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IMA > News  > Are you cleaning your toilet bowl correctly?

Are you cleaning your toilet bowl correctly?

Prepared by Sheldon Ramoutar, Research Officer (Microbiologist),
Institute of Marine Affairs

The Christmas holiday is fast approaching and there is no doubt household chores and cleaning will be taking place.  Cleaning can be daunting especially when it comes to the toilet area and bathroom. Though we have been cleaning these surfaces year in and out, have we been cleaning our toilet bowl correctly?

Here are a few helpful tips on cleaning your toilet.

The Septic Tank

The septic tank system is the forgotten household hero. It works hard every day breaking down waste from the toilet using hard-working bacteria. Even though we clean our toilet bowls to get rid of harmful bacteria, it is also bacteria that are responsible for decomposing our waste. The bacteria in the septic tank breakdown over 95 percent of waste, leaving less than 5 percent behind (Wexco Environmental). If these organisms cannot do their work that is breakdown the waste, the tank will become clogged and will overflow, leading to contamination of groundwater which can flow into drains, rivers and eventually to our beaches, increasing exposure to health risks. There is also a cost for the sewage to be pumped out and no one wants a sewage truck in front of their house. The bacteria in the septic tank needs care and maintenance to remain healthy and in good working order and using harsh detergents like bleach may disrupt that delicate process.

Product Awareness

We should always pay close attention to the contents in cleaning products. Many of the products contain ingredients that are harmful to the septic system.    Understanding labels on products can also help us decide on the level of hazard (US EPA- A homeowner’s guide to Septic System). For instance –

  • Danger and Poison – Product highly hazardous
  • Warning   –   Product moderately hazardous
  • Caution – Product slightly hazardous

You can check your products to determine if they meet the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of Safer Choice Standard easilyon their website.

There is no local website but if using local products ensure they are non-chlorine, non-ammonia, non-antibacterial, non-toxic, and preferably biodegradable. Bleach is a powerful cleaning tool that may help get a shiny and clean bathroom, but it can also wreak havoc in the septic tank. Small amounts should not be too harmful; however, if used often and in large volumes, it can severely alter the efficacy of the bacteria in the septic tank.

Antibacterial soaps and detergents, do as intended by manufacturers, kill bacteria. While they are great for cleaning, it is terrible for the septic system.  According to Kitt Farrell-Poe from University of Arizona, in an article entitled Antibacterial products in septic systems, antibacterial disinfectant or sanitizing products can destroy both good and bad bacteria. Even normal dosage (according to directions) can also harm the beneficial bacteria living in the septic tank and affect their performance.

You can add “good” bacteria to help maintain a proper amount in your septic tank and reduce the accumulation of sludge.  

  1. Mix 1quart warm water, 2 cups brown sugar and one package of active dry yeast.
  2. Mix the solution thoroughly
  3. Flush
  4. Create a solution for each toilet in the house.

(From Homemade DIY Septic Tank Treatment/ Natural Activators and Remedies (

The yeast activates enzymes and promotes the “good” bacteria necessary for your septic to eat away what is being deposited in the tank. Treat the septic system 2-3 times a year to provide a flourishing environment for the bacteria that breakdown and digest a large portion of human waste.

To clean the sewer pipes from the toilet to the sewage tank and to reduce the accumulation of sludge, do the following;

  1. Fill a gallon jug with 50% hot water and 50% white distilled vinegar.
  2. Before going to bed, pour the contents down the toilet and flush.
  3. Flush again in the morning.
  4. The hot water and vinegar will break lose any blockage and “melt” any sludge that may have made its way through the pipes.

(From Green tips: Maintaining your septic tank without chemicals (

Healthy households do not need antibacterial cleaning products. Effective handwashing with soap, and household cleaning using warm water and a plain detergent, is the cheapest way to get rid of germs. 

  1. Sprinkle the plain detergent into the toilet bowl
  2. Wearing gloves and using a sponge, scrub the bowl and under the rim  
  3. After scrubbing add 1 cup of vinegar to the toilet
  4. Allow to sit for an hour before turning on the water and flushing.
  5. Now you have one clean toilet.

(From Karen B. Gibbs – How often you should clean your toilet- and the right way to do it   (

In some countries, there is the lack of legislation on chemical use and safe chemical products.   In Trinidad and Tobago however, a standard was established for liquid bleach ensuing it’s in compliance with national compulsory standard. TTCS 1:2018, sodium Hypochlorite Solution (Liquid Chlorine Beach).  There is also TTS 76: Part 15: 2005 which is a standard for labelling of general household and automotive cleaning chemicals and TTS 466: 2010 which is a standard, which provides specification for synthetic laundry detergent powder.  More can be done to educate the public on proper use of chemical, and in ensuring chemical products are safe.  This can be facilitated through the Ministry of Health and the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of standards.