How to remove calcium buildup in porcelain toilet?

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I've tried every product I can find that claims to get rid of calcium and lime buildup, and it didn't do anything to help. I've tried emptying the basin and letting vinegar sit in there - no dice. I've tried the tablets you add to the tank - well now I just have a blue ring vs a tan one. Our city water has incredibly hard water. So hard that I have to clean (with vinegar and a butter knife) the heating element on my humidifier after each gallon of water that goes through it. The entire heating element will be caked with buildup after just a gallon of water.
Help! I can't scour the toilet because it's porcelain.
  32 answers
  • Is the stain at the water line? Or is it a build up along the bottom of the bowl? While vinegar will work, it does take a long time to work. muriatic acid will work much faster, but you need lots of ventilation, eye protection and gloves to work with it. Not un-common for build up in hard water areas to have issues with everything that uses water. Tub rings, dishwasher issues, and sinks all suffer. Have you thought of getting a water softener? They have a bunch of different styles in which some use salt, and some do not that work very well. The initial cost might be reaching a bit, but when you figure out all the time and money spent on cleaning and replacement parts due to the hardness it may be worth in in the long run. In any case, if its the bottom of the bowl, you need to vacuum out the water and pour the acid in and let it sit over night if you can. The using a strong nylon scrub brush have at it. If the issue is toilet ring stain, you need to get an old rag and lay it around the bowl after again draining it and soak the rag with the acid so it will remain on the area longer. After an hour or two, put some more on. Keep it wet throughout the day. At the end of the day, put rag in plastic bag or hold it and flush toilet several times to rinse off the acid on it. Throw it away. Again scrub the ring with stiff brush.

  • Stephanie Volkert Stephanie Volkert on Mar 17, 2014
    It's at the water line plus along the top of the toilet, right above where the water comes out to drain into the bowl. It's between 1/8-1/4" thick buildup of minerals. This is far beyond just staining. I can post a photo when I get home in a bit. I can't use acid or chemicals of any kind while in the house - I get very ill from them. One bathroom has no fan or window in it, and the other has both fan and window but they don't work well to air it out (I couldn't use that bathroom for three days or sleep in my bedroom after it was primered with Kilz last year and that was with window open and fan on). I have considered getting a water softener, but I think the water tastes gross with it. My grandparents have one and everything just tastes "wrong." It alters the taste of everything from tea to coffee. I don't know anyone else who has this problem as bad as I do. I've never seen toilets with this much buildup.

  • If you cannot use an acid on the toilet your pretty much out of luck other then to scrape it and to continue to use hard water tabs in the toilet. The holes in the toilet ring are very common and asked here a lot. A dental pick, mirror and a good pillow to kneel on is the method to clear those holes. A 3-M pad (green one) will help scrub the ring without harming the toilet. It may appear that its scratching, but once clean use some comet and clean it. It will remove the dark scratch lines that you caused cleaning the bowl. in any case, the only other method other then acid or scraping is to replace the bowl. So you have nothing to loose. As far as taste in water with water softener. If its properly operating, you should not be able to tell. Salt water units do tend to put more salt into the water which may change the taste, but if its properly operating you should not be able to tell. Get your grand-dads checked. It may need adjustments on its cycle time. What you will notice with a softener is a almost slimy feel when rinsing off in the shower. What is happening is the hard water minerals that normally dry your skin are not there and what your feeling is clean skin without the minerals acting like sand paper that prevents that slippery feeling. Your soap will go much further, your clothes will clean better and last longer and it will be much easier to clean the shower walls and doors. .

  • Peabutton's Mom Peabutton's Mom on Mar 17, 2014
    Years ago while I still was teaching we did a simple experiment with an egg and Coca Cola. The raw egg was left to soak in a jar of Coke. The calcium shell was dissolved after about two days. Perhaps after picking off the outer layers then you could shut off the water to the toilet and fill the bowl with Coca Cola? I am not sure if other types of soda (ie: Pepsi) will work or not.

  • I used to have a porcelain toilet... I found that a product called Snobol works great! I buy it at Family Dollar. It works best if just starting out to empty the bowl of as much water as possible. We also had iron and sulfur and it made the toilet look brand new! Good luck!

  • Kiff Harvey Kiff Harvey on Mar 17, 2014
    Muriatic acid follow directions on bottle

  • Adrianne C Adrianne C on Mar 17, 2014
    The Works found at the Dollar Store.

  • Packrat Packrat on Mar 18, 2014
    Go to a custodial supply store. They can advise you if you explain the problem. I'd ask for a good product designed for calcium build up. Look for something in a semi-gel type that will cling to the deposit. Very few things can be found in a reg store's household cleaning dept that will do much. Commercial cleaners are much stronger. I would follow up with a good commercial toilet bowl cleaner. The idea of chipping away the buildup will help speed up the process and is a good idea, but be careful as you can scratch or etch the porcelain. READ the directions and warnings on the products as they should be stronger than what you are likely familiar with. Good luck

  • Stephanie Volkert Stephanie Volkert on Mar 18, 2014
    Sounds like I'm just going to have to live with it until I've moved out prior to selling later this year. Again, I cannot use any chemicals that have an odor (even something like Simple Green causes me to have trouble breathing). The coke thing is worth a shot though. Thanks for the suggestions.

    • Packrat Packrat on Mar 19, 2014
      @ @Stephanie Volkert Commercial calcium deposit cleaners don't have an odor and you can get it on your skin and it doesn't harm you-- its the toilet bowl cleaner you would need to be careful about since its the acid based one-- ask the dealer to make sure of what you are getting though.

  • Sherrie Sherrie on Mar 18, 2014
    You can use a pumice stone. The thing that sloughs off the dead skin off your feet, will also remove hard water build up. Drain your toilet, put in gloves and start scrubbing. It is green , cheap and this will last a long time for cleaning.

    • See 1 previous
    • JJ JJ on Mar 19, 2014
      I had the same problem until I used a pumice stone and the build up seemed to magically disappear. Don't scrub hard just lightly rub them. Don't forget the rubber gloves .

  • Debbie Steele Debbie Steele on Mar 18, 2014
    I guess youve tried vinegar ?

  • Shari Shari on Mar 18, 2014
    I was going to suggest a pumice stone too. They do make them with a handle, specifically for cleaning toilets. It grosses me out thinking about sticking my hand down in the toilet to scrub with a regular pumice stone...even with gloves. Blaaaaaaaah! Gag!!!! If you are moving anyway, it's probably a moot point but I would be concerned about your pipes, hot water heater, washing machine etc. if your water is that hard. That much calcium buildup must surely be taking a toll on their lifespan. Our water comes from a well and we had to get a whole house water purification system and water softener. I don't notice that our water tastes funny. If anything it's better.

  • Stephanie Volkert Stephanie Volkert on Mar 18, 2014
    Oh it definitely takes a toll on everything. I've already had to replace my hot water heater and it really should have lasted a few more years. I might have a water softener installed when I put the house on the market. And most people don't ever notice the difference in taste from what I've gathered, but I have an actual issue with my nervous system which makes me more sensitive to lights, sounds, tastes, textures - really anything that is sensory or that effects the nervous system, I am more sensitive to. I'm just an oddball ;)

    • See 2 previous
    • Adrianne C Adrianne C on Mar 29, 2015
      @Stephanie Volkert Water heaters should be flushed out periodically. There's a faucet at the bottom used to attach a hose to drain it. You'd be surprised at how much crud is on the bottom! Just remember to turn the power and water off before you do, and open the vent at the top.

  • C C on Mar 18, 2014
    I agree with Shari..... PUMICE STONE!! my hubby used it on our toilet, it was last attempt before replacing the darn thing!! Lots of scrubbing, but IT WORKED GREAT!!! :)

  • Patricia Van Vactor Patricia Van Vactor on Mar 19, 2014
    put baking soda in with vinegar It will bubble and let sit as long as possible

  • Comet Comet on Mar 19, 2014
    Unless there was other damage your hot water heater SHOULD have a heating ELEMENT that can easily be replaced. Turn it OFF ; use a garden hose attached to the DRAIN SPOUT at the bottom; drain either into your homes drains; your washer (don't waste all that hot water if you can!) or thru your indoor storm drain or even outdoors thru your foundation drain. Then you get a special about $5 "wrench" from your hardware store and UNSCREW the element---you should be able to see right where it is. Take this piece to the store and get a NEW one to match---and YES this will look like some sort of fossil when you remove it. Then just reverse the process. Make sure to use Teflon tape to seal the threads on the element. Some water heaters have a special element where some sort of "current" goes thru the element to "knock off" the calcium. We have very hard well water and have to replace the elment in our extra large water heater about ever 2 years or so.

  • Sounds crazy, but try a denture tablet...or maybe two!

    • Peabutton's Mom Peabutton's Mom on Mar 22, 2014
      @Lakeside Household Services I tried that with my toilet. It would take several boxes! She sounds like she has more calcium build up than what I have and I tried using a dozen or so....didn't cut it in the toilet.

  • Leah Hill Leah Hill on Mar 19, 2014
    pumice stone

  • Valerie Valerie on Mar 19, 2014
    I have also had success using a pumice stone.

  • Betty Stine Betty Stine on Mar 19, 2014
    We have very hard water here also. Really does a number on electric coffee makers. I have used pumice stones on my commode. If I remember correctly you have to keep it wet with water, or it will scratch the surface. Or maybe they have improved them since I used them.

  • Carol Moss Carol Moss on Mar 20, 2014
    I have a product for you - it's called "The Works" and it really does work!! I have the same problem in our new home of one year. I bought the pumice stone but I haven't used it because I found this product at the grocery store - under $4. Follow the directions and it really does work!! just follow the directions to flush, squirt, brush and your done! Good luck!

  • Sandi Tillotson-Clum Sandi Tillotson-Clum on Mar 20, 2014
    Norwex has a product called DeScaler that is totally awesome. we have very hard water here and it cleaned up the water dispenser tray on my refrigerator

  • Mary Mary on Mar 21, 2014
    I have heard you can try Lipton Ice Tea, just pour in and let it sit.

  • Mary Mary on Mar 21, 2014
    The powder Lipton Ice tea.

  • Nina S Nina S on Mar 23, 2015
    We have crazy mineral build-up, and someone recommended "The Works" toilet cleaner from the dollar store. Like you, after trying all kinds of things, I figured why not, though I didn't have high hopes.... it works!! Sorry for the pun. Good luck!

  • Lindcurt Lindcurt on Mar 29, 2015
    For me too. The Works is the only thing that works.

  • DORLIS DORLIS on Jun 22, 2015
    Has anyone tried adding vinegar to the tank water. May take several tries to clean out the holes in the toilet.

  • Sherrie Sherrie on Jun 22, 2015
    Use The Works. Let it sit for a few hours. Get a small brush. Don't get it in a double pack or the cheaper Works brand. The reason it works is because it has muratic acid. I keep small auto brushes. One is copper one is wire and one is hard nylon. And I use this to clean toilets. If you find it hasn't cleaned enough ad more and just let it set. The only time I have seen this not work was because the toilet was damaged and that has only been couple of times in. 25 years. Remember let it set in the toilet for several hours. Then clean. Use the brushes to clean under the rim and in the holes. I buy this stuff in a case, I use it for all hard water build up to clean and we clean move outs daily.

  • Jwc1932947 Jwc1932947 on Jul 12, 2015
    Pumice stone. Takes less than 5 min.

  • Annie Annie on Jul 17, 2015
    We use spirit of salts - it's an acid so be careful. Live in the country and get terrible build ups in our loo, splash a bit it (use gloves), leave as long as you can - beautiful white, new looking toilet bowl!

  • Corina Corina on Jan 20, 2016
    And for all you Aussie's out there spirit of salts is Hydrochloric acid so yep that will clean the bowl also the build around old taps from the hard water

  • LP LP on Mar 28, 2016
    Had the exact same problem -- hard water stains. Nasty. Lysol Power toilet bowl cleaner was the only thing I ever found that worked!