How to Remove and Prevent Toilet Bowl Rings

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Despite your efforts of cleaning your toilet bowl regularly, you notice a discolored stain, sometimes pink or brown, other times black or green, develop in the toilet bowl. And the most annoying thing is, these toilet bowl rings keep coming back. So how do you actually remove these toilet bowl rings?

The best way to eradicate toilet bowl rings is to use a cleaner with high amounts of hydrochloric acid. Alternatively, you can use a combination of baking soda and vinegar as a natural and non-toxic approach to eliminate toilet bowl rings. Either method works great.

That being said, there are three different types of toilet bowl rings. Once you understand each type, you can decide how to eradicate them. You will also learn how to prevent toilet bowl rings from coming back.

What causes toilet bowl rings?

Toilet bowl rings can be caused by a wide variety of factors, but 2 of the most common causes are microorganisms and hard water. In some cases, the combination of both can cause toilet bowl rings.

The growth of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, mold, mildew, etc.) and the appearance of a dark or colored line around the edge of the toilet water are often confused with hard water stains.

Pink toilet bowl rings are caused by the pigment prodigiosin secreted by a species of bacteria known as Serratia marcescens. On the other hand, toilet bowl rings with a yellow, orange, brown, gray or black color are caused by minerals inside the water, also known as hard water stains.

1. Red, orange, brown toilet bowl rings caused by minerals

The first one is red rust, or brown colored rings. This type of stain is caused by calcium and magnesium mineral deposits that come from your water. If you keep scrubbing the inside of your toilet but you can’t get it clean, it’s probably a hard water stain that has etched its way on the inside of the porcelain bowl.

Hard water describes the presence of metals such as magnesium, calcium, and iron dissolved in water. Everyone has hard water in their homes to some extent – the difference is in the concentration. 

The buildup of hard water deposits can make your toilet increasingly difficult to keep clean over time. As the water on the edge of the toilet bowl evaporates, the metals dissolved in the water have no place to go other than directly on the toilet bowl interface with the water.

So, if you see a toilet bowl ring that is red, orange, or brown, it’s probably caused by the minerals inside the water. The higher the concentration of hard water someone has, the faster hard water stains appear.

2. Pink toilet bowl rings caused by bacteria

Ever notice a pink ring in your toilet bowl? The pink color is due to a pigment (prodigiosin) secreted by a species of bacteria known as Serratia marcescens. It is found naturally in soil, air, and water.

These microorganisms can also grow in tap water and in locations such as toilets in guest bathrooms, where the water is left standing long enough for the chlorine residual disinfectant to dissipate. Serratia marcescens love a moist environment but cannot survive in chlorinated water.

The good news is that this bacteria is generally harmless in your home, although it does cause problems (urinary tract and wound infections) in hospitals and other places where people are immune-deprived.

So, if one of your toilets is rarely used, it may develop a pink ring caused by the Serratia marcescens bacteria. It is not known to cause any waterborne diseases, although it’s not a pretty sight to see.

3. Black or green toilet bowl rings caused by mold

The third type of toilet bowl ring is a black or green mold. These rings form because of remnants of whatever is inside of us when we flush down our toilets, that stays inside the pipes. 

When you flush your toilet, it brings back water that comes through the little holes on the top right under the rim. All the water comes back in and gives water to flush the toilet again.

Basically, you are bringing back water that you had already flushed through the sewer pipes. Since that water is coming back through the pipes, that’s why you will notice dark rings of mold.

Why does your toilet get a ring so fast?

Your toilet gets a ring so fast because your tap water is full of minerals. The higher the concentration of hard water someone has, the faster hard water stains appear. Additionally, the bacteria that causes pink rings in toilet bowls (Serratia marcescens) is anaerobic, which means it does not use oxygen to sustain life.

This bacteria is present in the air and has nothing to do with the quality or type of water coming out of your tap. So, if the toilet bowl ring keeps coming back, you’ll need to learn how to remove and prevent it.

How to remove toilet bowl rings

Now that you know the three different types of toilet bowl rings, let’s talk about how to remove all of them. Below are the step-by-step guides on how to remove toilet bowl rings, based on the type of stain.

1. Removing rust and hard water stains from toilet bowl

Rust stains are the most difficult type of stain to remove because the rust has etched its way on the inside of the porcelain bowl. Here are three methods you can use to remove rust stains from toilet bowls:

 Use hydrochloric acid

The most effective way to remove rust stains from toilet bowls is to use hydrochloric acid. I did my research and found that Lysol toilet cleaner has the highest amount of hydrochloric acid compared to other products.

Iron OUT Automatic Toilet Bowl...
  • Best On Rust: Heavy-Duty Rust Stain Remover Brand
  • Specifically Formulated To Repel Rust And Hard Water With Every Flush Of Your Toilet
  • Convenient Rust Stain Solution; Long-Lasting Formula Prevents Rust Stains From Forming In Toilet Bowl For Up To 45 Days

Here is how to use Lysol toilet bowl cleaner to remove rust stains: 

  1. Raise the toilet seat.
  2. Flush the toilet before cleaning.
  3. Remove heavy soil by scrubbing with a stiff brush.
  4. Point the top of the bottle down into the toilet bowl.
  5. Squeeze gently, at 4 ounces (squeezing for 15 seconds).
  6. Coat the entire toilet bowl, including under the rim.
  7. Do not close the toilet bowl lid.
  8. Let the cleaner stand for 10 minutes.
  9. Scrub the entire bowl and under the rim thoroughly.
  10. Flush the toilet.

A word of warning: hydrochloric acid is caustic, so you want to make sure you are protected. Make sure you wear rubber gloves to prevent getting chemical burns on the skin of your hands.

Hydrochloric acid is also bad for inhaling, so don’t whiff the chemical when you’re doing this project. It is recommended to wear a face mask while doing a deep clean of your toilet bowl.

Last but not least, make sure there are no pets and kids around when doing this project. Hydrochloric acid works wonders in removing rust stains, but it is a dangerous chemical.

Use Magic Eraser or pumice stone

If you want the natural, non-toxic approach of removing rust stains from your toilet bowl, you can use an abrasive cleaner, like Magic Eraser or pumice stone, both of which require no dangerous chemicals.

To remove rust stains from the toilet bowl, rub the pumice stone on the inside of the porcelain. If you’re using Magic Eraser, wet the white sponge and scrub the rust stains from the toilet bowl.

Magic Eraser
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Original...
Pumice Stone
Lenicany 6Pack Pumice Stone for...
Magic Eraser
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Original...
Pumice Stone
Lenicany 6Pack Pumice Stone for...

Keep in mind that both Magic Eraser and pumice stone are abrasive. Pumice stone is hardened hot lava that has mixed with water, while Magic Eraser is made of melamine foam, a material that works like sandpaper.

Using either Magic Eraser or pumice stone will remove the hard water stains from your toilet bowl, but they will also remove the porcelain finish. This means your toilet is now more susceptible to future stains. From here on out, you will only be able to use this method to clean your toilet bowl.

 Use denture tablets

Last but not least, you can remove hard water stains or rust from toilet bowls using denture tablets. The tabs will kill germs and remove hard water stains, just like a store-bought toilet bowl cleaner, but at a fraction of the price, and with no harsh chemical smells. They're very effective!

To use denture tablets, put a few inside the toilet, close the lid, and leave them overnight until they disintegrate. The tablets will eat up the majority of the rust and hard water stains inside the toilet bowl.

2. Removing mold from toilet bowl 

To remove mold that causes a black and green ring in your toilet bowl, use a one-two punch of white distilled vinegar and baking soda. The best part about this method is that it’s natural and non-toxic.

Here is how to remove mold (black and green ring) from toilet bowl:

  1. Empty the water from the toilet bowl.
  2. Pour undiluted white vinegar into a spray bottle.
  3. Spray the vinegar onto the moldy surface.
  4. Let the vinegar sit for 15 minutes.
  5. Scrub the mold with a toilet scrubber
  6. Flush the toilet.
  7. Pour 1 cup baking soda into the toilet bowl water.
  8. Mix the baking soda into the water.
  9. Let the baking soda water sit for 30 minutes.
  10. Scrub the toilet bowl with a toilet scrubber.
  11. Flush the toilet.
  12. All traces of mold should be gone.

This method works effectively because the vinegar kills the mold while the baking soda removes the mold. Together, they combine to eradicate blackish and greenish toilet bowl rings caused by mold.

Baking soda won’t kill mold at the roots or kill airborne spores, but it’s a great tool to remove mold from non-porous surfaces. Which is why you need vinegar because it is a bold mold killer. The mild acid in vinegar kills about 82% of known molds and can help prevent future mold outbreaks.

3. Removing pink toilet bowl ring caused by bacteria

The good news is, removing pink toilet bowl rings caused by bacteria is super easy. All you need is a simple bathroom cleanser. Squirt the cleanser under the toilet bowl, brush, then flush.

I recommend using the Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner because it has no harsh fumes, yet tough on stains. Not only is it plant-based, but it contains no chlorine, synthetic fragrances, dyes, or ammonia.

A cleaner that contains bleach or hydrogen peroxide can also solve the problem, but if you are someone who cares about what chemicals you put in and around your house, choose something more eco-friendly.

How to prevent toilet bowl rings

So, does your toilet bowl ring keep coming back quickly? Obviously, you don’t want to spend most of your time cleaning after your bathroom. Here are five things you should know on how to prevent toilet bowl rings.

1. Keep a bathroom cleanser near your toilet

You don’t have to use the bathroom cleanser every single day, but you should aim to scrub your toilets with a toilet cleanser and a toilet brush two times a week. If you can’t do that, once a week should do the trick.

Remember, every time you flush there are a bunch of toxins in the water, including bodily chemicals and body wastes. The toilet is a breeding ground for bacteria and a doorway to the sewage, so please clean your toilets on a regular basis. It will definitely keep toilet bowl rings at bay.

2. Install an automatic toilet bowl cleaner

Simple Life Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Simple Life Toilet Bowl Cleaner Gel...
Simple Life Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Simple Life Toilet Bowl Cleaner Gel...

One of the best ways to prevent toilet bowl rings is to install a toilet cleaning gel stamp. The gel automatically deodorizes, cleans, and prevents stain build up every time you flush. Just set it and forget it.

Installing a toilet cleaning gel stamp is the perfect way to skip the hassle of having to brush toilet bowls twice a week. One gel stamp can last you well over a week. Feel free to place more than one if you want an even stronger freshening scent. Don't worry, this particular product is ethical and sustainable.

3. Flush rarely used toilets once every 2 days

Toilet bowl rings are often found in guest bathrooms, where the toilet is rarely used. If you have toilets you don’t use in your house, make sure to flush them once every 2 days. Scrub it with a toilet brush once a week.

4. Every toilet gets its own brush

If you have 4 bathrooms, you need 4 toilet brushes. Period. Every single toilet needs its own brush. I don’t want you carrying a toilet brush from room to room in your house. You also don’t want the house cleaner (if you have one) bringing a toilet brush that has been in other people’s toilets.

By having a toilet brush in each bathroom, there is a better chance you will use it. If you only have one toilet brush for all the bathrooms in your house, you are less likely to use it and that is not acceptable.

5. Clean big messes immediately

Finally, you should always clean big messes immediately. Don’t procrastinate and clean it right then and there. That is why you should have a toilet cleaner and a toilet brush in each bathroom.

Does Coca-Cola remove toilet bowl rings?

Coca-Cola (Coke) can remove toilet bowl rings because of the gentle carbonic and phosphoric acid it contains. These chemicals come from the carbonation, not from the flavorings in the soda. 

That said, it does not do that great of a job. Coke is not made for cleaning toilets. At best, it is a household urban myth. You’re better off using tried and true methods to remove toilet bowl rings, like hydrochloric acid.

Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner Gel, For...
  • KILLS 99.9% OF BATHROOM BACTERIA: Lysol 0% Bleach Toilet Cleaner is tested and proven to clean and kill 99.9% of bathroom bacteria (when used as directed)....
  • HYDROGEN PEROXIDE BASED FORMULA, 0% BLEACH: Hydrogen Peroxide based formula still powers through the toughest toilet stains, but without the harshness of...
  • POWERFUL STAIN REMOVAL: This cleaner powers through tough stains and toilet bowl rings to leave your toilet bowl sparkling clean. The angled bottle makes...

Key takeaways

And there you have it, the tried and true methods on how to remove and prevent toilet bowl rings. Depending on the type of the toilet bowl ring, you should tackle each type of stain appropriately.

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Sofia Rodriguez

As a professional house cleaner, I'm passionate about cleanliness. I write this blog to help anyone take better care of their homes and ultimately their loved ones.