How to clean a very stained toilet bowl

A stained toilet bowl can be an unsightly problem. Over time, mineral deposits, rust, grime and hard water buildup can leave brownish or orange stains that are difficult to remove. While regular cleaning can help prevent stains, sometimes they become very set in and require extra work to get the bowl sparkling white again.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps needed to thoroughly clean and remove tough stains from a toilet bowl. With the right products and techniques, you can get your toilet looking fresh and clean again.

clean a very stained toilet bowl

Assess the Stains

Before you begin cleaning, inspect the bowl and identify the stains:

  • Are the stains located mainly in the bottom of the bowl, or do they creep up the sides too?
  • Make note of where the stains are worst.
  • Check for hard water deposits, rust stains, mineral buildup and grime.
  • Pay attention to the color and intensity of the stains to gauge how difficult they will be to remove.

This inspection will help you figure out which cleaning methods to focus on.

Gather Your Supplies

You will need the right tools and products:

  • Protective gloves
  • Toilet brush
  • Variety of scrub brushes
  • Toilet cleaner
  • Disinfecting bleach-based cleaner
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Pumice stone
  • Old toothbrush
  • Scrubbing sponge
  • Bucket

Make sure you have abrasive tools for scrubbing as well as acidic cleaners to help dissolve mineral deposits and break up grime.

Recommended Supplies

Here are some recommended supplies and products:

  • Scrubbing Bubbles Fresh Brush Toilet Cleaning System – $9.94
  • CLR Calcium, Lime and Rust Remover – $4.98
  • White Vinegar – $14.99
  • Scrub Mommy Toilet Scrubber – $9.99
  • Pumie Toilet Bowl Ring Remover – $7.97
  • Lysol Bleach Toilet Bowl Cleaner – $14.99

Clean the Exterior

Before tackling stains inside, clean the exterior with disinfectant cleaner:

  • Wipe down the lid, seat, tank, base and behind the bowl.
  • Scrub off any grime or mineral buildup.
  • Pay attention to hard water/rust stains near the water line or seat bolts.
  • Spray with bleach cleaner as needed.

Flush to Wet the Bowl

Flush several times to wet the entire surface. This will activate cleaning tablets/liquids and make scrubbing more effective. Keep flushing until the bowl is filled with clean water.

Pour in Cleaner

With the bowl full, pour in toilet cleaner. Make sure to coat the entire surface, paying attention to tough stains. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before scrubbing so it can loosen buildup.

Scrub the Sides

Use a toilet brush to scrub around the entire perimeter, focusing on stained areas. Apply pressure and scrub in a circular motion to clear buildup off the sides from water line down.

Start at the top rim near tank, work downward along sides. Hold brush at an angle to get bristles into stained areas. Flush periodically to rinse away grime.

Target the Bottom

The bottom near the drain often has the most buildup. Use a pumice stone to scrub off staining/rust rings. A toothbrush can also help scour the bottom.

For mineral deposits or orange iron stains, use vinegar or lemon juice. Let sit 15 minutes before scrubbing again. Acid helps dissolve deposits and bleach rust stains.

Scrub the Rim

Don’t forget the toilet rim, which can collect grime and bacteria. Use a scrub brush, toothbrush or old chopstick to vigorously scrub the front and back rim to remove gunk.

Repeat with Bleach

After scrubbing with toilet cleaner, repeat the process using bleach cleaner. Let bleach sit for 15+ minutes before scrubbing again. The bleach will lift out remaining stains and disinfect. Check for any leftover stains and spot clean as needed.

Rinse and Flush

Give the bowl a final rinse with clean water using your toilet brush to swirl and rinse. Flush several times until cleaning products are gone. Vinegar can help deodorize and neutralize chemical smells.

Inspect and Repeat if Needed

Inspect the bowl – it should be stain-free! If you notice any remaining buildup, repeat the cleaning process until pristine. Persistence and many rounds of scrubbing are key for a badly stained toilet.

Prevent Future Stains

After removing stains, keep your toilet clean:

  • Use in-tank cleaners to gradually clean with each flush
  • Brush/scrub toilet 1-2 times per week
  • Apply bleach cleaner weekly
  • Remove hard water stains promptly with vinegar
  • Thoroughly clean toilet rim each week
  • Limit hard water exposure by adding tank tablets

Tips for Stubborn Stains

For very stubborn stains, try these tips:

Rust Stains

  • Use rust removers specifically formulated for toilets
  • Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser can help lift rust rings
  • Oxalic acid-based rust removers are effective
  • Make a paste with lemon juice and cream of tartar

Heavy Mineral Buildup

  • Use a pumice stone to gently scrub off deposits
  • Apply CLR Calcium Remover or LIme-A-Way and let sit
  • Use a toilet plunger to create suction to lift mineral stains
  • Plunge Coke or Pepsi into bowl to dissolve deposits

Old Stains

  • For set-in stains, let cleaning products dwell overnight
  • Repeat cleaning process over several days if needed
  • Try leaving a chlorine tablet in the tank to slowly lift stains

Dark Stains

  • Use oxygen bleach cleaners to lighten discoloration
  • Make a baking soda and peroxide paste and apply to stains
  • Wear gloves and use bleach gel for concentrated stain removal

When to Call a Professional

If DIY efforts do not fully remove stains, consider calling a professional plumber or cleaning service. They have industrial-strength cleaners and tools that may be needed for badly stained toilets. The cost is around $200.


With some rigorous scrubbing using the right products and techniques, even the most stained toilet can be restored. Regular maintenance will keep your freshly cleaned toilet pristine. Tackle those tough stains and get your toilet gleaming white again!

Sharing Is Caring:

As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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