How to Remove Hard Water Stains from a Toilet

Grime and scale in your toilet? Here are 3 cleaning methods that really work.

If you live in an area with hard water, you’ll most likely see the occasional mineral buildup in your toilet. You might see white scales, yellow stains, and even rust showing up.

Luckily, there are many effective methods when removing hard water stains from a toilet. You can even use a few ingredients from your pantry.

Before You Start

When you want to remove hard water stains from a toilet or bowl rings, the first thing you have to do is empty the bowl to get better results faster.

You can empty the bowl by using a toilet plunger to get rid of all the water. Once empty, use a cloth to wipe down the toilet bowl. An empty toilet bowl will ensure that the product you’re using won’t be too diluted.

If you don’t have a plunger, try turning off the water valve for the toilet. Flush it, and all of the water should leave the bowl.

Ways of Removing Hard Water Stains from Toilet

Removing Hard Water Toilet Stains with Vinegar


This method requires the toilet to have some downtime. Take this into account if you only have access to one toilet.

1. Fill the Bowl

Start by filling the toilet bowl with cleaning vinegar. Cleaning vinegar is more acidic compared to regular water (1). Therefore, it’s much better at cutting through the scale. However, if you don’t have the cleaning version, use regular vinegar.

Fill the bowl until you cover the hard water stains. Try to pour it up around the edges of the bowl as well.

Because hard water is alkaline, the best way to beat it is by using acid. You don’t want to corrode the stainless steel, and, therefore, vinegar is an excellent choice.

2. Spread It

Spread the vinegar around the sides of the bowl using a rag or cloth. Pay close attention to the rim, and underneath it, as hard water stains may be hiding here.

If there are spots on the outside of the toilet, us the rag to spread it there as well. If you’re dealing with very stubborn stains, soak a piece of toilet paper in vinegar and stick it onto the stain.

Leave the bowl full of vinegar overnight to work its magic.

3. Scrub

Use a stiff nylon toilet brush to scrub the entire bowl. You might need to use some good old elbow grease on the heavy stains. However, lighter spots should be entirely dissolved after the vinegar soak.

If you’re having trouble getting into the tight spots, use a smaller brush such as a dish brush — don’t use this on dishes after. You can also use steel wool, but be careful not to scratch the bowl.

Consider using a pumice stone to scrub the stains. These are less abrasive than steel wool and work effectively with a cleaner such as vinegar.

4. Repeat

If after scrubbing some stains remain, repeat the process from step 1. If the stains are minimal, you may only need to do some more scrubbing.

Removing Hard Water Toilet Stains With Borax

1. Make a Paste

For minor, tough stains, try using a borax paste by mixing equal parts of borax and water.

2. Apply

Apply the paste onto the stain and leave it for 20 minutes. Borax is a mild alkali, hitting the pH-scale at around 9 (2).

However, it’s highly effective at removing mineral deposits due to its active ingredient sodium borate. Sodium borate softens water and, therefore, eliminates hard water stains (3).

3. Scrub and Rinse

Give the bowl a good scrub using a nylon brush. Once finished, flush the toilet to rinse.

Using Vinegar and Baking Soda

1. Pour Vinegar Into the Bowl

Fill the bowl with vinegar and try to pour it around the sides and edges. Use the toilet brush to swish it around a little bit and then leave to sit for a minute.

2. Add Baking Soda

Sprinkle a cup of baking soda all over the bowl. Then add one or two cups of vinegar on top of the baking soda. This solution will create a fizzing effect — allow it to sit for 10 minutes.

3. Swish Around

Use a toilet brush to swish the solution around the bowl. Get it up to the sides and under the rim. You can also use a rag or cloth to help spread it.

Leave the baking soda and vinegar solution to sit for up to 30 minutes. Try to swish it around a couple of times within the half-hour, but avoid flushing.

4. Scrub

The baking soda and vinegar should have dissolved most stains; however, if some remain, use a brush to scrub. You can also try a smaller brush or pumice stone.

When all stains are gone, flush the toilet.

Removing Hard Water Toilet Stains With Chemicals

1. Protect Yourself

Because we’re going to be working with chemical toilet cleaners for this method, you must protect yourself. Put on some gloves and an apron (preferably plastic) to protect your skin and clothes.

Avoid Contact

Acidic cleaners, especially ones with hydrochloric acid, are very dangerous if exposed to the skin or any other part of your body. Wear protective gear and keep the bathroom well ventilated (4).

We also recommend that you keep a wet cloth or rag close at hand. If you were to spill any on the floor or surrounding tiles, wipe it away with the rag.

2. Use Diluted Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid is the best chemical to use in the fight against hard water stains. The high acidic and abrasiveness enables it to cut through heavy buildup.

Use a product such as the ZEP Acidic Toilet Bowl Cleaner. This can be poured straight into the bowl and comes as a gel. Use the product you chose as directed.

Toxic Fumes

Hydrochloric acid should never be mixed with bleach. This will cause toxic fumes. If you have an in-tank cleaner, remove it and flush multiple times since these usually contain bleach.
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3. Scrub

Gently scrub the bowl using a nylon brush. Get in under the rim to get all of the hard water stains. Use gentle movements as not to splatter the solution everywhere — this could cause damage to the surrounding surfaces.

Flush the toilet a few times once you’ve removed all the hard water stains. Hydrochloric acid cleaners are highly abrasive and shouldn’t be left in the bowl.

Prevent Hard Water Stains

Prevention is key in the fight against hard water stains. By maintaining your toilet, you can avoid a buildup of minerals that are tricky to remove. Brush the toilet daily to get rid of excess water in the bowl, and keep the lid down when flushing.

When you begin to notice any buildup or stain, do a deep clean using one of the methods above.

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About the Author

Peter Gray

Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.