vinegar.

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