How To Get Gleaming Toilets and Sinks

While cleaning the bathroom may never be your favourite household chore, it is one of the most important and toilets, in particular, can cause a great deal of embarrassment if they are not a vision of gleaming white porcelain. But with a few simple precautions and effective cleaning methods, you can have a gleaming bathroom you are proud of.

Toilet Stains

The first thing to do is to empty as much water from the bowl as possible – not only does this enable you to work directly on stains, it also means that there is less water to dilute the cleaning agents you are using. You can lower the water level by first turning off the water source and then either pouring a large bucket of water into the bowl as a sort of “manual flush” or just flushing the toilet, in both cases driving as much water down the pipes as possible.

Next, give the inside of the bowl a general clean, using liberal amounts of cleaning agent/disinfectant and a bowl brush. If the toilet is still stained after cleaning, you will need to use some stronger cleaning agents or stain removers to tackle the marks. Whatever chemicals you use, remember to respect the directions given and follow them exactly; in particular – never mix chemicals as this can be extremely hazardous. Make sure there is sufficient ventilation while you are working and ideally, wear eye and skin protection.

In addition, always use an all-plastic scrubbing brush – avoid the toilet brushes with metal wires as these can scratch and permanently damage a toilet. Pumice stones have sometimes been recommended for tackling hard water or mineral deposits and while they can be very effective (although physically hard work!), there is a risk they could scratch the porcelain so be careful if you decide to use this method. There are alternative methods, using chemicals, which run less risk of scratching the porcelain.

  • Vinegar – a great all-purpose stain remover and cleaning agent, vinegar will work well on toilet stains, particularly hard water deposits or lime scale. Simply pour a large amount into the toilet bowl and leave it overnight, then clean again as usual in the morning, flushing thoroughly.
  • Bleach – borrowed from your laundry cupboard, bleach is stronger than vinegar and so will work on tougher stains and rings. Again, simply add to the toilet bowl (half a cup should be sufficient) and then leave for as long as possible, before cleaning and flushing away.
  • Borax – if stains still persist, you can tackle them with borax powder which can be found in hardware stores. Sprinkle it directly onto the stains and then scrub with your plastic brush. Then leave it for at least 30 minutes before flushing away. Most toilets will be gleaming white following this treatment.
  • Hydrochloric Acid – only for very stubborn stains, this caustic chemical is very powerful and can tackle stains as old as 40 years but be very careful in its usage and do not leave for it for any longer than the directions say, as it can eat away at the porcelain itself, thereby causing surface roughness that will make the toilet stain even quicker in future.

Special Stains:

  • Hard water – in areas which have a severe hard water problem, you may need to use a special commercial cleaner made for removing lime scale. Saturate the stains, scrub and leave again for as long as possible. In some cases, you may need to repeat the application several times to remove all the deposits.
  • Rust – this leaves very unsightly orange or red streaks and rings in your toilet bowl, or even tints your entire bowl a reddish orange. This is due to the water in the area containing high amounts of iron and your best bet are commercial cleaning products specifically made to remove iron deposits. Follow the directions as you would with a lime scale cleaner and again, you may need to treat the bowl with several repeated applications.

Sinks and Other Parts of the Bathroom

These can be treated in a similar way to the toilets, with slightly less emphasis on hygiene. Most stains will be from rust or limescale and can be treated with neat vinegar or with a paste made of borax powder and lemon juice. Rub the past onto the stains and let it sit until dry, before rinsing thoroughly. As before, you may need to repeat the treatment a few times to completely remove the stain. Other pastes to try are cream of tartar (a mild acid) and water; and cream of tartar and peroxide. Be careful not to scrub if using on a fibreglass bathtub. For hard water deposits around the shower or a sink, soak a cloth in neat vinegar and put it over the area for as long as possible, then scrub the area and rinse thoroughly.

You can use the same treatment for soap scum or soap stains underneath the area where the soap is usually kept – soak the area with neat vinegar for as long as possible, then scrub gently. If the stain is really stubborn and old, you may need to resort to using a solution of 1 Tbsp trisodium phosphate (TSP) in a gallon of warm water – dampen a cloth with this solution and then scrub the scum. However, note that this is a caustic solution so always wear gloves and take great care.


Like many things in life, the best solution is prevention and you can keep toilet and general bathroom stains to a minimum by simply keeping them clean. A thorough clean on a weekly basis will usually keep stains from building up (unless you live in an area with a particular hard water or iron deposit problem).

Unfortunately, in certain cases, the unsightly marks are not from removable stains but from scratches – usually due to the use of abrasive cleaning materials which have damaged the porcelain surface. In this case, there is no option but to replace the item.

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