No matter how much you clean, if you find white or cloudy-looking spots on your glasses and shower, chances are you have hard water which is leaving behind mineral deposits. These hard water stains not only leave behind unsightly residue but they can also slow and eventually clog drains. Knowing how to remove hard water stains quickly and easily can cut down on the elbow grease required to remove those chalky marks and help prevent build-up to keep your showers and faucets flowing freely.
Here at the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, we test hundreds of products year-round to find the best cleaning products. We also find the best methods to keep your house sparkling clean, including removing hard water stains. And since nothing’s worse than cleaning your crystal only to have spots left behind, we’ve put together our best tips and methods to remove hard water stains from every surface of your home.
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What is hard water and what causes it?
When water contains high levels of minerals, such as magnesium, calcium and iron, it’s considered “hard.” Those unsightly hard water stains are caused when hard water droplets dry and leave behind mineral deposits. Usually, these stains are chalky white but can also be brown or rust-colored depending on which minerals are in the water.
The best ways to remove hard water stains
There are various methods and cleaning products that you can use to easily remove hard water stains and buildup. Depending on the surface you can use vinegar, a combination of baking soda and vinegar or cleaning products specifically designed to eliminate hard water stains.
How to remove hard water stains from glass
To remove hard water marks from drinking glasses, you’ll need a basin that’s large enough to submerge your glassware in vinegar.
- Warm up vinegar: Heat some white vinegar in the microwave until it’s warm, and pour it into the basin.
- Let sit: Immerse the glasses in the vinegar for 10 minutes, turning them to cover all sides.
- Add baking soda: After 10 minutes, remove the glasses and sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda directly onto the glass.
- Rinse: Rub the baking soda gently with your fingers to remove the stains, rinse and buff dry.
How to remove hard water stains from shower walls and bathtubs
To clean your shower and bathtub, grab a spray bottle and mix equal parts of water and vinegar. Spritz the solution onto affected surfaces, let sit for at least 15 minutes, then wipe clean.
How to remove hard water stains from showerheads
If your shower stream doesn’t feel as strong anymore, it could be a sign of the minerals in hard water jamming your shower head and nozzle. To clean your shower head, dip a toothbrush in white vinegar and scrub the water jets, then wipe it clean and turn on the jets to blast out the clogging minerals. (While you can soak the showerhead in vinegar, be wary that doing this could damage some finishes.)
How to remove hard water stains from sinks
Make your chrome sink fixtures look polished again by using a solution of 50/50 water and vinegar.
- Wrap the fixture: Dip a cloth into the mixture, wrap it around the stained item and leave it for up to 10 minutes.
- Scrub and rinse: After letting it sit, give it a scrub, then rinse and buff dry. Repeat if needed.
- Soak the aerator: If your sink has an aerator (a removable screen), unscrew it, soak it in vinegar and scrub with a toothbrush to remove the mineral build-up.
How to remove hard water stains from the toilet
The easiest way to get rid of yucky residue is to use a toilet cleaner made specifically for hard water stain removal, like Scrubbing Bubbles Power Stain Destroyer. Simply apply the product around the inside of the toilet bowl, let it sit for 15 minutes and scrub your way to a sparkling bowl. In our Cleaning Lab tests, we found this product easy to use thanks to the curved neck bottle. For tough hard water buildup, a second application may be necessary.
If you prefer to use items that may already be in your home, a DIY cleaning solution of vinegar and baking soda is a great alternative:
Vinegar and Baking Soda Method
- Pour in vinegar: Measure one cup of vinegar and pour it around the inside of the toilet bowl, making sure to cover the hard water stains with vinegar. Swish it around with a toilet brush and let it sit for a minute.
- Add baking soda and more vinegar: After letting the vinegar sit, sprinkle a cup of baking soda around the toilet bowl and then add another cup of vinegar over the baking soda. The mixture should fizz. Let this sit for approximately 10 minutes.
- Swish solution and let sit: Using a toilet brush, swish the solution around the toilet, making sure to cover any stains, and let the solution sit for up to 30 minutes. Stir the solution around the bowl a few times to make sure you get rid of the stains.
- Scrub: After 30 minutes, if there are still stains, use the toilet brush to scrub them away.
- Rinse and repeat: Flush the toilet to rinse, and repeat as necessary for stuck-on stains.
Toilet Cleaning Stone Method
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, hard water deposits still settle inside a toilet, especially along the water line. For these tough-to-remove stains, try a toilet cleaning stone, like the Powerstone Pumice Stone Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Made of crushed and compressed glass, these stones scrub away deposits without scratching porcelain fixtures. Simply wet the stone and the bowl, then gently scrub the line of hard water deposits to loosen and wipe them away. The stones can be used over and over again and gradually wear down over time.
Hard Water Stains FAQs
Are hard water stains permanent?
Hard water stains can become permanent if left too long. It’s best to remove hard water stains as soon as they appear. While it may be tempting to let a mild stain sit until cleaning day, the longer it sits the harder it is to remove.
Can vinegar get rid of hard water stains?
Yes, one of the best ways to remove hard water stains is with an ingredient you probably already have in your pantry: vinegar. This cupboard staple can remove spots from glasses, polish up faucets and chrome fixtures, and de-gunk showerheads.
Does CLR get rid of hard water stains?
Yes, for stubborn hard water stains on shower walls and tiles, bathtubs, sinks or faucets that need more scrubbing power, you may have to use something stronger than vinegar, like CLR Brilliant Bath Cleaner, a top-tested product that won a 2020 Good Housekeeping Cleaning Award. CLR works to dissolve the mineral deposits that cause hard water stains.
How to prevent hard water stains
To combat those cloudy stains from happening in the first place, Carolyn Forte, Executive Director, Home Care & Cleaning Lab says, “It’s important to keep fixtures dry. Wipe down any wet surfaces such as glassware, faucets, sinks and shower doors with a soft cloth.” We love the Maker’s Clean Waffle Weave Cloth, which won a 2020 Good Housekeeping Cleaning Award for its softness and ability to soak up water. Wiping up excess water will prevent it from drying on surfaces and leaving minerals behind. As for your toilet, it helps to regularly clean the bowl (though even with frequent cleanings, hard water stains can still appear).
If wiping down fixtures and frequent cleanings are too much of a chore, the easiest way to prevent hard water stains from happening everywhere in your home is to get rid of the problem altogether by consulting a plumber about installing a whole-home water softener, which requires professional installation to your home’s water lines. Most water softeners work with salt — which needs to be replenished — to filter the water and remove the calcium and magnesium minerals, preventing the stains from happening in the first place.
Jamie Kim is a consumer products expert with over 17 years of experience in areas of product development and manufacturing. She has held leading roles at both mid-size consumer goods companies and one of the most notable and largest apparel brands in the world. Jamie has contributed to several of the GH Institute Labs, including Kitchen Appliances, Media and Tech, Textiles and Home Appliances. In her free time she enjoys cooking, traveling, and working out.
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