One of the worst sights in your home is a stained toilet bowl. Even if the bowl has actually been cleaned, the stains can persist and make you feel as though the bathroom is still dirty. Stubborn stains are difficult to remove, and built up over time.

The best way to get rid of stains on your toilet bowl is through a process of soaking and scrubbing. Soak your toilet bowl with cleaner like vinegar, bleach, borax, or a product like CLR, scrub the stains with a toilet brush or abrasive pad, and flush the bowl to remove the cleaner and stains.

Depending on how stained your toilet bowl is, you may need to repeat the above process more than once. In this article we will address:

  • Determining what type of stains you have
  • What is hard water
  • Why your toilet bowl gets stained
  • The most effective ways of cleaning your stained toilet bowl
  • When to call a professional
  • How to protect yourself while cleaning

What Type of Stain Is in Your Toilet Bowl

If your toilet bowl is stained, first you should determine what type of stain it is. If it’s a stain from daily use, it can probably be easily cleaned with a regular store-bought toilet bowl cleaner and a toilet brush. This should be your first step in trying to remove your stains, whether you think it’s a regular stain or not.

If the stains in your toilet bowl persist even after you’ve cleaned it, then it’s likely that you have mineral stains from your plumbing.

Rust Stains

These could be caused by a rusty component of your plumbing. The rust particles can turn your toilet water brown, and leave rust stains on the sides of your toilet bowl. If this is the case, then not only will you want to clean your toilet, you will want to contact a professional to examine the pipes in your bathroom.

Rusted pipes will need replacing, and the longer you leave them, the higher chance of further complications and more expensive repairs.

Hard Water Stains

The stains in your toilet bowl could also be caused by the hard water in your plumbing. Hard water is one of the most common reasons that your toilet bowl or bathtub will develop stains or soap rings.

What is Hard Water

There are two common types of water in our households. These are referred to as hard water and soft water.

Soft water has little to no dissolved minerals in it. It is less abrasive to home appliances and plumbing systems than hard water.

Hard water contains a high level of minerals, mostly calcium and magnesium. Hard water can leave residue on your appliances as these minerals build up over time. The calcium in hard water also reacts with soap to create a film. This is often referred to as “soap scum”. This can build up over time in sinks, bathtubs, dishwashers, and washing machines.

You may find that your clothes and dishes are not coming out as clean as they should be after a wash, and that could be because there was not enough soap to conquer the soap scum. When you live with hard water, you may find yourself having to use extra soap to get rid of this slimy film.

When hard water is heated, the calcium can solidify and create hardened deposits of calcium carbonate. This can build and damage your home appliances.

Hard water in your toilet can cause the same soap scum and mineral build up as in other areas of your home.

Why Your Toilet Bowl Gets Stained

Most toilet bowls are made of porcelain. Porcelain is a non-porous material that is easy to clean, but is not immune to the effects of hard water.

As hard water evaporates, the mineral content of the water is left behind. Over time, this can create stains on your toilet bowl. That’s why often the stains will be rings that sit right around the water level.

These stains are often called by different names.

  • Mineral deposits
  • Limescale
  • Hard water stains
  • Calcium build up

Alternatively, your toilet bowl could be stained from the rust content of your water. This is because as iron and other metals rust, they turn a copper colour. They lose structure and particles will break off of the rusted objects. These rust particles then enter the water, and stain your toilet bowl.

The Most Effective Ways of Cleaning Your Toilet Bowl

Whether your toilet bowl is stained from rust or from hard water deposits, the way of cleaning them is similar.

There are three different approaches to take when cleaning your toilet bowl.

  • Natural solutions
  • Chemical or store bought products
  • Professional help

Cleaning Your Toilet Bowl With Natural Products

If you want to stick to natural products to try and clean your toilet bowl. Follow the steps below.

Scrub Your Toilet

Go over the stains in your toilet with a toilet brush. This will loosen any debris that is easy to take off. Flush your toilet to remove the loosened debris.

Empty the Toilet Bowl

Turn off the water supply valve to the toilet. Then, plunge the water in the bowl, this will force the water in the bowl to be pushed into the drain. The bowl needs to be empty so that the cleaners can sit on the stain directly.

Choose Your Toilet Cleaner

Choose which natural product you would like to use on your stains. Some of the most effective products are:

  • Vinegar. The acidity of vinegar can break down the mineral stains.
  • Baking soda. The abrasiveness of baking soda is extremely effective when scrubbed into toilet stains.
  • Borax. Borax is effective as a cleaner because when it is combined with water, it reacts, and converts some of the water molecules into hydrogen peroxide. Unlike vinegar and baking soda, Borax is not safe for human consumption, so keep this cleaner away from the kitchen.

Apply the Cleaner

Once you’ve chosen your cleaner, the next step is applying it to the stains.


If you’re using vinegar, the easiest way to apply it is via a spray bottle. If you pour vinegar on the stains it will be harder to get the bottle in the right places. A spray bottle will also deliver a more even application of the vinegar, and less of it will run off.

Spray the stains generously with vinegar.

Baking Soda

Baking soda sticks best to surfaces when they are slightly damp. Spray your toilet bowl with water from a spray bottle, or splash water on it from the sink. Your toilet bowl may also still be wet from the water that was in it, so you may not have to add anything.

Sprinkle the baking soda directly onto the stains. Make sure your application is thick enough to cover the stains fully.


You may also want to wet the stain’s surface before you apply the borax. It is also a powder-like substance and will stick better to the toilet bowl if it is damp.

The water is also crucial for the effectiveness of Borax, as it reacts with the water to create hydrogen peroxide, and that is the main reason that Borax is so effective.

Apply Borax generously to the stains.

Vinegar and Baking Soda Mixture

You can also use a mixture of vinegar and baking soda to maximize the effectiveness of both products.

Spray the toilet liberally with vinegar, then sprinkle the baking soda on top. The two will fizz as they meet. The acidic vinegar will work to loosen the stains, while the baking soda will be a great abrasive agent when it is time to scrub.

Let the Product Sit

The next step is the easiest; leave your toilet alone.

These products need time to react with the stains and loosen them up. 30 minutes is usually enough time for the products to reach maximum effectiveness. Try not to disturb the product for the entire 30 minutes.

Scrub the Toilet

The next step involves elbow grease. Scrub your toilet with an abrasive sponge, a pumice stone, or your toilet brush. You may find it easier to do this when the toilet is a little wet, so feel free to spray the stains with water at this point.

You should see most of the stains disappearing as you scrub. Any stains that don’t disappear may either wash off when you flush the toilet, or may need another attempt.

Rinse the Toilet

Next, refill the toilet with water. To do this, turn the water source for the toilet back on, and flush. Repeat this two to three times to fully rinse out the toilet bowl. Hopefully, the stains will have disappeared. If not, repeat the process above or move onto a chemical product as demonstrated below.

Cleaning Your Toilet Bowl With CLR

CLR, which stands for Calcium Lime Rust, is an effective agent against both hard water stains and rust stains. It is non-toxic, and contains no harmful chemicals, yet still cleans efficiently.

How to use CLR depends on where your stains are in your toilet bowl. If they are above the water line, you can simply apply CLR to the stains and scrub them with a toilet brush. Let the product sit on the stains for two minutes and then flush the toilet multiple times to effectively rinse away the excess product.

It is important to not let CLR sit on the bowl for longer than two minutes, as it can cause damage to the porcelain finish.

If the stains in your toilet bowl sit below the water line, then you’ll have to empty the toilet water. To do this follow the steps below.

  1. Turn the water source for the toilet off
  2. Plunge the toilet to force the water down the pipe

Once the toilet has been emptied of water, you can apply the CLR to the stains. Scrub the stains and let the solution sit for two minutes. Turn the water source back on, and flush the toilet immediately to rinse the residual CLR out of the bowl.

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If the stains persist, you may have to repeat the process, or use something more abrasive to scrub with. Try using a pumice stone soaked in water, or a ball of steel wool. Take care not to scrub too hard, as you can damage the porcelain finish of the toilet.

Why Bleach Might Not Work on Your Hard Water Stains

The most effective products against hard water stains are acids. Acids will soften and dissolve the mineral deposits in the toilet. This is what makes vinegar so effective against the stains.

Bleach, however, is a base. In its concentrated form, it is strong enough to burn human skin on contact. This same product may not affect your hard water stains at all.

In fact, using bleach on rust stains is a bad idea. Bleach can help rust stains set, and make them even more difficult to remove.

Cleaning Your Toilet Bowl with Coca-Cola

As strange as it sounds, Coca-Cola is an effective product to use against the hard water build ups in your bathroom. Coca-Cola is acidic, which, as we learned above, is what is needed to clean hard water stains.

To use Coca-Cola against your hard water stains, follow the directions below.

  1. Turn off the water source to your toilet
  2. Plunge the toilet to remove the water from the bowl
  3. Fill the bowl (at least above the hard water stains) with Coca-Cola
  4. Leave for a few hours, or even overnight
  5. Turn the water source back on
  6. Flush the toilet
  7. Scrub the toilet with the toilet brush to remove any stains that didn’t flush away
  8. Flush the toilet again to rinse the bowl

When to Call a Professional

If you have tried all of the processes above and the stains on your toilet just won’t budge, your toilet could be past the point of no return. You should call a professional plumber to get their opinion.

They should be able to tell you if your toilet is a lost cause, and probably needs to be replaced. They may also have further recommendations of ways to remove stubborn stains.

Even if you were able to remove your stains, if they were caused by rust then you still need to contact a professional. Old iron pipes, usually installed before 1960, were often made of iron. These pipes are particularly prone to rusting, and will probably need to be replaced.

Ignoring rust in your plumbing can lead to extensive and expensive damage.

If the stains in your toilet bowl are caused by mold, there is the potential for it to be dangerous to your health. A professional should also be contacted when you expect that you’re dealing with any source of dangerous mold or mildew.

How to Protecting Yourself While Cleaning

Many products that are effective against tough stains in your toilet bowl will also cause irritation to your skin upon contact. It’s important to use proper PPE (personal protective equipment) when you’re using any sort of tough solution.

It’s also important to protect yourself against germs and bacteria that may be living in your toilet.

To protect your hands from chemicals, use gloves like these Soft Scrub Rubber Gloves. They are reusable, and are extremely effective as a barricade between your skin and your toilet cleaner. They also have raised rubber on the fingertips, which is useful for increasing your grip.

Rubber gloves should be long enough to cover most of your forearm, as your skin can get splashed with soiled water, and you may need to reach far into the toilet to scrub all of the stains. Be sure to wash your hands with disinfecting soap if you come in contact with toilet water or cleaning chemicals.

If you have long hair, tie it back before cleaning your toilet. This way chemicals don’t come in contact with your hair and it doesn’t get damaged or discoloured. You also don’t want your hair to touch the toilet and get any harmful bacteria on it.

If your toilet stains are caused by mold, you may want to take extra precautions when cleaning them. Wear a mask proven to block dangerous particles from entering your lungs.


To clean a very stained toilet bowl, you must use the proper cleaning agents, time, and a little elbow grease. Toilet bowls (and toilet seats) should be cleaned regularly to prevent the stains from becoming caked on, and difficult to remove.

Let’s review the steps to cleaning a tough toilet bowl:

  1. Identify the type of stain and clean the bowl regularly
  2. Apply your chosen cleaner to the stains
  3. Scrub the bowl with a toilet brush, pumice stone, or steel wool
  4. Flush and rinse the toilet multiple times
  5. Repeat as needed to provide a deeper clean and to keep your toilet clean for the future
  6. Contact a professional if you think you have rusty pipes or persistent mold

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