How To Clean Your Toilet Tank In 8 Easy Steps

Cleaning your toilet tank is one of those things you (unfortunately) need to do—but it isn’t nearly as daunting as you might suspect.

It happens to all of us: one day, a strange odor or the appearance of rust or a need to repair something (or maybe just sheer curiosity) leads you to remove your toilet tank lid. You take a look inside and … oh my.

We get it. You’re totally on top of your bathroom cleaning game. Your faucet and counters are sparkling. Your shower doors are so smudge free you worry you’ll forget they’re there. Your tub—and even your toilet bowl—are pristine thanks to routine scrubbing. But the toilet tank? It’s one of those things that even the best of us usually—maybe conveniently—forget about.

You can’t neglect it forever, though. (Sorry.) Regular tank cleanings are critical to help prevent mold, mildew and bacteria buildup, bowl staining, unpleasant odors and rust (which can actually damage the metal parts of your toilet and lead to problems down the road).

Luckily, though, cleaning your toilet tank is not nearly as difficult or unpleasant as you might think. And with this simple guide, we’ll help you get your toilet tank in the best shape of its life in 8 easy steps.

Sound good? Let’s do it.

How often you should clean your toilet tank

First things first: how often do you have to clean your toilet tank? Thankfully, cleaning your toilet tank does not have to be a weekly—or even monthly—thing. Twice a year should be sufficient. (Phew!)

But just because your toilet tank doesn’t need to be cleaned super frequently doesn’t mean cleaning it is unimportant. Quite the opposite: sticking to your biannual cleanings—and making them thorough—is a key part of your toilet’s maintenance and will help keep all kinds of baddies at bay (think rust, mold, mildew, bacteria and odors).

One more thing: if you live in an area with hard water, or just find that your every-six-months cleaning routine isn’t quite doing the trick, consider upping the frequency a bit. Trust us, it’s worth it in the long run.

Supplies you’ll need to clean your toilet tank

More good news: cleaning your toilet tank requires just a few basic supplies that you most likely already have lying around the house. If you don’t, they’re readily available at your nearest drugstore, grocery store, you name it.

To clean your toilet tank, you’ll need:

  1. Distilled white vinegar (up to three gallons to be safe)
  2. All-purpose cleaner
  3. Scrub brush (preferably with a long handle)
  4. Sponge
  5. Rubber gloves (optional, but probably a good idea)

Got ’em? Let’s get to it!

How to clean the inside of a toilet tank

Okay, so you’re ready to do the darn thing. Follow these easy 8 steps, and you’ll have yourself a sparkling clean toilet tank—and some well-earned peace of mind—in no time.

  1. Gather your supplies. The above list will help you get organized before you start. The good news is that there is an excellent chance you already have everything you need to clean your toilet tank on hand.

  2. Turn off the water to your toilet. Find the water valve that controls the flow of water into your tank. Not sure what this is or where to find it? Look at the wall behind your toilet; there should be a small valve near the baseboard. Turn it to shut off the water flow.

  3. Empty your toilet tank. Remove the lid from your toilet tank, and set it down somewhere that’s out of the way. (We highly recommend placing it on a towel to protect your floors.) With the water valve turned off, flush the toilet while keeping an eye on the water level. Make sure it drains completely. If it doesn’t, flush it again (and maybe even a third time).

  1. Take a good look at your tank to figure out your plan of attack. If it’s actually in pretty good shape (meaning just your run-of-the-mill dirt, etc.), you can probably handle this with some basic all-purpose cleaner ... which means you can skip ahead to Step 6 (hooray!).

On the other hand, if you notice rust or a significant amount of built-up residue or mineral deposits—or if you know that your area has hard water—you’re probably going to want to take a multistep approach and start with good old white vinegar.

  1. Go to town with a whole lotta vinegar. Vinegar’s good for a lot more than salad dressing. Distilled white vinegar is truly an all-star when it comes to household cleaning. It’s natural, strong, and incredibly versatile—and it really shines when you’re dealing with mold, mildew and stubborn buildup. Why? Vinegar helps break down and dissolve what would take way (and we mean way) more elbow grease if you started straight in with many regular store-bought cleaners. Seriously, get yourself some family-sized bottles of vinegar, and keep them handy; vinegar is one of the best cleaning hacks there is.

For the task at hand, you want to make sure you have enough vinegar to completely fill up your toilet tank. This means you might need up to three gallons for this step. (Before your jaw hits the floor, don’t worry: white vinegar is pretty darn inexpensive.)

With your tank emptied, pour the vinegar in. Keep going until you fill the tank, stopping about an inch from the top. Now, let it be. Walk away. Don’t flush. Don’t do anything except go about your business. Let the vinegar sit for up to 12 hours. We often start this step in the evening and just let it sit overnight. (See, we told you this would be easy!)

When a sufficient amount of time has passed, flush the tank until it's empty. Again, this might take a few flushes. Now take a look at what should hopefully be a much cleaner tank. Wowzers.

  1. With your all-purpose cleaner, go after any remaining dirt, stains or buildup. It’s finally time to scrub! Put on a pair of rubber gloves (if you have them), and spray an all-purpose cleaner all over the inside of your toilet tank. It’s not a bad idea to let the cleaner sit for 5–10 minutes to give it a chance to really work its magic on all that gunk (but pay attention to any instructions that come with the cleaner you’re using—the manufacturer will be able to give you the best intel about their specific product).

When those 5–10 minutes have passed, grab a scrub brush, and thoroughly scrub the inside of the tank. A sponge will work, too. You might even consider switching off between the two to ensure you’ve got your bases covered. When you feel good about how your tank is looking, take a step back, and examine your work. If it’s not quite there, don’t be discouraged: spray and repeat as needed. You’ll get there!

  1. Turn the water valve back on when you’re finally done. You don’t want to forget this step!

  2. Give the outside of your toilet a good once-over, too, while you’re at it. You just spent all that time cleaning your toilet tank; you might as well give the outside some attention, too! And luckily, the outside of your toilet requires much less time or energy. Simply spray a bathroom cleaner that’s safe to use on your toilet’s surface, like 9 Elements Bathroom Cleaner, let it sit and then scrub away any dirt or grime with a sponge or rag.

There you have it: a fresh, clean toilet tank that will help keep your toilet in tip-top shape and make sure unwanted bacteria, odors and rust stay far away! The only step left may be to get rid of the vinegar smell—and we can help you with that, too.

Maintaining your toilet tank

Now that you’ve cleaned your toilet tank, you’ve bought yourself 6 months until you have to even think about anything toilet tank related again, right?

Well ... yes, but sticking to a schedule will help you maintain your clean, functioning toilet tank in the long run. This isn’t a one-and-done deal.

When we say twice a year, we mean it. Trust us, taking the time to deep clean your toilet tank every 6 months will help keep your toilet in working order and your bathroom sparkling clean and odor free. And again, if you live in an area with hard water, or you notice that twice a year just isn’t quite cutting it, consider making cleaning your tank a somewhat more frequent activity.

That’s it! 8 steps to a clean toilet tank, plus everything you need to know to keep it that way!

Happy cleaning.

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