Dear Natural Handyman,
We just bought an older home. Our list of to-dos is long, but the most pressing one is our toilets, which both have these awful stains. They don't respond to the toilet bowl cleaner I have been using for years. I am embarrassed to have company use them! Do I have to get new toilets or are their other products that I use to clean them?
DB from Raleigh, NC.
Most toilet bowls can be restored unless they are severely scratched or cracked. The inside surface of a toilet bowl is extremely hard, smooth and resistant to most chemicals. Toilets are formed from a ceramic clay similar to wall or floor tile, and are specially glazed to have a glass-like or "vitreous" surface... hence the name "vitreous" china. This silky-smoothness inhibits the growth of germs by making it difficult for waste to stick to the surface after flushing.
Over time, constant exposure to water-borne minerals and chemicals can cause discoloration and staining, even on vitreous china, requiring more-than-superficial cleaning. Effective heavy-duty cleaning products fall into two general categories, acid-based or chlorine-based. Please don't ever mix different cleaning products. The resulting chemical reaction can be very dangerous!
Commercial toilet bowl cleaners are acid-based, allowing them to chemically dissolve mineral deposits and stains caused by hard and iron-rich water. They are also very strong disinfectants. Because of their high acidity, though, these cleaners are highly corrosive to the skin and eyes and can damage a wide variety of surfaces. Always follow the label directions carefully and wear gloves and eye protection. There are other products designed strictly for stain removal. These are also acid-based and come in powder or liquid form.
Cleaning products utilizing chlorine bleach may be used for cleaning and disinfection, but chlorine will not have any significant effect on mineral stains. In fact, a good way to know if the stains are from minerals is if they are resistant to chlorine!
Just add a half-cup or so of liquid household bleach to the toilet water. Swish it around with a toilet brush to get it under the rim and let it sit for a few minutes before flushing. Try not to slosh it out of the bowl, as the chlorine is also dangerous to skin and some materials. It can give your bathroom carpet leprosy in a New York minute!
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