Everyone appreciates a sparkling clean sink and bathtub. Not only is a pristine bathroom pleasing to the eye, it also conveys the sense of a safe and sanitary environment. However, no matter how diligently and thoroughly you’ve cleaned, stubborn rust stains can make your bathroom fixtures appear neglected and dirty. Let’s look at the cause of these frustrating stains and how to eliminate them.

Causes of Rust Stains

Basically, rust stains are caused by dissolved iron in your water. When the water collects on bathtub and sink surfaces, it oxidizes, creating those unfortunate orange-red stains.

The question now is, what is the source of excessive iron in your water, and what should you do about it?

One cause can simply be hard water. Even if your water tastes fine, it may contain an excess of iron. Over time, hard water will leave those nasty rust stains on bathroom fixtures, including your toilet, and may also cause your clean laundry to have a yellowish tinge. This is relatively easy to remedy. Have a professional plumber test your water. If the problem is too much iron, your plumber will be able to solve the problem by installing a filter or a water softener.

More serious causes of rust stains are deteriorated fixtures, pipes, or water heater. This problem needs to be addressed as soon as possible as it not only indicates damage to your home’s water system but also presents a health concern. Rusty pipes or water heaters should be replaced immediately by a licensed professional.

Other Types of Stains

While most of us can identify rust deposits, you may be less familiar with other types of stains. Blue-green stains are due to ‘acid water’ or water with a low pH, often caused by high carbon dioxide concentrations. The acidic quality of the water causes your pipes to corrode. Black stains are usually caused by sulfur bacteria (often accompanied by a rotten egg smell) or high manganese levels, which can cause your water to feel slimy. A water softener or water treatment system will remedy all of these issues.

Removing Rust Stains

Removing rust stains can be a challenge. However, if not removed, stains may become permanent over time.

Here is a partial list of effective do-it-yourself and commercial stain removers. Always remember to conduct a spot test on an inconspicuous area of your tub, sink, or toilet before you attempt any of these methods.

  • Abrasive Scouring Pads – For light stains try a damp scouring pad.
  • Baking Soda — Apply a thick paste of baking soda and water to the stain. Leave overnight and scrub with a toothbrush or cloth.
  • Lemon and Salt – Make a paste of the salt and lemon juice. Apply to the stain and leave for several hours before scrubbing with a toothbrush or cloth.
  • Pumice Stones – Rub the stain with a dampened stone and use the resulting paste to help with the cleaning. Good for porcelain but not recommended for fiberglass.
  • Commercial Products – These products will help remove rust stains. Remember to avoid any product containing bleach as it may exacerbate the problem.


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