Water hardness refers to the level of magnesium and calcium in the water that flows through streams and makes its way to our faucets. Some of the nation’s hardest water is found in the Southwest region in states such as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, but mineral-heavy water is fairly common across the country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
While these minerals can be useful for our health (calcium and magnesium are both part of a nutritious diet), hard water leaves a chalky residue on bathroom fixtures, shower glass, and dishes, forever making your favorite glassware and fixtures appear dirty and dull.
With the right cleaning approach, you can remove hard water stains and bring the shine back to your kitchen and baths. In this guide, we’ll introduce products and methods to remove hard water stains — some options are all-natural! — with advice on how to soften your water to prevent buildup if necessary.
Is hard water the culprit?
If you suspect you’re dealing with hard water, you can grab a water testing kit to determine if you have soft, hard, or very hard water. Without testing, common signs that you have hard water include:
- Cloudy glassware after doing a load of dishes by hand or in the dishwasher
- Dry and itchy skin or dull and limp hair, as hard water doesn’t rinse away soap and shampoo as well
- Issues with your appliances due to mineral buildup
- Cloudy shower glass or chalky tile and grout
- Buildup around faucets, pipes, or anywhere with running water
Solutions for hard water buildup
For advice on how to combat hard water buildup, we consulted professional house cleaner Krystal Office, based in North Georgia and the Atlanta Metro.
“Hard water often varies from county to county or town to town, but yes, there are hard water problems in Georgia, especially in metro Atlanta,” she notes. “A lot of people are used to having hard water stains — people assume it’s par for the course unless you are willing to put in the extra work every day or every week.”
Thankfully, with knowledge of a few products and trade secrets, you can eliminate or greatly reduce the appearance of hard water stains in your home. Here we cover five different trouble spots with solutions you can either buy from the store or make from home with products you may already have available in your cupboards.
1. Shower glass and grout
Shower glass and the grout between tiles in the shower area can fall prey to soap scum, which is a combination of hard water, minerals and soap. To regain the sparkle of your glass and restore your shower walls and floor to a fresh state:
Buy it: Use the Foaming Shower Cleaner and Grout Cleaner and Brightener from cleaning solutions company Zep. You can order these from Amazon for around $5 per bottle — not a bad price for squeaky clean showers.
Make it: Office recommends a “cocktail” of plain vodka and Coca-Cola to remove the scum from your shower — the combination of ethanol and carbonation works wonders. Apply the mixture with a thin steel wool pad. “But don’t press too hard, or you’ll end up scratching the glass,” Office warns.
2. Faucets and showerheads
Faucets and showerheads can lose their metallic gleam when the minerals from hard water dull them. To restore their shine, use these solutions to remove the stains from hard water along with fingerprints and toothpaste.
Buy It: Out of nearly 3,000 reviews on Amazon, Flitz Faucet and Wax has a near-five-star rating for this task. The product adds a protective layer over your chrome fixtures so that when it gets splashed, the water beads up and evaporates.
Make It: If you want to take the DIY route with some items around the house, Bob Vila suggests combining the powers of lemon and white vinegar. First, rub the lemon’s rind on the faucet, then soak a few paper towels in the vinegar and let them drape over the faucets for a while. Finally, rinse everything, and dry with a soft cloth.
While the toilet might not be the first place you go to evaluate the beauty of your home, an unsightly throne still isn’t a plus for the powder room. No worries, though — you can easily wash away rings from mineral deposits that make your toilet appear grungy.
Buy it: A nifty product called Iron Out is inexpensive and can keep your toilet looking cleaner and free of hard water stains. Each tablet lasts up to 45 days, and every time you flush the toilet, Iron Out rinses away mineral buildup. Plus, you can get a pack of 2 for around $5.
Make it: You can also apply a combination of baking soda and vinegar to remove hard water stains in the toilet. For tougher jobs, scrub porcelain toilets or tub with a pumice stone — some pumice stone cleaning tools have a handle for easy use.
Getting your eight daily cups of water from a cloudy glass certainly doesn’t make it fun to stay hydrated. Hard water can make anything from hand-washed pots to dishwasher-washed glasses look cloudy and, well, still dirty.
Buy it: Office suggests using a “booster gel” between dishwasher cycles. “Using one about once a month keeps the lines clean and keeps calcium from getting on the sprayers,” she says.
Make it: For any dishes, pots, and pans you’re washing by hand, try soaking them in hot water and vinegar to remove hard water stains.
It’s best to remove wet dishes immediately to avoid the issue of hard water stains appearing on your countertops, according to countertop material supplier Academy Marble & Granite. But if stains do show up, you can still remove them and maintain your countertop’s beauty.
Buy it: Wipe down natural stone countertops with Hope’s Perfect Granite; the product is safe for sealed granite and marble and costs about $32 on Amazon.
Stock up on vinegar
You may have noticed a throughline in many of the homemade hard-water removal solutions available: vinegar.
Vinegar as a cleaning solution actually breaks down the minerals clouding up your faucets, dishware, and glass shower doors, reducing the amount of labor required to get rid of stains.
So always keep some extra jugs of white vinegar on hand for cleaning purposes, as this habit can pay off. Superior cleaning is one of the hallmarks of marketing a home for sale — and top Palm Springs, California real estate agent Michael Slate always recommends vinegar for extra shine.
“My deep-cleaning crew always makes the hard water stains disappear,” he notes. “I assume since they aren’t scrubbing for hours that they use a vinegar cleaning solution.”
Consider a water softener
To prevent hard water stains in the first place, you’ll need to soften your home’s water supply. While there are “quick fixes” on the market, such as shower heads that claim to do the trick, these solutions usually aren’t very effective.
To improve the water quality throughout your home once and for all, you’ll need a water softening system, which can reduce maintenance issues and improve the taste of your drinking water as a bonus.
“A lot of plumbing problems are due to poor water quality: flappers on toilets not lasting, pipes not lasting, water heaters not lasting as long,” shares George De Jesus, a plumber of over 25 years who owns George’s Drains. “If you hear a popcorn popping sound from your water heater, for example, that’s caused by water quality.”
A water softening system uses resin “beads” to collect minerals so they don’t have the opportunity to cake onto your appliances, your skin, and your shower door. Calcium and magnesium are swapped for potassium and salt inside the main system reservoir, typically installed wherever water enters your home.
Water softener systems cost $500-$1,500 plus installation fees of $1,000 to $2,000. Keep in mind that while a water softener can offer many benefits, it will be one more system to maintain. At some point, the water softener may need to be fixed if it has a blockage or clog, motor issues, or a broken tank.
Header Image Source: (Nadezhda Akimova / Shutterstock)