The one ingredient you need to shift those stubborn hard water stains

An expert in water softening names the common ingredient that will dissolve limescale for good

Old dirty washbasin with rust stains, limescale and soap stains in the bathroom with a fauce
(Image credit: Andrew Angelov / Alamy Stock Photo)

If you're trying to get rid of hard water stains, you'll know all about the frustration that accompanies this task. You keep scrubbing and scrubbing, and they just won't shift. 

This is because hard water stains aren't like any other stains – these are actually a buildup of minerals naturally occurring in water, mostly calcium. So, learning how to remove water stains is less about putting in extra elbow grease and understanding the chemistry involved. And it turns out that there's one specific ingredient that will do the trick without you having to put it very much effort at all. 

The one ingredient you need to shift stubborn hard water stains

Person cleaning shower, scrubbing with a brush wearing rubber gloves

(Image credit: Christian Bridgwater / Alamy Stock Photo)

And the miracle ingredient is distilled malt vinegar. A little different from your regular white vinegar, distilled malt vinegar is nevertheless very easy to buy. Tony Jones, General Manager at Harvey Water Softeners explains the science behind why distilled malt vinegar is perfect for cleaning hard water residue: 'White distilled malt vinegar is very very acidic with a fairly low PH level, around 2.5. The residue left by hard water has a high calcium content and is naturally on the other end of the PH scale - as an alkaline, its PH level will be more than 7. Because of the residue’s natural properties which are predominantly alkaline, the acidity of the vinegar is great for neutralizing limescale.'

Soap scum and calcium buildup on a faucet caused by hard water

(Image credit: mediasculp / Alamy Stock Photo)

What if I don't have any vinegar?

No vinegar, or don't like using it? Don’t have any distilled malt vinegar? Tony suggests five alternatives to try:

  • Fluoride Toothpaste - This can be used to scrub and remove any limescale
  • Lemon - you can dissolve limescale by simply rubbing a lemon cut in half over the stained area and leaving on for 10 minutes 
  • Bicarbonate of Soda - mix a few teaspoons with water and you can use this as a paste to scrub on impacted areas. Baking soda cleaning tips are useful for other areas in the house, too
  • Coca Cola - can also be used as a scrub, its carbonic acid properties help to break down the limescale
  • Pickle water - You can use the pickle juice from any jars of pickled veg to clean away hard water scum as well. The citric acid in the pickle juice will break down the hard water residue

You can even try a combination of these to shift stubborn stains – or go for whichever one is close to hand. 

Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening.

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