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How to Remove Hard Water Stains

Have you ever noticed a white stain on the body of a faucet, inside of your toilet bowl, on your countertop or glass shower door or your car hood after water droplets from your plumbing system evaporate? Perhaps you’ve seen a white crusty mineral buildup on the tip of a faucet or shower head. In all likelihood, it’s a hard water stain.

Hard water stains are simply very tiny crystals of rock. This is why they can be tough to remove. All water that comes from wells and municipal water systems contains dissolved minerals. When the water evaporates, the minerals can’t float into the air so they stay behind coating things in your home.

These deposits, if allowed to build up over time, can be hard to remove. It’s best to tackle them as soon as you see them. The deposits are all alkaline in nature which means you can dissolve them and put them back into water by attacking them with an acid. This is why you should have paid attention back in high school during chemistry class.

Degree of Difficulty: hammer-2-5

Step One: Put away any and all abrasive cleaners, metal scrapers, and abrasive cleaning pads that can scratch the finished surfaces in your home. You don’t need any of these things to remove hard water stains, even heavy buildup.

Step Two: Purchase a gallon of white vinegar at the grocery store. White vinegar is a very weak solution of acetic acid. You can use any vinegar to clean hard water deposits if you have some in your pantry. White vinegar is often the least expensive and most readily available in larger bottles.

Step Three: Do a quick experiment to ensure the deposits are from hard water. Select a stain that’s on the body of a faucet or glossy countertop about the size of a dime or penny. Use a cotton swab to put a few drops of the vinegar on top of the stain. Allow the vinegar to sit on the surface for about ten minutes.

If the countertop is polished or buffed marble or limestone, do not use vinegar. The vinegar will start to dissolve the alkaline minerals in the top leaving a dull spot. If the marble or limestone is a dull honed finish, you can test to see if the vinegar will change the appearance of the stone. On any finished or painted surface, always TEST in an inconspicuous area to see if the vinegar will harm the object.

Step Four: After the ten-minute wait period, wipe away the vinegar with a damp wash cloth and immediately dry the surface. If the white stain is gone, you know the vinegar will work all over the surface. Apply the vinegar with a small spray bottle to saturate any and all hard water deposits.

Step Five: If the buildup is heavy, at the end of the ten minutes, use an old toothbrush and lightly scrub the stain. Wipe away the vinegar and dry to check for results.

Step Six: If, after scrubbing with the toothbrush, the stain is still apparent but diminished, repeat the cleaning process.

Step Seven: To clean vertical surfaces, saturate paper towels or thin cotton rags with the vinegar and apply the rags or paper towels to the surface much like wallpaper. Allow the vinegar to work as you would on a horizontal surface.

Step Eight: For heavy deposits on faucet aerators, shower heads, faucet handles, remove these items from the plumbing fixture and soak them in a hot bath of vinegar. Heat up the vinegar in a sauce pan or microwave and pour it into a plastic bowl where the items can soak for hours or overnight. NEVER place metal objects in a microwave oven.

Step Nine: If vinegar is taking too long to do the job, a more powerful acid can be used. Muriatic acid will rapidly remove heavy hard water deposits, but the fumes are toxic and the acid can burn skin, clothing, and discolor metal. It’s very dangerous to use. Muriatic acid does a great job to clean the heavy buildup of hard water deposits on china surfaces like toilets.

Summary: If you decide to use muriatic acid, do so as a last resort. Read all the warning labels.

Column: HT002


One Response to How to Remove Hard Water Stains

  1. Tim, regarding vinegar: Even a weak acid, used as directed, can be a problem. Let me give you an example of what I mean. A year or so ago I needed to replace a cartridge in a bathroom sink with chrome Delta fixtures. I couldn't budge the handle or the valve cover. Standard advice, including on the Delta web page, was to soak a cloth in vinegar, wrap it around the handle and leave it overnight.

    The next morning large parts of the chrome were eaten away. I had to replace everything--faucet, cold side, hot side and stopper. And I still needed to spend parts of several days tugging and pulling to free up the *[email protected]$*! fixtures.

    Recently I had to replace two cartridges in a different bathroom sink, also with Delta fixtures. This time I left the vinegar-soaked cloth in place for only 10 minutes or so. Even then the chrome on the handle cover was discolored a bit...but at least I was able to yank it off!

    Just a heads up from a homeowner and fellow ham.

    Avery W3AVE
    Potomac, Md.

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