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. In most cases, the toilet ring results from hard water conditions and water standing in a toilet that doesn’t see a lot of use.

While many commercial products out there promise to remove hard water stains in the toilet, ordinary household pantry items you already have can be just as effective—and much cheaper—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.

Sometimes, yellow stains in toilet bowls are due to a lack of maintenance. When your toilet bowl is exposed to urine for an extended period, yellow staining is bound to appear. You can prevent this by ensuring the toilet is flushed after every use.

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.

Baking soda and vinegar

When used together strategically, these two common, non-toxic, and harmless edible items are powerful for cleaning things, including hard water stains and toilet rings.

  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 two 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 ensure this solution reaches stains above the waterline and under the rim. Still, do not flush.
  4. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes, occasionally swishing until the stains are gone. For any remaining stain, scrub it with the toilet brush or scrubby sponge. Flush the toilet to rinse.

Borax and vinegar

Borax is a more robust, yet common, household multi-purpose cleaning product that can be used to clean hard water stains in the toilet. You can find borax in the laundry aisle of most supermarkets, online or in stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.

  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.

Dishwasher pod

Drop an automatic dishwasher pod (any brand) into the toilet bowl, allow it to sit for a few minutes. Scrub the stains away with a toilet brush. Quite amazingly, I’ve discovered that a pod will dissolve in the room temperature water of a toilet bowl. However, experimenting with automatic dishwasher powder did not prove as effective for me because, unlike the pod, it didn’t dissolve well.

Denture tablet

Porcelain fixtures respond well to the cleaning agent in denture tablets. Drop a denture tablet into the toilet bowl. Allow it to fizzle away for about 30 minutes or even overnight. Use a toilet brush to easily remove tough stains, flush, and enjoy that sparkle!

Bleach

If non-abrasive options don’t do the trick, you may have to use bleach but with several precautions. Porcelain is sensitive material, so bleach should be a product of very infrequent, if not last resort.

  1. Carefully pour 1 cup of liquid chlorine bleach into the toilet bowl water—not into the tank. Let it sit for 10 minutes max if you are trying to get rid of stubborn stains.
  2. Do not use cleaners containing bleach because, believe it or not, these products do not contain surfactants to power through the stain, they can instead harden and make the stain permanent.
  3. Scrub the inside of the toilet thoroughly with a toilet brush. Make sure you get the space up under the rim.
  4. Flush the toilet to rinse away the bleach.

When all else fails

Sadly, after all attempts, you may conclude that the stains have become permanent. But dry your tears! I have a solution for even those stains. Here it is, the mother of all solutions because some stains and toilet rings are so stubborn, they’re beyond baking soda, borax, vinegar, or bleach: pumice stone. Just be very careful. Overuse, or using the wrong kind of pumice product, can damage the surface of the vitreous china, which that toilet bowl is made of. Careful use, albeit infrequent use, 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.

Clean regularly

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

Easy maintenance

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!

Septic systems

Ammonia products are safe for use in septic systems, in reasonable amounts. Vinegar (both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar), Borax, OxiClean, and baking soda are septic-system safe. Oxidized bleaches are septic-system safe alternatives to chlorine bleach.

Warnings

  • Make sure you protect your hands with rubber gloves.
  • Never mix bleach with anything that contains vinegar or ammonia because doing so can cause dangerous chemical reactions!

Updated 9-12-22

 

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  1. randi w. says:

    I live in California where most counties are experiencing severe drought and wildfires. There are even areas here where homes don’t even have water enough to drink or bathe, let alone flush! Flushing the toilet is one of the biggest users of water in the home, especially if your toilet/s are not low flow.
    While I agree with most of the responses for products for cleaning, I completely disagree with your suggestion to flush after each use. Remember the saying, “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down?” So what if your toilet bowl gets a bit icky. Get over it! With the IPCC’s paper just issued yesterday, saying the planet and humanity are in a “code red” state of emergency I say everything is connected, even our toilets and water use. It’s high time we start to think differently about how we live and the resources we use.

    Reply
  2. Mark says:

    I use Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner. I squirt it under the lip of the toilet when the whole bowl needs to be cleaned or on a spot if there is only a small stain. I rarely have to use the brush. The cleaner takes care of everything.

    Reply
  3. Lynn Luft says:

    I poured some Blue Dawn liquid into my toilet bowl when I was going to be gone all day and it did a fantastic job of getting the bowl clean. First time I’d tried it but it worked. Ran the toilet brush around the inside and was pleased with the result….

    Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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!

    Reply
    • Sienna says:

      I keep my toilet brush in a gallon mason jar half full of water with a table spoon of polmolive dish soap. My brush stays clean. I use the soapy water to clean the bowl on the toilet every day and change the soapy water in the mason jar out every two weeks. I never have toilet rings or dirty brush. Dawn would work too but I’m allergic to it to wash my dishes with. Gives me a rash. Polmolive is what I buy, the clear colored one with no scent.

      Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
    • Alba says:

      Nothing but water should go down the drain when you have a septic system -BUT, in small amounts vinegar, baking soda and/or Dr Bronner’s soaps are safe.
      The goal with septic systems should be to have them work so efficiently that they NEVER need to be pumped!

      Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Michelle … Your comment proves the purpose of this post, that you can do the same job for a lot less $ and no chemicals or toxic fumes 🙂

      Reply
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