Remove water stains from bathroom faucet

Remove Hard Water Stains: The Ultimate Guide

Preventing or removing hard water stains is a common problem for many homes throughout the country. In fact, 85 percent of the households in the United States use hard water supplied to them by their local municipality.

Although safe to humans, hard water leaves behind unpleasant stains and grimy buildup of minerals and scum on everything from faucets to dishes. It even builds up on the inside of your plumbing, which will slow or prevent water flow.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water is water that has a lot of minerals in it like calcium and magnesium. These minerals attach themselves to nearly any materials they flow through, from your own skin to fabrics, metals, porcelain, and more. The results are buildup of scale and ugly stains. We’ve written a more detailed description of hard water (vs soft water) here if you’d like to learn more.

Hard water chart of the United States
This chat provides a rough idea of the level of water hardness in your area. To determine specific hard water levels, contact your local municipality. You can even purchase a hard water kit and run a test yourself.

Signs That You Have Hard Water Issues

If you’ve noticed any of the following symptoms around the house, it’s a real good bet that you are experiencing hard water issues.

  • Streaks of cloudy white residue on dishes, glasses, and utensils
  • Brown or reddish stains in your sink, tub, or toilet
  • Soap scum or film left in your tub or sink
  • Fabrics that are too rough or dull-looking
  • Showers and faucets that seem to produce low water pressure
  • Buildup of scale (the grimy minerals that cause corrosion) on pipes, faucets, and shower heads

How to Remove Hard Water Stains and Buildup

Let’s be honest, there’s no easy way to remove these stains. You’re going to need to pull up your sleeves, snap on some rubber gloves, and apply plenty of elbow grease. But we can make it worthwhile with the following solutions.

Dishes and Glassware

It’s so annoying to pull dishes and utensils out of a dishwasher only to see spots and stains when you’re expecting shining, see-through diamonds! Like me, you probably tried a few different detergents. Maybe even a rinse product or two. Heck, years ago before I knew better, I replaced my dishwasher thinking that was the problem.

I was wrong. None of those things really helped because the problem was my hard water. And that’s ultimately what led me to purchase my whole-house water softener to solve the problem for good. But before I got drastic, my Italian mother gave me this idea that worked like a charm.

  • At end of dishwasher cycle, fill kitchen sink with hot water
  • Add 1 – 2 cups of white vinegar to hot water
  • Place any hard water-stained dishes, utensils, pots/pans, and glassware into sink
  • Leave for at least 2 hours
  • Remove one by one, and rinse, and cloth dry our leave out to air dry

This solution adds more work, but it works amazingly well and cuts down the time it would take to hand wash every piece. It allows you to take advantage of your dishwasher while using your time to hand wash only those items that need it.

Kitchen & Bath Surfaces

This solution to remove hard water stains only requires white vinegar, fresh water, and a spray bottle.

  • Create a spray by mixing equal parts white vinegar and fresh water
  • Pour your spray solution in a spray bottle.
  • Spray surfaces liberally
  • Wait 30 minutes
  • Wipe clean with a soft, cotton rag or microfiber towel

You can also create a scrubbing substance by mixing white vinegar and baking soda until it’s wet enough to form a paste. Spread the paste over the surface you want to clean and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then wipe clean. Do this weekly to help reduce mineral spots and brighten surfaces. 

Pro Tip: When choosing a material to wipe clean a surface, try to use a discarded rag made of soft cotton or a dry microfiber towel. Unfortunately, paper towels are coarse and over time will scratch surfaces. They’re best left for spills.


This solution uses vinegar, baking powder, and a brush or sponge that you can scrub with. The instructions are similar but slightly different for cleaning the bowl and the inside toilet rim.

  • For Toilet Bowl
  • Pour vinegar over the toilet bowl stain
  • Wait 15 minutes
  • Pour baking soda over stain and scrub vigorously with brush or sponge
  • Flush toilet to see results and repeat above steps if necessary
  • For Toilet Rim
  • Line vinegar-soaked paper towels around the rim of the toilet
  • Wait 30-60 minutes
  • Remove paper towels
  • Pour baking soda on scrub brush or scrub sponge
  • Scrub rim vigorously
  • Flush toilet to see results and repeat steps if necessary

Faucets and Shower Heads

This hard mineral cleaning tip is super easy. You’ll need white vinegar, a toothbrush, and a rubber band. And yes, like all cleaning tips, do yourself a favor and wear rubber gloves.

  • Find small- to medium-size plastic bag
  • Fill halfway with white vinegar
  • Place bag over faucet or shower head
  • Use rubber band to attach bag
  • Make sure head of faucet or shower head is immersed in vinegar portion of the bag
  • Wait about 2 hours
  • Remove the bag
  • Clean off the faucet/shower head with your toothbrush (or a soft, cotton rag)

Drains and Pipes

This solution is the easiest of all. Our recommendation here is to stay away from trying to remove hard water stains and buildup from pipes and drains. In this case, you’ll want to talk to your plumber.

Although the buildup of these corrosive hard water minerals will damage pipes over time (see photo of copper pipe above), pouring homemade solutions down your pipes probably won’t help much or last very long. The best solution is to identify where the buildup is and replace that section of pipe with a PEX pipe. PEX is a material that resists hard water mineral buildup. Or read the next section for the best solution of all.

How to Prevent Hard Water Stains…Forever

Okay, here’s the best — and only — way to put a stop to hard water stains and buildup forever. Get a water softener. I’m not talking about a water filter. I mean a whole-host water filtration system.

Sure, it’s a relatively expensive solution. But the overall savings are more than worth it. Your plumbing and related fixtures — pipes, water heaters, dishwashers, clothes washers, etc. — will last longer and require less maintenance. Of course, you’ll also never again experience an ugly hard water stain or buildup.

Read our water softener article here for more details.

Please…Don’t Use Chemical Products

We’re advocates of using solutions that are not overly corrosive, which most chemical products are. Products like those by the CLR brand (stands for Calcium, Lime, Rust) are popular because they’re convenient to use. But they rarely work better than the natural solutions provided here.

CLRs and other chemical products can cause permanent damage to your plumbing because of their highly acidic or corrosive formulas. You might get a short-term fix at the expensive of damaged pipes down the road. And that’s a much more expensive problem to fix.


If you’re tired of ugly, unsightly hard water spots, stains, and buildup throughout your home, you should try a natural DIY (do it yourself) vinegar-based solution. It will take a bit of time and effort but it’s a great short-term cleaning method that won’t damage your plumbing.

However, if you’re looking for a permanent solution for how to remove hard water stains and buildup, then we suggest a whole-house filtration system (a water softener). This will convert your hard water to soft water and give you years of cost-saving benefits.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber for More Help

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you’d like help with your hard water issues. We will immediately handle any emergency plumbingdrain, and water damage problem, including excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines.

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