How Can I Get Rid of This Stubborn Toilet Ring?

It’s not the most elegant question I get, but certainly one of the most common. “I’ve tried everything I can think of, but that stubborn, ugly toilet bowl ring won’t go away!” Or “It goes away, but just keeps coming back!”


white toilet suffering from a nasty toilet ring


Toilet bowls develop discolorations for many reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the housekeeping. Basically, the toilet ring is the result of hard water conditions together with water standing in a toilet that sees a lot of use.

While there are lots of commercial products out there that promise to remove hard water stains in the toilet, ordinary household pantry items you have already can be just as effective to rid your toilet of the dreaded toilet ring without harsh chemicals.

What are those stains, anyway?

Toilet bowl stains that look like rust are likely due to mineral deposits and hard water. Green, orange or black streaks or rings may be mold. A bacteria called serratia marcescens shows up as pink. Knowing what is causing the ring makes it easier for you to choose the best method for getting rid of it.

Under most conditions, regular weekly cleaning prevents heavy stain buildup and reduces the appearance of any existing stains so the bowl can look pristine and white again.

And when none of that works? Don’t worry, I have the mother of all solutions for that too, in a bit. But let’s start with the easiest.


  1. Make sure you protect your hands with rubber gloves.
  2. Never mix bleach with anything other than water, because doing so can cause dangerous chemical reactions.

Baking soda and vinegar

These two common, non-toxic, and harmless edible items when used together strategically, are powerful to clean things, including hard water stains and toilet ring.

  1. Pour 1 cup of ordinary white vinegar into the toilet bowl. Using a toilet brush, swish it around. Let it sit for a minute or so.
  2. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda into the toilet bowl followed by 2 more cups of vinegar. Get ready as this is going to create a fizzing action. Leave it be for about 10 minutes.
  3. Using the toilet brush, swish some more because you want to make sure this solution reaches stains above the waterline and under the rim. Still, do not flush.
  4. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes, swishing occasionally until the stains are gone. For any stain that remains, scrub it with the toilet brush or scrubby sponge. Flush the toilet to rinse.

Borax and vinegar

Borax is stronger, yet common, household multi-purpose cleaning product that can be used to clean hard water stains in the toilet.

  1. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of borax into the toilet bowl and swish it around with a toilet brush.
  2. Add 1 cup of vinegar, swish around again, and let the mixture sit in the bowl for about 20 minutes.
  3. Finish by scrubbing the bowl with a toilet brush to remove the stains. Flush to rinse.


  1. Carefully pour 1 cup of liquid chlorine bleach into the toilet bowl. Let it sit for 30 minutes if you are trying to get rid of mold or bacteria. Do not use cleaners containing bleach because, believe it or not, they can make this kind of stain permanent.
  2. Scrub the inside of the toilet thoroughly with a toilet brush. Make sure you get the space up under the rim.
  3. Flush the toilet to rinse away the bleach.


Some stains and toilet rings are so stubborn, they’re beyond baking soda, borax, vinegar, or bleach. Sadly, they’ve become permanent. But I have a solution for even those stains, so dry your tears!

What follows is to be used only occasionally, and very carefully. Overuse, or using the wrong product, can damage the surface of the vitreous china, which that toilet bowl is made of. Careful use, infrequent use, however, is like magic!

I recommend Pumie Toilet Bowl Ring Remover. As pumice stones go, this one is soft and when used infrequently, will not harm the surface of the toilet bowl. Pumie comes with a handle that makes it easy to use.

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Clean regularly

You do not need to use strong and costly chemicals to prevent hard water toilet stains. Borax, vinegar, and baking soda do a great job of cleaning and disinfecting. They will prevent hard water stains from building up when used regularly.


For regular maintenance and to help keep your toilet clean and free of hard water buildup, do this weekly, or as needed:

  1. Sprinkle 1 cup of borax into your toilet bowl before you go to bed. Get it on the sides of the bowl, under the rim, and inside the bowl itself.
  2. In the morning, scrub quickly with a brush, and flush. The borax loosens up everything you can see and not see, making scrub time much faster. Toilet rings, odors, and stains will flush away easily and with hardly any effort at all!


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18 replies
  1. Mare P. says:

    I’ve become obsessed with ring-free toilets using Pumie scouring sticks for $2.99 at Home Depot… best buy ever and doesn’t damage the bowl. Melaleuca bowl cleaner and ajax for maintenance but I’ve used on toilets for family and friends who can’t get the ring out.

  2. Lori M. says:

    We tried everything to get that pink ring out of out guest bathroom toilet! After trying all of your suggestions, my husband put Soft Scrub with bleach on a Scotch blue sponge with the non-scratch pad and used a little muscle and it came right off. Not bleach or toxic chemicals. Worked like a charm!

  3. Terri Printz says:

    Hi Mary, I am seeking information/recommendations for a personal alarm; these can usually be put on a key ring; there are quite a few available, but many are useless. I hope this e-mail reaches you. Terri Printz

  4. laura says:

    a related question- how do I clean the toilet brush and container? I used to use disposable scrubber pads and am trying to reduce plastic usage, so I bought a brush but not sure how, or how often to clean it. thanks for all you do!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Rather than cleaning the container, you should clean and sterilize (hot water and soap) the brush every time you use it in the toilet, before returning it to the container. I do this in the sink right next to the toilet, then open the toilet lid, lay the brush head over the toilet bowl and close the lid to hold it there so it can drip dry. Now it’s clean and tidy to put back into the container.

  5. carolyn campbell says:

    The maintenance instructions to keep the toilet bowl clean are really funny.
    I personally don’t know ANYONE whose toilet doesn’t get flushed several times a night.
    I know people with only one bathroom and small children. Guess what the odds are that would ever work…..but I do appreciate the good laugh I had when I read it.

  6. Cathy down on the farm... says:

    Kind of on a similar note. even with a soft water system, I see the rust trying to creep in. I use Bar keeper’s Friend every couple of weeks (and clean with comet cleanser afterward) and it works very well. So grateful to know these other great tips too. Thanks, Mary.

  7. Michelle S. says:

    I discovered a wonderful product for this problem. It’s called Iron Out. It is available in a spray gel or granular format. I use the concentrated powder. Just pour (or spray) into the bowl and let it sit for 10-20 minutes or so and then use a toilet bowl brush to clean the whole bowl.

    BE CAREFUL though it is really strong. I wear gloves and a mask (we all have plenty of those now) and I open a window when I apply it, then close the door and leave to let it work its magic. It works fast and you will be amazed at the result.


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