Bathroom cleaners

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Which cut through soap scum best?

Everyone wants a quick fix when it comes to cleaning bathrooms, so we did the hard work. We found the best cleaners for soft and hard soap scum and which one removes both very well.

From our test

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What we found

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Safety first

“Natural” doesn’t mean safe. “Natural” ingredients, even fragrances, can be harmful.

Always keep your cleaners away from children — ideally in a high or locked cupboard.

If anyone swallows cleaning product, immediately rinse out their mouth with water and phone your doctor or the National Poisons Centre (0800 POISON).

About our test

Water hardness, the concentration of calcium and magnesium particles in the water, is not uniform throughout New Zealand. So we tested bathroom cleaners on both soft and hard soap scum.

As most cities have soft water, which usually results in soft soap scum, the overall score is 80% soft soap scum and 20% hard soap scum. Areas with hard water, which is noticeable by scale build-up in your electric jug or kettle, are more likely to have hard soap scum in bathrooms. In hard water areas, we suggest focussing on the hard soap scum removal score.

For each cleaner we performed two tests: removing soft soap scum and removing hard soap scum. We baked our blend of soft soap scum on to white ceramic tiles at 80°C and our blend of hard soap scum on to white ceramic tiles at 180°C. We then scrubbed each tile with a mechanical scrubbing arm.

We followed the manufacturer’s instructions on application time for hard stains and the number of times we should repeat the scrubbing. To determine the scum-removal score, we measured the light reflected before and after scrubbing. We repeated each test three times and averaged the results.

Soft soap scum

To simulate soft soap scum, we use a scum comprised of hard soaps, synthetic sebum (simulating bodily oils) and carbon black (to give the scum colour so its removal can be measured).

Hard soap scum

To simulate hard soap scum, we used a combination of calcium stearate and carbon black. Calcium stearate is the most common hard soap scum and is formed due to the reaction between soap ingredients and calcium ions present in water.

Different strokes

Over the years, we’ve seen different application types for cleaners, such as gels and wipes as well as the classic liquid sprays and foams. So what’s the difference?

  • A liquid spray is sprayed on to tiles, usually via a spray bottle. It may lather up with scrubbing, but generally stays in liquid form.
  • A foam is a liquid cleaner that quickly foams up when sprayed on to tiles. These cleaners often claim to have extra cleaning power due to the foaming action.
  • A gel is a thick liquid which when squirted on to the tiles generally needs spreading over the tile with a cloth.
  • Wipes are the newest type of cleaners – thin tissue-like cloths that have been pre-treated with cleaner. It’s worth noting some cleaning wipes state they are flushable. Our recent testing of flushable wipes shows they don’t break down as easily as claimed and can clog pipes and cause trouble for wastewater treatment plants. If you use cleaning wipes, we suggest throwing them in the rubbish bin when done, instead of flushing them.
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