How to remove hard water stains

Hard water stains can be a real nuisance in any home. They form when minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are naturally present in hard water, are left behind when the water evaporates. This leaves unsightly white or grey mineral deposits on surfaces like glass shower doors, faucets, bathtubs, sinks and even dishes. Not only are hard water stains unsightly, they can also damage surfaces over time. Luckily, there are several effective methods for removing hard water stains safely and easily.

remove hard water stains

What Causes Hard Water Stains?

Hard water contains high levels of dissolved minerals like calcium, magnesium and manganese. When hard water evaporates, these minerals are left behind, forming hard water deposits and spots on surfaces. Areas with especially hard water tend to have more problems with hard water stains. Fixtures that are regularly exposed to hard water when it evaporates are also more prone to staining, like shower doors, faucets and sink basins. The minerals bind together and harden, turning into stubborn stains over time.

While harmless to health, hard water stains affect the appearance of surfaces, fixtures, glassware and more. Prevention is ideal, but removing existing hard water stains is straightforward with the right techniques.

Tips for Preventing Hard Water Stains

While removing hard water stains is easy with the right products and methods, prevention is always preferable. Here are some useful tips for preventing those pesky hard water stains in the first place:

  • Install water softening systems or devices – These remove or reduce the minerals that cause hard water stains throughout your whole plumbing system. Options include salt-based ion exchange softeners, salt-free water conditioners, and magnetic water softeners.
  • Use a squeegee – Wipe down shower doors and glass surfaces after bathing to prevent water droplet marks. A silicone blade squeegee works best for water repellency.
  • Rinse dishes promptly – Don’t let glasses, dishes or silverware air dry. Rinse under hot water right after use.
  • Dry sinks and fixtures – Use a towel to dry basins, faucets and other fixtures after use to avoid water spots. Microfiber cloths work great.
  • Clean regularly – Don’t allow mineral buildup to accumulate. Use preventative cleaning methods weekly.
  • Apply wax coatings – Use car wax or commercial products to coat surfaces like shower doors. This makes them less prone to hard water marks.
  • Change water filters – Replace old water filters, as they become less effective at removing minerals over time. Choose filters certified to reduce levels of calcium and magnesium.

With some simple daily and weekly habits, it’s easy to avoid those frustrating hard water stains in your home. But if you do find them forming, take heart that they can be removed with minimal effort.

How to Remove Existing Hard Water Stains

If prevention fails and hard water stains form anyway, there are several highly effective methods for removing them. Here are some simple, safe ways to get rid of hard water stains in your home:


White vinegar is a mild acid that gets rid of hard water deposits and stains with ease. To use it:

  • Pour undiluted vinegar into a spray bottle. White vinegar typically costs $1-3 for a 32 oz bottle.
  • Liberally spray the affected areas with the vinegar.
  • Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes. The acid in the vinegar will react with the mineral deposits, loosening their bond.
  • Wipe away with a damp microfiber cloth or scrub with an old toothbrush.
  • Rinse thoroughly with warm water.

For tougher stains, repeat the process as needed. The extended soak time allows the vinegar to fully break down the minerals.

Lemon Juice

Like vinegar, lemon juice contains citric acid that removes hard water stains without much elbow grease. Use it just as you would vinegar:

  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice into a spray bottle, or use pure bottled lemon juice like Santa Cruz Organic Pure Lemon Juice ($4 for 8 oz).
  • Spray liberally over hard water stained areas.
  • Let sit for 30 minutes or more.
  • Scrub with a damp cloth or soft brush.
  • Rinse cleaned areas well.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a mildly abrasive and alkaline substance that dissolves hard water deposits. Make a paste with water and apply to stains:

  • Mix 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water to form a spreadable paste. A 16 oz box of baking soda costs about $1.
  • Apply the paste to stained areas and let sit for at least an hour.
  • Scrub with a damp cloth or old toothbrush.
  • Rinse thoroughly.

For extra scrubbing power, mix baking soda with vinegar or lemon juice instead of water before applying.

White Vinegar and Baking Soda

For tougher stains, combine the power of baking soda and vinegar:

  • Apply baking soda paste to hard water stains.
  • Spray vinegar over the top liberally. The acid-base reaction will cause fizzing.
  • Let sit 1-2 hours.
  • Wipe and rinse away.

The chemical reaction doubles the cleaning power compared to using either alone.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is another household staple that breaks down mineral deposits with oxygen bubbles. A 16 oz bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide costs around $1.

  • Spray full-strength hydrogen peroxide directly on stains.
  • Allow to sit for 1 hour.
  • Wipe clean and rinse.

No scrubbing is required – the oxygenation action does the work for you.

Hard Water Stain Remover Products

For the most stubborn hard water stains, commercial cleaning products are highly effective:

  • Look for stain removers with the active ingredients sulfamic acid or glycolic acid. Popular options include CLR Calcium, Lime & Rust Remover ($4 for 28 oz) and Lime-A-Way Calcium & Lime Remover ($10 for 128 oz).
  • Apply to stained areas as directed and let sit.
  • Scrub gently if needed.
  • Thoroughly rinse treated areas.

Products like CLR or Lime-A-Way work quickly to dissolve and remove built up mineral deposits and hard water stains.

How to Remove Specific Hard Water Stains

While the same overall methods work for removing hard water marks anywhere, you may need to tailor the process slightly depending on the surface.

Glass Shower Doors

Glass shower doors with hard water stains can look permanently foggy. Restore them by:

  • Coating with car wax or rain-X to prevent future buildup. A bottle of Rain-X Original Glass Water Repellent is $7 for 16 oz.
  • Using a razor blade held at a 45 degree angle to gently scrape off any mineral deposits.
  • Spraying on full-strength white vinegar or a stain remover product.
  • Letting sit for 1 hour or more.
  • Wiping clean with a damp microfiber cloth.

Faucets and Sink Basins

Faucets, sinks and other bathroom metal fixtures develop hard water spots over time. Remove stains by:

  • Rubbing fixtures with lemon slices dipped in baking soda.
  • Spraying with vinegar and scrubbing with an old toothbrush.
  • Using an abrasive cleanser like Bar Keeper’s Friend Powder Cleanser ($8 for 12 oz) and scrubbing gently with a soft cloth.
  • Buffing faucets with a microfiber cloth to restore shine after cleaning.

Bathtubs and Showers

Porcelain or fiberglass bathtubs, shower stalls, tiles and more are all prone to hard water buildup. For best results:

  • Apply baking soda paste and let sit overnight if possible.
  • Use a damp Magic Eraser cleaned with baking soda. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Durable sponges are $3 for a pack of 2.
  • For mildew stains too, spray hydrogen peroxide and scrub with baking soda paste.
  • Re-caulk stained grout lines if needed. Grout sealers can also prevent future stains.

Dishes and Glassware

Cloudy drinking glasses and dishes with a noticeable film can be frustrating. To remove:

  • Fill stained glasses with equal parts vinegar and warm water. Let soak 30 minutes.
  • For dishes, run a vinegar rinse cycle in the dishwasher. Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner ($8) helps too.
  • Use a stain remover made for glassware and dishes like Lemi Shine Dishwasher Detergent ($9 for 56 loads).
  • Hand wash dishes with a soap-filled lemon half.

Avoid using harsh chemical cleaners on dishes and glassware that contacts food.

Coffee and Tea Pots

Plastic and ceramic coffee pots and teapots are breeding grounds for hard water stains. Bring them back to life by:

  • Filling with equal parts white vinegar and water. Heat to almost boiling on the stove. Turn off heat and let sit overnight.
  • Using denture tablets to deep clean tea kettles and pots. Polident Denture Cleanser Tablets are $4 for 90 tablets.
  • Trying a pouch of citric acid if very stained. Boil water with 1-2 tablespoons of citric acid then soak overnight.
  • Adding lemon rinds to the boiling water and letting sit for an hour or more before scrubbing.

The extended soaking time is key for removing stains inside pots and kettles.


Toilet bowls with hard water rings around the upper water line can be an eyesore. Banish them with:

  • Pumice stones or toilet bowl scrubbing wands, which won’t scratch porcelain. Lysol Click Gel Automatic Toilet Bowl Cleaner ($9) helps prevent recurrence.
  • Baking soda and vinegar paste left to sit for an hour before scrubbing.
  • Commercial toilet bowl cleaner containing sulfamic or glycolic acid like Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Bleach ($17 for 3 pack).
  • Bleach-free toilet cleaning tablets in the tank to prevent future stains, such as Scrubbing Bubbles Fresh Brush Toilet Cleaning Starter Kit ($10).

Tarnished Silver

Beautiful silver items like candlesticks, jewelry and cutlery can become tarnished and stained from hard water minerals. Gently clean them by:

  • Soaking in 1 quart warm water mixed with 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon salt and a piece of aluminum foil.
  • Trying silver-specific polishing dip products like Wright’s Silver Cream ($11 for 6 oz).
  • Using a treated silver polishing cloth like Goddard’s Silver Polishing Cloth ($9).

Avoid abrasive scrubbing as it can damage delicate silver finishes.

Iron or Rust Stains

Iron or rust in hard water can leave behind red, yellow, orange or brown stains. These extra-stubborn stains may require:

  • Commercial rust stain remover products. Look for oxalic or phosphoric acid like Iron-Out Rust Stain Remover Spray Gel ($10 for 32 oz).
  • Scrubbing with baking soda or cream of tartar paste.
  • Bleach if stain is on white materials.
  • Very fine grit sandpaper or rust eraser sponges for porcelain or solid surfaces.

For iron stains, it often takes both chemical cleaners and some gentle scrubbing to fully remove stains.


While hard water stains can be unsightly and difficult to prevent entirely, they don’t have to be a permanent eyesore or damage your fixtures. With a little time and the right cleaning methods, you can banish them easily and restore your surfaces to a like-new shine. The best defense is using preventative steps daily along with occasional stain-removal cleaning sessions. Your fixtures and surfaces will be free of dull mineral buildup before you know it.

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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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