Rust stains on sinks, bathtubs, toilets and other plumbing fixtures is a fairly common issue and one that can be hard to overcome. Most all-purpose or bathroom cleaners simply aren’t effective against rust stains. Bleach is also generally ineffective and can actually cause the stains to become permanent. The good news is that you still have a variety of options that can help to both prevent and remove rust stains, and today we’re going to look at some of the most effective options as well as provide an overview of how rust stains develop and how to prevent them.

Causes of Rust Stains and How to Prevent Them

Metal plumbing fixtures like showerheads and sink or bathtub faucets are obviously the most prone to rusting. Any time that water sits on any metal surface like around the base of a faucet, rust can quickly start to form. This is why it is always important to fully dry off all of your plumbing fixtures after each use as doing so will go a long way towards preventing rust from forming. We would also recommend thoroughly cleaning all of your plumbing fixtures every week to help prevent staining. If you don’t keep up on cleaning away the rust stains, the rust can start to get etched into the porcelain and eventually become impossible to remove.

Rust stains in your sinks, toilets and bathtubs themselves can develop for a variety of reasons. If your home’s plumbing is old and uses any type of metal pipes other than copper, rust can build inside the pipes and slowly stain all of your plumbing fixtures. This issue is usually easy to spot as it will result in both the hot and cold water looking rusty and discolored. If you do notice this problem, we would highly recommend having your water lines replaced. While repiping can be expensive, it will ensure your water is cleaner and help to prevent staining on your fixtures. Repiping is also important as rusty water lines will most likely start to leak eventually and could lead to serious water damage or mold issues.

If your home has a tank-style water heater that is more than 10 to 15 years old, it could also be the reason that all of your plumbing fixtures are developing rust stains. Old water heaters often have issues with rust and corrosion building up inside the tank, and all that rust will slowly start to stain your sinks and other fixtures over time. This is also a problem that you can easily spot as you will usually start to notice that your hot water constantly looks discolored or rusty. If you notice this issue, it is definitely time to have your water heater replaced. If you wait too long, the tank could corrode to the point that it develops a major leak.

There may also be times when you have an old toilet that begins developing rust stains inside the bowl. In this situation, you will want to take the lid off the tank and check to see if the toilet has any old metal components that are rusting. If so, you have the option to either replace the entire toilet or swap out any rusty metal components with PVC. Newer toilets typically won’t ever have this issue as they almost always use plastic and PVC for all of the components that are exposed to water instead of metal.

A faucet that constantly drips can also quickly cause rust stains to form inside the sink or bathtub. If you do have issues with a dripping faucet, it’s a good idea to hire a plumber to repair or replace the faucet as soon as possible. Not only will fixing the leak help to prevent rust stains, but it can also prevent water waste and high water bills. Even if the faucet is barely leaking, it could still increase your monthly water usage by 20% or more.

Another issue that can cause rust stains is if your water has a higher iron content. This problem is most commonly seen in homes that use well water, but hard water can also have a higher iron content. If you do suspect that your water has a high iron content, you may want to have it tested. If the test does show a high iron content, installing a whole-home water filtration system is a great option as this type of system will filter out iron as well as almost all other contaminants and impurities.

Commercial Rust Removers

There are many commercial rust removers on the market that can be a great help in removing rust stains. Most of these products use harsh chemicals that will quickly eat through the rust so that you can simply wipe it away. If you do try this option, it is important to wear gloves when using the rust remover as most of them are harsh enough that they can cause serious burns to your skin.


The acid in vinegar is great at eating through rust stains and can also help to prevent stains from forming. However, this option is typically best for removing stains on or around metal plumbing fixtures and may not work as well to remove stains from ceramic or porcelain.

Citric Acid and Salt

There are also many common household items that can be just as effective as chemical rust removers. One great option is to use citrus fruit and salt. The citric acid in the fruit works to help dissolve the rust while the salt acts as an abrasive to help scour away stains. Lemons and limes are always the best choice as they have the highest citric acid content.

The easiest way to use this method is to simply cut a lemon or lime in half and then dip the cut end in salt. You can then use the piece of fruit to thoroughly scour your sink or any other stained fixture. This method will usually work on most stains, but you may need to then use one of the other methods below if you have any stubborn stains you can’t fully remove.

Baking Soda or Cream of Tartar

Baking soda or cream of tartar can also be excellent options for removing rust stains. Baking soda is basic or alkaline and cream of tartar is acidic, but both will work to eat through the rust. Both substances are also abrasive and will help make it easier to scour away the rust.

Mix the baking soda or cream of tartar with a small amount of water until you have a thick paste. Spread the paste so that it fully covers any stains and then let it sit overnight. If possible, cover the paste with plastic wrap as this will help prevent it from drying out and allow it to fully soak into the rust. After letting the mixture sit overnight, you can then use a stiff toothbrush or scouring pad and water to gently clean away all of the rust.

Pumice Stones

Pumice stones are also a great option for scouring away even stubborn rust stains. Even though pumice is quite abrasive, it won’t scratch ceramic or porcelain so you can safely clean away the stains without risking damage to your sink, bathtub, etc. All you need to do is slightly wet the pumice stone and then use a bit of elbow grease to thoroughly scour the stain.

Pumice stones can be extremely effective, but it will usually take lots of scrubbing to fully clean away the stain. For this reason, we would typically recommend using one of the other options to first dissolve or eat through most of the rust and then using the pumice stone to clean any remaining stains.

At AC by J, we specialize in all types of plumbing services and can help you overcome issues with leaks or replace any fixtures that are old, stained or have any other issues. Our team can also take care of any of your heating, cooling or electrical needs. For more information or to schedule any plumbing service in the Scottsdale area, contact us today.

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