my bathroom needs an adult


It’s bad, guys. Real bad.

My apartment isn’t nice, per se: it’s old, and anything that’s not old is the cheapest whatever possible. But I’m lucky in that where old stuff was replaced with cheap new stuff, at least it was installed mostly correctly. All of the outlets work and we don’t have to have have a complicated refrigerator magnet-blowdryer-microwave notification system to avoid blowing fuses. The doorbell works, the landlord isn’t a dick about paying for a plumber when the sink clogs, and whoever painted the walls before I did actually did it totally correctly. Ten years of renting in NYC has made all of these things very, very valuable to me.

None of that applies to the bathroom, though. The stuff that’s original to the building is in great shape but everything else is a total shitshow.

I mean, REALLY?!?! I’ve never done any tiling work whatsoever but I apparently know ten thousand times more about it than whoever is responsible for this. Like, just ignoring everything else, THE TILES DON’T EVEN LINE UP AT THE CORNER. WHY?????

There are huge chunks of missing grout everywhere. I might be wrong but it looks like grout was somehow piped on like caulk and then just left to dry like that, which is completely insane because that’s not even the proper way to apply caulk. It’s the proper way to apply decorative cake frosting, and that’s about it. It’s not even the right KIND of grout for gaps this size, ffs. And I’m not sure if you’re supposed to use caulk or grout on the corner seams, but whoever did mine used both. It’s an interesting technique, which has resulted in mold patches taking refuge underneath the caulk, then slowly and disgustingly destroying the grout from underneath.


Speaking of caulk:

That’s where the tub meets the floor and… there used to be caulk I guess? And someone removed it? And then just said “fuck it” and packed up and left? Maybe those are actually grout smears and there was never caulk in the first place? The world may never know, because it’s gross and I refuse to touch it to find out.

But I guess maybe that’s a good thing, because also speaking of caulk:

Yeah, that was clear caulk once. Now it’s full of black mold. Neat!. Also notice the two types of tiles, because who could be expected to buy two entire boxes of the same color of tiles? This is a great feature, because grime shows up immediately on the white ones, and after you clean everything the speckled ones still look dirty. It’s really the best of both worlds.

Oh, and speaking of mold:

I’m not sure what people did before the 50’s (which, according to this delightful article, is when vent fans became common in bathrooms), but my disgusting bathroom obviously does not have a fan and therefore looks like this.  (No, “open a window” is not a helpful suggestion. I live in Chicago, where the threat of gun violence pales in comparison to the risk of weather-related suicide.There are like six days per year where it is not either too cold or too humid to shower next to an open window.) (Although the next person who tells me “can’t you just open a window?” is risking some pretty severe Eliza-related violence.)

The mold stretches across about half of the entire bathroom ceiling and is frankly pretty horrifying. It’s killing the paint, the air quality, and my mental health. I’ve tried all the internet remedies and nothing makes more than a tiny, temporary dent. (My cleaning guy even suggested I mix toilet bowl cleaner with bleach and spray it on every day, which makes me consider I might not be tipping him enough, or maybe I am tipping him WAY too much.)

This corner doesn’t look that bad in the picture, but it is. Trust me. And please observe the awful yellowing plastic shower head that leaks about as much water as it sprays out.

Then there’s the shower caddy:

I guess I can’t technically blame my landlord for this one, since I’m the one who bought and installed this, but holy shit this thing is TERRIBLE. I’m kind of at a loss about what to do for shower storage. Bottles on the edge of the tub make me homicidal and I absolutely cannot stand the caddies that hang on the shower head, but all of the corner tension shelf things like this one either look like this one, or cost nine gazillion dollars. (Seriously, simplehuman prices are basically terrorism and I don’t know why nobody’s doing anything about it.)

Here’s a picture I took last summer and used in my Craigslist ad for a roommate:

(Luckily my new roommate is a perfect human being it would never even occur to them to care about 99% of the things I spend my time obsessing about.)

It’s not, like, unlivable once you cover up the mold. I actually kind of love the giant formica vanity– it has sparkly gold flakes in it and the weird angles kind of remind me of classic sci-fi spaceship control desks. (“Control desk” can’t possibly be the right words, but you know what I mean.) No grooming stuff except toothbrush bases is allowed out in the open so even though it takes up half of the space in the bathroom, I love having the storage. And I can’t change it anyway, so whatever. It’s fine. And check out the adorbs faucet!

I think this faucet is my favorite thing in the entire apartment. The weird bandaid color of the sink and tub is SUPER annoying because almost ANY other color would have at least been interesting, while this pinky-beigey-yellowish is just difficult to coordinate with in addition to being super boring, but I’m trying to get better at picking my battles. (Side note: what are those chrome recessed areas for? Nothing fits in them, not even tiny soaps. They’re so weird!)

This picture is basically the extent of my efforts so far to improve the bathroom:

Yep, I painted the vanity doors and taped three Ikea rugs together with duct tape to cover up the hideous-but-intact tile. It’s like a whole new bathroom, right?? Well, no, it’s basically identical, and the line of moldy caulk is still the first thing you see when you walk in the room, and I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. I despise showers in the first place (really, I hate all forms of moisture on my skin–swimming pools, rain, and hot tubs are all torture) and the grossness of this bathroom is basically eating away at my soul and my happiness.

So last week I bought a grout saw and a gallon of mold-killing oops paint, and I’m gearing up to do a huge (but renter-friendly) refresh in here. I’m going to do a whole post about my plans, but here’s a preview of where I’m at so far:

I still have to figure out what to do about shower storage and a shower head and a few other things, but this is the general idea. (Yes, that’s new flooring. Yes, this is a rental. But there’s only 28 square feet of floor space and I have A Plan.)

Oh and here’s one additional fun fact I forgot to include! After having upper respiratory problems for like three solid months last fall I ordered one of those mail-in mold tests to see if the apartment was poisoning me yet again. I think it was like $70 all in, and these were the results:

So basically I’d just like everyone to know that the DIY Mold Test – Easy Mold Test on Amazon is fake news because LOOK AT ALL THAT MOLD.



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  1. I love your vanity! The shape is so cool and I kind of don’t hate the color of your sink, but I think a fun color like pink or mint green would be pretty cool. I have always been curious (and feel free to dismiss this question as Too Nosy if I am being too nosy) but is your landlord cool with you doing these types of projects? I assume it’s win-win if you do a good job. I’ve always lived in apartments managed by an outside company instead of having a personal relationship with my landlord, so maybe that’s the difference. I follow a girl on IG who put in wood floors and a fake brick wall in her Brooklyn apartment, so maybe this sort of thing is more common in cities instead of the ‘burbs

    1. I actually have no idea how my landlord feels about it ? He literally has not been in the apartment since he showed it to me three years ago. A while ago I asked him if he would split the cost of paint with me (the walls were in baaaad shape) and his response was basically “do what you want but I’m not paying for it.” So I’m just kind of, um, running with that. My general rule is to only make permanent changes to things that are clearly in terrible condition/at the end of their useful lives, and do take plenty of pictures of just how terrible they were in case I get any pushback later.

      I think you’re right that this stuff is more common in cities, especially cities where very few people own homes and even expensive places are falling apart. Landlords in those places tend to not give a fuck about anything other than whether you’re paying rent. If it’s clear that there was zero thought put into a place (vinyl baseboards, brass boob light fixtures, etc), there’s a good chance they won’t care about or even notice any changes.

      I realize it’s definitely not everybody’s preference, but I’d rather live in a cheaper, neglected unit and spend the money once to fix it up to my tastes, rather than pay more every month to live in a well-maintained beige box 🙂

      1. Whoa, on one hand, it must be irritating to have a landlord who wouldn’t split PAINT with you, but on the other hand…sounds like a great opportunity to do what you want!

    1. Whoa thank you for this!! I’d never heard of Evolve, but they have a shower head on Amazon that ticks all my boxes and is less than $40!

    1. I’ve seen those before but I’m always skeptical of suction cups. Super exciting to hear that they actually work!

  2. My apartment bathroom has lovely 50s pink tile in the shower. The walls are beige, the floor is this weird faux stone laminate “tile,” and the vanity is an orange-y wood. So basically a lot of weird colors that I had to try and work around in order to avoid clashing with, well, everything.

    I ended up going with a white linen shower curtain (so it doesn’t clash with the pink tile behind it), a navy blue rug (blue is actually a compliment color to pink, and also to orange, plus I just like blue), and silver metal Ikea shelves installed over the toilet. All other accents are warm toned wood, white, gray, or blue.

    It works pretty well. I would love to paint and change the tile and all that, but that won’t fly with this landlord, so…. it works for now.

  3. Please don’t hurt that vintage tile floor! It’s what’s tying together the sink and tub color. If you cover it up then the sink and tub will look out of place and weird. I say embrace your awesome gold sparkle spaceship vanity and embrace the floor that was built to match it!

    Oh PS, those recessed chrome thingies are definitely soap dishes but they’re supposed to have a removable (cleanable) insert that makes the soap fit. Like so:

    1. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt the floor! (My general rule in apartments is to not permanently alter things that are ugly but structurally sound.) I just hate it so, so much. I would be totally happy with it if the dark brown tiles weren’t there, but those tiles combined with the dark grout make the room seem so tiny and dirty 🙁

      Thanks for the soap dish link! (I’m assuming that’s not actually a toilet paper holder, because that would be insane.) I wonder if there are other kinds of inserts? Or maybe whoever designed my bathroom needed places to store two different kinds of soaps?

  4. Wow – your sink is EXACTLY the same one as we had in my parents’ house (built ca. 1959) – same pink color, same metal band around the outside. And the matching tub too. (Our toilet was the same color as well, but those old high-flow units are extinct now, so no surprise yours isn’t matchy-matchy.) Not only that, but we had the same speckled formica countertop. The only thing you don’t have is our sheet linoleum flooring with speckles of blue and pink and gold and copper and the exciting capability to warp. That and our lovely wallpaper (Pink Poodles on Parade!) (obvs, builders in those days were selling to the ladies of the house).

    Amy is correct: your chrome wall things would have had inserts – one for soap, the other with a space for a glass and holders for 4 toothbrushes. Those were the days…

    The original tile surrounding the tub was also probably the same pink; if it got damaged (likely in an apartment), there’d have been no way for them to match it – hence the white tile (and poorer workmanship).

    For the mold problem on your walls: don’t use toilet bowl cleaner ’cause the active ingredient in that (the thing that’ll help your problem) is just the bleach. I’m sure somewhere on teh interwebz you can find some good methods for bleaching walls and ceilings (sponge? spray? both?) – companies that “remediate” mold damage in houses have to have some tricks you could use.

    Then once it’s bleached clean, maybe try a paint with the best mildewcide you can find, in a gloss that won’t trap moisture. (I’ve done some work for paint companies – they have hyper-products these days that should really help.)

    Thanks as always for your post, Eliza! Love your writing style!

    1. Thanks Aggie ! 😀 I would kill a matching toilet and matching tiles! It looks like the shower tiles have been partially switched out at least three times If I thought my landlord would go for it, I would LOVE to track down some peach tiles and redo the whole thing. Tragically I think the toilet was replaced mere days before I moved in (back before the landlord hated me and refused to do any more work on the apartment.)

      I googled Pink Poodles on Parade and got a lot of different patterns but they are all incredible. I’m so jealous! I’m actually really strongly considering doing some wallpaper in here, since I’ve heard that modern wallpaper is pretty trivially easy to remove when you move out. Technology is amazing!

      My cleaning guy actually specifically wanted me to mix bleach with an ammonia-based toilet cleaner, which I’m pretty sure is against the Geneva Convention. (Like, literally.) I gave up on internet recipes and attacked it with straight bleach and it took care of it immediately. It was like magic.

  5. But who pays $74 for a shower curtain?!? ?
    Soo.. just found you. Love!! Can’t wait to go back and catch up through your posts. I’m in escrow on a 1924 craftsman home & there’s so many fun projects to tackle it will take me a while. As the kitchen will be he most costly, your kitchen update will get me through until then!!

  6. I used mold killing primer on a ceiling above a closed in shower, a year later it looks awesome and the ceiling I didn’t paint outside the shower looks terrible. Good choice!

  7. I’ve got the bandaid color tub. I hung a pole up high and my grey/white shower curtain goes to the floor. Done. Sink/vanity and ‘commode’ are thankfully new and white. I just spray white vinegar on my grout and as a preventive. I made that part up i’m sure..preventive. It’s non toxic as you know, but I just remembered I filled an old spray bottle with watered down bleach and spray that now. How I’ve changed. I spray the vinyl shower curtain liner with that too, and no more killing my arms taking it down etc etc.. Leave your bathroom door open too and your kitchen fan if you have one on when showering/tubbing..if it’s near. I used to have to do that in a prev ‘crappy apartment I fixed as well as I could. Exactly about the landlord, no see, no care, just do. BONUS about a jerky landlord.

  8. For a funny situation, I passed by this blog because I was reading about how to hide a hideous wall AC unit. Then I decided to read the other articles. And I’m just so shook. I thought my apartment was in terrible condition but your bathroom is worse regarding mold and age. My bathroom has a window and also has a ventilation system. The ventilation looks like it’s from the 80s and doesn’t work very well. I also don’t want to open the window in the bathroom when it’s too humid or too damn cold. However, I complained about not having heat once and the landlord claimed it’s cold in the apartment because I have the bathroom window open. Okay, I guess next time I’ll keep it closed. So when it’s moldy, it’s not me to blame.