Toilet cleaners

It’s not a pleasant job, but the right cleaner makes it easier.

cleaning toilet

You need a product that leaves your bowl sparkling clean and free of stubborn stains. Compare the gel and liquid cleaners we’ve tested, and check how well your favourite product polishes the porcelain – it may be worth trying something new.

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We've tested 18 toilet cleaners.

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Active ingredients

Toilet cleaners usually have confusing ingredients listed on their labels. Here’s our breakdown of what they are:

  • Sodium hypochlorite: This is basic bleach – the most common chemical in toilet cleaners. It whitens, cleans and deodorises and is identifiable by a strong chlorine smell. Bleach is caustic and can be dangerous if ingested or inhaled, so make sure your bathroom is well ventilated when cleaning.

  • Surfactants: The eco brands we tested don’t use bleach. Instead they rely on plant-based surfactants, such as glucosides, to lower the water tension between the stain and the water, allowing the mark to be removed.

  • Sodium hydroxide (known as lye or caustic soda): Another common ingredient that’s highly caustic. Sodium hydroxide dissolves the proteins in greasy stains.

  • Solvents: These are good for removing oily stains. Many toilet cleaners use naturally occurring solvents such as benzyl alcohol and limonene.

  • Acids: These work in different ways depending on the acid. Formic and citric acids help break down particles in the stains, while lactic acid is good at descaling the toilet.

Safety first

Toilet cleaner is one of the most poisonous products in your home. If you have tamariki in the house, make sure you buy a product with a child-resistant bottle, and always keep it well out of their reach. If someone ingests a cleaning product, phone either your doctor or the National Poisons Centre (0800 POISON). Keep the bottle for identification purposes.

Bottle necks

Most toilet cleaner bottles have angled necks, and for good reason. The angle helps you apply cleaner underneath the rim without spilling any or getting it on your hands.

How we test toilet cleaners

Using a simulated faeces stain created by NASA, we assess cleanliness by checking how much of the stain is removed from a white tile. This is done by measuring the reflectance of the tile before applying the stain and again after cleaning.

How we choose what we test

We aim to test brands and products you’re likely to see when you head to the shops, plus some you might not be aware of. Before we buy anything, we do our research – we visit stores (both online and physically), we talk to experts and consumers, and we ask manufacturers about their products. We want to capture new developments in the market and make sure the products we test will be available after we publish our results. We then compile a list of products and head out to purchase them, just as any consumer would.

How we test

We stain white tiles with the simulated faeces, then apply toilet cleaner to the tile and scrub it with a sponge attached to a mechanical arm. Reflectance is then measured and scored. Each product is tested three times, with the results averaged for a final score.

Where’s the environmental testing?

Where’s the environmental testing?

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Where’s the environmental testing?

We’ve assessed how well these products clean. Our test is comparative, which means the products are compared to each other – not to a defined standard of “clean”.

We are developing an assessment of the impact of these cleaners on the environment, and the use of the products with septic tanks and greywater systems.

We’ll update this test with environmental results when we have them. For more information before then, see our article on whether cleaning products green claims stack up.

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