How to Remove Hard Water Stains from Tiles

Cleaning tiles around the home is sometimes our last priority. Some of us don’t even notice them! However, ignoring them can lead to a buildup of minerals and limescale, which, let’s be honest, doesn’t look good.

There are different methods for removing hard water from tiles, but it comes down to personal preference. Some methods (like those using harsh chemicals) are best suited for heavier staining.

Table of Contents

    What Causes Hard Water Stains?

    If you live in an area with hard water, you might be noticing a few signs around your home. Things like reduced water flow, limescale build-up, and cloudy stains on glasses are all caused by hard water (1).

    As you wash your floors or take a shower, the water that’s left on the tiles will evaporate naturally, leaving calcium and magnesium spots behind (2). Over time, these spots can build up and become more difficult to remove. Common areas for water spots are on tile flooring and walls, and the area around the shower or bath drain.

    Vinegar and Baking Soda

    1. Make a Paste

    Start by mixing equal parts of vinegar and baking soda in a bowl or container. This mixture creates a mildly abrasive solution that should get hard water stains out quickly.

    The powerful combo is often used to clear drains of mineral buildup. When the two are combined, they exchange molecules and create carbon dioxide bubbles that lift and dissolve the mineral deposits (3). Additionally, the abrasiveness of baking soda will physically loosen mineral deposits on the grout and tile.

    2. Apply

    After mixing the combo well, smear the paste on the affected area — you might need to make another batch if you don’t have enough.

    Leave the paste to sit for up to 10 minutes, then scrub the tiles and grout with a sponge or brush. Use circular motions as this will help to loosen the buildup.

    3. Rinse

    Rinse the entire area with clean water to get rid of the paste. Finish off by wiping away excess water using a clean cloth or towel — you can also use a squeegee. It’s essential to get the excess water off so it won’t cause new hard water stains.

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    Vinegar Soak

    1. Soak the Area

    Start by soaking the area in vinegar, pouring a generous amount on the affected area. Leave to soak for five minutes, then scrub with a sponge or brush and rinse with clean water. You can also soak a cloth in vinegar and then place it on the stained area.

    2. Allow to Sit

    Leave the cloth for five to 10 minutes. Remove it and scrub with a sponge, then rinse with clean water.

    3. Wipe and Dry

    Wipe the area with a clean cloth to remove any excess water.

    Hydrochloric Acid

    1. Find a Product

    Hydrochloric acid is highly abrasive and should be handled with care (4). It’s best to find a commercial product that contains the acid instead of using a concentrate since this will be less hazardous. An effective product is ZEP Grout and Tile Cleaner.

    2. Follow the Instructions and Apply

    Read the directions carefully on the label to ensure you’re using the product as it should be. Hydrochloric acid can damage grout and tile if used incorrectly (5).

    Dilute the product as directed or spray it directly onto the affected area if it’s a prediluted formula. Allow the product to sit on the tiles for as long as recommended, then scrub with a sponge.

    Stay safe

    Keep the room well-ventilated and wear protective gear such as gloves and a mask. Hydrochloric acid can produce dangerous fumes, so it’s essential to protect yourself (6).

    3. Rinse

    Rinse the area well with clean water — this is very important to get rid of the acid. Finish off by wiping the tiles and grout with a clean cloth.

    Micro-Abrasive Cleaner

    For this method, you need a micro-abrasive product, such as Bon Ami. This is a mildly abrasive powder that can be used on kitchen surfaces and on tiles.

    1. Make a Paste

    Mix equal parts of the powder and water to create a paste. Apply it to the area and leave it to sit for 15 minutes.

    2. Rub the Area

    Use a damp cloth or sponge to rub the area and get rid of the stains. Rinse thoroughly with water and wipe to dry. If the stains are only mild, sprinkle the powder on and scrub with a damp sponge or cloth.

    3. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse with clean water when done to remove excess paste. Don’t forget to dry the area, or hard water stains will reform.

    Tips and Tricks

    Removing hard water stains doesn’t have to be all that difficult. However, as with any other type of stain, it’s essential to act fast. Here are a few extra tips:

    • Prevent stains: By preventing hard water stains, you minimize the time and effort required to remove them. After taking a shower or cleaning, rinse the tiles with clean water and wipe with a towel or cloth.
    • Use lemon juice: Acid is very effective at cutting through limescale and mineral buildup. Lemon juice is a great alternative to vinegar or hydrochloric acid. Pour a generous amount of juice on the area and leave it for an hour before rinsing.
    • Natural stone tiles: When cleaning natural stone tiles, you must avoid acidic cleaners. These can damage and etch the surface. Instead use a neutral detergent and a soft brush to scrub the tiles gently (7).

    Stains Be Gone

    We know how frustrating hard water stains are to deal with. Depending on how hard your water is, the buildup can be quite substantial, making it harder to remove. The sooner you clean the area, the better. Don’t forget to rinse and dry the tiles after water exposure to prevent more stains from appearing.

    Acid is one of the most effective products you can use on hard water stains. However, this shouldn’t be used on natural stone tiles such as marble and travertine.

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