How To Remove Hard Water Stains


Hard water is incredibly common here in the United States, and all over the world. There’s a reason that there are a lot of hard water softening systems out there. Unfortunately, hard water can make home maintenance a lot harder, leaving hard water stains everywhere, and even clogging your shower head and collecting in pipes and faucet heads.

Fortunately, if you know how to clean hard water stains you can generally deal with all of the other problems caused by hard water basically the same way.

Removing hard water stains promptly can help prevent the stains from becoming permanent, and goes a long way to keeping your home in top condition and protecting the value of your home.

We’ll cover why hard water stains develop in the first place, what different kinds of stains can look like, how you can get rid of them, and even the common tools and techniques you can use to make getting rid of stains simple.

How To Remove Hard Water Stains

Understanding Hard Water Stains

Hard water is basically water with a particularly high concentration of some minerals. Hard water isn’t necessarily unhealthy, and having those high concentrations of minerals doesn’t mean that it’s going to cause problems. However, some hard water does taste a little different from regular water, and it can cause a range of plumbing issues.

The most common sign of hard water that homeowners notice are hard water stains. Unfortunately, those are not the only common problems. Another warning sign that you have hard water is if you notice that the water pressure from your sinks and faucets decreases over time, or if you have appliances that get clogged or otherwise have a hard time. Refrigerator ice makers and water filtration systems are one of the most common appliances that have trouble with hard water.

All of these problems happen because of minerals being slowly deposited by the water. Hard water stains can be surface stains, where there is a layer of the mineral on top of a surface. However, over time, the water can sink into many surfaces, and eventually start depositing minerals deeper into the material. Those stains are much harder to eliminate, so preventing them is your best option.

The two most common kinds of hard water stains are limescale, which is calcium and other minerals crystallizing into a pale white or yellowish stain, and soap scum. On some surfaces, you might see limescale as a spreading dark circle at first. The color will change over time as the stain gets worse.

The other common hard water stain is soap scum, which can look a lot of different ways depending on the surface it’s on, but is often a patchy kind of grayish film with whiter edges. Soap scum happens in part because the soap you’re using is reacting with the minerals in the water, which is exactly what soap is supposed to do!

There are other forms of hard water stains, but they almost always look like a slightly discolored surface that spreads and gets worse over time. In some cases, you might also notice a surface that looks constantly wet, which likely means that you have a shinier mineral being deposited.

Common Ingredients to Remove Hard Water Stains

Hard water stains can seem difficult to remove until you know what tools to use to get rid of it. Standard cleaners often don’t work because minerals aren’t what they are designed to deal with. But, the cleaners that do work are things you likely already have in your home!

The three most common cleaners for hard water stains are:

  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Hydrogen peroxide

These three cleaners work by helping dissolve and eliminate the minerals (and three) and sometimes by helping to bleach out the stain as well (vinegar and hydrogen peroxide). If you aren’t sure which cleaner will work, you can test all three and see which performs best for your stain.

We recommend testing instead of just going off the appearance of the stain in part because hard water is a little different everywhere, so different cleaner options, or sometimes a combination of them, will work better or worse for different minerals.

Just make sure to check that the surface you’re cleaning can tolerate cleaning with baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide before you get started. Some surfaces, hardwoods, natural stone, and tile in particular can be damaged or altered by these natural cleaners.

For all three of these cleaners, the process is similar. You want to leave the cleaner on the stain for about an hour before you get to work. For hydrogen peroxide, it’s important to turn off the lights while you soak the stain since light can deactivate hydrogen peroxide relatively quickly.

For baking soda, you’ll want to make a paste with water to clean stains. The liquid cleaners work best soaked into a sponge, cloth, or paper towel so that the surface stays wet for the whole hour. Then use a gentle cleaning brush to scrub the stain away. If the stain doesn’t lift completely after an hour, soak for another hour and repeat.

For particularly stubborn stains, the combination of baking soda and vinegar is even more effective. The heat helps aid stain removal and can get stains that other cleaners won’t. Just be aware that this combination will foam and produce heat, which can make it more damaging for certain surfaces.

Identifying and Dealing with Hard Water

Almost anywhere in the United States there are places with hard water, but some places do have it worse than others. Texas is known for having particularly hard water, as is Colorado and a lot of the mountain states along the Rockies. Nevada also has some areas with hard water, particularly any water systems drawing from Lake Mead as their source.

Wisconsin, Indiana, and Florida are also known for their hard water, and for having more intense hard water even compared with other places that have significant hard water.

Signs Of Hard Water In Your Home

Here are some of the most common signs of hard water in your home:

  • Rapid soap scum buildup
  • You have noticed decreasing shower pressure in your home
  • Your water tastes or smells strange
  • Frequent clogged or noisy pipes
  • You notice more skin irritation, dryness, or rashes since moving to your new home
  • Appliances seem to wear out faster than they should
  • Your clothes don’t seem clean out of the laundry, or have a strange watery scent
  • You constantly have to clean off mineral buildup around faucets

Another good way to get an idea of your water hardness is to check your local municipal water quality reports or the water quality reports from monitoring and supply companies. Water quality reports can tell you a ton of different things about the water in your area.

Cleaning Hard Water Stains from Different Surfaces

Here are a couple of quick guides to cleaning up hard water stains from common places in your home. The tips and tricks here can be used in other areas as well, just try to match the technique to the type of stain as well as the surface materials you’re working with.

Bathroom Cleaning – Removing Hard Water Stains From Showers And Tubs

The easiest way to get rid of the most common hard water stains in showers and tubs is with a vinegar and water solution. The strongest you want to mix vinegar for cleaning is 1:1 with plain water. Distilled water from a store often works better if you’re dealing with hard water problems.

Put this solution in a spray bottle and thoroughly coat anywhere with hard water stains that you want to remove. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes to an hour. If you live somewhere with a dry climate, you may need to spray the surface several times to stop it from drying.

Once you’ve let the solution sit for at least 30 minutes, gently scrub away the stain with a sponge, towel, or scrubber designed for bathroom use.

For stubborn stains, repeat as needed until the stain is completely removed.

Remove Hard Water Buildup From Your Shower Head

Your shower head can also collect the minerals from hard water buildup, reducing water pressure and shower performance over time.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this problem!

You’ll want to get come CLR cleaner, which is a calcium, lime, and rust remover specifically designed for dealing with hard water buildup and corrosion damage. It won’t restore any actual damage but it will give your shower head a thorough clean.

Mix the CLR with hot water per the instructions on the bottle.

Then remove your shower head from the pipe. If removing the shower head is difficult or impractical, you can also use a plastic bag filled with CLR and hot water and tape it around the shower head to soak.

Soak the removed shower head in the bowl of CLR and hot water for at least 20 minutes, or longer depending on CLR instructions and how much buildup is on your shower.

If your shower still has visible buildup at the end of the soak, rinse it and prepare a fresh batch of CLR and water and repeat. You should only need repeat cleanings if it’s been a long time since you cleaned the shower head.

The same technique can be used for faucets.

Hard Water Toilet Stains

There are two approaches to cleaning up hard water stains in toilets. The first is that you can get a hydrogen-peroxide-based cleaner to give the toilet regular touch-ups. This works both by eliminating the hard water stains and by gently and gradually bleaching the porcelain to keep it white.

You can also shut off the water going to your toilet and fill the bowl with white vinegar. Allow that to sit for at least one hour, then scrub the bowl as normal, restore water, and flush. This will eliminate hard water stains, and many of the other stains that build up on toilet porcelain, and also reduce the maintenance needs for that toilet for several weeks or months depending on use.

If you have challenging pink stains, both vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can be effective cleaners, however, we’d recommend starting with hydrogen peroxide since that will also kill the bacteria causing the stain.

If the stain persists after peroxide treatment, a baking soda and vinegar paste applied directly to the stain should finish the job.

Remove Hard Water Stains From Glass

Most glass cleaners are pretty good for hard water stains, including Mrs. Meyers glass cleaner and other natural alternatives. However, for stubborn stains, or glass that is streaky and has been for a long time, baking soda and water paste may be the most effective solution.

Difficult Dishes?

For dishes that come out of the wash with a layer of soap scum, there is a solution. One way to clean out your dishwasher is to run it with white vinegar instead of regular dish soap for 1-2 washes until the interior looks clean and any soap scum on the walls or dish racks is gone.

You can also use a small amount of vinegar in the wash, though you don’t want to use too much. Vinegar can cancel the effects of some detergents, which might mean that your dishes aren’t getting as clean as you think if you use too much.

You can also add a small amount of vinegar or baking soda to the dishwater if you hand wash your dishes. This will help them rinse clean without leaving difficult soap scum behind.

Safely Cleaning Granite and Marble

Granite and marble can pose a more serious problem if you live somewhere with hard water. Unless you know that the stone has been sealed and that the seal is perfect and undamaged, you should use caution to eliminate hard water stains from these surfaces.

That’s because granite and marble are made, in part, from the same minerals in hard water stains. So you might accidentally dissolve a little of your countertop, leaving a rough surface, while removing hard water stains!

Dish soap and plant-based soaps are typically the best options for cleaning these surfaces. You should also use specialized scrubbing tools or soft cloths and sponges for cleaning. More abrasive tools can easily scratch the surface and cause more problems than you started with.

Preventing Hard Water Stains

Preventing hard water stains is difficult, but it can be done.

Cleaning with a vinegar solution is one great way to help prevent hard water staining. You should also make sure to wipe down any surfaces with regular water exposure to prevent puddles or excess moisture.

One of the best options is to invest in a whole-home water filtration system that eliminates the minerals causing hard water. Water softening systems are another option, though they can also cause a different kind of staining on some surfaces.

You should also seal your home’s surfaces with non-toxic cleaners or a specialized sealant periodically to make sure you don’t have hidden bacteria lurking in cracks or scratches in the seal. There are specialized sealing products for every different surface type in your home, but it’s important to choose the right ones for the surface you’re sealing.

Lastly, it’s important to have dedicated cleaning tools for different areas of your home so you aren’t just spreading bacteria from place to place. Your toilets should all have a dedicated brush just for them. Your kitchen should also have its own cleaning tools, even if other cleaning equipment is shared between bathrooms. General living areas and bedrooms should also have another set.


Cleaning up hard water stains might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of ways you can make cleaning hard water stains easier, just by having the right tools and cleaners available when you need them.

But the best solution is to get rid of the problem before you have to deal with the symptoms of the issue. Getting a whole home water filtration system designed to eliminate excess minerals in your water can improve your health, reduce skin irritation, and make home maintenance that much easier.

Not to mention that good filtration extends the life of your appliances and plumbing!

Recent Blog Posts