How to Remove Hard Water Stains

Get rid of rust, lime, scum and stains on bathroom fixtures.

The right product and technique can cut cleaning time

If you’re prone to bathroom neglect—or you have stubborn stains seemingly beyond your control—don’t throw in the towel. We’ll show you how to dissolve three frustrating, yet common, water-caused deposits: rust stains and mineral buildup in the toilet bowl, hardened mineral deposits on faucets, and layered soap scum on shower wall tile.

The key to removing tough stains is selecting the right cleaner. See “Cleaners that Work” for a general guide. You won’t have to do much scrubbing; the cleaner will do the work. We’ll show you how to remove stains on china (toilets), metal, tile and grout. Read the product labels, however, when cleaning fiberglass, stone or other plastic surfaces. Use products specifically recommended for those surfaces.

If you want to save hours of cleaning time per month, check out “Tips That Reduce Cleaning Time.” To begin, save time by keeping all bathroom cleaning tools and products in one bucket. Store it in or near the bathroom and out of children’s reach.

Stock the bucket with chemical-resistant rubber gloves, non-scratch nylon scrubber brush, grout brush, old toothbrush, clean soft rag, large sponge, glass cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner and one all-purpose soap scum/mildew/lime deposit cleaner.

Remove rust from toilet

To make your toilet bowl clean again, start with a dry bowl so water won’t dilute the cleaner. To tackle difficult rust stains, skip your discount-store toilet bowl cleaner and head to the hardware store for a product containing diluted hydrochloric acid (also listed on product labels as hydrogen chloride, HCL or muriatic acid). This is a common active ingredient in such brands as The Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner and Santeen De-Limer & Toilet Bowl Cleaner. And make sure you don’t use a bleach containing product on rust—it will set the stain.

Be sure to use a toilet brush with stiff nylon bristles in a plastic base. Those old wire brushes scratch the bowl. Once the bowl surface becomes scratched or worn, stain removal becomes next to impossible.

Two cautions when cleaning with diluted hydrochloric acid. First, if you use an in-tank cleaner that contains bleach, remove it and flush multiple times to remove bleach residue. A combination of bleach-containing and acid containing products (toilet cleaners) produces deadly vapors. Second caution: Scrub slowly because droplets that splatter outside the bowl can harm carpet, tile, vinyl and your skin. Keep a rag and a bucket of water handy to wipe up spatters. Same goes for setting the bottle down on these surfaces—don’t. And make sure you flush and rinse the bowl immediately.

Remove faucet scale deposits

To remove tough mineral scale buildup on chrome faucets, use a product such as Lime-A-Way according to label directions. For weekly cleaning, an all-purpose cleaner such as Comet Bathroom or Scrubbing Bubbles will work fine.

To ensure your crusty faucet will shine again, aside from giving it a vigorous toothbrush scrubbing, Apply and remove the proper cleaner as directed on its label.

If scrubbing doesn’t remove hardened mineral deposits on the aerator screen, unscrew the spout tip by turning it counterclockwise. Soak it overnight in vinegar, then scrub it with the toothbrush and flush with water before reinstalling.

Remove soap scum from tile

Numerous cleaners are available to remove soap scum from tile. But if you face layers of soap scum buildup, stick with an effective bleach-containing, nonabrasive product (see list below).

Scum cleaners commonly contain bleach (sodium hypochlorite),which effectively cuts through soap scum and kills mildew. Be sure to read the product label and match it to the material (tile, fiberglass, etc.) being cleaned.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

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