Removing Toilet Stains: 7 Different Ways

It’s not a pretty sight to see toilet stains in your bathroom. Usually caused by hard water and iron, these stains build up over time and can really make your bathroom look gross.

person scrubbing a toilet bowl

Worst of all, these stains get harder and harder to remove the longer they build up.

But with the right tools and methods, you can quickly and easily get rid of unsightly toilet stains yourself.

From dealing with mundane streaks to serious mineral buildup, we have a solution for every situation. In this article, we will bring you seven different ways to remove those pesky stains from your toilet bowl.

What Causes Hard Toilet Stains?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to hard toilet stains, including mineral deposits from water, the types and/or amount of cleaning products being used, and the amount of time that has passed since the last cleaning.

One of the primary culprits is mineral deposits left behind by hard water.

These deposits, be they calcium, iron oxide or something else, build up over time and become embedded in the porcelain surface of the toilet bowl, leaving behind the characteristic brown, orange or off-white stains.

Additionally, overusing acidic or caustic cleaning products on a regular basis can also contribute to harder-to-remove stains by etching the surface of the bowl, allowing the minerals to adhere more easily and embed more deeply.

Softer water or gentler cleaning solutions may help prevent these buildups, as will routine cleaning and scrubbing.

Ultimately, keeping your toilet well-maintained through regular cleanings is one of the best ways to keep your toilets looking sparkling clean and free from unsightly stains.

How Can You Tell if You are Dealing with Hard Stains?

Before we break out the cleaning gear, you need to know what you are dealing with. Is your toilet bowl covered with hard buildup and stains, or are you dealing with some more ordinary grime?

One sign that you are dealing with hard stains is the color of the stain.

Hard stains tend to be more vivid in color than, ah, “regular” filth and can often appear to be a deep red, orange, rusty brown or brownish-black.

Additionally, they are invariably more difficult to remove, requiring a stronger cleaning agent or more vigorous scrubbing with the tool.

Normal toilet brushes and daily cleaners will rarely, if ever affect them. Also take care to inspect the stain: If you notice that the stain is spreading over time, or looks raised, pebbly or fuzzy, it may be indicative of a hard mineral-based stain rather than fecal matter.

Other clues include lingering metallic or “basement” odor coming from your toilet or residue buildup around the rim, waterline and drain of the toilet bowl.

Ultimately, the only way to definitively tell what kind of stain you’re dealing with is by attempting to clean it normally (but thoroughly) and taking note of how it responds.

With this information in hand, you’ll be better equipped to take the most appropriate course of action for removing those stubborn stains from your toilet once and for all!

7 Ways to Remove Hard Toilet Stains

Below is a selection of natural and store-bought solutions for removing hard water stains and mineral buildup from your toilet bowl.

Depending on the severity of the stains, you may need to try a few different methods before finding one that works best for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment a bit or repeat the process if it does not succeed at first.

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Acidic Toilet Cleaner

For the heaviest and toughest of stains, you should skip the other methods and go straight for the big guns.

Acidic toilet cleaners are formulated to dissolve mineral deposits outright and can help reduce or eliminate even the most stubborn of toilet stains.

One of the very best is ZEP Toilet Cleaner. This powerful cleaner uses multiple acids to attack different types of buildup effectively and is guaranteed to handle even the most stubborn stains, leaving your toilet sparkling clean with minimal effort.

Simply apply the cleaner to the bowl according to the package directions and let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing.

For really tough stains, you may need to let it sit for longer or apply it again. But rest assured, ZEP Toilet Cleaner will get your toilet looking like new in no time. If it can’t, you probably need a new toilet.

When using ZEP or any acidic cleaner, be sure to wear rubber gloves, goggles and take extra care in handling it.

These cleaners are very harsh and should only be used sparingly and as a last resort. This is not what you want to use for daily cleaning, and you definitely don’t want to get any on you.

How to clean a toilet with CLR Calcium, Lime & Rust Remover & CLR Bath & Kitchen Cleaner


If you’re looking for a way to safely and effectively remove hard stains without the harshest chemicals, look no further than CLR.

CLR has been around a long time, and represents an excellent general-purpose option for coping with hard stains in your toilet bowl.

This effective stain remover is a mix of acid and other mild cleaners that handle most hard water and rust stains in your toilet bowl. It’s all in the name with this one: Calcium, Lime or Rust.

To use, first shut off the water and drain the toilet bowl so your cleaner won’t dilute in the water.

Then simply squirt or spray with a spray bottle or mop it on from a rag or sponge with a rag before letting it sit for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. A little scrubbing or scraping should quickly show if the CLR has been effective.

If it worked, all you need to do is turn the water back on and flush to see those nasty stains disappear. CLR is safe for pipes and septic systems, so you can use it without worry in your bathroom.

It is also pretty safe for you, at least compared to ZEP and other similar cleaners, though you should still be cautious you don’t get any on your skin, in your eyes, or inhale the fumes.

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Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is a popular all-natural choice for cleaning hard water stains from toilet bowls. The acidic nature of lemon juice helps to break down the minerals that cause hard water stains in the first place, and it can do it without any truly harsh chemicals.

In addition, lemon juice is a natural disinfectant and can help to remove any lingering bacteria while you work on the buildup.

To use lemon juice for cleaning hard water stains, drain the toilet bowl and liberally apply the lemon juice to the affected area before letting it sit for about 15 minutes.

Then, scrub with a toilet brush or porcelain-safe scraper. Lemon juice is fairly potent, but nothing compared to ZEP or CLR, so be prepared to reapply and let it sit for some time before you work on the stain.

If the stain is particularly tough, you may need to repeat the process with the lemon juice several times.

Once the stain has been removed, simply turn the water back on and flush the toilet to rinse away any lemony residue.

Lemon juice is an effective and safe option for cleaning hard water stains from toilet bowls, and one that smells amazing. It is also one that is completely safe, and won’t leave any lingering chemicals in your water or bathroom.

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Steel Wool

Sometimes you don’t need harsh chemicals, but instead you need an upgrade over the relatively wimpy toilet brush you usually use.

Steel wool is one such useful upgrade for scraping and cleaning hard water stains from toilet bowls.

Fine steel wool, specifically grade 0000 has an extremely fine texture, making it ideal for tough jobs that still require a gentle touch to avoid damage to a finish.

In this regard, 0000 steel wool is sturdy enough to effectively remove all but the toughest stains no matter the kind of cleaner you are using, while remaining gentle enough to be used on most toilet bowl surfaces without causing damage or scratching that can make the problem worse.

Furthermore, 0000 steel wool can be cheaply purchased at most groceries, hardware stores, and other home improvement stores, making it readily available and convenient.

To use, just start scrubbing, with or without the cleaner of your choice. You should quickly be able to tell if it is working. When you are finished, just flush the toilet and you are done.

One more thing, steel wool can leave behind charcoal-gray swirls or marks in the bowl because the porcelain can “cut” the wool, embedding it in the surface.

This is not a big deal, and these marks can be removed by common abrasive cleaners or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

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Salt Scrub

If you want another totally natural and effective way to remove hard toilet stains, coarse salt may be the answer.

This simple household ingredient can be used as an abrasive scrubbing agent to help break down stubborn dirt and grime, and mild hard water stains.

As always, start by shutting down the water to the toilet and flushing to empty the bowl. Then sprinkle a small amount of salt onto a damp rag or sponge and then scrub away at the affected area.

Do your best to keep the “grit” in contact with the surface of the bowl for the best results. Periodically reload your scrubber with salt as it falls away or dissolves.

For more difficult stains, you may try a soak with cleaner or lemon juice for a few minutes prior scrubbing with the salt.

Rinse the bowl and flush after you are done. You can use salt as a regular scrub to keep your toilet looking clean and new.

5 DIY BORAX Cleaning Tips!

Borax Paste

Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that has a wide range of uses, one of which is as an abrasive cleaning agent.

When combined with water (or vinegar) to form a thick paste, borax can be used as a potent but natural cleaner. Take care anyway, as borax is strong enough to irritate the skin if you are careless. Wear gloves!

Cleaning with borax paste is standard procedure: cut off the water, drain the bowl, and then apply the paste to the surface of the stain.

Allowed to sit for a few minutes- up to half an hour- before being scrubbed with a brush, scraper, or cloth. Be prepared for repeat applications as needed to break down the heaviest deposits.

Borax is effective and safe to use on most hard-finished surfaces, including porcelain.

However, care must be taken if the surface is scratched, worn or otherwise damaged; it can exacerbate finish damage and make your bowl look a little worse, not to mention make it easier for the stains to build up again.

For safety, always test a small, hidden area in the bowl first to ensure that the borax paste does not cause problems. I like to test at the front of the bowl under the lip where it is hard to see.

How to Clean a Toilet With Vinegar and Baking Soda

Vinegar and Baking Soda Scrub

When an over-the-counter acidic cleaner is not the right option, but you don’t want to risk finish damage from borax paste, a more moderate approach should work.

In most cases, using vinegar and baking soda paste will be an effective way to remove toilet stains naturally. This one is another all-natural, environment- and septic-safe option.

Mix one part of white vinegar with three parts of baking soda together in a pail or other container that you can dip a sponge or scrubber into easily.

Shut off the water, drain the toilet bowl and then mop the mixture over the stain, being careful not to splash the paste onto the floor. Allow the paste to sit for at least 20 minutes before attempting to scrub with a brush or rag.

Repeat as necessary and as needed to deal with stains before they get too bad.

This is another method that seems to work better with multiple applications, so don’t give up hope if it fails the first time around.

It is also totally safe for you and your septic system, if you use one, so you can try tackling a stain without fear.

Try to Prevent Hard Water Stains from Forming

Hard water stains can be a frustrating problem in any household, and treating these stains can often feel like a losing battle.

The best thing you can do to win this fight is to prevent hard water stains from forming in the first place.

The best and simplest step is to clean scrub down the inside of your toilet regularly. Normal cleaners, brush, that’s it.

This will help dissolve any existing spots before they get worse and prevent new ones from forming. 

Keeping a regular cleaning routine means you should be able to keep your toilet free from unsightly hard water stains. For more serious hard water problems, water softening systems are the way to go, if you can afford them.

These systems work by removing the minerals that cause hard water buildup from your water before they ever have a chance to form on your toilet bowl.

While not a cheap solution, and one that requires constant upkeep, if you live in an area with very hard water, it may be the best or even only way to keep your toilet clean and new-looking.

Dealing with Hard Toilet Stains Does Not Have to Be Difficult

Removing hard toilet stains is always a pain in the butt, but with the right methods and tools, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Use the provided tips to remove toilet stains, and then see if you can keep them from coming back at all. With a little effort and upkeep, you can keep your toilet bowl sparkling white.

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