How to clean a toilet thoroughly to remove stains and hard watermarks

Learn how to clean a toilet so that it sparkles and shines with our in-depth guide

looking down into a white toilet that is sparklingly clean
(Image credit: Getty)

You would think that we would all know how to clean a toilet. The average person spends 690 hours every year cleaning their home, according to a recent survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Yelp. Yet, the survey also found that cleaning the toilet was one of the most dreaded household chores and people don't know how to do it properly. 

When it comes to how to clean a bathroom, cleaning your toilet is an essential part. Regularly sanitizing and cleaning your toilet isn't just about keeping your bathroom sparkling clean though. It's also critical for your health and safety as toilets harbor numerous disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

If you've skipped your regular toilet cleaning one too many times, or if your city or town has hard water that's high in calcium and other dissolved minerals, you may notice significant toilet stains and hard watermarks.

Don't worry, though. With a pinch of creativity and a few moments of proverbial elbow grease, you can restore your toilet to its former glory. Thoroughly cleaning your toilet might never become your favorite household chore, but with the following tips and tricks, it might no longer be your most dreaded cleaning task. 

Once you see how easy it is, you might just be in the mood to descale the kettle too.

How to clean a toilet in 6 simple steps

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You'll likely have most, if not all, of these cleaning supplies lying around your home:

  • Cleaning gloves
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Measuring cups
  • Toilet brush
  • Chlorine bleach-free sanitizer solution, spray or disinfectant wipes
  • Paper towels or rag 

Step 2: Mix and dispense your all-natural cleaning solution

The best part about this homemade cleaning solution is that it's 100 percent natural and doesn't require any harsh cleaning ingredients, bleach, or chemicals that could jeopardize the health and comfort of you or your family.

After putting on your gloves, pour one cup of white vinegar into the toilet bowl and let it sit for three to five minutes. According to Harvard University, the naturally acidic properties of white vinegar remove hard water stains and mineral deposits on most household surfaces. Plus, vinegar naturally kills many types of bacteria and viruses.

Then, add a cup of baking soda, plus another two cups of white vinegar. The two ingredients will create a voluminous amount of fizzing and foaming, which helps lift away mineral deposits and organic stains. 

Step 3: Swish and wait

Using your toilet brush, swish the vinegar and baking soda around your toilet bowl. Pay particular attention to areas with a particularly heavy buildup of staining or mineral deposits, such as the bottom of the bowl or the edges just under the inside rim.

Let the white vinegar and baking soda fizz away for 10-20 minutes. For more severe toilet stains, allow the mixture to soak for longer.

Step 4: Sanitize

While you're waiting, sanitize the toilet bowl rim and seat using a non-bleach sanitizer solution or spray with a rag or paper towel. Disinfectant wipes are also a good option for sanitizing your toilet. Be sure never to use bleach while also cleaning with vinegar. When combined, bleach and vinegar create a toxic, dangerous reaction.

If you don't have any all-natural, bleach-free sanitizer on hand, vinegar can work as a quick standby. Pure, undiluted vinegar is quite effective for killing common pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. Spray onto your toilet seat and rim and let it air dry. Don't wipe away the vinegar, as it needs a significant amount of contact time to sanitize hard surfaces like a toilet seat.

Step 5: Scrub away the stains

After 10-20 minutes, your homemade cleaning solution will have done its magic and lifted away most, if not all, stains and watermarks. 

Give the toilet a thorough scrub with the toilet brush. This step will eliminate any remaining stubborn stains, and the fine granules of the baking soda will act as a natural, gentle abrasive to deep-clean your toilet and leave the porcelain spotless.

Step 6: Give your toilet a final flush

Flush away your cleaning solution and enjoy a clean, sanitized toilet. If it's been exceptionally long since you last gave your toilet a deep cleaning, you may notice a spot or two that you missed. Go ahead and do another quick round of vinegar and baking soda. Because it's all-natural and gentle, this homemade cleaning solution is ok for repeated, back-to-back scrubbing.

How often should you clean your toilet?

Now that your toilet is gleaming, make a point to schedule this routine into your regular chores. For the best results and optimal toilet stain prevention, clean your toilet thoroughly once a week. Not only does that keep your bathroom looking, smelling, and feeling fresh, but it also helps prevent future staining and mineral deposit buildup. Plus, it makes future toilet cleaning much faster and easier.

If, for any reason, you can't get to your regularly scheduled cleaning, try the toilet tank hack. Simply pour four cups of white vinegar into your toilet tank. Let it soak for an hour or two, then give it a couple of flushes. This method won't be as thorough as a full toilet cleaning, but it will help dislodge any hard mineral buildup in your toilet tank and dissolve any surface staining in your toilet bowl. White vinegar can also be incredibly useful when assessing how to clean aluminum.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on