There are dozens of toilet bowl cleaners on the market, making various claims to disinfect, remove hard water stains, or just leave a sparkling bowl.
Using our winning toilet brush, we decided to put 12 of the best-selling liquid toilet bowl cleaners to the test, and not just a test of how well they cleaned. We conducted smell tests to see which are pleasant scents and which are just plain offensive, we investigated which ones are safe for septic systems, and we researched their active ingredients to find out which ones disinfect—i.e. kill germs. We also evaluated them for ease of use, because not all toilet bowl cleaner bottles are created equal.
While many of the products left our bowls looking shiny and clean, there was one that stood out above all the rest for both its disinfecting properties and its ease of use, Clorox Clinging Bleach Gel Toilet Bowl Cleaner(available at Walmart for $1.92), which has a unique spray nozzle applicator, and promises to disinfect surfaces by killing over 99% of germs it comes into contact with. For those who want a product that’s gentler on the environment but still provides an exceptional cleaning experience, Better Life Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner (available at Amazon) came out on top as our Best Eco-friendly option.
Here are the best toilet bowl cleaners we tested ranked, in order:
Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner—Clinging Bleach Gel
Lysol Clean & Fresh Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Lysol Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Better Life Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Method Antibac Toilet
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Bleach (2 pk)
Scrubbing Bubbles Bubbly Bleach Gel
Scrubbing Bubbles Non-Bleach Power Stain Destroyer
Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Lime-A-Way Thick Gel Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Zep Acidic Toilet Bowl Cleaner
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The clinging bleach really sets this cleaner apart from others, including its cousin, the liquid Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Bleach. A thicker gel formula really does adhere to the sides of the bowl, and for proper disinfection to take place, surface contact is key.
Clorox offers a unique and effective applicator nozzle that squirts a wide spray of cleaner over the surface of the bowl, covering it in a blanket of liquid, rather than relying on the formula to drip down, as many other brands do. This cleaner left my bowl spotless and bright white.
As with all bleach products, we took care to avoid splashes and drips—we spot-tested this cleaner on dark cotton fabric and it did stain. And as for the scent, there’s almost no way to mask the smell of bleach, even if this one does call itself “Ocean Mist.”
Instructions recommend using 8 ounces of product for each cleaning. If you’re planning to disinfect your toilet frequently, that much bleach can be potentially damaging to septic systems—even, as the EPA points out, when products claim to be “septic-safe.”
Better Life Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner has a smell that screams, “I bought this at the organic food co-op!” That smell is courtesy of tea tree and eucalyptus oils, and it’s a pleasant, not-at-all-harsh scent.
Better Life is a line of plant-based cleaners, and the toilet bowl cleaner we tested touts a healthy ingredient list free of sulfates, parabens, petroleum-based solvents, and other harsh chemicals you might find in other cleaners. Instead, it uses citric acid and soapbark for stain-fighting power.
While citric acid has antibacterial properties and can kill germs, we should note that Better Life’s toilet bowl cleaner doesn’t make any broad claims about killing off viruses or any specific percentage of germs. Despite that fact, we found that our toilet was sparkling clean after scrubbing.
Given the lack of corrosive chemicals that could pose harm upon skin contact or inhalation, we feel it’s the conscientious choice for a general-purpose cleaner if you clean your bowl regularly, as you’re not flushing down any harsh chemicals.
The biodegradable formula is also completely safe for septic systems, and we found that the thick gel formula clung to the sides of the bowl and provided a surprising lather that reached under the rim and all over the bowl to help remove stains.
I’m Liz Kocan, a mother of two young boys. I spend the majority of time cleaning up after these wonderful, filthy humans.
We are an “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” family, meaning that some days, we dare our toilet to see how long it can stand being peed in without getting flushed. And while that’s great for water conservation, it means that we usually get a lot of mineral and residue buildup in our bowls, and it’s not pretty.
As a homeowner and a human, I care just as much about the environmental and health impact of the household products I use as I do about their effectiveness and cleaning power. With that in mind, I spent just as much time researching the ingredients in these products as I did squirting them in my toilet.
Over the course of several days, we tested 12 different toilet cleaners. In our tests, we spread a thin layer of miso paste (an industry-wide stand-in for feces) on our toilet bowls, under the rims, and deep into the cavity of the bowl and let it sit for one hour.
We followed the package instructions for each cleaner and scrubbed the debris away with our winning toilet brush. We then flushed, checking under the rim, on the bowl, and in the cavity to ensure a proper cleaning.
Per EPA guidelines, cleaners that promise to kill germs, generally require at least 10 minutes of surface contact to properly disinfect. If you’re not letting those germ-fighting chemicals sit for at least that long, there is no guarantee that they will effectively rid your toilet of bacteria.
What You Should Know about Toilet Bowl Cleaners
There Is a Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
Cleaning your toilet is different from sanitizing it, and different yet again from disinfecting it. The EPA offers an easy-to-understand chart that breaks it all down.
Generally speaking, to clean means to remove any visible stains, like dirt, soil, and hard-water stains. Homes with hard water—water with a high mineral content—can lead to discoloration and buildup known as limescale, which can be especially hard to clear away.
Toilet bowl cleaners that specialize in breaking down hard-water stains and limescale often contain harsh ingredients like hydrogen chloride or sulfamic acid, which can also pose problems for septic systems and should be used in well-ventilated areas.
Unlike cleaning, sanitizing means reducing the amount of bacteria on your cleaning surface using a chemical cleaner. Sanitizing does not eradicate viruses.
Disinfecting, though, does. By disinfecting a surface, you will kill or inactivate bacteria and pathogens that cause viruses. Cleaners that contain chemicals strong enough to kill viruses need to be left to sit, and remain damp, for 10 minutes or longer, depending on the product’s instructions.
Products with ingredients like bleach, citric acid, or quaternary ammonium can have disinfecting properties, but it’s important to read labels to determine for sure.
Are Toilet Bowl Cleaners Safe for Septic Systems?
The presence of bacteria is necessary in order for a septic system to break down the waste that flows through a septic tank. By using antibacterial or disinfecting cleaning products often, you run the risk of killing off this good bacteria, which can upset the balance of your system.
All products we tested claim to be “septic-safe,” but according to the EPA, this term can be unreliably used for marketing purposes and is not EPA-approved.
The EPA recommends that septic system users limit their use of household cleaners that have a label of “Danger,” “Caution,” or “Warning,” including those that contain bleach, ammonia, and hydrochloric acid.
Can You Use Toilet Bowl Cleaner in the Shower?
Due to the corrosive nature of many of the chemicals used in toilet cleaners, covering a large surface, like a bathtub or shower, can be harmful without proper ventilation.
When cleaning showers, tubs, and sinks, look instead for sprays and formulas that specifically call themselves bathroom, tub, or tile cleaners rather than letting your toilet cleaner do double duty.
Other Toilet Bowl Cleaners We Tested
Lysol Clean & Fresh Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Lysol Clean & Fresh smells very soapy and clean, not unlike Palmolive dish detergent. It claims to kill 99.9% of viruses, including COVID-19, thanks to its active ingredient quaternary ammonia, or quats, which can break down the cellular walls and membranes of bacteria and viruses to kill them or render them inactive. This means it’s not an ideal match for septic systems.
The product was an efficient disinfecting cleaner that clung well to the sides of the bowl, though it did leave a bit of green residue behind after flushing it away.
Lysol Power did an excellent job cleaning my toilet bowl, and its active ingredient, hydrochloric acid, kills 99.9% of bacteria. The blue “Thick Gel” formula clings to the bowl the duration of the recommended 15 minutes needed to properly kill germs.
I loved the smell of Lysol Power. Similar to other cleaners we tried, it has a faint wintergreen scent that smells fresh and not harsh at all. This is a pleasant surprise, considering its active ingredient.
While the packaging does claim that Lysol Power is septic-safe, hydrochloric acid is generally not advised for use in homes with septic systems, according to the EPA, as the chemical can kill off helpful bacteria found in septic tanks.
Method straddles a unique line on our list, as one of the only cleaners that provides disinfecting power while also being completely biodegradable and septic-safe. A certified B-Corp, Method calls itself a “pioneer of premium planet-friendly and design-driven home, fabric and personal care products,” which are “formulated with naturally derived, biodegradable ingredients.”
Method Antibac Toilet Cleaner uses citric acid as its main ingredient to kill 99.9% of germs, including COVID-19, offering a solid, disinfecting clean without harsh scents or chemicals.
The blue liquid requires a couple of passes around the bowl to really cover the whole surface, and—as with other disinfectants—it needs at least 10 minutes of surface contact to effectively kill germs.
It has a pleasant, mild mint scent, and leaves the toilet clean and, if you’re doing it right, germ-free.
Using citric acid as its active ingredient, Mrs. Meyer’s is a natural, biodegradable cleaner that works well for basic cleaning and stain removal. It has a thick, viscous texture that clings well to the bowl, and creates a bubbly, soapy lather while cleaning.
The product comes in an easy-to-open (but still childproof) bottle, and has a mild, floral scent with a whiff of chemicals.
Though the cleaner works well, the Mrs. Meyer’s website adds a caveat that users with hard water “may have to use [the] product more often to prevent the hard-water mineral deposits that develop at the water line from building up.”
Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Bleach is similar enough to its Clinging Bleach counterpart, but it’s runnier and doesn’t stay put as long, which is a decent knock against it. That said, it still offers excellent cleaning power and visible stain removal.
Much like Clinging Bleach, this cleaner left my bowl clean and white. Thanks to the applicator nozzle, it was a cinch to squirt a wide spray of cleaner over the surface of the bowl.
As with all bleach products, we took care to avoid splashes and drips, as this formula discolored our test swatch.
Scrubbing Bubbles Bubbly Bleach Gel Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Scrubbing Bubbles Bubbly Bleach Gel is the only Scrubbing Bubbles formula we tested that was dye-free, which means that it’s not quite as easy to see how uniformly you’ve applied the product. However, the fact that there was one less artificial chemical additive made me feel better about the product.
For a product that touts itself as being bubbly, I didn’t find that it created more sudsy lather than any other products we tested, but the bleach-based gel did cling to the bowl and left it spotless.
As with all Scrubbing Bubbles cleansers, this one has a patented curved neck that fills with cleaner and reaches under the rim to ensure optimal stain coverage.
Scrubbing Bubbles Power Stain Destroyer Non-Bleach Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Scrubbing Bubbles Non-Bleach Power Stain Destroyer has a deep green color that lingered in my toilet even after flushing. While it claims to change from green to blue as it powers through harsh stains, all I found was that it left temporary turquoise-colored streaks where the water dripped down and refilled my bowl.
This oversaturation may be caused by using more product: Instructions call for a full 10 ounces to properly disinfect, as opposed to other cleaners that call for anywhere from 4 to 8 ounces.
This particular cleaner touts itself as non-bleach, instead using hydrochloric acid as the active ingredient. The acid in this cleaner helps to break down dirt and rust stains, and it also claims to be effective at killing 99.9% of viruses, including COVID-19. While it worked well and does promise to disinfect, the lingering “Rain Water” scent and deep color felt overly artificial.
Seventh Generation is an eco-friendly cleaning supply company that makes a plant-based toilet bowl cleaner that is free of synthetics and dyes.
This means that the biodegradable cleaning formula is gentle enough that it should not disrupt the bacterial balance of your septic system. The Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner is also the only product we tested that received an A rating from the Environmental Working Group and a mention on the EPA’s Safer Choice list.
It does a good job helping to clear away visible stains. Unfortunately, it is not able to kill germs and disinfect.
The formula is thick, clinging to the sides of the toilet bowl. It lathered up to provide a nice, scrubby clean, and the “Emerald Cypress and Fir” scent was pine-y, but inoffensive.
My main problem (which is noted by several other users on the company’s website) was the difficulty I had opening and closing the cap. It took some force to pull the cap open, and even after I thought I had closed it, it remained open. It was not just childproof, but also seemingly adult-proof. For this adult, anyway.
I spent most of my time during the Lime-A-Way test trying to place the scent. Nowhere on the packaging does it tell you what it’s supposed to smell like (other than its claim to leave a lingering “fresh scent” behind). Then I placed it: Pepto Bismol. Slightly wintergreen-minty, and honestly, not unappealing.
Lime-A-Way is a thick gel which does a good job adhering to the sides of your bowl, and promises to remove rust, lime, and other hard water stains. To do so, it contains sulfamic acid, which can be extremely harmful upon contact with eyes or skin, and should not be inhaled.
While Lime-A-Way worked well to clean the toilet’s surface and remove lingering stains, it is not a disinfectant and does not claim to kill germs. Sulfamic acid is generally septic-safe in small quantities.
Like many cleaners that promise to clear away lime and rust stains, Zep’s active ingredient is hydrochloric acid, which does a great job at stain removal, but should be used sparingly by those with septic tanks.
Zep has a light, minty scent and gel formula that is slightly runnier than those that cling. But it still proved effective when scrubbing debris off of the bowl.
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