Limescale is a chalky white mineral deposit (alkaline) which is a result of hard water. It often occurs on faucets and in tubs and appliances, such as kettles and coffeemakers, and can leave silver and chrome with a gray dullness. White vinegar contains acetic acid and is a great place to start for cleaning these pesky stains. Over time, these mineral build-ups can damage sinks, toilets, and tubs and make soap scum harder to remove.
Most of the methods below are very similar. If the item you need to clean is not listed below, try a method for one of the other items that most closely resembles your needs.
What You’ll Need
- White vinegar
- Rag or paper towel
- Rubberband or hair clip
- Baking soda
- Water softener
- Cream of tartar
- Denture cleaning tablet (optional)
- Lemon juice
- Sponge or soft cloth
- Toilet brush
- White wine (optional)
The Cleaning Process
To clean faucets
Soak a rag or paper towel in vinegar and wrap around your faucet. Secure in place with a rubberband or hair clip. Let sit for an hour before wiping the faucet clean with a soft cloth. The Ultimate Accidental Housewife by Julie Edelman also suggests creating a paste with 3-parts baking soda to 1-part water. Apply the paste to the faucet, leave it on for an hour, and wipe it clean.
To clean kettles
Use 2-tbsp. of water softener in a full kettle of water and boil the solution for 2-3 minutes. Repeat if necessary and then rinse out the kettle with clean water. You can also fill your kettle with equal parts vinegar and water, bring the solution to a boil, and leave it overnight. Don’t forget to rinse it out in the morning!
To clean aluminum percolators
Never use bleach on aluminum appliances. Fill the percolator with water and add 1/4-c. cream of tartar. Run the appliance through for one cycle and then rinse well with hot water.
To clean coffeemakers
Fill the reservoir with water and 2-tbsp. water softener. Run the appliance through for one cycle and then again with clean water. Haley’s Cleaning Tips by Rosemary and Graham Haley also recommends filling it with white vinegar, running it through once, and then running it through twice with clean water. You may also fill with hot water and one regular denture cleaning tablet. Run it through once and once again with clean water.
To clean sinks and tubs
Spray with either vinegar or lemon juice. You may also use a paste of cream of tartar and water. Let sit for 30 minutes before scrubbing clean with a sponge or soft cloth. Check out our articles on “How to Clean a Shower” and “How to Clean a Shower Head” for more detailed information.
To clean toilets
Mix a solution of equal parts white vinegar and borax. Drain the toilet bowl and pour solution in. Leave it in for 2 hours before scrubbing clean with a toilet brush. You can also add 3-c. of undiluted white vinegar to your full toilet bowl and scrub it clean. Keep your toilet tank clean by adding 3-c. of undiluted vinegar to it, as well.
To clean windows and shower doors
Spraying white vinegar on your windows and shower doors can remove mineral stains left from hard water. You can use leftover white wine to remove limescale from glass. If the spray dries too fast, soak a paper towel with the vinegar and press it against the limescale, then tape a piece of plastic wrap over the paper towel to hold in the moisture. Check back every 30-60 minutes to see if the limescale has softened enough to be scraped off. How long it will take to soak will depend on how much buildup is present.
To clean natural stone counters
The tips in this article should not be used on natural stone counters such as marble or granite. Most of these cleaning solutions are acidic, including the cream of tartar, which can etch or damage the surface of the stone. Instead, use the method in our guide How to Remove Mineral Deposits from Granite Countertops.
To clean a washing machine
Remove hard water stains from the inside of your washing machine by pouring in 1-gal. of white vinegar and running it on the hot water cycle without any clothes inside.
To clean a dish drainer
Soak a paper towel with undiluted white vinegar and press the paper towel onto the mineral deposits. Leave the paper towel on the stains for an hour, then scrub them off. If the drainer has two many mineral deposits for the paper towel method to be effective, you can soak the entire rack in the sink instead. Fill the sink with just enough water to cover the rack, then add a few cups of white vinegar. Let the rack soak for an hour, then scrub off the lime scale.
To clean dishes
If your dishes are coming out of the dishwasher with limescale, The Complete Household Handbook by Good Housekeeping recommends running them through the dishwasher cycle again, but adding two cups of white vinegar instead of detergent. Also, consider getting a water softener for your home to prevent this problem from reoccurring.
To clean a shower head, remove the shower head and place it in a small dish. Pour white vinegar to cover the affected area.
After one hour, brush the scale off with a soft brush (old toothbrush) and rinse with hot water.
I agree with Lynn’s tip about the spray and walk away foaming-type products. I tried them all and I finally found a winner. My water spots were really severe and a friend told me about Bruce’s heavy duty brown, a paste that you wipe on and rinse off. Now the water just rolls off the glass instead of sticking to it. Ace Hardware has it and it’s only like five bucks.
“To clean a washing machine: Remove hard water stains from the inside of your washing machine by pouring in 1 gal. of white vinegar and running it on the hot water cycle without any clothes inside.”
Where do I pour the 1 gallon of white vinegar?
I have also tried using a citrus-based product to clean my kettle (such as TANG). It works well, but not as good as vinegar.
How do I remove the white film that come in flower vases after repeated use. I also get this in my glass coffee pot.
Hi Earlene, we’ve created a guide just for you! See it here: How to Clean White Film from a Flower Vase
I live in an apartment and the exterior windows have been neglected for years. How can I get the water stains off my windows?
What’s leftover wine?
Nat and Andy,
“Leftover wine” is stale wine. The reason leftover/stale wine can be used as a cleaner (and fresh wine can’t) is because of the air exposure time – when a bottle of wine is opened, the wine is exposed to the air and begins to oxidize (combine with oxygen). As it oxidizes, it will become more acidic and eventually turn into vinegar, often within a couple days. Ways that people use leftover wine (rather than pouring it down the drain since it now tastes stale/like vinegar) are usually as a substitute for vinegar, like for a salad dressing or as a cleaning solution. In other words, you wouldn’t go buy leftover wine; you would buy vinegar. But if you happen to have any leftover wine, this is a way to use it. If you have a neighbor who likes wine, they might have some on hand. Otherwise, you can drink a portion of a new bottle and wait a few days to make your own leftover wine.
Source: Wine X Magazine – The Big Ask
I have just found out that a little bit of paint-thinner goes a long way as long as you wipe it clean immediately after applying it. This is the fastest and most effective method that I have found so far.
Can you buy bottles of leftover white wine, as we never have any at our place?
What about the rusty-looking scale stuff in the bottom of the toilet bowl? I used a pumice stick and got a lot of it off, followed by a flat-head screwdriver. But I can’t reach a lot of it.
OK, for toilet rust, empty the water in the bowl by flushing the toilet with the water to the refill tank off. You can get the remaining water out with a sponge, rag or bilge pump (I happen to have them around the house) then fill the refill the tank with full strength white vinegar and flush (with the water still off). Let soak over night. Brush and flush. If that doesn’t work you can try muriatic acid and do the same routine, except it should only take an hour or less. **WARNING** Muriatic acid is powerful stuff and will eat a hole in…well just about anything not glass or porcelain so be careful! And if you notice anything itching, stop what you are doing and rinse with water.
S Stack says
There are some toilet bowl cleaners that are mainly muriatic acid. Some are not marked as such and you have to call the manufacturer to find out. They used to have the contents on the bottle, but for the last few years it is not marked.
This may be redundant, but have you looked to see whether there are small screen filters just inside the taps? They usually can be removed and soaked in vinegar to clean. I also use an old toothbrush on the screens. Hope that might help.
I have a black refrigerator where we get our water from the outside and the black water-catcher is white from the water. I have also tried Lime Away to no avail.
We have long standing lime scale on the ceramic tile in our shower. Have tried CLR, but it doesn’t make a dent. Any other suggestions?
S Stack says
I believe this is what is on my vinyl tile shower walls. I have tried everything under the sun without any luck. Gal at Home Depot told me to try CLR, but that did not help either. In fact, it looks worse. I have been to many tile stores and bought all their different cleaners. I am about ready to give up. These shower walls were like this when I bought the property 5 years ago and they have not got worse as I make sure to wipe them down after every shower.
Bob D. says
Fill a spray bottle with undiluted lemon juice; add a couple drops of dish soap as a surfactant if you want but don’t overdo it; it’s the lemon juice that does the work. Spray all surfaces repeatedly (letting it soak after each application), until you see some results. When you first start, it will appear to have no more effect than spraying water, but, eventually the stains will start to “run”. Once the lemon juice has loosened the scale, you can use a non-abrasive scrubbing pad with Soft Scrub or Bon Ami to remove it.
I used the above method for several years to clean lime and rust stains from my shower. While not effortless, it worked as well as any harsh chemical cleaners I had tried (perhaps with more spray applications needed).
About 14 months ago, I needed to clean the shower before company arrived, but had just taken a shower. I sprayed the wet shower with lemon juice and noticed when repeating the spraying that it seemed to be working faster than it had when starting with a dry shower. Since then, I’ve been spraying the shower after using it (while still wet) with a light spray of lemon juice. I have not needed to scrub the shower since! All that’s needed is wiping it with a cloth dipped in warm water, and occasionally, a little Soft Scrub when I feel a rough patch where soap scum is starting to build up. This method has also removed the previously nearly impossible to remove stains on the flexible hose and fittings to the shower head and the shower curtain liner.
The lemon juice may eventually affect some metal fixtures as it is acidic so you may wish to wipe these off after spraying.
Vinegar, Dawn soap and water in a spray bottle.
Does anyone know how to get rid of hard water stains on mirrors? I heard white vinegar works and I’m about to try it. I wonder though, do I have to let it sit or can I soak it in a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Sponge and then wipe it off? Any tips would be appreciated!
I have a white film on the inside of some of my glasses – the dishwasher doesn’t remove it at all! Any ideas?
Also, what is the best thing to use to clean a dishwasher? I’ve used vinegar and other dishwasher cleaning products, and nothing works!
Try buying LemiShine detergent booster at your grocery store next to the dishwasher detergent. Fill part of your dispenser or throw a little in the bottom of your dishwasher every time you run it and after several uses you will begin to notice your glasses start to look like new and it keeps your dishwasher looking good inside too. My husband and I battled this problem for years until a friend told me about LemiShine and I couldn’t believe how well it worked!
I can not find the undiluted white vinegar in Sacramento, CA.
Where can I find it? What kind of stores sell it? Thanks!
I have a hot tub with lime scale on it. Have removed some with Lime Away. Any suggestions on the more difficult stuff – would a paste work?
Hi, We have a front load washing machine and the barrel is covered in a scale of sorts. How can I remove it without pulling the machine and barrel apart?
Smart and Final sell large bottles of white vinegar. “Undiluted white vinegar” is just what you’d find in any grocery store, Heinz being a major brand, but the large bottles are more economical for cleaning purposes.
I tried to clean scaling from the kettle by mixing 1:100 parts of floor cleaning acid: water. I poured this mix in the kettle and two minutes later, all the scaling disappeared.
Be careful when you mix; if the concentration is more, it may effect the kettle forever.
My car windows have very difficult water stains and I believe I can remove them with carbonate soda, lime, and vinegar. Do you know how to prepare this?
If you can find it, run a package of lemon-lime Kool-Aid through your dishwasher cycle (with no dishes). It will take most (if not all) of the hard water stains out of it.
I have a major lime buildup on the outside of my stainless steel commercial ice maker. Any suggestions on what I can use to clean it? I have tried CLR, Scrubbing Bubbles, Lime Away, etc., but nothing has even begun to remove it. Any suggestions?
I have used Goo Gone and a plastic scouring pad. Goo Gone is made to remove sticky substances from wood or glass or metal, but it softens up the hard water spots for removal. I spray the product on the glass, let it sit for about 15 minutes and then use the scouring pad in circular motions. Try it on a small area on the glass. You will feel the difference after one application. Super smooth glass! There have been times when I had to apply more than once, but not often and only is selected spots. Best of luck!
I use The Works chemical cleaner. You can get it at any Dollar store. There is no scrubbing and there is no eating holes in anything. My entire shower stall turns brown, so I had tried vinegar and all those little tricks, only to loose the battle. I use the works, then spray a little rain-x on the shower stall. The rain-x helps keep a film over the fiberglass stall so the gunk has nothing to stick to. Hope this helps.
Is it safe to use white wine vinegar on granite work surfaces (draining board) to remove limescale (a heavy build-up)? If so, will I need to dilute it, or use it neat?
Under “Cleaning Toilets” above, it says “mix equal parts of white vinegar and borax.” I am not sure what this means as vinegar is a liquid and borax is a powder. Does it mean one cup of vinegar to one cup of borax powder?
I’ve tried CLR, vinegar, and baking soda. The lime build-up won’t budge. Any real solutions? Please don’t tell me to soak it in vinegar; I believe I’ve tried every variation I read online.
Try a fine steel wool pad and ebow grease. I’m doing this a wall at a time.
Also try a drill head with the steel wool pad attached. It will also work.
Eh, just use vinegar and lemon juice.
I have used everything I can find with no results. It just laughed at vinegar. I placed the door on it’s side and covered with full 100% vinegar. The lime just laughed.
Try using the vinegar again, but also scrub the soaked lime scale with a cloth scouring pad or scrub brush.
Source: HowToCleanStuff.net – How to Remove Lime Build-Up from Dog Bowl
Consider trying the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
Source: HowToCleanStuff.net – How to Remove Lime Scale from the Bathtub
How much is 3-c.?
The “c.” is an abbreviation for “cups.” So, three cups.
Source: Bates College – The Metric System, Abbreviations, and Conversions for Common Units of Measure
Source: Grammar Girl – Units of Measurement
I have white patches on my concrete drive and cannot remove them unless by power washing, which takes the concrete with it. What are they? Mold? Does anything remove them?
The white patches are most likely efflorescence (salt deposits), which can be caused by the salt within the concrete mix or road salts. Although it was once thought to be caused by lime, according to the Masonry Institute of America, chemical analysis has proved otherwise.
Scrubbing the stains with a dry brush could be sufficient for fresh salt stains. The goal is to remove as much salt from the concrete as possible, so try to clean it carefully. If you just brush the salt off, but it sits on another part of the drive or in the dirt immediately next to the drive, it could re-enter the concrete. Using a vacuum to grab the particles from brushing the stain might help.
Acid washes, such as vinegar, are often recommended as treatments for cleaning efflorescence. Pour diluted white vinegar on the stains, scrub the stains with a sponge or scrub brush, rinse the area thoroughly and dry the concrete with a dry cloth, wet/dry vac or a layer of baking soda. The water will promote the return of the stains if the concrete is not dried quickly.
The vinegar is used to to break down the salt (that hasn’t appeared yet) and therefore prevent future salt stains. You can treat the entire driveway with diluted vinegar, but you must rinse the vinegar from the concrete thoroughly as the lingering acid could damage the concrete.
If the staining is caused by efflorescence, you can seal the driveway to limit water exposure to the concrete. However, water can still enter the concrete through the ground, so it is best to seal the concrete after several cleanings of the efflorescence. You could attempt to prompt the efflorescence (soak the driveway with water and wait), clean and repeat until the stains barely return.
You are correct that it could be mold, however mold usually causes darker stains on concrete. Thankfully, the white vinegar will also work if the stains are mold; allow the stains to soak for 10-15 minutes and rinse the driveway with a garden hose.
Source: Masonry Institute of America – Efflorescence: Cause and Control
Source: eHow – What Causes White Marks on Colored Concrete?
Source: Do It Yourself – How to Remove Concrete Efflorescence
Source: eHow – How to Clean Efflorescence Stains on Concrete
Source: Wikipedia – Efflorescence
Source: eHow – What Cleans Mold on Driveways
Does anybody know where I can find the chemical reactions involved in these processes?
That happens when you need to add salt to your water softener. If you don’t have one, you probably need one. Everything will come beautifully clean when the softener has sufficient salt and has run through your system. You can add the vinegar as well to get them sparkling clean. The more you run the dishwasher without the softener/salt, the worse your dishes will get.
I have a black refrigerator with the water dispenser on the outside and the black water catcher is white from the hard water. I have used white vinegar to no avail. What will work?
This is the article that you need: How to Remove Hard Water Deposits from an Ice Dispenser.
How do I clean a black toilet bowl with water stains without etching the black bowl? Vinegar does not work.
This is the article that you need: How to Clean a Black Toilet.
Try using dry wall screen, fine grade.
It will take off any hard water stains.
I’ve used it on a black toilet; it works great with a little elbow grease.
To remove hard water deposits from the toilet, wear waterproof gloves and use a plastic scrubby square. I tried using a knife, which was effective, but it too easily scratched the porcelain. I used the scrubby on another area, got better results, and no visible scratches. You may also drain the water below the deposit by plunging to avoid any splashing.
I am so fed up. I have tried EVERYTHING on the windows in Palm Bay, FL where there is horrible well water. The water softener does not make the water right. My brand new dishwasher even has a white film on my dishes. The windows I have washed over eight times using everything, even muriatic acid. It just left more white film. I am so tired of cleaning to no avail. What do PROFESSIONALS use to get the white film and marks off of windows?
I live in San Diego, where we get our water from the Colorado River. This is excellent, life-giving water; a gift from the gods. However, it has a lot of dissolved solids from its passage through the canyons of the West. I installed a new glass shower two years ago, which has been used daily since it was installed. My son, the user, is very conscientious about squeegeeing every time, but it has built up a film, which I assumed was calcium or phosphate or some other kind of mineral build-up from the hard water.
We were ready to take it out and replace it with a shower base and curtain. My wife and contractor were lobbying for a water softener. I am resisting this. I don’t want another machine to maintain and take up space.
After reading all the comments and recommendations online, I decided to tackle it. I sprayed on pure, undiluted Heinz white vinegar, let it sit for ten minutes, then scrubbed it with one of those sponges with a plastic mesh [don’t know the name], then rewetted it with the white vinegar spray bottle, squeegeed it and dried it with paper towels.
Then, I noticed that the paper towels seemed to smear something greasy around on the glass. AH! The light went on. This was not hard water deposits. It was soap buildup. One of the main ingredients of soaps is oil.
I have had excellent results on my cars with an instant detailer made by Speed Demon. I even use it on the chrome and windows, and find it is superior to Windex, Invisible Glass and similar products. So, decided to try it on my shower. EUREKA!!! It is THE ANSWER! My shower looks fantastic. My wife even is ecstatic about the way the shower looks.
Maybe other brands of instant detailer will work as well, but I have had such excellent results with Speed Demon, that is what I used. Speed Demon is available at Pep Boys, not my favorite store, but, hey, they have it. I love this stuff.
We are noticing that our clothes, particularly black ones, come out of the wash looking a bit scummy. However, we have determined that it is not actually our detergent (used other washers). We’re wondering if we are getting mineral deposits on our clothes. Would simply cleaning the washer be effective, or should we also be adding something to our wash water besides our detergent?
Hi, can I also use the vinegar to remove lime build-up in my hot water flask? If yes, how do I go about it? Thank you.
Yes, vinegar can remove lime build-up from a variety of items. To clean the flask, use the information in this article: How to Clean a Flask.
We used to use ice and salt and swish it around until it cleaned.
I was told to use toilet bowl cleaner in my tub for the hard water stains. Now I have a blue-stained tub and still have hard water stains. Help! Will white vinegar remove both?
Check it out! We’ve answered your question! Yay!
Help!! I did a stupid thing! I turned off water in the toilet, then poured “Lime Away” in and left it to sit for at least 2 hours to get rid of stains. When I went to clean it, it had a black ring. I have no clue how to get rid of it, or if it can be done. Please, please help. Thank you.
I’ve read all the items everyone is using vinegar on. Thanks for the tips. However, I have the dish drain. Thank God I bought a clear one when I moved in this apt. Can’t imagine what a black one would look like. Now, these are that hard plastic. Can I use vinegar on that or should I use something else?
Vinegar is safe to use on most plastics. If you are concerned, you can always test it on a small hidden area first to look for any adverse reaction.
S Stack says
My vinyl tiles in my shower stall walls are coated white. These are only the lower ones. They were like this when I bought the house 5 years ago and nothing has been able to remove this. I have gone to tile stores and bought several different brands of tile cleaners. Tried many bath sprays. Vinegar, CLR, you mention it and it’s been tried. You can’t keep the tiles wet either since they are on the wall. I came home the other day with another tile cleaner from Home Depot. I am afraid to try it after reading the directions. It must be used in a well ventilated area, which the bathroom is not. I don’t want to keel over in the middle of cleaning. Once I get it cleaned off the tile, then I will have to start on the glass block wall next.
How do I remove the white residue in our Tupperwear bowls from the Borax my daughter used to make slime?
Try using white vinegar. Borax is alkaline, so the acid in the vinegar will react with it, loosening it from the surface.
Source: Advanced Biotech- pH Scale Comparisons