How to get rid of stains caused by hard water

Written by melissa van-de-velde
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How to get rid of stains caused by hard water
Limescale on this old tap has dulled the metal and left white and brown stains. (timbudd/iStock/Getty Images)

Oxidation of certain minerals found in hard water results in limescale, the main cause of hard water stains. A wide range of different treatments can effectively neutralise, dissolve or slough away these ugly stains. The best method to use will depend on the severity of the staining and the surface it is on. The most important consideration is whether a given treatment will damage the surface material. In addition, any cleaning agent used will need time to react with the stain. On surfaces that cannot be immersed or covered in the cleaning agent without it running off or drying, take steps to keep the solution in contact with the stain for the necessary amount of time.

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Things you need

  • Lemon juice
  • White vinegar
  • Toothpaste
  • Cola
  • Baking soda
  • Dishwasher powder
  • Hydrochloric acid (caustic soda)
  • Ammonia
  • Pumice
  • Toothbrush
  • Microfibre cloth
  • Steel wool
  • Plastic bags and duct tape or elastic bands
  • Paper towels

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Instructions

    Bathroom fittings

  1. 1

    Cover the affected areas in paper towels soaked in diluted lemon juice, diluted white vinegar, cola, or dishwasher powder dissolved in water. Leave for several hours or longer, depending on the amount of staining. Replace the paper towels if they begin to dry out. Remove the paper towels and wipe away the loosened limescale with a damp cloth.

  2. 2

    Deal with more stubborn stains by immersing the stained area in the chosen treatment for longer periods, repeatedly if necessary, followed by some gentle scrubbing with an appropriate implement.

  3. 3

    Slough any remaining hard water staining with a wet pumice stone, rinsing the loosened scale as you go. Do not use the pumice on grouting between tiles

  4. 4

    Rub a paste of baking soda and water or baking soda and white vinegar into stained grouting with an old toothbrush, then rinse away. Use the paste and toothbrush to remove any remnants that remain on other areas after they have been soaked and sloughed with the pumice.

    Toilet stains

  1. 1

    Pour enough diluted lemon juice or diluted white vinegar into the toilet bowl to cover all hard water stains. Leave to soak overnight. Scrub with a toilet brush and flush to rinse. Repeat this over a few nights on heavier staining.

  2. 2

    Turn off your water and flush the toilet several times until there is no water left in it. Then, use a wet pumice to slough away any remaining stains. Turn the water back on and flush.

  3. 3

    Use hydrochloric acid (caustic soda) solution for heavy staining or quick removal. Pour the acid, diluted, into the toilet and leave it to sit for few minutes, then scrub with a toilet brush. This should be a last resort however, as it is a very strong acid and can damage pipes with repeated use.

    Shower cubicles

  1. 1

    Clean hard water stains from glass as soon as possible after they appear as the metals in hard water can damage glass irreparably. Soak shower walls and doors in cleaning solution as for bathtubs and sinks. Slough away remaining stains on glass or plastic with steel wool. Rub away chalky streaks or droplets with a microfibre cloth and some baking soda paste.

  2. 2

    Remove limescale from removable shower heads by bringing a pan of diluted white vinegar or lemon juice to a boil and submerging the shower head in the solution. Simmer for 15 minutes, remove from heat, and leave to soak for a few hours.

  3. 3

    Clean a fixed shower head with a long flex by sitting it in the bottom of the bathtub, shower stall or nearby sink, boiling the solution as for a removable shower heads and pouring it into the tub, shower or sink (with the plug in). Submerge the shower head in the solution overnight.

  4. 4

    Clean shower heads that cannot be submerged by pouring the solution into a plastic bag and securing this over the shower head with duct tape. Leave to soak overnight.

    Metal sinks, pipes and taps

  1. 1

    Fill a plastic bag with one of the solutions and use duct tape or rubber bands to secure over any taps and fixtures that cannot be submerged in solution. Leave it to soak overnight.

  2. 2

    Submerge metal sinks in solution overnight as with bathroom sinks. Use a microfibre cloth or toothbrush with baking soda paste on metal instead of pumice as the latter can scratch some metals.

  3. 3

    Soak metal surfaces in ammonia or hydrochloric acid solutions for a few minutes where there is heavier build-up; however, do not use these on any surface that comes into contact with food.

    Kettles, coffee machines and cookware

  1. 1

    Simmer any stained kitchenware that can safely be heated or is small enough to fit in a pan that can be heated in diluted white vinegar or lemon juice for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to soak for a few hours. Rinse thoroughly.

  2. 2

    Run coffee makers through a brewing cycle without coffee, with lemon juice or white vinegar solution in place of water. Follow this with one or two brewing cycles without coffee using clean water.

  3. 3

    Fill stained kettles with white vinegar or lemon juice solution. Boil the kettle and leave to soak for an hour. Rinse with clean water. Put a clean piece of steel wool in kettles to minimise future build-up. These attract limescale in the water and should be taken out and rinsed of limescale regularly.

  4. 4

    Wipe metal that is dulled rather than stained by hard water with a cloth soaked in undiluted white vinegar or lemon juice.

Tips and warnings

  • Wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from prolonged contact with any acidic substance as even mild citric acids such as those in lemon juice can cause irritation. This is essential when using harsher chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and ammonia which can burn skin.
  • Never mix ammonia or hydrochloric acid with other cleaning products or any substance other than water as this can create toxic fumes.
  • Do not use acidic products on varnished surfaces and bear in mind that lemon juice can bleach porous materials and that cola will stain fabrics.

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