How to Remove Rust Stains from Toilets, Tubs, and Sinks

By Thornton Plumbing and Heating

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Orange rust stains on toilet bowls, sinks, tubs, and shower stalls are unattractive. Regular cleaning with the correct materials is required to keep the stains at bay. All-purpose bathroom cleansers are ineffective in removing rust stains, and chlorine bleach can even make rust stains permanent.

For products with an acid-base the most common application is to remove rust stains from finished surfaces such as bathroom fixtures. The citric acid (lemon juice), acetic acid (distilled white vinegar), and tartaric acid (cream of tartar) are examples of mild acids, whereas hydrochloric and sulfuric acids are used in commercial rust removal treatments are examples of harsher acids. The acid interacts with the rust, loosening its grip on other surfaces.

Most powdered commercial rust removers contain sodium hydrosulfite, a salt compound that works well on textiles, stone, and finished surfaces like porcelain. Baking soda and pumice are gentle abrasives that can help remove rust particles from porcelain.

Rust Stains: What Causes Them?

When iron and oxygen combine with moisture to generate iron oxide on unprotected metal surfaces, rust develops. That explains the rust mark left by a shaving cream container or razor blade on the sink’s edge. Rust stains around sink and tub drains and toilet bowls, on the other hand, are formed by water with high quantities of iron particles, iron bacteria, iron plumbing pipes, rusted water heaters, or untreated metal components in toilet tanks.

The stains are especially common in residences that utilize well water and are located in hard-water areas. Rust particles can stick to the porcelain or enamel surfaces of bathroom fixtures due to a mix of iron bacteria and minerals in the water. Unfortunately, unless the water is filtered or treated with a water softening system, the stains will resurface after cleaning.

When Should Rust Stains on Toilets, Tubs, and Sinks Be Removed?

Pay special attention to the parts of the bathroom that are prone to rust stains when cleaning it on a weekly basis. Before the rust particles in the water have a chance to settle on the surfaces, completely dry sinks, tubs, and showers after each use.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Scrub brush
  • Old toothbrush
  • Toilet bowl brush
  • Spray bottle
  • Microfiber cloth


  • Lemon juice
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Cleaning vinegar
  • Cream of tartar
  • Salt
  • Baking soda
  • Pumice powder or stick
  • Plastic food wrap
  • Commercial rust remover


1. Make Use of Citric Acid’s Power

Fresh lemons, limes, grapefruits, lemon or lime juice, or even powdered citric acid from supermarket and medicine shops may all be used to make citric acid. Dip the cut edge of fresh citrus fruit in salt or baking soda to create a soft abrasive to scrape the rust-stained region if you’re using it for scrubbing.

Mix a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda and apply it to the rusty area for badly discolored regions. Allow the paste to sit for at least an hour, covered with plastic wrap to keep it wet and to help break down the rust particles.

Make a paste with a few drops of water and apply it immediately to the affected area if using citric acid powder. Scrub the stain away with a scrub brush or an old toothbrush and some elbow grease.


To prevent the bowl from refilling after fixing rust spots in a toilet bowl, flush the toilet and immediately switch off the water. This will help clean the rusted areas simpler while also preventing the cleaner from being diluted.

2. Use White Vinegar That Has Been Distilled

Rust stains can be removed using acetic acid in distilled white vinegar. It may be used regularly, just like citric acid, to help prevent rust stains from becoming permanent. Cleaning vinegar with a greater acidity is better for difficult rust stains than food-grade distilled white vinegar.

Spray vinegar on rust stains on a weekly basis to clean sinks, tubs, and shower walls. Clean the area with a scrub brush and then thoroughly rinse.

To clean rusty toilet bowls on a weekly basis, pour one to two cups of vinegar into the bowl and scrape with a toilet brush. To remove old stains, remove the water from the toilet bowl and pour undiluted vinegar into the bowl, allowing it to sit for at least two hours (overnight is better). Scrub well before rinsing with clean water.

3. Try Tartar Cream.

You may not have the cream of tartar in your cupboard unless you are a meringue fan or baker, but it is an excellent rust remover. A cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) is a powdered version of tartaric acid that is commonly used to solidify whipped egg whites and leaven baked products.

Before washing with a moistened nylon-bristled brush, sprinkle it over the rust-stained regions of sinks and tubs. To apply to shower walls or toilet bowl stains, make a paste with a few drops of water. Give it time to work, and keep the paste moist by covering the area with plastic wrap, just like you would with other acids.


Keep your old toothbrushes for washing around plumbing fittings in small spaces. You’ll like having these on hand.

4. Add Abrasives that are gentle on the skin

Baking soda, table salt, or pumice powder can be used alone or in combination with any of the acid cleansers. They’re mild enough not to scratch bathroom fixtures’ porcelain, fiberglass, or enamel coatings. Always moisten the stained surface with water or cleanser and keep it wet while applying the abrasive for the best results.

Pumice is a volcanic rock that occurs naturally and is available in powder or solid form. Rust, limescale, and hard water stains can be scrubbed away with pumice sticks or stones.

5. Use commercial rust removers to get rid of the rust.

There are plenty of commercial rust removers on the market, such as CLR, that are effective in removing spots. Some products are more abrasive than others, so read labels carefully, follow guidelines, and store and dispose of items correctly.

Rust Stains on Toilets, Tubs, and Sinks: How to Prevent Them

  • Rust in the bathroom is frequently caused by iron-rich hard water, particularly well water. Future stains can be avoided by installing a filter system or a water softening system.
  • Because of the dampness in bathrooms, cans and ornamental storage containers with metal rings on the bottom (e.g., shaving creams, air fresheners, hair sprays, and cleansers) can rust fast and discolor surfaces. Keep these objects out of the way of the bathtub and sink in a cabinet.
  • After each usage, wipe clean the bathtub and sink to eliminate any iron residue in the water droplets.
  • Repair plumbing leaks as soon as possible. Even a modest leak from a faucet can quickly accumulate rust stains.
  • Examine the inside of toilet tanks. Metal components in the tank of older toilets may be corroded and rusted. Replace these things with PVC components that aren’t corrosive.

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