How to Remove Stubborn Hard Water Brown Stains from Toilet Bowls (Rings & Sediments)

Whenever you see brown stains in your bathroom – it’s a clear indication in the type of water you have, among other reasons. You could see rings, stains, and settle sediments on the base of the toilet bowl. All these are clear signs that you need to clean up the lavatory before the stains get any harder to remove.

Because of the frequent use of water around the bathroom area is more prevalent than to imagine, these stubborn hard water stains can pick up again even two days after cleaning. Following is an in-depth guide on the causes, solutions, and some preventative ideas to keep your toilet fresh and free from unnecessary staining.

What Causes the Brown Stains in Bowls?

Following are some of the possible causes.

Bown hair water stain in toilet bowl
Bowl Brown stain

1. Iron/ Manganese In the Water

As you have read above, the red-rusty stains you see in your toilet is majorly contributed to the type of water you have in your bathroom; hard water. This water tends to leave an abundance of mineral deposits in the bowl, in the tank, behind the tank and even underneath the toilet.

You will also see that the hard water encourages the metals pipes to rust easily, therefore, giving off iron sediments, which then settle in the water as a ring or even tiny particles settled in the base of the toilet.

A deep brown colored stain could indicate the presence of manganese, which is also a very water-reactive metal that causes the toilet to have brown streaks, especially where the siphon jets release water from. The best solution for such a case is to have a filtering system that’ll remove these heavy metals(iron and manganese) from the main water supply.

2. Old or Damaged Piping Systems

Another factor that highly contributed to hard water brown stains is the type of piping you have. For most homes, the water and sewer services are connected through metal pipes.

This means that over time, the water passing through the pipe will start to get discolored as it picks up metal elements from the pipe coating.

You will evidently see this when you’re flushing the toilet and the water that trickles down is not entirely clear. A filter system is an excellent solution, where the water will be cleaned out before reaching your home. You could also replace the old corroded pipes, maybe consider PVC pipes.

3. Electrolysis

This is where dissimilar metals get in contact and cause staining. You can see this in two areas; the bathroom heater since the heating metal is brass but the piping is most probably copper.

The same case for the toilet, remodeled houses can have a mix of metals from galvanized, copper or PEX. So when the water comes through, the two metals will cause the water to turn hard, therefore, staining the toilet bowl.

Treating the water or flotation may not entirely help in this situation. You may have to get a plumber to fix the piping in the home. Chloramine could also cause adverse effects to the pipes making then corrode easily and making the problem even worse.

What Do the Stains Look Like?

From the title, hard water stains tend to have a distinct brown color. In some cases, it may look faded or deeper depending on the severity of the damage the garden water has caused.

You will see a deep red rusted look for manganese deposits, brown rings for calcium and magnesium deposits, and in rare cases, a deep green shade to indicate electrolysis. All in all, these stains tend to etch more on the porcelain than any other stain.

How to Remove the Stains

There are several methods you can use to get rid of these mineral deposits from the toilet bowl. All these elements tend to be reactive hence offer the best remedy to removing the stains. Here are the top three methods you can use to remove these stains:

What you will need

These are the standard tools you will need for the job.

  • Rubber gloves
  • Rags
  • Bleach
  • Vinegar
  • Borax
  • Baking soda
  • Wrench brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Hand brush
  • Mineral oil
  • Coke
  • Bucket/ container

Option One: Baking Soda and Vinegar

A mixture of baking soda and vinegar tends to generate a chemical compound called carbonic acid, which is aggressive on stains and mineral deposits on surfaces. It will be an excellent remedy for this problem.


  1. Measure about a cup of vinegar and pour it inside the toilet bowl. Swish it around so it gets to every area in the bowl.
  2. Let it sink in the bowl for about half an hour to one hour.
  3. After that time, open the box of baking soda and sprinkle it all over the toilet. The vinegar you added previously will ensure it sticks on the walls of the bowl.
  4. Add some vinegar to activate a fizzy reaction.
  5. Let it fizz for another 15 minutes m, then come back and brush the interior surface of the toilet bowl.
  6. Scrub the toilet with nylon stifle brush and rinse off by flushing. The toilet should be stain-free.

You can repeat this method as many times as possible. You could even leave the solution overnight to let it work through the tougher stains. 

Option Two: Borax and Vinegar

Another chemical agent – borax is also great at multipurpose cleaning, especially on really tough stains. A mixture with vinegar only makes it better.


  1. Add about a cup of borax into the toilet bowl.
  2. Add some vinegar right over the borax.
  3. Gently scrub the toilet. Let sit for 15 minutes and flush the look as you scrub again.

Option Three: Borax Paste

For those really stubborn stains, a borax paste should do the trick. Here’s how you can do that;


  1. Wipe down the toilet bowl to get a clear view of where the mold is.
  2. Make a paste in a dish using borax and water. Ensure the paste is thick enough to stick on the walls of the bowl.
  3. Apply the paste over the hard stained areas and scrub gently with the hand brush to make sure the paste all over the bowl.
  4. Leave it on for half an hour.
  5. Once back, scrub again gently to scrape off the brown stains.
  6. Flush the toilet to finish up.

You can replace the water for vinegar in case you want a more reactive solution. Just ensure you add only a little amount so the borax can still mount on the wall.

Brown Stains/Sediments in the Bottom of Bowl

In some cases, you will see that the brown stains are below the waterline. They appear as sediments beneath the bowl right at the base.

Brown sediment bottom of bowl
Brown Sediment

How Do the Sediments Come About?

Unlike the rings, the sediments that settle on the base of the toilet come with a different story. When water comes out from the water tank, the piping could have rust stains, as well as the tank itself. Hence, these rusted areas release flakes that trickle down with the water every time you flush.

Since they’re pieces of metal, they tend to settle down at the base of the toilet bowl rather than flush down the drain. After some time settling at the base, they etch onto the Porcelain in a way that can easily be removed.

Here are five ways to get rid of the brown sediments.

Method #1: Vinegar

Vinegar is acidic in nature which makes it the best remedy for this job. It will simply soften the stain enough for you to scrape it off and also lift the build-up from the base of the toilet bowl. Here are the steps to follow.


  1. Measure one little of undiluted vinegar in a container or jug.
  2. Heat it up to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit to get the liquid activated.
  3. Pour it into the bowl with a keen eye around the sides and on the base where the sediments have settled.
  4. Leave it for as long as you’d like from an hour to even overnight.
  5. Scrub the bottom of the bowl to remove the brown sediments.

If you can’t clearly see the bottom of the bowl, you can begin by emptying the bowl using rags, then directly pour over the hot vinegar onto the sediments.

Method #2: Use Sandpaper

Your next option is to scrub the base thoroughly using sandpaper. It’s just like a brush but tougher. You can replace this sandpaper with a grade one steel wool as they have the same roughness, but don’t use a pumice stone as it can damage the coating of the toilet.


  1. Empty the toilet bowl so you can reach for the bottom of the bowl and feel for the sediments.
  2. Gently run the stain off using the sandpaper in a consistent motion, front to back. Do not press too hard as it may scratch the bowl and damage it.
  3. Buff the area and wipe off with a rag as you continue. When done, apply the mineral oil for a smooth finish.

Method #3: Baking Soda and Coca Cola

Coca-cola is fizzy in nature but it has several ingredients such as carbonic acid and citric acid, that allow it to be used to clean out stains from the toilet.


  1. Measure about a cup of baking soda and sprinkle it inside the toilet bowl.
  2. Pour in the coke directly on top of the baking soda to engage a chemical reaction.
  3. Let it sit for sometime like an hour and come back for some scrubbing.
  4. Scrub gently and flush the toilet for a quick rinse.
  5. The bottom of the bowl should be sparkling clean.

Method #4: Baking Soda and Vinegar


  1. Empty the toilet bowl using rags.
  2. Wipe down the walls of the toilet bowl until they are dry from water.
  3. Sprinkle adequate baking powder inside the toilet with precision to the bottom of the bowl.
  4. You could also make a paste in a dish using baking soda and vinegar. Ensure the paste is thick enough to stick on the walls and the base.
  5. Otherwise, use sandpaper and scrub the base using the baking soda only.
  6. Now add in the vinegar and let it react for some time.
  7. Once back, scrub the base of the toilet to ensure you get every single sediment from there.
  8. Wipe down with a rag to see if it needs further scrubbing.  Continue until you have your results.
  9. Flush the toilet for a clean finish.

This solution can also be left overnight in cases where the sediments or stains at the base of the toilet are severe and need much more attention.

Method #5: Vinegar and Lemon Juice

Lemons produce citric acid which is a cleaning agent naturally. It can be a great replacement for baking some as they will react the same way, but not as aggressive. Because the lemon is used in juice form, simply mix the two ingredients together and repeat option one above.

How to Prevent Brown Stains in Toilet

After a hard day’s work scrubbing the toilet, you may want to adhere to some easy-peasy rules to ensure you’re not staining just as much to clean your toilet. Here are a few preventative measures you can use to keep the toilet clean and free from hard water stains.

  • As you clean, ensure you are thoroughly cleaning every area in the toilet to avoid any build-up or the possibility of the stains etching on the Porcelain surface.
  • Check in the level of hardness of the water so you can select a corrective measure such as a filter or a treatment plant.
  • Replace any old pipes or toilet fittings early.

Further Reading

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