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How to Remove Bathtub Stains and Prevent Future Stains

Updated
Clean tubs = clean people. 

We sure don’t want to step into a bathtub that is stained and looks dirty, and you probably don’t either.

There are ways to remove all kinds of bathtub stains. Whether your bathtub is made of enamel, acrylic, porcelain, or something else, we have tips. This includes removing soap scum, hard water stains, rust, and many more nasty marks that can embed themselves in your tub.

How to Remove Different Bathtub Stains

  • Soap scum: Apply a Borax and lemon juice paste to the stains.
  • Hard water stains: Sprinkle Bar Keepers Friend over the stain. Rinse well.
  • Rust: Apply a creamy solution of hydrogen peroxide and cream of tartar to the stain.
  • Mold: Use Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Clinging Bleach Gel to kill the mold and remove the stains.


What Kind of Bathtub Do You Have?

It’s important to take note of the material of your bathtub. Each material has certain do’s and don’ts when it comes to cleaning. This ensures you don’t cause damage to your tub.

Enamel

Enamel tubs are usually made from porcelain enamel — a powdered glass that’s bonded onto steel. This is then dipped into liquid enamel before being heated in a kiln to create a smooth and durable tub.

When it comes to cleaning, the best way to care for enamel tubs is regular weekly cleaning with non-toxic and gentle cleaners. We seriously advise against bleach as it can weaken the outer layer of enamel.

You should also avoid abrasive cleaners as they could scratch the enamel.

Always Check First

If buying a commercial cleaner, always check the instructions to ensure that it’s approved for enamel.

Acrylic

Acrylic is a popular choice. It’s made from sheets of acrylic before being reinforced with fiberglass to increase durability. The material is quite soft, but it’s long-lasting and lightweight, making it a great choice for your budget, and also easy to install. It’s pretty easy to maintain and clean acrylic tubs, too.

When cleaning, use mild, non-abrasive cleaning solutions. Warm water, dish soap, and a soft sponge will do the trick!

We don’t recommend using acetone-based cleaners or other solvents as this will damage the acrylic.

Porcelain

Porcelain bathtubs are a top choice if you’re after a luxury bathroom. These tubs are made from a base of iron, glass, tile, or steel before being coated with porcelain. They are durable and easy to clean bathtubs and are fairly resistant to harsh chemicals. However, porcelain is more likely to rust so watch out for that.

When cleaning porcelain bathtubs, you have plenty of options. Dish soap or baking soda is great for general cleaning, but you can use hydrogen peroxide for harsher stains.

Try to avoid harsh chemicals where possible, although it’s less likely to cause damage than on other materials. The verdict on abrasive cleaners is up in the air. We will recommend a few but it’s necessary to test in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it doesn’t cause damage.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is reinforced plastic and is a great budget-friendly option. These tubs are lightweight, easy to install and if there is any damage, you can easily carry out repairs. However, they are prone to fading, cracking, and scratching so you have to be careful with your maintenance.

When cleaning, you have lots of options. You can use dish soap, baking soda, or a commercial cleaner. Always check on the product packaging of your chosen commercial cleaner if it’s safe to use on fiberglass.

Plastic

We can’t forget about plastic bathtubs. While these aren’t necessarily a fixed feature in a bathroom, they’re still in high use especially amongst parents with small babies. It’s good to wash your baby in a smaller tub — usually made of plastic — but it’s also important to keep these plastic tubs clean.

When it comes to cleaning, it’s a good idea to use natural and non-toxic cleaners since your little one will be sitting in it once it’s clean. Dish soap, white vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice are all great cleaners.

How to Remove Bathtub Stains

Let’s look at some of the most common stains that will appear in your bathtub and how to remove them. If there are any modifications you need to make for certain materials, we will call those out, too.

Soap Scum

Soap scum is an unsightly stain, but there’s an easy and effective way to remove it that should work on all kinds of tub materials. Do be careful when making the paste as it shouldn’t be too abrasive on certain materials.

  1. Mix together enough Borax and lemon juice to create a thick paste. Make it a bit runnier for sensitive materials like enamel, acrylic, and some porcelain materials. Make sure you have enough to cover the soap scum.
  2. Apply the paste to the soap scum stains.
  3. Let it sit for 10 minutes before scrubbing off with a soft cloth.
  4. Rinse well.

Hard Water Stains

Hard water stains can be tricky to remove, so we recommend a high-strength commercial cleaner called Bar Keepers Friend. You can use this on porcelain, fiberglass, acrylic, and enamel. Don’t use it on plastic tubs though.

  1. Sprinkle over the hard water stains area. You may want to wet the area first to ensure the cleaner sticks to the surface.
  2. Rub gently using a sponge or cloth.
  3. Rinse well.
  4. Dry thoroughly.

Caution

Don’t let Bar Keepers Friend sit on the surface for any longer than one minute. Any longer could cause damage.

Rust

Nobody wants to bathe in a rusty bathtub. Thankfully there’s an easy and eco-friendly way to remove rust stains. This method is suitable for all bathtub materials.

  1. Mix together hydrogen peroxide and cream of tartar until you have a creamy consistency.
  2. Apply this solution directly to rust stains.
  3. After 10 minutes, use a nylon brush or a pumice stone to buff the stains in a circular motion. This will help to scrape off the loosened rust.
  4. Rinse well.
  5. Dry thoroughly.
  6. Repeat if necessary.

Mold (Black Stains)

Mold typically shows up in your grout lines and the silicone sealant, rather than the tub itself.

For mold, we use Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Clinging Bleach Gel which can kill and remove mold. This does contain bleach so it should only be used on plastic and porcelain. Even though we don’t normally recommend bleach for porcelain, this product was specifically made for it.

However, because you won’t be applying this directly onto the tub, and more likely the grout and silicone, you could use it for other materials. Especially, if the mold is contained in those areas and you rinse the solution away well.

  1. Use the nozzle spout to apply this cleaner directly to the mold-affected areas.
  2. Put paper towel over the gel to prevent it from dripping down into the tub.
  3. Leave for between 30-60 minutes. Check regularly to make sure it’s not dripping into your tub.
  4. Use a tile cleaning brush with firm bristles to scrub the gel well. This will lift the mold right off.
  5. Rinse well with warm water. Make sure you remove all the products.
  6. Dry thoroughly.

Do This

Make sure to wear gloves and protective eyewear and open windows for ventilation.

Dye Stains

If you’ve dyed your hair over your bathtub, you may notice some unsightly stains. Not to worry — here’s an awesome method to clean your bathtub.

  1. Fill the tub up with hot water ensuring the stains are well covered.
  2. Pour one cup of distilled white vinegar and half a cup of baking soda into the water. Mix well.
  3. Let this sit for 10 minutes. However, if the dye stains are bigger or tougher, you could add more vinegar and baking soda and leave overnight.
  4. Scrub with a brush or cloth.
  5. Drain the tub and rinse the water.
  6. Repeat if necessary.

Tannin

Tannins are decayed organic substances that leave a yellow color and bad odor in your bathtub. To figure out if your yellow stains are definitely tannin, you have to check if there is tannin in your water supply.

Fill up a glass with water and leave it overnight. If the color remains the same without settling at the bottom of the glass, then you have tannins in your water.

It’s very important to use a water filter to remove tannins from your water. This will prevent future stains.

In terms of removing existing tannin stains, it can be near impossible but try this:

  1. Pour a 35 percent hydrogen peroxide solution and a few drops of ammonia into the stain.
  2. Once the bubbling stops, scrub it away quickly.
  3. If the stain is still there, apply a poultice — such as a poultice powder, diatomaceous earth, or flour mix — with the hydrogen peroxide.
  4. Scrub well and rinse away thoroughly.
  5. Dry the area.

Bleach Stains

If you’ve left bleach on for too long or used bleach on the wrong materials, what can you do to remove the stains? This is quite similar to the method for removing rust stains but with an extra step.

  1. Mix together equal parts hydrogen peroxide and cream of tartar in a bowl. Mix until you have a cream consistency.
  2. Use a sponge to apply the solution to the bleach stains.
  3. Leave it until the solution completely hardens.
  4. Use a wet sponge to wipe off the solution after a few hours. This will remove the bleach stains.
  5. Now mix together oxygen-based laundry detergent and water to create a paste.
  6. Use a clean sponge to scrub the solution into the bleach stains.
  7. Rinse well.
  8. Dry thoroughly.

FAQs on How to Remove Bathtub Stains

Can Bleach Damage a Bathtub?

Certainly. It can leave stains or wear down the material. We only recommend bleach on plastic. You can use bleach-based products, like the Clorox product we recommend, on porcelain as it’s been designed for that material.

What Causes Yellow Stains in a Bathtub?

Here are a few things that can cause those yucky stains:

  • Hard water.
  • Tannins in your water.
  • Iron in the water.
  • Rust.
  • Build up of shower products, specifically oil-based ones.

Can You Leave Bleach in the Bathtub Overnight?

We don’t recommend this for two reasons:

  • It can corrode the material of your bathtub.
  • It’s toxic to breathe in so you shouldn’t leave it on a surface for too long.

Normally, one hour is the maximum time we recommend but you can often get away with 10-15 minutes. Always read the manufacturer’s advice.

How Do You Clean a Bathtub Without Scrubbing?

No one likes scrubbing for too long. It can hurt your arm! When you use our cleaning solutions and leave them on for the recommended amount of time, you won’t have to scrub as much, if at all.

How Do You Make Homemade Bathtub Cleaner?

Besides our recommendations, you may be looking for a daily bathtub cleaner. Here’s a great recipe:

  • One cup of original blue Dawn dish soap.
  • One cup of distilled white vinegar.

Mix it well in a spray bottle. If it’s too thick, add some warm water. You can use this for cleaning your tub and it will reduce the need for scrubbing.

How to Prevent Bathtub Stains

It’s easier to prevent stains than spend hours trying to remove them. Here’s how you can avoid the nasty bathtub stains in the first place:

  • Clean your tub at least once a week. It’s also a good idea to clean your bathtub after using bath bubbles or oil-based products as these can build up and cause stains.
  • Make sure you don’t have iron or tannins in your water. If you do, use a filter.
  • Dry your bathtub thoroughly after each use so that water — specifically hard water — isn’t sitting on the surface. It can also prevent mold and mildew.
  • Don’t use the wrong cleaners for your tub type. This can leave nasty and hard-to-remove stains.
  • Use natural soaps and shampoos, or bars, as this will prevent soap scum build-up.

Tidy Tub

Before you go, let’s recap some important points to removing bathtub stains.

First of all, take note of your tub’s material so you know the main do’s and don’ts for cleaning your specific tub.

Next up, make sure to use the correct solution depending on the type of stain you’re dealing with.

Last but not least, keep that tub clean between stain removal. This can prevent stains in the first place.

Headshot of Beth McCallum

About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!