How to remove rust stains from bathtub, toilet and sink

Did you know there’s an easy way to remove ugly rust stains from a bathtub, toilet or sink? The secret ingredient to remove rust stains from bathtubs, toilets and sinks is citric acid. This post explains why rust stains happen and how you can use this versatile product to win the battle with those stubborn rust stains for good.

You may be one of the more than 13.5 million American households that rely on private wells for drinking water. Despite the budget savings of having unlimited access to water with no monthly water bill, the biggest downfall of relying on a hard water well is the inevitable rust stains and hard water mineral deposits. 

Or you may be receiving municipal water and the water supply may also be from groundwater. This can also lead to the same hard water issues, with the added bonus of having to pay for it.

What causes orange rust stains?

Groundwater is pumped from aquifers found below the earth’s surface. The aquifers collect groundwater through rain and melted snow that flows underground through rock, sand and soil. Minerals like calcium, magnesium, lime, and iron dissolve into the water as it flows, resulting in hard water – water that has a high mineral content. 

Public Domain Image, source: USGS.

The iron becomes oxidized when exposed to air and can leave reddish/orangish/brown stains on bathtubs, toilets, sinks, shower walls and glass doors. It can be difficult to remove rust stains from your bathtub, toilet or sink as these stains do not respond to normal cleaning products.

Iron water stains can appear on your clothes as well, especially whites, making them look yellow and dingy.

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What removes rust stains from bathtubs, toilets and sinks easily?

Citric Acid is the secret ingredient that easily removes rust stains from bathtubs, toilets and sinks. It’s also effective for removing hard water mineral deposits. It is a safe, natural, non caustic, environmentally friendly, biodegradable solution to the problem of rust stains and hard water deposits. 

Citric acid works by softening hard water and dissolving the minerals that cause staining. It also lowers the pH levels of bacteria, removing mold, mildew, and bacteria. It’s a safe and effective choice for your family, your pets, your plumbing and your septic system (if you have one).

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What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a weak organic acid that is found naturally in citrus fruits. The acid gives citrus fruits their sour taste and is most concentrated in lemons and limes. Pineapple and berries also contain minimal amounts of citric acid. 

Citric acid is effective as a solvent for removing rust stains from bathtubs, sinks and toilets as it dissolves the alkaline minerals that cause rust and hard water deposits.

Synthetic food grade citric acid is commonly added to processed and packaged foods as a preservative as its acidity prevents bacterial growth. It is also used to give certain foods and beverages a sour taste.

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How to remove rust stains from bathtubs

To remove rust stains from bathtubs simply dissolve 2 tablespoons of citric acid into a spray bottle containing hot water. Shake the bottle to dissolve the citric acid, and spray your bathtub generously with the mixture. Don’t forget to spray the walls, tile or glass doors if they are also stained.

You can add a drop or two of Dawn before shaking to help the mixture stick to vertical surfaces. Another way to ensure the mixture stays on stubborn stains is to soak a paper towel with the mixture and leave it on the heavily soiled area.

Let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes and then simply wipe the stains away! Light stains may not even require wiping, just rinse them right off with water. The solution is also effective for removing scum from stainless fixtures and leaves them looking shiny and new. 

Step by step photo of how to remove rust stains from bathtub using citric acid

Stubborn rust stains may require two or more treatments, depending on how long they’ve been there. The picture above required 3 treatments and some scrubbing with a stiff brush.

Note that citric acid can irritate sensitive skin and eyes. I recommend using gloves if you have sensitive skin and only using in a well ventilated room. 

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How to remove rust stains from shower walls

To remove rust stains from shower walls, use the same method as for removing rust stains from bathtubs, but add a teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing soap with the citric acid before shaking the spray bottle. This will create suds that will help the solution stick to the vertical wall surfaces.

This cleaning mixture is safe for tile or fiberglass shower walls and is safe on grout. To keep rust stains from building up, spray the mixture lightly on walls, tile and grout regularly after showering. 

How to remove rust stains from toilet bowls

You can use the same mixture to remove rust stains in toilet bowls. If the method above doesn’t work to remove rust stains from your toilet bowl, try turning off the water supply and flushing the toilet to empty the bowl. Pour a solution of 1/2 cup of citric acid mixed with a gallon of very hot water into the empty toilet and let sit for 20-30 minutes. 

After waiting, scrub the toilet bowl vigorously with a toilet brush, paying particular attention to the rim and the drain near the s-trap. If the toilet brush alone doesn’t remove all the stains, try using a pumice stone with a handle to remove any remaining stains. Don’t forget to turn the water back on when you’re finished.

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How to clean toilet tank rust

Top image is a toilet tank with rust in it and bottom image is after cleaning toilet tank rust with citric acid

When you have hard water, toilet tank rust can build up. When it builds up, it can eventually cause a stubborn rust ring in the toilet bowl. To clean toilet tank rust easily, turn the water valve off and flush the toilet until it’s empty. Fill the rusty toilet tank up with hot water and add 1 cup of citric acid.

Let it sit for 20-30 minutes, then turn the water back on. Then flush once or twice. You will be left with a practically new toilet tank!

How to get rust stains out of sink

You can use the same 2 tablespoons of citric acid in a spray bottle full of hot water. Shake and spray your sink. Make sure you spray the fixtures and underneath the faucet if you want shiny fixtures that are free from hard water deposits. Let sit for 10 minutes or so, then rinse with clean water.

To get rid of stubborn rust stains in your sink, fill the sink up with hot water and add 1/4 cup of citric acid to the water. Stir to incorporate the citric acid into the hot water. Let the solution sit in the sink for as long as possible to dissolve the stains, then rinse. You may have to scrub a little or repeat the process if you have particularly bad spots.

How to prevent hard water rust stains

To prevent hard water rust stains and mineral buildup, it’s best to keep your showers, bathtubs, and sinks dry and clean. Be sure to spray them with a solution of 2 tablespoons of citric acid to a half gallon of water after every use. 

Let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe all surfaces dry. If hard water sits long enough to dry, evaporation will result in more mineral buildup and rust stains.

If this seems like too much work, you may want to look into getting a water softener to eliminate the hard water issue entirely. The Whirlpool WHESFC Pro Series – Softener/Whole Home Filter may be the solution for you.

This water softener and whole home filter system is reasonably priced, prevents scale from forming in your home’s pipes, and leaves less residue on appliances that use water such as dishwashers and washing machines. It is a maintenance-free unit that doesn’t require new filters. All you have to do is add salt as needed. Click on the picture above to get more information and to see customer reviews.

Do you know of any other frugal and natural solutions to remove rust and hard water stains from bathtubs, sinks and toilets? Let us know in the comments.

The secret to easily remove hard water and rust stains - image of before and after using citric acid to clean rust stains from bathtub

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