I Tried Everything to Fix the Brown Hard Water Stains in My Toilet — Then I Finally Found a Solution!

published Jan 24, 2023
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White bathroom door that overlooks the sink and toilet lit by the window.
Credit: ArLawKa AungTun/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Before my daughter was born, just over three years ago, I bought a new toilet. I loved how pristine it was, and I hoped that the newness would keep it looking sparkling. But between a new baby and a pandemic, I didn’t clean it as often as I might have in other circumstances. Beyond that, we live in an area with notoriously hard water. Before I knew it, I had a few of those brownish stains in the very bottom of my toilet, which suddenly didn’t seem so new anymore. 

I tried regular cleaning, which didn’t work. I bought one of those flexible toilet scrubbers that can get in much further than traditional brushes (I still recommend this). From time to time, I’d Google the issue, often late at night, when I couldn’t sleep. I learned that bleach wasn’t the answer — it would just mask the stains (not that I wanted to use bleach anyway, with my daughter around). I tried baking soda, vinegar, and baking soda with vinegar. I tried dish soap. Laundry soap. A pumice stone. Just about anything someone on the internet recommended. In spite of all of this, the stains got bigger and spots appeared in other areas. I began to despair. 

But then I came across a woman from Australia who had dumped a whole package of citric acid into her toilet, left it overnight, and woke to find a perfectly clean bowl. 

By this time, I’d read more than a few stories of people who managed to dissolve their stains without any scrubbing, with something I’d already tried, so I was skeptical. I also didn’t have any citric acid. I knew it mostly as an additive in food, but I learned that it’s a very concentrated form of the cleaning power in lemons and limes. My mom was the one who pointed me to the bulk section of our local grocery store. You can also often find it in the canning section, or buy it online by the pound. I bought a small bag and did some research. 

How I Cleaned the Hard Water Stains in My Toilet With Citric Acid

One of the most important ingredients, I learned, was time, so I waited to start my project until my husband had left for work and I could have 7 or 8 guaranteed hours where I knew the solution could sit and work its magic undisturbed. Several people also suggested using warm water (not hot, so as not to accidentally crack the porcelain bowl).  

Before I started, I tried another YouTube trick, which involved pouring a large amount of water into the toilet quickly. This nearly empties out the bowl, leaving me with a small amount of water that still covered the stains I was trying to target. 

Once that was done, I added just a little warm water to my toilet bowl, eyeballed some citric acid, and stirred it into the bowl with my brush. 

That evening, I returned to give it a scrub with the brush. My brown mineral deposits were not totally gone, but most of them were, and the others had shrunk. Before bed, I stirred some more citric acid in and left it overnight, since I’d read that sometimes an additional application might be needed, especially for particularly stubborn stains. 

The next morning, I waited as long as I could before pulling my brush out again. I was happy to find that the spots of brown I’d noticed the day before after the first cleaning now lifted off easily. I scrubbed vigorously with my brush and was both satisfied and completely disgusted when an entire brown ring from the entrance to the u-bend came free. I flushed my toilet and was so gratified to see it as pearly white as when I bought it. 

My Toilet Maintenance Plan (Because I Still Have Hard Water)

My water is still hard, and now I have a three-year-old, so my toilet still doesn’t stay as sparkling as I’d like, but now I usually eschew traditional toilet cleaners and add some citric acid and baking soda, leaving them to sit for a bit before scrubbing it. It doesn’t take much time or elbow grease, and I don’t need much at all for results. I still eyeball it most days, but for maintenance, I use about a teaspoon each of baking soda and citric acid, and when I wanted a deeper clean, with the initial stubborn mineral deposits, I used about three tablespoons. 

I hadn’t realized how much my stained toilet bothered me until it was restored. Now, I can free up that brain space, and the cupboard space I used for all the remedies I tried, which failed. Sometimes it really is the little things that make the biggest difference in our everyday lives.         

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