House Cleaning Tips > Stain Removal > Removing Hard Water Spots and Stains

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How to Remove Hard Water Spots and Mineral Stains

If your water is hard, you will likely have those nasty white or brown spots on your sink, tubs, and glass shower enclosures.

Hard water spots can form anywhere water is used.

We have a high level of mineral content in our water here on the west side of Washington State. Our water tastes wonderful, but the trade-off is that water stains can form on everything if I'm not careful.

If hard water deposits are not addressed, the minerals in the water can permeate surfaces making it very, if not extremely difficult to remove.

I've become quite an expert in removing these pesky white deposits without damaging the items they have stained. I'll be happy to teach you how to become an expert stain remover too.

So don’t let those hard water stains take over. The sooner you address them, the easier they will be to remove.

Are you ready to remove your hard water stains then? Let's get busy cleaning!

What Exactly is Hard Water?

Water that has a high concentration of dissolved minerals (usually magnesium and calcium) is called "Hard Water".

Water is foremost a solvent. It picks up impurities easily. So as water percolates through the ground, it takes very small amounts of the minerals with it and carries it along to the water processing plant.

The degree of water hardness increases with increased levels of calcium, magnesium, other minerals and trace elements.

Problems Caused by Hard Water:

Hard water is not bad for you at all, (it's actually a nice way to get your minerals) but it's a pain when these minerals cause stains and contribute to other cleaning problems.

Water Stains, Spots, Rings and Limescale

Water stains are usually white in color, but they can also be brown or rust colored when iron or other trace elements are present.

When standing water is allowed to naturally evaporate or is boiled away, the minerals are left behind and form a hard and hazy looking stain.

Hard water stains, limescale and water rings are all caused by these same minerals, with the following differences;

  • Limescale is left when water is boiled away as occurs in kettles, heating elements or hot water heaters.
  • Water stains and spots are left when water spots or drips evaporate naturally.
  • Water rings are formed on surfaces when water is left to evaporate from the outside of a glass.

These stains will form on all surfaces. They are most visible on glass, porcelain, enamel, fiberglass, stainless steel, china, enamel, chrome, and tile. Your bathroom shower and sinks will require more frequent cleaning (descaling) to stay ahead of the heavy mineral build-up.

Poor Soap Lathering, Degreasing and Cleaning

The minerals in water don't just cause stains; they interfere with cleaning products, detergents and shampoos resulting in less effective cleaners.

Because of the reduced cleaning power, hard water also causes more soap scum, sediment and debris to form in areas where water is used. (showers, sinks, washing machines, etc. )

The additional sediment build up then can cascade to cause further soap scum and mold and mildew to form.

Removing Hard Water Stains and Spots:

The cleaners listed below will remove stains on hard surfaces such as tile and glass. Do not use acidic products on natural marble, stone, terrazzo, anodized or polished aluminum or colored grout. Test the product in an inconspicuous place if you are not certain to avoid damage.

Hard water stains should be removed regularly. The longer a stain is allowed to sit, the harder it will be to remove. If a stain remains for long periods it can become permanent. Hard water can etch glass and is especially damaging to  crystal as well.

Some of these acid cleaners are extremely really strong and can burn you if they get on your skin or eyes. Be safe and use eye protection and gloves.

Abrasives

I use abrasives and plain old "elbow grease" to remove hard water spots and limescale at my home- we also use this method at my cleaning company.

Abrasive cleaners such as Baking Soda, Comet, steel wool, SOS pads and green scrubby's can all be used to remove these stains. These abrasive cleaners work better on smaller deposits.

Old stains, large areas or heavy concentrations of build up will need more than just abrasives to be completely removed.

If your stain remains after using an abrasive, try one of the stronger methods listed below.

Plain White Vinegar or Lemon Juice

White vinegar and lemon juice are mild and natural acids that I frequently use to remove stains. They take longer to work than the strong acids listed below, but they aren't toxic and won't burn or blind you either!

Vinegar and lemon juice are very effective cleaners and will loosen and remove hard water deposits from hard surfaces like tile and glass shower enclosures.

  1. Spray or wipe the area with a 50/50 vinegar or lemon juice solution
  2. Let the cleaning solution work on the stain for 15 minutes.
  3. Use a soft bristle brush or green scrubby to scrub away any stain that remains.
  4. Rinse thoroughly.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Heavier duty stains can be tackled safely using baking soda and vinegar if you'd like to avoid using toxic acids listed below this section.

Vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base (alkaline). Don't use vinegar and baking soda at the same time. These cleaners are effective because each are at the opposite sides of the pH scale.

 Using them together will actually cancel the benefits of using each of them out.

  1. Spray or wipe full strength vinegar on the hard water buildup
  2. Let the vinegar work on the stain for 30 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle baking soda on the stain
  4. Use a green scrubby to scrub away any stain that remains.
  5. Rinse thoroughly.

Lime-a-Way and CLR

These products are corrosive and toxic. Do not use these products on natural marble, stone, terrazzo, anodized or polished aluminum, colored grout or areas in contact with food such as kitchen counter tops. Test the product in a small and inconspicuous place if you are not certain to avoid damage.

Lime-a-way is a product that removes hard water deposits and rust stains from tubs, showers, toilets, and glass and ceramic tiles. The product called CLR stands for Calcium, Lime and Rust.

These cleaning products contain proprietary blends of multiple heavy duty acids and are available in small quantities to be used in very small areas.

These hard water cleaning products are usually wiped on and then wiped off. Do not use a scrub brush to avoid spattering the cleaner.

Eye protection and gloves are also called for when using these products.

Phosphoric Acid, Hydrochloric and Sulfuric Acid

These acids are corrosive and toxic. Do not use these products on natural marble, stone, terrazzo, anodized or polished aluminum, colored grout or areas in contact with food such as kitchen counter tops. Test the product in a small and inconspicuous place if you are not certain to avoid damage.

Phosphoric acid, hydrochloric and sulfuric acid are very strong corrosive acids.

Many professional cleaning companies use these chemicals to scour hard water deposits. These products are available in larger quantities and are useful for cleaning heavy staining, multiple or larger areas like around hot tubs or swimming pools.

Use eye protection and gloves when using these chemicals.

Preventing Hard Water Stains, Spots, Rings and Limescale

Preventing hard water stains can be a little tricky, but there are options that you can use that are helpful.

  • If your home is on a well or has a water pump system, heavy mineral levels can be compensated for by using a water filter to remove excess minerals at the source.
  • Water softeners such as borax can be added to counteract heavy minerals in the washing machine.
  • Cleaning agents can be used at a higher strength to compensate for less effective cleaning
  • The single most effective way to prevent hard water stains is to dry off surfaces when they become wet.
  • Dry the floor with a towel after mopping to eliminate water spots on the floor.
  • Use a squeegee to remove water drops from shower doors and walls to reduce the white hazy stains that show on glass and tile walls.
  • Use rain-x on the inside of your shower door to make water run-off in sheets. This will also keep the glass shiny and cleaner for longer.
  • Use coasters under drinking glasses to stop drips and spills from making rings on table tops

Image courtesy of Gabriel Rocha, CC BY-SA.


Connect with Mrs Clean!

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Mrs Clean (Corina Wilson) is not only the owner of the company, but a very busy mother of 3 children.

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Mrs Clean realized long ago, that a clean home is a necessity, not a luxury when we are struggling to find the time in our day to cover the very basic levels of work and/or family obligations. The battle seems to never end... (but that's why we're here to help!)

When Mrs Clean is not busy managing her house cleaning company or running her kids back and forth to their events, she enjoys experimenting with natural and non-toxic cleaners and learning new techniques to remove stains.

She thoroughly enjoys sharing her valuable information with the readers of her blogs and various social media sites.

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