Q&A / 

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

DEAR TIM: I’m at my wits end with toilet bowl cleaners. My toilet has light and dark stains in the bottom of the bowl as well as up under the rim. I’ve tried the store-bought Clorox toilet bowl cleaner, Vanish toilet bowl cleaner, and even the automatic toilet bowl cleaners. None of them do anything to cut the stains. What’s causing the stains and what, if anything, can I do to get my toilet looking respectable. It’s embarrassing and I’m about ready to rip it out and purchase a new toilet. Help me please. Amy H., Lexington, KY

DEAR AMY: Oh, I’ve been where you’re at. I remember years ago suffering trying to get a cleaner toilet bowl using all the different products at the grocery store as well as every type of brush and scrubbing pad known to man. I have clear memories of wearing rubber gloves and goggles trying to restore a deeply stained toilet in the basement of a past house I owned.

The normal toilet bowl cleaners you get at the grocery often don’t have the power to really clean a toilet. You may need to use muriatic acid. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

The normal toilet bowl cleaners you get at the grocery often don’t have the power to really clean a toilet. You may need to use muriatic acid. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

The good news is that I eventually was successful, but only after I stepped back and thought about some of the things I had learned in my college chemistry and geology lab classes.

Based upon your description of the stains, and your inability to make progress using ordinary cleaning products, I’m convinced you’re a victim of hard water and lime buildup. It’s very common in many areas of the USA, especially those that have minerals in the water supply.

If you have calcium, magnesium and a few other elements in your water, these can create multilayer deposits inside a toilet. Not only can these deposits be unsightly, but they also can significantly impact the performance of the toilet. If your toilet is like several I’ve had, my guess is that you’ve also noticed that the flushing has become sluggish or not as powerful as it once was.

The ugly deposits happen when dirt gets trapped in between layers of hard water deposits in the toilet. This is most common under the rim of the toilet bowl and along the sides of the toilet bowl above the water line. Each time you flush the toilet these areas of the toilet get wet. Once you leave the bathroom, the water evaporates leaving behind an ultra-thin film of minerals. Dirt can easily attach itself to this coarse film. Then the next flush and mineral buildup locks in the stain. Imagine this happening thousands of times over several years worth of flushes.

You can also get a lime layer buildup in the bottom of the toilet bowl that starts to block the syphon-jet hole. It’s very important that this hole is wide open so that the maximum amount of water can enter the toilet bowl as fast as possible to initiate the flush. Water entering through the rim of the bowl can also be slowed by mineral deposits in the small holes under the rim.

The best toilet bowl cleaner I’ve come across in these situations is muriatic acid. This is a very powerful chemical that should be used with great care and respect. The fumes are very nasty and the acid can easily cause skin burns and ruin fabrics that it soaks into. However, when this acid contacts lime and other hard-water deposits, it rapidly dissolves them. Once the deposits have been removed, the toilet looks brand new.

I always start the cleaning project by using the standard toilet bowl cleaners to sanitize the bowl. Once this is complete, I rapidly pour five gallons of water into the bowl simulating a flush. This leaves a small amount of water in the bottom of the bowl. Then I slowly pour into the bowl about 12 ounces of muriatic acid.

Be sure you have the bathroom well ventilated, preferably with a window open to exhaust the acid fumes. Wear tight-fitting goggles, rubber gloves, old clothes with long sleeves, etc. so that you have virtually no skin exposed. Carefully use a toilet brush to spread the acid solution under the rim of the bowl. Do this multiple times over a period of 30 minutes.

Let the acid solution work for up to an hour or two. If you have to leave the room always put the toilet lid down to prevent animals from accessing the acid solution. If children are in the house, never leave the toilet alone. Work until the job is finished.

The muriatic acid will absolutely remove the hard water deposits that are trapping the stains. The longer it soaks the less you have to scrub. Never use a metal scrapper, screwdriver, etc. to dislodge any deposits. The acid will do the work for you, it just may take awhile.

Avoid using any abrasive toilet bowl cleaners. These can scratch the smooth glazed surface of the china. If you take your time and slosh the acid around the bowl and twist the brush in all visible areas, the stains and deposits will disappear in time. Depending on the thickness of the deposits, it can take hours for the acid to break them down.

It's best to completely neutralize the muriatic acid before you get rid of it. Some states may not permit you to flush this chemical into a public sewer system. It's also not a great idea to send acid into a septic system. This is why I instructed you to pour the bucket of water into the toilet bowl to start this process. This allows an ample amount of storage space in the toilet bowl so the acid doesn't enter the drain pipe beneath the toilet.

To neutralize muriatic acid, you just add common baking soda. You'll need 5.5 pounds of baking soda for every gallon of acid you've used to clean the toilet. If you only used 12 ounces of acid and got great results, you'll only need to add a little over a half pound of baking soda into the toilet bowl. Let the baking soda work to neutralize the acid for about 30 minutes. Flush the toilet several times when you think your finished. Repeat the process if there are stubborn stains that didn’t come clean the first time using the industrial-strength toilet bowl cleaner.

Column 843

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11 Responses to Toilet Bowl Cleaner

  1. If I could fill my toilet bowl up all the way I could remove the stains from many many "jets" with the powdered rust remover from my hardware store. I partially filled my bathtub and added the powder and all the stains disappeared. I don't know how to get the toilet filled up more.

    • Betsy, your question requires lots of typing, plus I have some questions for you so I can give you the correct answer(s). I only do pithy answers here in the comment section. If you want to protect the investment you have in your house and not waste time or money *hoping* you make the right decision, you should talk to me on the phone for just 15 minutes. It'll be the best investment you've ever made in your home!

  2. Our water is pretty neutral but we still had the buildup in the bottom of the toilet and sluggish flushing in that toilet. We also have a septic system with some leach field problems. We worked on the leach field to let the old field “rest.” We put a little Stain Solver in the toilet last thing at night and let it sit all night. After a few weeks the toilet flushed well again and the stain was getting smaller. Now we put stain solver in the toilet overnight twice a week for maintenance. The stain is gone, the toilet flushes, and the leach field is dry. I've tried muriatic acid before and really hated it so while it takes longer for results, I prefer Stain Solver.

  3. I have used muriatic acid to remove mineral deposits from our toilets, and yes, it does work. However, I have found another product that works at least as well, and it isn't as dangerous and doesn't emit the acrid fumes that muriatic acid does. It is called "The Works Disinfectant Toilet Cleaner".

  4. Hi Tim,
    Where can I get this product, muriatic acid, for toilet, bathtub and around the faucet areas covered with hard deposits that cannot get rid of.
    Thank you,

  5. I have just finished cleaning my toilet with muriatic acid and it works like a dream. It's wonderful stuff and it is the only thing which works. I have the same problem as Amy, so I know what she is going through. I didn't realize one had use baking soda, so will next time.

  6. I had the same problem as Amy until my neighbor turned me on to a product that works great on hard water stains. It's "LIME BUSTER" from Whink. In comes in a 16oz green bottle. You just squirt it onand then let it sit for a bit (you'll see it working as it foams up on the deposits). I apply a little more just before I use a Scotch pad to scrub with. As long as you don't let the stains build up to much it only takes some light scrubbing after application. It works great on stainless steel sinks too.

  7. I just had to say WOW, does this ever work! Thank you so much for the tip. I've lived in a small town forever and our hard water just made toilets too nasty to look at, no matter how much you scrub and clean. I just had a new one installed last year and it already looked like you dumped a bucket on mud in it and after a 30 minute treatment it looks like new, thank you so much!!! I really enjoy your newsletters!

  8. Haven't been this satisfied with my housecleaning results as I am today after following your muriatic acid instructions to the letter. We have very hard water - and well water - so we don't always flush after every use. Perfect conditions for creating an impossible to clean toilet bowl. I was also happy to read your explanation why I was having this trouble. Thank you so much.

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