4 Ways to Remove Hard-Water Stains, According to a Cleaning Pro

published Mar 26, 2023
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

I’ve heard horror stories about people with hard water all my life, about how they needed to soak their shower heads to unclog the buildup or how they’d spend hours scrubbing at spots in their tubs that never seemed to go away, but I never realized just how big of a pain it could be until I moved into a house with hard water in 2017.

Not only do all those extra minerals floating around our water supply wreak havoc on our appliances (we’re on our third washing machine in just six years) but it also makes keeping our sinks, counters, and bathtub clean a bigger chore than it needs to be. 

Fortunately, I was able to bend the ear of Jill Koch, owner and creator of Jill Comes Clean, about my water woes. And while she says the only way to win the war against hard water is to get a whole house water softener, there are some cleaning hacks I can use in the meantime that will help me win the battle of the buildup.

Vinegar can help soften the buildup.

Our house was a flip that had been converted into a rental before we bought it, and a drip in our shower head must’ve gone unattended for a while because the faucet underneath it is covered in a crusty white buildup. I’ve tried plenty of different cleaners and used all the elbow grease I could muster, but parts of the handle remain encrusted. According to Koch, the answer to my problems lies under my kitchen sink: vinegar, which she says I can use to soak my faucet until it loosens up the gunk. “Now, be careful as vinegar is acidic and cannot be used all over,” she says, adding that it shouldn’t be used on natural stone, tile, or painted finishes. Afterward, she says, an old toothbrush can take care of the rest.

Baking soda is also another hard-water must-have.

The granite surrounding the faucet in the bathroom and the kitchen was marred by the unaddressed buildup that was left behind by the previous owners. Because it’s a natural stone, I’ve been careful about the types of chemicals I’ve used and how aggressive I’ve gotten with my scrubbing, but according to Koch, another kitchen staple could solve my problem. “I would start by applying a baking soda paste (baking soda and water) and letting it sit a few minutes then scrubbing with a soft bristle brush or look for store-bought cleaners made for removing hard water,” she says. “If all of these methods still don’t work it may need to be professionally cleaned.” 

Use an additive when doing the wash.

As I said, all that hard water has put my washing machine through the wringer (pun intended), which Koch says is not only bad for my machine, but also all the clothes that go through it. She suggests adding a half-cup of Borax or a half-cup of Washing Soda to the drum of laundry before I put my clothes in. “Both of these act as laundry boosters and help soften the water, which will in turn allow detergents to work better too,” she says. You can clean with both of these as well. Their boxes have instructions for use and dilution.”

Getting a specialized shower head may be the hack I need.

I’m definitely not ready for the investment of adding a whole-house water softener, but Koch says I may be able to start small. “There are filters that can be installed and special filter shower heads,” she continues. “This will at least cut down on the hard water deposits in the shower and on our skin and hair.”

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