How to Remove Rust Stains From Bathtubs and Toilets

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Removing rust stains from your toilet and bathtub is all about finding the right cleaner.
Removing rust stains from your toilet and bathtub is all about finding the right cleaner. (Image: Creative Commons: MoToMo)

Rust stains are a common problem in older homes, but can even surprise new homeowners on occasion. When they appear, they can seem permanently etched into the porcelain. Before you dig up a sandblaster to remove them, try some of the suggestions listed below. Note that this article does not cover commercial rust removers such as Lime-A-Way and CLR. Not because they are ineffective, but because they are obvious solutions and directions on how to use them are contained on the bottle. Instead, this article will cover alternatives to these cleaners that you can try before or after using commercial rust removers.

Things You'll Need

  • Stiff nylon brush
  • Acid-based cleaner (See Acid Based Rust Removers below)
  • Alkaline cleaner (dishwashing detergent or window cleaner)
  • Water

Start with a dry surface. If you are cleaning the toilet, drain the water from the toilet around the rust stains.

Apply an acid-based cleaner such as those listed below under Acid-Based Rust Removers. According to "Reader's Digest," acids will neutralize alkaline soils such as rust, lime scale, soap deposits and water stains by breaking them down.

Wait. Time will vary depending on the solution you are using. Milder cleaners, such as lemon juice and vinegar, can be left on for 24 hours. See the next section for guidelines.

With your nylon brush, gently scrub the area.

Rinse the area well with water and an alkaline cleaner to neutralize the acid. Examples of alkaline cleaners include liquid dishwashing detergent and glass cleaner.

If stain remains, either repeat steps 1 through 5 and leave the solution on longer or try another solution.

Lemon juice, which contains citric acid, can be applied to the stain with a sponge or poured onto the stain. It may be left on for up to 24 hours.

White vinegar, which contains acetic acid, can be poured directly onto the stain at full solution and left on for up to 24 hours. You may want to reapply during that time.

Mix 2 tablespoons of borax with 2 cups of hot water. Apply directly to the stain. You may also pour 1 cup of borax into your toilet bowl (without draining it) and leave it overnight.

Mix cream of tartar with water to form a paste and apply to the rust stain.

Use a 5 percent solution of oxalic acid, which is sold separately at hardware and marine-supply stores and is a component of ZUD. Apply it with a sponge or cloth and allow to sit for at least 5 minutes.

According to "Reader's Digest," toilet bowl cleaners that contain hydrochloric acid (also listed as hydrogen chloride, HCL or muriatic acid) are good at removing rust stains. Use according to directions.

Tips & Warnings

  • Try rubbing the stain with a pumice stone or very fine black sandpaper if nothing else works.
  • Never use bleach on a rust stain--it will set it. Don't use muratic acid because it can damage the surface.
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