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How to Remove Hard Water Stains from a Toilet

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

If you live in an area with a hard water supply, you might have noticed an occasional mineral buildup in your toilet. This can appear as white scales, yellow stains, or even rust, depending on your toilet material and how hard your water is.

Some of these stains are harmless but nobody wants to use a dirty toilet. It is always best to address these issues as soon as possible, to prevent them from becoming worse and potentially causing more serious damage to your toilet or plumbing as a whole.

In this article, we will explain how to remove hard water stains from a toilet using three different methods. You might even be able to remove them using products that are already in your kitchen cabinets.


Before You Start

When you want to remove bowl rings or other hard water stains from a toilet, your first task is to empty the toilet bowl. This will ensure your cleaner can work properly without being washed away prematurely.

You can empty the bowl by using a toilet plunger to get rid of all the water. Once it is empty, use a cloth or paper towels to wipe down the toilet bowl. An empty toilet bowl means the cleaning product won’t become too diluted.

If you don’t have a plunger, shut off the water valve to the toilet. Flush it and the water should be removed from the bowl, leaving it empty.

Ways of Removing Hard Water Stains from Toilet

Removing Hard Water Toilet Stains with Vinegar

Warning

Using this method means you won’t be able to use the toilet for a few hours. Take this into account if you only have access to one toilet and consider doing it before you go to bed for the night.

1. Fill the Bowl

Start by filling the toilet bowl with cleaning vinegar. Cleaning vinegar is far more acidic than water (1), so it is much more effective at cutting through any scale deposits. However, if you don’t have access to cleaning vinegar, you can use ordinary white vinegar instead.

Fill the bowl until you cover the hard water stains. Try to pour it around the edges of the bowl as well, so it can clean the sides as it slides down to the bottom.

As hard water is alkaline, the best way to remove its residue is by neutralizing it with acid. At the same time, you don’t want to corrode your toilet’s finish, so vinegar is an excellent choice as it is relatively mild.

2. Spread It

Spread the vinegar around the sides of the bowl using a rag or cloth. Give special attention to the rim and the area immediately below it, as hard water stains might have formed here out of sight.

If there are also spots on the outside of the toilet, you can use the rag to spread the cleaner there as well. If you are dealing with very stubborn stains, soak a piece of toilet paper in vinegar and attach it to the stain.

Leave the bowl full of vinegar overnight to give it enough time to break up the stains and any other deposits.

3. Scrub

Use a stiff nylon toilet brush to scrub the entire bowl. You might need to apply some old-fashioned elbow grease to the heavy stains. However, lighter spots should have dissolved completely during the vinegar soak.

If you have trouble accessing the tight spots, use a smaller brush such as a dish brush — just remember to never use the same brush on dishes. You could also use steel wool, but check whether or not this might scratch your toilet’s finish.

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

4. Repeat

If some heavy stains remain after scrubbing the bowl, repeat the entire process. However, if the stains are only small, they might only require some more scrubbing to remove.

Removing Hard Water Toilet Stains With Borax

1. Create a Paste

To remove small, tough hard water stains from your toilet, you can create a borax paste by mixing equal amounts of borax and water.

2. Apply

Apply the paste onto the stain and leave it there for 20 minutes. Borax is mildly alkaline, at around 9 on the pH scale (2).

However, it is highly effective at removing mineral deposits due to its active ingredient sodium borate. Sodium borate softens water, so it also eliminates hard water stains (3).

3. Scrub and Rinse

Give the bowl a firm scrub using a nylon brush. Once you have finished scrubbing, flush the toilet to rinse it.

Using Vinegar and Baking Soda

1. Pour Vinegar Into the Bowl

Fill the bowl with vinegar by pouring it around the sides and edges. Use a toilet brush to swirl it and then leave it 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 onto the baking soda. This mixture should fizz — leave it to work for about 10 minutes.

3. Stir

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

Leave the baking soda and vinegar solution for up to 30 minutes. You should swirl it around the bowl a couple of times during that half hour but don’t flush the toilet.

4. Scrub

The baking soda and vinegar should have dissolved most stains but, if any remain, scrub them with a toilet brush. You can also use a smaller brush or pumice stone.

When all the stains are gone, flush the toilet to rinse it.

Removing Hard Water Toilet Stains With Chemicals

1. Protect Yourself

Before you work with chemical toilet cleaners, you must protect yourself. Wear gloves and an apron (preferably plastic) to protect your skin and clothes.

Avoid Contact

Acidic cleaners, especially ones containing hydrochloric acid, are very harmful if they come into contact with your skin or any other part of your body. Wear protective gear and keep the bathroom well ventilated (4).

You should also keep a wet cloth or rag nearby when using a chemical cleaner to remove hard water stains from a toilet. This will be very important if you accidentally spill any chemical cleaner on your floor or tiles, as you can quickly wipe it away.

2. Use Diluted Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid is the most effective chemical to use against hard water stains. Its high acidity and abrasiveness will cut through heavy buildup.

Use a product such as ZEP Acidic Toilet Bowl Cleaner. This is a gel that can be poured straight into the bowl. Whichever chemical cleaner you choose, be sure to closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Toxic Fumes

Never mix hydrochloric acid with bleach as this will release highly toxic fumes. If you use an in-tank cleaner, remove it and flush the toilet multiple times as these products usually contain bleach.
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3. Scrub

Gently scrub the bowl using a nylon brush. Try to clean under the rim to remove any hidden hard water stains. Use gentle movements to avoid flicking the solution everywhere, as this could damage the surrounding surfaces.

Once you are satisfied that you have removed the stains, flush the toilet a few times. This might seem excessive but hydrochloric acid cleaners are highly abrasive and will damage your bowl if left in them for too long.

FAQs

Does Coke Get Rid of Hard Water Stains in a Toilet?

Coke can eliminate hard water stains in the toilet because it’s made from citric, carbonic, and phosphoric acids. Naturally, you want to avoid using Coke to clean your toilet because its color will stain the water bowl.

Plus, the sugar content of this beverage can be food for certain bacteria. It’s best to use Coke only when dealing with stubborn stains, like those caused by rust or limescale.

Does WD-40 Remove Hard Water Stains in a Toilet?

You can use WD-40 to remove hard water stains in a toilet. It also works for tough lime stains. Spray a small amount of this solution in the toilet and allow it to sit for a few minutes.

Scrub with a toilet brush and flush the toilet. Always ventilate your bathroom properly before using WD-40 and read the instructions on the back of the recipient.

Does CLR Remove Brown Toilet Stains?

If the brown stains in your toilet are caused by rust, you can use CLR to remove them. The product’s formula is also effective against limescale or hard water stains.

Brown stains are usually a cause of rust particles that end up in the toilet bowl. Aside from using CLR to clean these stains, you should also call in a plumber, as this could be a sign of rusted pipes.

That means you have to replace them. Avoid leaving rusted pipe issues unattended because they can lead to further complications and expensive repairs.

Does Oxiclean Remove Hard Water Stains from a Toilet?

OxiClean can remove hard water stains from a toilet, but it might not be the best solution if you’re dealing with tough stains.

OxiClean is an antibacterial product that uses a bleach-free formula to remove viruses and bacteria from the toilet bowl. It can also eliminate mild stains from the toilet and other bathroom products

What is the Best Hard Water Stain Remover for Toilets?

If you don’t want to purchase any commercial stain removers, baking soda and vinegar are a great solution for removing hard water stains from toilets.

Pour a cup of vinegar into the toilet bowl, ensuring it’s all over the hard water stains. Use a brush to move it around the bowl and allow it to sit for a minute.

Put a cup of baking soda on top and add one more vinegar cup. Let the solution fizz for about 10 minutes. Take your toilet brush and swipe the solution over the hard water stains. Leave it for another half an hour.

Scrub any remaining stains with your toilet brush. Rinse the toilet and repeat the process if you still notice hard water stains in the toilet bowl.


Prevent Hard Water Stains

Ultimately, preventing hard water stains is the most reliable way to keep your toilet bowl clean. Regular cleaning will remove hard water residue before it can harden and accumulate into larger mineral deposits that are more difficult to remove. Brush your toilet daily to remove any excess water in the bowl, and keep the lid down when flushing to prevent water from splashing out of the toilet and creating more stains.

Whenever you notice any larger buildups or stains being created, you can perform a more thorough clean using one of the methods listed in this article. This should keep your toilet looking as good as new for years to come.

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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.