How to Clean Lime and Rust Deposits In Your Toilet Bowl

Previous articles on toiletology have discussed the following:


This article will include step-by-step instructions on removing lime and rust deposits from your toilet bowl.


The rental condominium that I recently moved into has nice Kohler brand toilets. Unfortunately, the previous tenant(s) did not maintain much of anything in the unit. The landlord also does not appear to care what goes on in the unit as long as the rent is paid. One gripe that I had was that the toilets all had significant lime and rust stains in the bowl and water spouts:

Lime and Rust Stain in Toilet

If prior tenants had spent any effort in keeping the toilet clean, these stains could have been easily prevented. I suspect that aside from an annual housekeeping service cleaning, there was little maintenance over the past decade. The first week I moved in, I cleaned the bathrooms as much as I could, which included scrubbing down the toilet seats with disinfectant, brushing the toilet bowl with bowl cleaner, and wiping down the tank and handles. Unfortunately, the rust stains were caked in the bowl no matter how I scrubbed.

I finally found the time to tackle the nasty rust buildup in the bowl last week. It typically comes from the high mineral content in the water and infrequent cleaning. Once a thick layer of rust and residue accumulates, it is nearly impossible to remove using standard toilet bowl cleaner. Fortunately, it only takes the proper equipment and a little elbow grease to clean things up. Here’s what I did:

Cleaning Agents

To remove rust and mineral buildup in the toilet, do NOT use bleach. Yes, bleach is great in cleaning and disinfecting many agents, but will basically smear the rust into the porcelain. Again, do NOT use bleach to clean rust.

Most caustic cleaning agents will do the trick. Remember back in high school chemistry class, sulfuric acid will burn through most objects (your hand included). Phosphoric acid also is a good cleaning agent. The active ingredient in Lime and Rust Remover is usually derived from one of these two chemicals. That is the key. I did not find my go-to product, The Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner, at Wal-mart. I did find an alternative cleaner called, “Lime A-Way”, which promised to remove rust and calcium stains. This brand does have a toilet cleaner version, my local store did not have it in stock. I just used the tile cleaner, which seemed to work okay (with extensive scrubbing).

If you are eco-conscious, you might be out of luck. Chemically, you could possibly use a lemon and salt to scrub the toilet, or even Coke! Yes, Coke! Carbonated soft drinks are acidic and actually have a low pH (and destroys your teeth). I’ve used it before, but it doesn’t work well with tough stains. Alternatively, you could also use a pumice stone as a mechanical means to clean rust stains. Be careful with pumice—you can scratch the porcelain bowl. Pumice has approximately the same hardness as porcelain, so I would expect microscopic scratches to build in the toilet. It may not make a huge difference in the short term, but over many years the shiny reflection will become dull (may not matter if you replace your toilet every decade or if you live in a rental).

How to clean

  • Turn off the water supply to the toilet. Remember, most valves are turned clockwise to shut off.
    • Toilet Shutoff Valve
  • Flush the toilet.
  • Use a toilet brush or plunger to depress the siphon to empty out most of the water in the bowl.
  • Spray or pour the cleaning agent in the bowl, aiming for the stains.
  • Use a toilet brush to scrub the stains!
  • Once stains are off, turn on the water supply, and flush.
  • If you are using a pumice, be sure to soak the pumice in water before scrubbing to soften it.
  • Make sure you have adequate ventilation and exhaust. The chemicals are corrosive and the fumes can irritate your eyes. Make sure you also have gloves.

That’s it. I ended up using several iterations of cleaning over 20 minutes to remove most of the stains:

toilet after rust removal

There are still rust stains in the bowl, but it can be cleaned in future washings.

Is it worth a doctor’s time cleaning the toilet? It depends if you have anything else more worthwhile that you could be doing. I’d imagine a professional housemaid service with specialized cleaning agents will take care of the bathroom for you, but it will come at a price. You could also ask your non-working spouse to do it. I spent $4.72 at Walmart to purchase the lime remover, and had a mail-in rebate coupon to make the item free. I’d imagine that there is enough chemical for at least 10 cleanings in a bottle.

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What are your experiences with cleaning agents? What has worked for you? Sound out below!

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