How To Remove Hard Water Spots

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Hard water spots are caused by minerals in your home’s water supply. Here’s how to get them off glass, tile, showers, jetted tubs, and other surfaces and prevent their return.

Hand in rubber glove using microfiber cloth to remove hard water spots on faucet

If you live in an area with hard water, you know it can leave a white crusty residue at the base of faucets. Sometimes, you may notice spots on tiles or shower walls, especially on glass shower doors.

These stubborn spots are often called lime or mineral deposits, calcium buildup, or scale. They’re due to the magnesium and other minerals that give hard water its name. While there are many cleaners on the market designed to get rid of hard water stains, most commercial cleaners contain harsh chemicals that are highly irritating. Fortunately, several safe, natural things remove hard water spots, and they’re already in your kitchen.

How to Get Rid of Hard Water Spots

Before you start trying to get rid of hard water spots, make sure that’s what they are. If you can easily scrape it away with a fingernail, it’s more likely soap scum. The methods below can help a little, but the very easiest solution is my homemade no-scrub soap scum remover. On the other hand, if you can’t scrape it away easily, it’s hard water mineral buildup and you should use one of the methods that follow.

How to Remove Hard Water Spots in the Shower

Distilled white vinegar does an excellent job of dissolving mineral buildup that causes hard water spots on shower heads. To get rid of hard water spots on your showerhead, fill a plastic bag with a cup of vinegar and a cup of water, and use a rubber band to fasten it on your showerhead. After 30 minutes, take the bag down and scrub the showerhead spouts then wipe it clean.

To get rid of hard water spots on glass shower doors, use a 50:50 mixture of vinegar and water. Spray it on and wait 5-15 minutes then scrub it off with a melamine sponge or Magic Eraser. For very stubborn buildup, soak paper towels in this mixture then smooth them onto your shower walls and doors using your hands. Let them hang in place 15 minutes then remove them and scrub the spots away. (Here are more ways to keep shower glass spot-free.)

Remove Hard Water Stains from Tile

To get rid of crusty hard water spots on tile or ceramic surfaces, try a damp melamine sponge or Magic Eraser. You can add scrubbing power with a sprinkle of baking soda if needed. For very stubborn spots, let a damp dryer sheet sit in place for 30-60 minutes before scrubbing. Fabric softener sheets have surfactants that dissolve hard water stains and help lift them away. (Here are ways to use dryer sheets to clean.)

Get Rid of Hard Water Buildup in Jetted Tubs

If you’ve got a jetted or Whirlpool tub in your bathroom, you may not know that the pipes don’t completely drain between uses. That leads to a couple of gross problems. First is the dark gunk that sometimes spews out of whirlpool jets and the pink mold that grows around them. This stuff, known as “biofilm,” is bacterial buildup from the water (and hair and dead skin cells) that sat in the whirlpool pipes between uses. Then there’s the hard, white mineral buildup that sometimes clogs the jets. This buildup can also leave spots on dark-colored tubs and tub surrounds.

To get rid of biofilm and hard water buildup in your jetted tub’s plumbing:

  1. Fill the tub with HOT water — at least 2 inches above the highest jet. Pour in 1/2 gallon white vinegar and two tablespoons of powdered dish detergent. (Do not substitute liquid dish soap or a dishwasher pod.)
  2. Run the jets for 15 minutes, then turn them off and let the cleaning solution sit for another 10.
  3. Drain the tub and refill with COLD water then run the jets another 10 minutes.
  4. Drain the tub and wipe down with a clean microfiber cloth.

Removing Hard Water Spots from Faucets

To remove hard water spots from faucets, dip a paper towel in a 50-50 mixture of water and white vinegar and wrap it around the faucet. Wait 5 minutes then remove the paper towel and gently scrub the area with an old toothbrush. Repeat for another 5 minutes if needed. If you have granite counters, lay a sheet of plastic cling film on the counter to protect them from the vinegar before you do this.

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For very stubborn buildup, make a paste of hydrogen peroxide and cream of tartar or baking powder. Apply this with a cotton swab to the hard water stain and let it sit for 30 minutes then rinse.

Removing Hard Water Stains in Toilets

Don’t be tempted to grab a pumice stone and scour the inside of your bowl like grandma used to do. Modern toilets are easily scratched. Using something as abrasive as pumice will damage the toilet bowl’s finish, so you’ll wind up with a toilet that develops stains and odors more quickly. 

To remove hard water stains from a toilet, turn off the water supply at the wall and flush to reduce the amount of water in the bowl. Spray the bowl with straight white vinegar and wait 20 minutes then scrub and flush. For stubborn spots, put on gloves and apply a paste of borax and vinegar then wait 15-20 minutes. Spray with additional vinegar as needed so the paste remains damp the entire time. When time’s up, scrub the paste with a toilet brush.

Removing Hard Water Spots from Water Dispensers

Crusty mineral build-up on a refrigerator’s water spout is easy to remove with a lemon wedge. Push it onto the spout so the lemon juice gets in there, and let it sit for 30 minutes then scrub the tube’s opening with a soft-bristled brush. Once the hard water buildup is gone, run water to flush the line.

How to Prevent Hard Water Stains

The best way to keep hard water from staining your household surfaces is by not letting hard water drops sit and evaporate on surfaces.

Showers: Use a squeegee to remove water from walls after use. Or, keep a spray bottle filled with my homemade daily shower spray on hand and use it after the final shower of the day. Applying a windshield rain repelling product or car wax can also keep hard water drops from turning into stains.

Faucets and tiles: Wipe surfaces with a dry cloth after use. You can keep a cloth near sinks and tubs to make this easy, or make it part of your daily house cleaning routine.

Toilets: Flush after use. If you have a toilet that doesn’t get used often, make a point to flush it every other day. Regardless of whether a toilet is used often or not, you should still clean it at least once a week to prevent mildew and hard water stains.

Whole house: Although it’s not a quick fix, installing a whole house water softener will keep those spots from forming on any surface. Softened water cleans better, too, so there are many reasons to consider this step.

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4 Comments

  1. Wendy Clare says:

    Great tips! In addition, for our shower fixtures, we’ve gotten into the routine of wiping the faucet and handles with a corner of our towel when we’re done with our shower. We’ve had the same fixture for over 10 years, and it still looks brand new, just because we never let water dry on it! Such a simple habit, and it sure saves a ton of scrubbing, etc. to keep it shiny.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Great tip!

  2. I have not tried this yet but I heard to prevent the buildup of hard water and soap scum in your bathtub and shower is to spray it down with the dishwashing spot remover additive. I haven’t tried this yet because I don’t have an electric dishwasher and I keep forgetting to buy that little bottle. However my sister told me this stuff is not that cheap and I did not find out how often I would have to spray it in the bathtub and shower nor if I needed to dilute it with anything I would assume I would have to get distilled water it doesn’t make sense to me to add tap water to it because tap water has the minerals that I am trying to get rid of. I am curious if you had heard of using this product

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’ve never heard of doing that.