Automatic Toilet Cleaners: Searching for Good Stuff

Written by:

Maia James


Updated: 05/01/2024

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When we moved into our new apartment this fall, I noticed that the bathrooms each had a clip-on automatic toilet cleaner, like this:

I, of course, removed them immediately, partially because it somehow felt gross to pee on the thing the prior family peed on (not rational, but just icky), but also because I assumed it was made of toxic chemicals.

Not having an automatic toilet cleaner means you’ll have to employ more elbow grease to get rid of that inevitable gross discoloration that happens even in an unused toilet—partly from hard water and other mineral deposits.

Lucky for me, I know a scientist working on a new solution to this problem. You guys likely remember Dr. Michael Hopkins; he provided the research for our guides on red light therapyface cream, and hand sanitizers, among others.

Dr. Hopkins told me far more than I ever thought I would know about “between clean” toilet fresheners, and I will attempt to summarize our conversation here. What I learned was that there are dozens of automatic cleaning products.

But can any of them be considered Good Stuff? Let’s get too it.

What Are Automatic Toilet Cleaners?

There is a category of products designed to help keep your toilet bowl clean and your bathroom smelling fresh in between cleans. These products are either placed in the tank or attached below the rim of the bowl where they dissolve, releasing a cleaning agent for the purpose of preventing that unsightly ring from forming around the water line in the toilet bowl, and also disinfecting the toilet water to prevent the spread of germs.

These come in several forms, so I asked Dr. Hopkins to help me sort through the options, and more importantly, figure out if I should be using any of them in my toilets.

There are a few major problems with conventional automatic toilet cleaners. Bleach- or bromine-containing formulas release noxious fumes into the bathroom, and most come in individual plastic wrapping. Moreover, Dr. Hopkins says that “these products contain harsh chemicals like chlorine bleach, which can damage your plumbing system.”

The options currently on the market include:

  • Toilet Tank Puck. The original form of an automatic toilet cleaner is a drop-in-tank puck (think of the blue Ty-D-Bol tablet from the 90s that dyes the water for a “clean you can see!”). Unfortunately,
  • Tank Rim Block. This kind of bowl cleaner hangs from the rim inside the tank, which drains into the bowl each time it’s filled after flushing. Examples of a tank rim block cleaner are the Never Scrub system, the Fluidmaster Flush and Sparkle system, and the Kaboom system.
  • Bowl Rim Hanger. This is the kind that was in the toilets of my home when we moved in. It’s basically a basket that hooks onto the rim of the toilet bowl where water enters during flushing. Examples include the Global Industries “rim hanger” or the Lysol clip-on version.
  • Gel Stamps. These “gummy’” stamps stick to the inside of the bowl. Examples of this type are the Scrubbing Bubbles Fresh gels, as well as the Lysol automatic cleaning click gels.

Is There A Non-Toxic Automatic Toilet Cleaning Product?

In an effort to make safer and/or more sustainable automatic toilet cleaners, some manufacturers have removed bleach and bromine from their formulas, which does make them less harmful on plumbing hardware and potentially less toxic. However, in researching this category of products, I haven’t been able to find any commercially available product that could be categorized as “Good Stuff” due to synthetic fragrances, dyes, and other ingredients that are on our “never list.”

Odor-Reducing Products 

In interviewing Dr. Hopkins for this post, we diverged into a conversation about a second category of toilet products—those whose purpose is to maintain a neutral or fresh smell in the bathroom.

From lighting a (likely toxic) candle, to spraying a (likely toxic) aerosol spray, to installing a (likely toxic) plug-in, there are a wide variety of room-freshening products. Suffice it to say that they are all basically Bad Stuff, with one notable exception.

Toilet Bowl Spray or Drops

Dr. Hopkins is a big fan of the toilet bowl spray. Unlike a room spray or plug-in, this is a product that you spray directly onto the water in the toilet bowl before you sit down; it works by creating a barrier on the surface of the water to trap odors, while releasing a pleasant fragrance into the room.

If you’re familiar with this concept, you’ve probably heard of Poo-Pourri. Many other brands have now jumped into the game, the formula is quite straightforward. (You can also make a very simple DIY spray using alcohol and essential oils.)

Fatbergs: The Problem with Oil in Toilets 

If you’ve read anything about the growing sanitation infrastructure problem of fatbergs, then you know it is not advised to pour any fats, oils, or greases into your sink or toilet. This made me wonder about trying a product like Poo-Pourri that employs essential oils.

My final verdict is that essential oil toilet sprays are Good Stuff, especially when you consider the environmental concerns that come with lighting a scented candle or spraying an air freshener as an alternative. The trace amount of essential oil contained in a toilet spray or toilet drops is many orders of magnitude less than even a single frying pan of grease being dumped down a kitchen sink.

The only real drawback of toilet bowl spray, according to Dr. Hopkins, is the fact that users have to already know how it works and remember to spray it into the bowl before they sit down. And because the essential oil-based formula does not remain stable once sprayed onto the water, this task has to be performed with every use of the toilet.

Introducing SoPax for Non-Toxic Cleaning and Freshening

For the time-being, I’ll be scrubbing my toilet (with this) and skipping any kind of automatic cleaner. But soon, I’ll be trying Dr. Hopkins’ forthcoming product, SoPax.

“Our proprietary formula and microencapsulation process allows the SoPax to dissolve slowly over months, releasing a safe and non-toxic cleansing solution into the bowl with every flush, and coating the water with an odor-trapping barrier,” Dr. Hopkins told me. “At the same time, we are harnessing the power of fungi to treat waste in a process known as mycoremediation. To achieve this, specific mycelium that are able to degrade pollutants are encapsulated within SoPax and released in conjunction with the disinfecting and odor-blocking ingredients inside a substrate designed to break down after flushing.”

I admit that a lot of this is over my head, but I still cannot wait to try the SoPax 3-in-1 capsule. To summarize, the benefits of SoPax include:

  • Non-toxic gentle cleaning agent won’t damage plumbing.
  • Micro-encapsulation design allows for infrequent replacement.
  • Petrochemical-free biodegradable packaging.
  • Provides natural odor barrier on water surface with each flush.
  • Releases pollution-eating mycelium to support septic system function.

(Dr. Hopkins is also the co-founder of  SOVOS, an entirely new kind of toilet that’s more hygienic, ergonomic, and sustainable. You should also definitely be checking this out, especially if you’re an investor.)

Stay sane,

Maia, Founder & CEO

P.S. Sign up here if you’d like to learn more about SoPax and receive a sample when it’s brought to market!

Note: This article contains affiliate links or sponsored content, which means that if you make a purchase, we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that meet our strict standards for non-toxicity and that we use (or want to use!) ourselves. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that make Good Stuff! 

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3 responses to “Automatic Toilet Cleaners: Searching for Good Stuff”

  1. Jillian Pelliccio Avatar
    Jillian Pelliccio

    Are the links to SoPax and SOVOS working?

    1. Graham Goss Avatar
      Graham Goss

      Thanks so much for catching that Jillian! We will get them fixed.

  2. Jeanette lang Avatar
    Jeanette lang

    Thank you!