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Rusty Sink

Has rust reared its ugly head in your sink, shower, or toilet? These unsightly orangish-brown streaks tend to show up when water is carried through older, rusty galvanized pipes or, if you have hard water like most of us in Sacramento, California, it can be caused by the residue of minerals left behind on the surface. 

Thankfully, these stains are not permanent and can be easily removed. We’ll show you five ways to get rid of them without the use of harsh chemicals, and how to help prevent them – or at least, keep them at bay for a while.

What Causes Rust Stains?

Rust appears when iron and oxygen react with moisture to form iron oxide (that’s why you’ll often find it left behind from a can of shaving cream or a razor blade). However, you may also find rust stains near sink, shower, and toilet bowl drains, caused by water containing high levels of iron particulates or iron bacteria. Iron plumbing pipes, rusty water heaters, or untreated metal components in toilet tanks can also cause rust formation. 

The stains appear most often in homes located in hard-water areas, where the combination of minerals and iron bacteria in the water can cause rust particles to cling to the porcelain or enamel surfaces of bathroom fixtures. Water hardness is measured in GPG (grains per gallon), and the effects of hard water tend to kick in at around 7 grains of hardness. The majority of California has hard to very hard water, and Sacramento hard water levels are at 9 GPG, above the threshold in which hard water can reveal itself in the form of rust.

So, unless you filter your water or employ a water-softening system, the stains will reappear after cleaning, sometimes in as little as a week. Thankfully, removing them temporarily is not a difficult task if you know what to use. 

5 Ways to Remove Rust Stains Without Chemical Cleaners

Commercial rust removers usually work great – it’s what they’re made for, after all. They can immediately oxidize rust without any elbow grease – simply apply it to the rusty surface and then rinse it away. However, many people are hesitant to use commercial rust cleaners as they typically contain harsh chemicals that can damage the skin or the respiratory system. Plus, they’re not eco-friendly; according to Carbon Companion, some chemical solutions, once they leave the plumbing system and enter surrounding waters, can change PH levels which causes tissue damage to wildlife and death when ingested before dilution. Read more about the impact of dangerous chemicals on your pipes, your health, and the environment. In the meantime, here are five chemical-free ways to remove rust stains from sinks, showers, and toilets.

Pro Tip: When cleaning toilet bowl rust stains, flush the toilet and immediately turn off the water to stop the bowl from filling back up. This will make cleaning easier and stop your cleaner from becoming diluted.

1. Citric Acid

Scrubbing the stain with fresh lemons, limes, grapefruits, or lemon or lime juice is a chemical-free way to remove rust stains, as the acids in these fruits attack the stain. Not doing the trick? Dip the cut edge in salt or baking soda to provide a gentle abrasive for a deeper scrub. 

You can also purchase powdered citric acid from most grocery stores. Turn the powder to paste with a few drops of water and apply it directly to the stained area. Let it sit a while, and then use a scrub brush or old toothbrush to scrub away the stain.

2. Vinegar & Baking Soda

Have a stubborn rust stain? Make a paste of three parts baking soda and one part vinegar. Apply it to the rusty surface with a scrub sponge, and let it sit for an hour. When you rinse it off, the rust should be gone. If the stain is really stubborn, just repeat the process. 

Once the stain is removed, you can keep rust at bay by spraying just distilled white vinegar on problem areas, using a scrub brush to clean the area, and then rinse it well.

3. Cream of Tartar

This powder-like, acidic byproduct of winemaking is used in many baking recipes, from cookies to cakes. The acid also makes it a good rust remover! Try sprinkling it on rust-stained areas, and create a paste with a few drops of water to apply it to shower walls or toilet bowls. Let it sit for a while, and consider keeping the paste moist while it works by covering the area with plastic wrap.

4. Pumice

A naturally occurring volcanic rock, pumice stones can be used to remove rust, especially from porcelain, since it won’t scratch or damage the surface. Simply wet the rusty surface and the stone, and then rub it gently over the surface to remove the rust. 

5. Shaw’s Pads 

These can be a DIY plumber’s best friend! Shaw’s Pads, available at hardware stores or online, are an effective, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly way to clean up stains on porcelain and ceramic surfaces – and they don’t leave scratches. They also work for removing calcium and lime buildup, gray, green and brown water residue, algae and chemical stains on pool tiles, and toilet ring residue. Just moisten the pad and gently rub at the stains.

5 Tips to Prevents Rust Stains on Sink, Showers, and Toilets

As previously mentioned, rust stains will continue to appear over time. However, there are a few ways to keep them at bay for a while.

1. Install a Water Filtration System

A water filtration system will help remove nitrates, arsenic, organic chemicals, and bacteria from your water. This can not only reduce excessive staining on your plumbing from mineral deposits, but provide healthier and better-tasting water. Check out more information on water filtration systems from the California Water Board.

2. Keep Metal Away from Surfaces

Shaving creams, air fresheners, hair sprays, cleansers, and razors can quickly rust due to the moisture in bathrooms. This rust will transfer to the surfaces of your sinks and showers. So, although it may not be as convenient, consider storing these items in a cabinet.

3. Wipe Down Surfaces 

You can delay the appearance of rust stains by drying sinks, showers, and tubs after use before rust particles have a chance to settle on the surface of them.

4. Fix Plumbing Leaks

Even the tiniest drips from a faucet can cause rust stains to build up quickly. So, break out the DIY tools or call your local Sacramento plumber if you have, or suspect, a leak.

5. Check Toilet Tank Insides

Older toilets may have metal components in the tank that may have corroded and rusted. Replace them with non-corrosive PVC components.

Tired of Fighting Stubborn Rust Stains?

Boasting some of the most highly skilled plumbers in Sacramento, Express Sewer and Drain can serve all of your plumbing needs – even those stubborn rust stains. Our team can install a water softener, a water filter, or both, softening your water to reduce mineral buildup that leads to many rust problems. Contact us now to set up an appointment or learn more about our services.


Topics: Home Plumbing