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The stains in the toilet

Updated on October 25, 2014

Bathroom fixtures can get stains due to hard water, mold or rust, even when they aren't in use. Different colors of stains form usually, providing clues to what they're made up of. This determines whether they can be removed with regular toilet cleaners, or need more radical or unconventional methods.

What hard water stains consist of

Residual minerals cause hard water. Generally, these can be manganese, iron, calcium-containing minerals, and magnesium to name a few. Before reaching your plumbing, the water has dissolved the different minerals in the ground, which can build up on fixtures, creating streaks or water demarcations if neglected for enough time.

Both rust and mineral deposits at that stage can be more difficult to remove. Avoid the temptation to chip at them; you might damage the porcelain in toilets and sinks.

Rust, or reddish buildup can appear when metal comes into contact with air and oxidizes, or from water setting in metal pipes. Bacteria as well as discarded chemicals such as prescription or over-the-counter drugs can also contribute to this spectacle, causing more of the varied colors we encounter in our bathrooms.

Even after a soak in bleach or other detergent, some rust and hard water stains will remain and aggravate. While we shouldn’t skip trying bleach, detergent, borax or even other cleaning agents, it’s good to be aware of these differing causes of a stain so that a particular chemical or method used does not make the stain worse, or even waste our efforts when a more effective cleanser or method could be used. Following is some information on the stains, their composition, and what cleansers or methods may work best.

Often the color of the stain can tell a lot about how to handle it
Often the color of the stain can tell a lot about how to handle it | Source

Seeing Colors?

Problems come in every size and shape, and colors, too. In cleaning parlance, a stain's color may let us know how much or how little work we have in store. A mineral deposit is not a health but a cosmetic hazard, because a deposit makes a surface look lousy. It looks at first glance as though it comes off easily till we try to remove it with a scouring pad. That's when we find the whitish film on fixtures like faucets or shower heads is typical of calcium or magnesium hard water buildup, and can be very difficult to remove. Other common colors of toilet or bathtub stains are green, or the reddish color of rust. Other stain buildup colors can include blue, pink or slimy red, all the way to black.

The rust color in stains

A rust or reddish brown color can be the excessive amounts of iron being oxidized, which generally means high iron content in your water or rusting in your pipes backing up into the toilet. On rare occasions, this can be bacteria causing a pinkish color. You will notice a circle of reddish brown or red on the white porcelain. Otherwise you’ll notice in some cases that your toilet water even when newly flushed has a rusty tint to it. While it is possible to rust proof your pipes if they cause rust deposits, it may mean that your pipes are old and will need to be serviced.

Pink or red stains or buildup

Water sitting for a while allows its chlorine content to evaporate, leaving it prone to the effects of residual phosphorus, fatty substances or soap residue. This film can be found at the water line in toilets, especially in places where fixtures are not in constant use.

Stains or buildup that are green or brown

For this color range, excessive amounts of lime may be the culprit. Lime build-up or “lime scale” is easy to spot, but can be a bit difficult to remove if spotted late. These minerals can make conventional household cleaning products seem less effective. A cleaning product with sequestrants in it is perfect for this task. Products with sequestrants in them are especially effective for removing lime stains. Some automatic dishwashing detergents contain sequestrants.

A pumice stone, or 'pummie' can be indispensable in your cleaning the ring around some toilets
A pumice stone, or 'pummie' can be indispensable in your cleaning the ring around some toilets

Mineral Deposit Removal

Soil stains can be mistaken for mineral deposit stains or vice versa. We quickly find out the nature of the stain of buildup when we try and remove it with basic cleaning supplies. If that isn’t successful, likely the stain left behind a mineral deposit. In these cases some advanced cleaning steps are required, and we can have the clean surfaces we’re after with one or even multiple applications.

An easy way to remove a mineral deposit is to use a chemical on it that breaks down minerals. It is commonly known that the acetic acid in vinegar works on mineral build up. This method is very effective and environmentally friendly, but may take a few hours to work. The reason is because mineral stains have to be soaked in the vinegar to soften or weaken them.

Lime scale also responds to chemicals like Lime away which contain sequestrants, a sort of mineral “neutralizer”. We often use this type of cleaner in a dish-washer to get those characteristic spot-free dishes. After getting the water out of the comode, apply so that it sticks to the sides and let it sit. One or more treatments may be necessary if you find your initial cleansing didn’t remove everything to your satisfaction. CLR (Calcium Lime and Rust) cleaner is also a popular choice for stain or buildup problems like this. The traditional scouring pads and conventional household cleansers may not provide much comfort in these cases since minerals tend to bond to the porcelain surface, making mere scrubbing impractical and ineffective. The above-mentioned methods are among those recommended on hard water problems.

If you’re considering a chemical free method grab a pumice stone, found in hardware or drugstores. Be sure it's wet when using it on your toilet surfaces. It crumbles harmlessly leaving gritty residue in the stain area and cloudy water which you’ll easily flush down the toilet along with the grit.

Mold is easily removed with conventional detergents and scrub brushes, although depending on the cause it can return after short periods of time.

For the pink or reddish film, a general purpose cleanser with bleach will handle it quite easily. Also consider adding a little bleach in your toilet tank, letting it sit for a few minutes and being sure to flush until the bleach is completely removed from the water.


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    • bullierun profile image

      bullierun 22 months ago

      There's yellow staining in my white porcelain bathroom sink..I've tried everything..bleach, oxyclean, rustout, nothing has worked. It seems as though the stain has set in the porcelain. Any help with this would be really very much appreciated.