After a long day of traveling, you finally get home after some time away, and make a beeline for the bathroom, and a familiar toilet. Except instead of the gleaming white toilet bowl you left behind, you find one full of brown lines and a ring. This is (probably) because you live in the 85% of the United States that has hard water.
If you were only away for a short period of time, your usual cleaner and a quick swirl of your toilet brush should take care of any new stains. But stains that have been there for several weeks (or months, or years) will be far more stubborn. Here’s how to rid your toilet bowl of its worst hard water stains.
What causes hard water stains in toilets?
Hard water contains dissolved minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron. When hard water dries on surfaces like chrome sink faucets, it often leaves behind chalky, white stains (which are technically mineral deposits).
That residue can end up in the dry parts of your toilet bowl, too, but if your toilet is white, you probably don’t notice it. It’s much harder to ignore brown or rust-colored rings or stains, which are typically the result of having iron or manganese compounds in your water.
How to remove hard water stains from your toilet
Start with vinegar and baking soda, then work your way up to the other methods:
Vinegar and baking soda
- Pour about 1 cup of white vinegar into your toilet over the stains.
- Sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda over the stains in the bowl, followed by another cup of vinegar. Let it fizz for 10-15 minutes.
- Mix the vinegar/baking soda solution with the toilet brush, using it to scrub the bowl.
- Let it sit for about 30 minutes, then brush the bowl again, and flush. If the stains are still there, you can repeat the process.
Vinegar and borax (or salt)
This is best to try when you plan to be home all or most of the day:
- Make a paste of borax (or salt) and white vinegar.
- Spread a thick coat on any stains or rings near the rim of the toilet bowl.
- Spritz with vinegar throughout the day as the paste dries out.
- After 8-10 hours, use your toilet brush to give the whole bowl a final scrub, and flush.
Do not attempt to use citric acid to clean your toilet if your home has a septic system. Otherwise, here’s what to do:
- Remove the water from your toilet bowl.
- Spritz any dry areas on the surface of the empty bowl with water, then immediately sprinkle citric acid powder on the stains.
- Leave it overnight.
- The next day, use your toilet brush to scrub the bowl.
- Flush to rinse.
While using a pumice stone or stick will likely remove the worst of your toilet bowl hard water stains, it should be kept as a last resort, rather than your go-to method. That’s because pumice can scratch porcelain toilets, and permanently damage those made of marble, laminate, plastic, or fiberglass—so don’t even attempt this method if you have any of those.
If you have a porcelain toilet and are out of other options, make sure that both the pumice stone and the stained surface are completely wet. Then, gently scrub the stains or rings with the wet stone until they are gone. Rinse it all away with a final flush.
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