How to Get Hard Water Stains Out of Your Toilet

Minerals may be good for the body, but the rings they leave in your toilet bowl are almost impossible to clean.
Minerals may be good for the body, but the rings they leave in your toilet bowl are almost impossible to clean.

Minerals can be great for the body but not always so great for the toilet, which sounds backward unless talking about hard water. Magnesium and calcium are the main culprits in creating the "hardness" of hard water, and what they leave behind in the bathroom ranges from cement-like, discolored blobs of buildup to brown rust and even black rings and ridges.

Good thing the body uses minerals for strength and wellness because that's what you'll need to muscle the hard water stains out of your bathroom surfaces and especially the toilet, which is coated in mineralized hard water day and night. This water residue is nearly impossible to remove with just soap and water, and even if you do manage to clean it away, it comes back again and again.


Removing hard water stains from the toilet is possible with the right product or combination of products, and better yet, it's also possible to avoid having the stains build up as quickly and as thickly. We won't go soft on hard water stains.

Removing Hard Water Rings From Your Toilet

If you already have rings around the toilet bowl, a couple of popular types of products may just disappoint. Bleach and bleach-containing cleansers often make the stains worse or do practically nothing at all depending on the mineral content of your water. Something in the chemical reaction can actually make the stain darker of just completely impenetrable to the power of bleach.

Some soapy, detergent-based commercial cleaners don't do much more than roll off of the stains and dissolve in the water itself, doing nothing to remove the hard water stains or buildup. Even abrasive powders can be a letdown if they aren't backed up with a lot of hard and long scrubbing, and scouring pads or rough brushes can damage toilet surfaces over time.


Several products do work well because of their chemical concentrations, and these usually are marketed as lime or hard-water removing cleansers, but they don't work for everyone. Even commercial-grade cleansers with bases made from an acid such as sulfuric acid either work really well or not so great depending on the water make up. And, a number of people have sensitivities or bad reactions to strong chemicals.

Thankfully, there are a few more options for seeing the porcelain beneath your calcium and magnesium.

How to Get Hard Water Stains Out of Your Toilet

Many forums on both house and commercial cleaning rate vinegar high on their lists for getting calcium stains out of toilets and sinks. Strong vinegar concentrations work well when left to soak on the stains, and this can be done safely overnight. Some advise letting all of the water out of the toilet, spraying vinegar full-strength on stains and letting it work until the morning. Others coat paper towels with vinegar and leave those on the rings and stains. Both methods seem to reduce the amount of hand scrubbing needed, though a light scouring with fine sandpaper or an abrasive sponge will finish the job.

Using the vinegar method seems to work not only at getting the stains off but also for keeping stains from forming when used regularly -- and before hard water has a chance to build up. Regular toilet brushing with vinegar and baking soda or even without a cleanser also can keep minerals moving and loose rather than congregating and causing stains.


Preventing water from running through your plumbing in its hard form is another option, and water softeners often can neutralize mineral particles to make the water softer and less likely to stain your bowls. So I guess you can go soft on hard water, or rather, it can go soft on you.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Water Works Association. "How Water Works: Lime Softening Removes Hardness-Causing Minerals." 2007. (May 26, 2012)
  • Derringer, Jaime. "The Daily Fix: Remove Hard Water Stains." July 23, 2010. (May 26, 2012)
  • U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. "Water Hardness." 2012. (May 26, 2012)