Cleaning the bathroom is my absolute least favorite chore. I’d rather do pretty much anything other than get on my hands and knees and scrub the gunk out of shower tiles or swirl a brush around the toilet bowl while praying that no human waste particles splash out and hit me. But… the alternative of a grimy, slimy bathroom is far less appealing, so I’m left wondering: How can I do the bare minimum to keep things pristine and sanitary? I talked with a few microbiology experts to figure out how often I really need to clean my bathroom—and a cleaning pro to get some tips for making the job a little easier. Here’s how to get it all done while spending the least possible amount of time hunched over the john.
Clean your bathroom once a week as a good rule of thumb.
Kelly Reynolds, PhD, MSPH, professor and director of the Environment, Exposure Science and Risk Assessment Center at the University of Arizona, recommends cleaning your bathroom at least weekly. More often than that might be overkill. “A lot of microbes grow slowly, especially when we’re talking about yeast and mold in the bathroom,” Dr. Reynolds says. “That can take days or weeks to grow.” Cleaning hard surfaces—toilet, counter and sink, bathtub and shower—weekly with a cleaner that’s labeled as a disinfectant will kill germs and keep the number of pathogens low.
If someone in your household is sick, do your best to clean the bathroom once a day.
The exception to the weekly-regimen rule: If someone in your household is sick with an infectious illness, like the stomach flu or COVID, they should try to clean the high-contact surfaces in the bathroom they use daily, Dr. Reynolds says, including the toilet, sink, shower knobs, counters, and doorknobs. “Try to not share the bathroom with them, but if you must, clean it daily.” Especially if the illness causes vomiting or diarrhea, it’s best to get in there and clean thoroughly before someone else uses the same space—and even better if the sick person is well enough to clean it themselves.
Find the difference between “untidy” and “unsanitary.”
Known infectious illnesses aside, a less-than-sparkling bathroom isn’t likely to impact your health in any meaningful way, Paul Pottinger, MD, professor of medicine and co-director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at the University of Washington Medical Center, tells SELF. “It is unlikely that someone with a normal immune system would be at risk of catching a dangerous infection in the bathroom from one of their housemates via hard surfaces such as the floor or the toilet seat,” Dr. Pottinger says.
That’s because we’re already exposed to the microbes that our housemates have on them, and vice versa. That’s even truer when it comes to an intimate partner, Dr. Pottinger says. Even visible mold in the shower probably won’t make a person with a healthy immune system sick, he says.
Clean your shower and bathtub to avoid skin infections.
One big exception? The fungus that causes athlete’s foot, Dr. Pottinger says, which can be extremely contagious. “The world is covered with germs, and there’s always fungus and mold around us, but it tends not to be a threat unless it settles in a damp area, and that’s where it can then grow,” he says. “You can absolutely catch this superficial fungal infection of [the] feet if it’s in the shower, and that’s why it’s so common.” And the spores can lurk in the bath and shower even if a surface looks clean to the naked eye, Dr. Pottinger notes.
Bathtubs can also grow what’s known as a biofilm, or a buildup of microorganisms that stick together to form a visible film—the infamous pink ring—around the tub or drain. As SELF has previously reported, foreign bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms can build up in this biofilm and cause skin infections like staph, or just really bad acne breakouts. The wet environment of the bathtub also creates the perfect environment for them to multiply. Since there has to be enough of an organism for it to cause a problem, this type of environment increases the chance that these bugs could cause a problem.
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