With its rich gray to brown shades and textured finish, slate is an attractive and luxurious choice for the walls and floor of a shower. It's hardwearing and should last a lifetime, but slate does require some special care when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. As a natural stone, slate is porous and easily damaged by harsh cleaning products and inappropriate cleaning techniques. Soap scum can be especially difficult to remove, and the acidic solutions typically recommended for tackling it can ruin slate and other natural stone surfaces. Selecting a slate shower cleaner to effectively remove soap scum requires some careful consideration.
What Not to Use
The key to selecting an appropriate natural stone cleaner is avoiding acids and abrasives. Vinegar and lemon juice are often recommended in DIY cleaners for soap scum, but you should never use these acids on slate or other natural stone surfaces. Acids can pit the surface of slate, weaken the stone and ruin its look. When browsing commercial cleaning products, look for the terms "alkaline" or "pH-neutral."
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Abrasive cleaners, such as scouring powders, as well as abrasive tools, like hard-bristle brushes and wire scourers, are also damaging to slate. Instead, choose a microfiber cloth, a sponge or a nonabrasive scrubber to clean a slate shower.
Commercial Cleaning Products
It's not a good idea to grab any old cleaning product from the supermarket shelf for cleaning a slate shower, but that doesn't mean you have to rule out all commercial cleaning products. Shop at a specialist store or online for the widest range of options and read the product descriptions carefully. You might also be able to find a list of products recommended by the manufacturer of your particular slate tiles.
Browse the category of natural stone cleaners and look for products intended to remove soap scum. Within those products, check for those that are safe for slate. If you find multiple options, browse the customer reviews to help inform your choice. Also consider the application methods for different slate shower cleaners and pick one that suits your needs. For example, you might prefer a no-scrub option that you spray on the slate, leave overnight and rinse off in the morning.
DIY Slate Shower Cleaners
While acids like vinegar and lemon juice should never be used as a natural stone cleaner, there are other household products you can try. Tackle soap scum with gentler DIY solutions first and only try more aggressive ones if necessary. With any DIY slate shower cleaner, test the product on a small, inconspicuous area before proceeding.
The gentlest option is to mix a mild, pH-neutral dish soap with water and scrub the slate areas affected by soap scum with the soapy water. If dish soap doesn't work, scrub with a solution of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water. You can also use a sudsy mix of borax and warm water. With any of these products, rinse the sponge or cloth often and rinse the surfaces with clean water when you've finished. Finally, dry the slate surface with an old towel.
If a more aggressive solution is necessary and you don't want to use a commercial product, try a slightly harsher DIY cleaner. Options include a paste of baking soda and water, watered down hydrogen peroxide, a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda or a solution of ammonia and water (half a cup of ammonia per gallon of water). Apply these products only to areas with a substantial buildup of soap scum and not to any clean, bare slate. Wipe them away and then rinse and dry the slate surfaces when you're finished.
Tips to Clean and Prevent Soap Scum
Try these tips to clean and prevent soap scum in a slate shower:
- Run hot water in the shower with the doors and windows closed for a few minutes before cleaning. This creates steam that can help loosen soap scum.
- Keep a squeegee in the shower to wipe down the slate surface after every use. Alternatively, keep an old towel handy for the same purpose.
- Switch to liquid soaps, as bar soap tends to create more soap scum.
- Hard water causes more soap scum, so consider installing a water softener if you have hard water.
- Seal your slate shower with a natural stone sealer every few years.
- Hire a professional if you're unable to clean soap scum from a slate shower yourself or if you're worried about accidentally damaging the slate.
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- This Old House: How to Remove Soap Scum
- Molly Maid: How to Clean a Scummy Shower Floor
- Acme How To: How To Remove Soap Scum from Natural Stone
- LSI Stone: How to Clean Natural Stone and What You Shouldn’t Do!