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How to Easily Remove Hard Water Stains

Nix the cloudy white spots with these cleaning tips — and find out how to prevent them.

hand holding sponge, washing dishes
Mike Garten

Hard water stains not only leave behind unsightly residue, making your glasses and shower doors look cloudy, but those minerals that cause white spots can also slow and eventually clog showers and faucets. 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.

Helping to keep your house sparkling clean is a top priority here at the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab. We test cleaning products year-round and find the best methods to help keep your home spotless, 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 to remove hard water stains from every surface of your home.

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What is hard water?

First, you might be wondering what exactly hard water is and why it causes stains. 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 calcium mineral deposits. Usually, these stains are chalky white but can also be brown or rust-colored depending on which minerals are in the water.

Note that hard water stains can become permanent, damaging surfaces like glass, 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.

The best ways to remove hard water stains

The best way 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 shower heads. There are also cleaning products you can buy that can easily remove hard water stains and buildup. Read for the best ways to get rid of hard water stains on toilets, showers, sinks, glass and more.

How to remove hard water stains on glass

To remove hard water marks from glasses by hand-washing your dishes, you’ll need a basin that’s large enough to submerge your glass in vinegar.

  1. Warm up vinegar: Heat some white vinegar in the microwave until it’s warm, and pour it in the basin.
  2. Let sit: Immerse the glasses in the vinegar for 10 minutes, turning them to cover all sides.
  3. Add baking soda: After 10 minutes, remove the glasses and sprinkle on a generous amount of baking soda.
  4. Rinse: Rub the baking soda gently with your fingers to remove the stains, rinse and buff dry.

    How to remove hard water stains on 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. For stubborn hard water stains that need more scrubbing power, you may have to use something stronger, like CLR Brilliant Bath Cleaner, a top-tested product that won a 2020 Good Housekeeping Cleaning Award.

    How to remove hard water stains on shower heads

    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 shower head in vinegar, be wary that doing this could damage some finishes.)

    How to remove hard water stains on sinks

    Make your chrome sink fixtures look polished again by using a solution of 50/50 water and vinegar.

    1. Wrap the fixture: Dip a cloth into the mixture, wrap it around the stained item and leave it up to 10 minutes.
    2. Rinse and buff: After letting it sit, rinse and buff dry — then repeat if needed.
    3. Soak the aerator: If your sink has an aerator (a removable screen), unscrew it, soak it in vinegar and scrub to remove the mineral build-up.

      How to remove hard water stains in 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 sit for 15 minutes, and scrub your way to a sparkly bowl. In our Cleaning Lab tests, we found this product easy to use thanks to the curved neck bottle. For tough stains, a second application may be necessary.

      If you prefer to use items that may already be in your home, a DIY solution of vinegar and baking soda is a great alternative:

      Vinegar and Baking Soda Method

      1. 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.
      2. 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. It's normal for the mixture to fizz, so don't be alarmed by it. Let this sit for approximately 10 minutes.
      3. 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.
      4. Scrub: After 30 minutes, if there are still stains, use the toilet brush to scrub them away.
      5. 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 Clorox Toilet & Bath Cleaning Stone. 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.

        How to prevent hard water stains

        To combat those cloudy stains from happening in the first place, it's important to keep fixtures dry. Simply wipe glassware, faucets, sinks and shower doors with a soft cloth after using to prevent the water from drying on the surface and leaving behind minerals. As for your toilet, it helps to regularly clean the bowl (though even with frequent cleanings, hard water stains can still appear in the toilet).

        But the absolute easiest way to prevent hard water stains from happening everywhere in your home is to get rid of the problem altogether by 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.

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