How to Clean Hard Water Stains in Your Toilet (5 Methods)

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Noticed murky gray stains or brown in your toilet that won’t shift with regular cleaning? You’re probably dealing with limescale.

Hard water stains are tough to remove, especially in a difficult-to-access location like your toilet bowl. However, you can effectively remove hard water stains with the right cleaning tools and methods. Don’t worry – you shouldn’t have to buy a new toilet!

Here, we’ve discussed the 5 best methods to clean hard water stains from your toilet.

πŸ“Œ Key Takeaways:

  • You can use vinegar, baking soda, citric acid, lemon juice, and other natural or chemical cleaners to remove stains caused by hard water.
  • Acidic cleaners are ideal for targeting limescale because they react with the alkaline compounds present, neutralizing and dissolving deposits.
  • The only way to prevent hard water stains from returning is by installing a water softener in your home.

πŸ€” What Are Hard Water Stains?

Hard water stains are chalky white/gray stains that form when hard water (which has a high mineral content) comes into contact with surfaces.

Dried hard water leads to a mineral buildup on sinks, bathtubs, shower walls, and toilets. The majority of US states have hard water.

If you allow stubborn hard water stains to accumulate, they’ll become increasingly difficult to remove. However, in most cases, limescale deposits don’t cause permanent damage, and you can effectively tackle hard water stains in your toilet with the proper know-how.

Hard water stains in faucet

🚰 How To Remove Hard Water Stains From A Toilet Bowl

Below, you’ll find the most effective methods to eliminate hard water stains from your toilet.

Baking Soda & Vinegar

Our top recommended method to remove hard water stains from your toilet bowl is the vinegar and baking soda method.

Both of these natural cleaners are equally safe and effective to use against limescale, eliminating your need for toxic chemicals and harsh cleaners.

We’ve discussed what you’ll need, and what to do, below.

Materials Needed:

  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Toilet brush
  • Rubber gloves (optional, for protection)

Instructions:

  1. Measure two cups of undiluted white vinegar and pour these into your toilet.
  2. Scrub your toilet with the toilet brush, making sure to cover all areas with hard water stains.
  3. Let the solution sit for 1 minute.
  4. Measure 1 cup of baking soda and add it to your toilet. The mixture should foam and fizz to show that it’s working.
  5. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  6. Use your toilet brush to scrub the insides of your toilet bowl again.
  7. Wait another 30 minutes to let the baking soda and vinegar take effect.
  8. Scrub your toilet bowl once more if the hard water stains are above the water line.
  9. Flush the toilet to rinse.

Note: You’ll need to put your back into scrubbing the stains, especially if they’re above the water line. But make sure to use a non-abrasive toilet brush to avoid scratching your toilet’s ceramic surface.

Baking soda for cleaning toilet

Coca Cola

Believe it or not, Coca Cola (or Coke to many of us) is an ideal natural cleaner. Coke can effectively remove limescale due to its acidic nature.

It contains carbonic acid and phosphoric acid, which lift stubborn stains, especially when left to sit for a few hours.

So, if you have a can of Cola in your fridge, and you can spare it for cleaning purposes, it’s another option to consider as a limescale toilet cleaner.

Here’s how to remove mineral deposits from a toilet bowl with Coca Cola:

Materials Needed:

  • One can of Coke
  • Toilet brush
  • Rubber gloves (optional, for protection)

Instructions:

  1. Pour a can of Cola into your toilet bowl.
  2. Leave the solution to sit for at least 2 hours (ideally overnight).
  3. Scrub around your toilet bowl with a toilet brush. Leave the toilet for another few hours.
  4. Flush the toilet.
  5. Follow up with a disinfectant.

Borax And Lemon Juice

Borax and lemon juice are two other natural cleaners that you likely already have in your cupboards.

Like vinegar and Cola, lemon juice is highly acidic, making it a great stain-lifter, and Borax is very alkaline and mildly abrasive, so it can dissolve mineral deposits and help to physically scrub away stains.

Follow these steps to remove hard water stains from your toilet bowl with lemon juice and Borax.

Materials Needed:

  • Borax powder
  • Fresh lemons or lemon juice (can be store-bought as long as it’s 100% natural)
  • Spray bottle
  • Toilet brush
  • Rubber gloves (optional, for protection)

Instructions:

  1. Combine equal parts lemon juice with Borax powder in a spray bottle.
  2. Spray the solution onto the hard water stains, then pour the rest into the toilet bowl.
  3. Let the solution sit in the toilet for at least 30 minutes to allow it to take effect.
  4. Scrub the bowl thoroughly with a toilet brush, paying special attention to the limescale stains.
  5. Flush the toilet to rinse away the solution.
  6. Scrub the toilet once more if necessary.

Note: If you have very tough stains, put some elbow grease into the scrubbing. You may need to repeat the process more than once.

Borax powder and lemon juice in spray bottle

Citric Acid

Citric acid is a safe and natural cleaning agent that effectively tackles hard water stains without the use of harsh chemicals.

This weak acid cleaner reacts with the alkaline compounds present in hard water stains, helping to neutralize and dissolve mineral deposits.

Below, we’ve shared the method for removing hard water stains from a toilet with citric acid.

Materials Needed:

  • Citric acid powder or crystals (can be found in stores or online)
  • Water
  • Spray bottle
  • Toilet brush
  • Rubber gloves (optional, for protection)

Instructions:

  1. Mix a couple of tablespoons of citric acid with one cup warm water.
  2. Spray the solution onto the hard water stains, then pour the rest into your toilet.
  3. Let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes to allow the acidic properties of the citric acid to break down the hard water stains.
  4. Scrub the bowl with a brush, paying special attention to the areas with the most noticeable hard water deposits.
  5. Flush the toilet to rinse away the citric acid.

Note: You can repeat this process several times or use more citric acid if you have very stubborn stains.

High-Acidity Cleaner

Acidic cleaners, or high-acidity cleaners, are the most effective chemical cleaners for removing hard water stains from bathroom surfaces, including stained toilet bowls.

The reason why we’ve shared this last is that many people prefer to clean without fumes from toxic chemicals. Acidic cleaners are chemical-based solutions, so you’ll need to take extra safety steps when using them, including ventilating your room and wearing protective cleaning attire.

To use an acidic cleaner to remove hard water stains from your toilet, follow these steps:

Materials Needed:

  • Acidic cleaner of your choice
  • Toilet brush
  • Protective gloves
  • A face mask
  • Protective glasses (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Open your bathroom window wide and/or turn your bathroom extractor fan on full. Put on your safety attire.
  2. Follow the instructions on the bottle to add a measured amount of cleaner to your toilet (you may need to dilute the solution in water first).
  3. Scrub your toilet with a toilet brush to transfer the cleaner around the toilet bowl.
  4. Wait the allotted time (check the bottle instructions), then flush the toilet.

Note: Different acidic cleaners may require different cleaning processes, so be sure to read the label carefully to check that the cleaner is suitable for your toilet, and to understand the cleaning instructions, before getting started.

High acidity toilet cleaner

🧼 How To Remove Hard Water Stains From A Toilet Tank

Removing hard water stains from a toilet tank requires a different process than tackling these stains in your toilet bowl.

We’ve tried a few different cleaning methods on our own toilet, and this one, using vinegar and baking soda, proved the most effective:

Materials Needed:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Toilet brush
  • Old towel
  • Scrub sponge or old toothbrush
  • Rubber gloves (optional, for protection)

Instructions:

  1. Find the water shut-off valve near the base of your toilet and turn off the water supply to prevent the toilet tank from refilling while you’re cleaning.
  2. Flush the toilet to empty the tank, then use an old towel to soak up any leftover water.
  3. Pour white vinegar into the tank, making sure all the stains are covered.
  4. Let the vinegar sit for at least 30 minutes. Its acidity will help to dissolve and break down the stains. Leave overnight if the stains are stubborn.
  5. Scrub the tank with a sponge or old toothbrush.
  6. OPTIONAL STEP FOR TOUGH STAINS: Mix baking soda with equal parts water to make a paste, then apply to the stained areas and scrub with a toothbrush.
  7. Turn the water supply back on and wait for the tank to fill. Rinse thoroughly by flushing the toilet a few times.
  8. Wipe any remaining residue with a clean sponge or cloth.

Note: You can repeat the process or use a more concentrated vinegar solution if dealing with stubborn stains.

🚫 How To Prevent Stains From Hard Water In Your Toilet

Fed up with cleaning limescale off your toilet, shower doors, sinks, faucets, and other bathroom surfaces?

It’s possible to prevent hard water stains from forming in the first place, reducing your cleaning efforts significantly.

The solution is to install a water softener.

Water softeners remove the minerals that are responsible for limescale, exchanging them with harmless ions (usually sodium or potassium) that didn’t leave mineral deposits.

With soft water flowing through your plumbing system, you’ll never have to deal with hardness stains on your toilet, fixtures, or appliances ever again.

Don’t know much about water softeners? We’ve shared a full guide on how water softeners work, including a system flow diagram, to help you understand these systems and what they do.

ion exchange water softener in basement

❔ FAQs

What causes hard water stains in toilet?

The cause of hard water stains in a toilet is calcium and magnesium – two dissolved minerals that are present in hard water. These minerals leave deposits on wet surfaces, such as the inside of your toilet bowl, which can be challenging to remove.

Can you use a pumice stone to remove hard water stains from a toilet?

No, we wouldn’t recommend using a pumice stone or stick to scrub hard water stains off your toilet bowl because pumice is abrasive and may scratch your toilet, causing permanent damage. Only use a pumice stone as a very last resort if using a powerful cleaner and a toilet brush doesn’t suffice.

How do I get rid of brown limescale in my toilet?

You can get rid of brown stains caused by limescale in your toilet by using citric acid, baking soda and vinegar, and other natural cleaners mentioned in this list.

What is the best home remedy for hard water stains in toilet?

The best home remedy for removing hard water stains from a toilet is baking soda and vinegar. In our experience, this has been the most effective remedy for us, and has the best stain-lifting effects. Simply mix vinegar with equal parts baking soda, then pour onto affected surfaces and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Gently scrub with a toilet brush, then flush to rinse.

  • Laura Shallcross
    Senior Editor

    Laura is a passionate residential water treatment journalist who holds an undergraduate degree in Print Journalism and a master’s degree in Creative Writing. Over a span of 5 years she's written on a range of topics including water softening, well water treatment, and purification processes.

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