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Question DetailsAsked on 5/9/2013

How do you clean a toilet that is brown and stained?

The toilet has hard water stains in it. How do I clean it?

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15 Answers


Couple of things, depending on whether it is lime, sulfurous, or iron staining. These items work for various stains - do NOT mix any of these items with each other, try each one individually, to avoid releasing dangerous chemical fumes. Some types of cleaners and bleaches, when mixed together, even create nerve gas !

All these spray-on applications work best if you spray it on, place a layer of toilet paper over the stained areas and spray again till TP is saturated, so the liquid does not immediately run down the bowl rather than sitting there doing its job. All of these methods will require scrubbing with a sponge, bristle, or mesh toilet bowl brush after the sit time - none will magically wash the stains away. What you are doing is softening the stains up so they can be scrubbed off.

Mold and lime buildup is the easiest to remove, iron the toughest and may take 2 to 4 cycles of leaving saturated and cleaning with a non-abrasie scrubbing pad to get it all. Never use an abrasive cleaner, sandpaper, or abrasive pads or steel wool - the very smooth ceramic finish will scratch, then it will be a constant cleaning problem as you will have provided scratches and pits for all types of buildup to hold onto rather than washing away during flushing. (Ditto for tubs, basins, etc - all ceramic surfaces, as what makes them easy to clean is the ultra-smooth ceramic or porcelin surface).

Because the chemistry of the stains is different in each locale, one of these methods may work well in one area but not in another, so you may have to experiment to see which works best for you.

Of course, read instructions on any commercial cleaners to be sure it says it is safe for porcelin and enameled surfaces.

On any of these stains, tougher and harder stains can be scrubbed by sponge or non-abrasie pad with a white vinegar and baking soda paste.

Lime (white) - commercial tub and tile cleaner like Lime-Away or Scrubbing Bubbles, or undiluted white vinegar (do not use brown - will stain) - spray on, let sit 15 minutes, scrub off - likely to take a couple of applications

Iron (rusty) - Stain-Off, Iron OUt, Stain Aid, Clorox Tub and Tile Cleaner, Comet (the tub type that says it will not scratch), WD-40 spray (will leave an oily residue that then has to be cleaned with normal toilet cleaner), lemon cut in half and liberally salted used as a scrub brush

Sulfurous bacteria stains (deep orange or greenish) - same as for Iron stains above, White vinegar or rubbing alcohol - spray on, let sit 15 minutes, scrub off.

Mold (orange or black, occurs first at water line or under the rim in the bowl but can spread elsewhere if toilet is not cleaned weekly) - 1 part bleach to 10 parts water sprayed on, let sit 15 minutes and scrub with brush.

If you do not have good luck with any of these, google Toilet Stains and you will find dozens of suggestions - these are just the ones I have used or heard work.

If the stains also exist below the normal water level in the bowl, you can do one of 2 things: 1) put a couple of cups vinegar into the water in the bottom of the bowl and see if that loosens up the stains, or 2) if that does not work, reduce the level in the bowl by bailing it out, or by taking the top off the tank and unhooking the small tube (usually black) that is clipped onto and feeding down into the vertical plastic or copper tube (about 3/4 inch in diamter, almost full height of tank). This is the bowl filler tube - if you clip or tape or hold it so it feeds into the tank rather than down the tube, then the bowl will not refill, leaving very little water in the bottom of the bowl after flushing, so you can treat the stains lower down in the bowl. Of course, when done securely rehook the black tube so it aims down into the tube again. Alternatively, you can flush after turning off the incoming water valve, but I do not recommend this unless you are home repair handy, because since these valves are rarely used they commonly leak after being turned, so unless you know how to fix leaky valve washers, I would stay away from that method.

Regardless of how good a job you do getting these stains off, these encrustations (except for mold) are due to hard water (which just means it has a high percentage of dissolved minerals), and will come back unless you either chemically treat your incoming water, or clean the bowl with white vinegar or a commercial lime-removing product at least weekly to keep it shiny clean, so they do not have a place to start building up.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD


I have found that Zep acidic bowl cleaner, available at Home Depot (and probably Lowe's) will clean just about any stain on a toilet bowl. For extra tough stains, I have painted the cleaner directly on the stain with an old paintbrush after dipping some of the water out so as to expose the bowl stains at the waterline. Let it sit for a while, then scrub with the brush. Works like magic.


Answered 7 years ago by Tergiversada


If it is staining from Iron the product called IRON OUT works pretty good. IT's quite strong probablly toxic, take care using. I was also told to try cokacola. Don't use bleach it makes iron browner. (like in clothing)

Answered 7 years ago by Guest_98972875


Most mild acids combined with a slight abrasive work well.

I actually use the cooktop cleaner and have had very good success.

Answered 6 years ago by WoWHomeSolutions


I had rust-type stains around bathtub rim when old drywall was removed. They were so bad the tile expert wanted the drywall redone to cover the stains. After trying all methods, I purchased clorox Concentrated bleach and soaked clean rags in it. I then layed the bleach soaked rags over the stain and left for 24 hours. Eureka looks 100% better. Now trying a second time to get perfect. However the surface will need to be dry so not sure how that will work on a toilet. Good luck.

Answered 6 years ago by Guest_93721493


I used a pumice stone on the porcelein bowl to remove mineral deposits. With a little elbow grease the job was done without all those nasty chemical. I suppose a pair of rubber gloves would also be helpful.

Answered 6 years ago by ColleenM


The problem with the pumice stone suggested by the last responder is like any other abrasive (and pumice is VDERY abrasive - is volcanic high-silica rock so like grinding your surface with ground glass) - steel wool, aggressive cleaners like regular Comet that have abrasive in them, they will scratch the porcelain - leaving small scratches and gouges that then readily accumulate organics and promote holding more mineral deposits as well and the bacterial and algal growth that causes the ring in toilets that are not brushed often.

So - should not use an abrasive - same as with basins and kitchen sinks. This situation gets much worse with most economy and mmid-range products which are not true porcelain - instead of the entire unit being firede to the verge ofthe melting temperature of the clay, only the surface is glazed and fired, so the glossy sruface layer is thin and easily worn through tothe more porous and softer material below.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD


ZUD worked wonders for me when I volunteered to help my sister clean in her first house. The toilet and claw foot tub where both so brown with rust stains it was scarry. The sink was in the same condition, just not as bad. It took some time and elbow grease, but, it turned out great. Usually you can find ZUD in the cleaning supplies such as cleansers.

Source: Personal Experience!

Answered 5 years ago by Guest_9187467


I have very hard water. Lots of calcium buildup in toilets. Drove me crazy trying to rid the brown hard stains. I finally tried using a smaller flat head screwdriver gently chipping getting under the deposits. It worked perfectly! Large pieces of the calcium popped off. It did leave some light silver coloured marks from the screwdriver against the porcelain but barely visible if you're careful. I'll take those light marks over the brown deposits! Same in shower but much harder to remove as deposits are small.

Answered 5 years ago by horsedane


if the stains are on the seat....try the white magic cleaninG ERASERS. IT WORKS! nothing else would. takes the stain completely off quickly.

Answered 5 years ago by mstarwick


Mineral stains at the water line and below are well handled by muratic acid (readily available in the swimming pool sections of H.D. and Lowes). Turn off the water to the toilet, flush it, then force as much of the standing water that you can down the drain. Drizzle the acid on the stains then place paper towels on the stains and repeat (the towels keep the acid in contact with the stains longer). Discard the towels in the trash, too dense for plumbing and ceptics. Rinse before using other cleansers.

Answered 5 years ago by Firebus


I have had that problem for ten years and nothing I tried could totally remove the stains, I remembered years ago when I bartend in this little hole in the wall place that she had a product we used everyday and it took every stain out, it was called sno-bol but they quit selling it in our stores so I looked for it online and found it and ordered a 12 bottle case.

When I squeezed it under the rim and let it saturate all around the stool I couldn't believe my eyes, after about ten minutes I went to check on it and all the brown was floating on top and the water level ring had gone and I just took the brush and swabbed it around to mix it all up then flushed and everything was gone, snow white.

Answered 5 years ago by hurrytricia


I have found that hard water stains can only be removed with a pumice stone. I have to do this to my toilets about twice a year. Much safer than nasty chemicals, but also more effective.

Answered 5 years ago by Guest_9137012


I tried everything, bleach, vinegar, disappointed, went to Home Depot and bought Zed toilet cleaner........I was amazed after months of trying everything else

Answered 4 years ago by Lke


With lots and lots of effort? After 6 or 7 hours, this worked for me: pumice sticks (check on Amazon as the pumie sticks sold by Home Depot and Lowe's degrade too quickly and don't have handles), a complete set of cleaning brushes (most of which don't work, try the scouring pads first) for an electric drill (two big drill batteries), and, best of all, 10% HCl, which is what the commercial cleaner Zip is composed of, mostly. If I'd started with Zip, time would have been cut by two thirds, most likely. Don't follow the directions, of course: drain the toilet bowl as much as possible, apply Zip all over, including the bottom, and let sit for hours, not 5 minutes! and don't forget the rubber gloves and be careful with the Zip!

Answered 12 months ago by coolstar

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