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Why Rust Forms in Toilets, Tubs, and Sinks

Like many homeowners in Tucson, Arizona, you probably like maintaining pristine bathrooms. When your toilets, tubs, and sinks are absolutely spot-free, using these spaces is infinitely more enjoyable. Unfortunately, problems like rust and scale buildup aren’t possible to simply rinse off or wipe away. The following is everything you need to know about why rust forms on these fixtures, as well as several tips for getting rid of it.

Your Water Has a High Iron Content

Rust in and on bathroom fixtures like toilets, tubs, and sinks is often the result of water that has a high iron content. When iron particles mix with the oxygen in water, rust invariably forms. Although iron is not a natural component of water, it does exist in some groundwater and in many bodies of water that serve as sources of water at the tap. When dissolved iron accumulates, it can cause clogged pipes and unappealing stains on bathroom fixtures. The iron content in your tap water can also be the result of rusty pipes. This is likely the case if your water has a brown or orange color when you initially turn the taps on.

You’ve Got a Leak

Faucets that leak and toilets that constantly run have a higher likelihood of developing rust stains and limescale build-up than do features that actually work like they should. A constantly leaking faucet will expose the surrounding areas to more iron and other minerals than will one that completely turns off. To completely eliminate rust stains in any area of the bathroom, you should always start by addressing the underlying cause. If a leaky faucet is the source of iron, removing the rust without first resolving the leak will allow the problem to recur.

You May Need a Water Softener

When water has a high mineral content in general, homeowners can deal with both rust and scale formation on their bathroom and kitchen fixtures. While rust has a dusty, red-brown color, scale is a chalky white substance that builds up on water dispensers or just beneath them. Rust indicates the presence of high levels of iron, and scale indicates the presence of high levels of other minerals, such as:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium

Rust diminishes the appearance of bathroom features and scale diminishes their functionality. If your water supply has a high mineral content, your shower heads probably get clogged frequently. Rather than constantly removing shower heads and soaking them in homemade or store-bought scale removal solutions, you might consider having a water softener installed. Water softeners protect pipes and appliances, limit unattractive scale buildups, prevent water-spots on dishes, and make tap water taste far better. Using water that’s been treated by a water softener can even lead to softer, healthier skin and hair. When iron concentrations are low, a water softener can also be a beneficial home addition for preventing rust. However, if water testing reveals exceedingly high levels of iron in your home’s water, secondary iron filtration equipment or other mitigation strategies may be required.

Eliminate Rust Sediment by Flushing Your Pipes

Water with a high iron content is sometimes easily addressed by cleaning out the pipes. If rust is a frequent and widespread issue in your home, it’s a likely sign of rust sediment. Before attempting to clean buildups on plumbing fixtures, take care of the problem right where it starts by thoroughly flushing your pipes. This is done by turning on several taps throughout the home at once and then letting the water run freely for approximately 20 to 30 minutes. If the water runs clear and continues to run clear after this time, the problem is likely resolved. However, if you still have rust-colored water after flushing your pipes, it may be time to have them replaced.

There’s also the potential that rust is coming from the main water supply. The best way to rule this issue out is by checking the tap that’s closest to the water main. This will be outside of the home, and it will likely be at the front of the house. Turn this tap on, and let it run for several minutes. Then, check to see if the water is clear. If the water here is dust-colored and orange, the problem doesn’t lie with your indoor pipes.

Be Careful About What You Store in Bathing and Showering Areas

Although rust often forms under taps and in other areas that are exposed to constantly running water, it can also form in wet spaces that have metal items stored on stain-prone surfaces. For instance, if you use shaving cream from a metal can, your tub or shower ledge probably has a bright orange ring of rust right beneath this can. Rust can also form around or under razors and other metal grooming or storage items that people use in these spaces. Rather than storing these on porous surfaces, invest in a plastic shower caddy or other plastic storage rack that keeps them constantly elevated.

Leverage the Power of Citric Acid

There are many simple, do-it-yourself solutions for cleaning rusty bathroom fixtures. Before using any of these strategies, make sure that you’ve:

  • Addressed all water leaks
  • Flushed your pipes
  • Installed any necessary water softening or filtration equipment
  • Gotten rid of rust-causing items in bathing or showering areas

There’s no point in wasting elbow grease or cleaning materials on rust clean up if the problem is guaranteed to recur within a matter of weeks.

Citric acid is an excellent rust remover. Lemon juice and salt are two low-cost pantry staples that can be combined to create an effective scrub. Add sufficient lemon juice to one cup of salt to form a thick, abrasive paste. Then use a sponge to rub this paste into the affected area. Let it sit for approximately 20 minutes before scrubbing the stain and then rinsing the treated surface clean. If you don’t have lemon juice handy, you can alternatively make a paste of equal parts white vinegar and baking soda. With both methods, you’ll get more scrubbing power by trading your sponge for a natural pumice stone.

Using Store-Bought Rust Removers

Store-bought rust removers require less elbow grease. In fact, many of these products don’t require much manual labor at all. Simply apply them to the affected areas, let them sit for the recommended amount of time, and then rinse them off. Most of these products instantly oxidize rust and lift stains out without any scrubbing whatsoever. However, store-bought rust removers usually have strong, unpleasant odors and emit unhealthy fumes. They can also be very corrosive and may cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation if they aren’t used properly. Thus, if you plan on using store-bought rust removers, always read their directions carefully, ventilate the room, and wear the proper eye and skin protection.

Tips for Using Chemical-Based Cleaners on Bathroom Fixtures

Before using any do-it-yourself rust removal method on your bathroom or kitchen fixtures, make sure that you understand the materials you’re treating. Not all rust removal methods are safe for use on all materials. Rust-stained bathroom fixtures might be porcelain (ceramic), stainless steel, or even composite plastic. Always check to ensure that both store-bought and homemade solutions are approved for use on individual material types before applying them.

At Rite Way Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, we’ve been providing reliable AC/Heat and plumbing services all throughout the greater Tucson, Arizona, area since 1959. Homeowners can turn to us for water heater installation, duct cleaning services, energy audits, and more. We can also assist with persistent rust problems on bathroom and kitchen fixtures. If you’ve got rust on your toilets, tubs, or sinks, call us today to set up an appointment.