Written by Lisa Truesdale

You’ve been frustrated by them before, even if you didn’t know exactly what they were. Hard water stains (also called hard water deposits, lime scale, mineral deposits, or mineral buildup) are the unsightly marks that frequently appear on fixtures in your bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, and anywhere else in your home where you use a lot of water.

What causes hard water stains?

Certain areas of the country have more calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in their water, and that’s what makes the water “hard.” Much of the central and northern Midwest has hard or very hard water, while in the Northwest, like Oregon and western Washington, the water is known for being soft. Western Texas and most of Florida also have hard or very hard water. In the south, all the way from Mississippi to North Carolina, the water is soft.

If you live in an area with hard or very hard water, you’re more likely to experience issues with these ugly, stubborn stains. The minerals in the water build up over time, resulting in stains that range from white to red, rust, or brown. They can appear as crusty marks in the sink, toilet, or bathtub; a thin film of rough powder on glass shower doors and tiles; or unsightly marks on shower curtains. 

Mineral-rich hard water can also cause showerheads and faucets to clog or slow down the flow of water to an annoying trickle. If you live in an area with very hard water, you might also see stains on your dishes and your clothing.

How to remove hard water stains from a bathtub and shower

Of all the rooms in the house, the bathroom contains the most fixtures that water touches. The bathtub holds the most water, so it’s a likely candidate for stubborn hard water stains.

  • To remove hard water stains from your bathtub or shower: Mix equal parts white vinegar and plain water in a spray bottle. Spray liberally on the stains and let it sit for a few minutes. Wipe clean with a dry, folded microfiber cloth. (Warning: Do not use vinegar on marble or granite surfaces, as the acid will eat into them and dull the surface.)
  • For particularly stubborn stains on a smaller area, try this: Make a paste with baking soda and vinegar. Smear the paste over the stain and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Scrub clean and rinse with water. Wipe the area dry with a clean microfiber cloth. (Again, do not use vinegar on marble or granite.)
  • CLR PRO Bath Daily Cleaner cuts through calcium, lime, and rust -- hence the name CLR. This non-toxic multi-purpose cleaner is safe for all bathroom surfaces. Spray on toilet stains, let sit for 30 seconds, then scrub off with a toilet brush. Or spray on countertops and fixtures, let sit for 30 seconds, then wipe off with a clean microfiber cloth.
  • To remove hard water stains and break down mineral deposits from your showerhead and/or tub faucet, we recommend using regular CLR. Fill a large, deep bowl with a mixture of equal parts CLR and hot water. If you’re able to remove your showerhead or tub faucet, then remove them and place each one separately in the bowl for 2 to 3 minutes. If you aren’t able to remove your fixtures, then hold the bowl near your showerhead and tub faucet, allowing them to submerge fully into the liquid for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a soft, non-abrasive sponge or brush to loosen any deposits or grime. Repeat this process as needed until all mineral buildup and hard water stains are fully removed. Finally, rinse your showerhead and tub faucet with water, then wipe dry using a clean microfiber cloth.

How to clean hard water stains from a toilet

Because toilets are normally made from the same porcelain material as bathtubs, the above remedies should work for removing rust or brown hard water stains from your toilet.

Toilets often get pink stains, however, and those are not caused from hard water but from bacteria. Pink bacteria stains in toilets can usually be removed easily with a standard household cleaner, such as Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner, an eco-friendly formula that’s safe for use on counters, chrome, glass, marble, porcelain, and many other surfaces. Spray the cleaner on the toilet stains, let it sit for 30 seconds, then scrub off with a toilet brush.

How to remove hard water stains from glass

Are hard water stains ruining your shower door? Every time someone takes a shower, water droplets splash onto the glass. As they dry, they leave spots behind, and if you live in an area with hard water, those spots can build up and look pretty unattractive after a while. The water that’s splashing onto the door also likely contains things like soap or shampoo, so you also have to contend with soap scum buildup.

The cleaning method for glass shower doors uses some of the same household ingredients as above, but the procedure is a little different:

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  • Spray straight vinegar onto the stains and let it sit for several minutes. Mix equal parts baking soda and salt, add a tiny bit of water to make a paste, then use a damp sponge to rub the paste onto the most stubborn spots. Rinse well and dry thoroughly with a clean microfiber cloth.
  • Once your shower doors are clean, consider applying a light film of Rain-X Shower Door Water Repellent. Regular use will help prevent hard water stains, soap scum and other grime from building up on your shower door.

How to prevent hard water stains

If you live in an area with hard or very hard water, then you may have to do more regular cleaning than if you lived in an area with soft water. Using Rain-X should help prevent stains on glass shower doors, but what about the rest of your bathroom? Here are some other tips for helping to head off the stains before they start:

  • In areas with very hard water, we strongly recommend investing in a water softener, a unit that gets installed near the hot water heater. A water softener will help remove minerals in your water, resulting in fewer hard water stains, cleaner clothes and hair, and softer skin. It’s the best defense for eliminating hard water stains before they start.
  • For shower doors, keep a small squeegee in the bathroom. After every shower, squeegee the water off the door. This 10-second process will ensure your glass is optically perfect, and it’s the best way to ensure water spots and other grime don’t build up on your shower door. If you just can’t convince family members to squeegee or spray regularly, ask them to at least leave the shower door ajar afterwards to increase airflow so the water droplets dry faster.
  • Try using a non-toxic cleaner like BioClean Hard Water Stain Remover that both cleans hard water stains and provides a protective sealant to reduce future staining.
  • Make sure every bathroom in the house has its own toilet brush. Every few days, squirt some cleaner into the bowl and swish it around with the brush. Be sure to get it up under the rim.

You can’t do without water in your home, but now you know what to do when that water causes unsightly stubborn stains. To keep those stains from getting too stubborn, keep a good multipurpose cleaner on hand in every bathroom and in the kitchen for frequent touch-ups. Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner is plant-based, child and pet safe, hypoallergenic, and effective.