How to Clean Mineral Stains From Your Toilet

By: Debra Ronca  | 
cleaning toilet
It's a good idea to wear rubber gloves while you use cleaners to remove toilet stains. kurhan/Shutterstock

Is there any housekeeping chore worse than cleaning the bathroom? Most homeowners would say "no." From trying to move around in such a small room to inhaling noxious fumes from the cleaning fluids, cleaning a bathroom can be a frustrating experience. And if you have stubborn mineral stains, it's even more of a pain.

Believe it or not, mineral and rust stains in your toilet or tub — greenish stripes, a brown ring, lime scale — aren't caused by anything you're doing wrong in your cleaning regimen. It's simply something in the water. Calcium, lime, magnesium and iron, naturally found in hard water, attach to just about every surface they come across. Even if you have filters or water systems in place to soften the water, some of these minerals still slip through. The rust-colored stains you find under your faucets or in your toilet turn up when iron meets air. Green or brown stains in the toilet usually indicate lime buildup. Lime scale forms as hard water evaporates and leaves a mineral buildup behind. As it dries, it picks up any dirt particles along with it, and slowly the stain builds, layer by layer, on the inside of the toilet bowl. Yuck!


The good news is that many store-bought products and home concoctions can fight these stains. The bad news? Removing mineral stains requires some elbow grease, so don't expect it to be an easy process.

To get rid of these stains, you need some sort of acid. The most effective solution is muriatic acid, an extremely powerful and dangerous chemical. But we advise against using this unless you're a professional. If you want an off-the-shelf solution, consider Lime-A-Way or CLR (which stands for Calcium-Lime-Rust). Barkeepers Friend and The Works are also recommended, as well. For an organic home remedy, try vinegar, and — perhaps unbelievably — one of your favorite beverages. Find out more next.


Tips for Removing Mineral Stains From Your Toilet

The first thing you want to do when preparing to remove stains from your toilet is to shut off the main water valve located behind the toilet on the wall. Turn it clockwise until it stops. Then use a bucket or cup to remove as much water as you can from the toilet bowl.

If you're using a brush, use one with nylon bristles. The old-style ones with wire bristles will scratch and damage the porcelain. Or, you might even consider using a pumice stone instead of a brush — it's slightly abrasive, but not enough to damage the porcelain. However, if you go this route, make sure there's a bit of water in the toilet to work with. The water helps prevent the pumice from scratching the porcelain.


If you're using a commercial cleanser, follow the directions on the label. But you can use more natural solutions that you probably already have at home:

  • Vinegar and baking soda: Add 1 or 2 cups of vinegar to the toilet bowl along with a few sprinkles of baking soda. Swish the solution around the bowl with your brush for a few minutes and then let it sit for about 15 minutes. Scrub the stains with your brush (or pumice stone). If this doesn't remove the stain, try adding some lemon juice to dissolve the last of it. Turn the water back on, flush and repeat the cleaning process, if necessary.
  • Coca-Cola: After emptying the bowl, fill it with Coca-Cola (yes, really — Coca-Cola). The acids in the soda help eat away at the stains. Let it sit overnight. Flush the next day and get to work with your pumice stone or brush on the now-loosened stains.

Now for what not to do: Don't use bleach in the toilet bowl. It won't work on the stains and can damage a septic system. And never, ever, mix bleach and ammonia. The resulting fumes can irritate respiratory passages and can even be fatal. Don't scrub with anything metal or super-abrasive. You'll ruin the porcelain.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that you may need to apply your stain remover more than once, and be ready to apply some good old-fashioned elbow grease. You can get rid of the stains if you persevere!


Clean Toilet Stains FAQ

How do you clean a badly stained toilet?
White vinegar is a good remedy to clean stubborn toilet stains. Pour a 120ml bottle of white vinegar into the toilet bowl and put down the lid. Don’t use or flush the toilet for eight or so hours, then use a toilet brush to scrub.
What causes yellow stains on a toilet seat?
The yellow stains are caused by a build-up of mineral deposits originating from hard water, including magnesium, calcium and iron.
Does WD-40 remove rust stains from toilets?
Yes, WD-40 can help remove and prevent rust and corrosion. It works by softening tough lime and rust deposits for easy removal.
Can Coke remove toilet stains?
Soda has the ability to remove pesky stains that may not be removed by a simple cleaning. You can spray Coca-Cola or pour it directly onto the affected area and let it sit overnight before wiping it away.
What forms green or brown stains in a toilet?
Green or brown stains are a sign of lime buildup. It happens because of the evaporation of hard water that leaves behind mineral deposits. These minerals dry out and catch other dirt and bacteria around the buildup, creating layers of green and brown stains.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Carter, Tim. "Acid Removes Stains in Toilet." The Columbus Dispatch. Aug. 22, 2010. (July 1, 2012)
  • Derringer, Jaime. "The Daily Fix: Remove Hard Water Stains." DIY Life. July 23, 2010. (July 1, 2012)]
  • The Family Handyman. "How to Remove Water Stains." 2012. (July 1, 2012)