Vinegar to Remove Hard Water Stains [and More!]

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 12/14/21 •  5 min read

If your home is built in an area with hard water, which about 85 percent of North America does, and you don’t have a home water softening unit, hard water deposits will be a regular problem.

Hard water, is formed when water runs through deposits of limestone and chalk which are largely made up of calcium and magnesium carbonates [source].

So the troublesome ingredients in hard water are magnesium carbonates and calcium carbonate, which is also known as limescale [source].

How Does Vinegar Clean Hard Water Stains?

One of the best and cheapest ways to clean magnesium and calcium deposits is with vinegar.

Why does vinegar work against hard water deposits? Well, it just so happens that vinegar is great at dissolving both magnesium carbonates and calcium carbonate because of its acidity level.

According to healthline.com, plain white vinegar, which is sometimes called distilled or spirit vinegar, that you find in the store is a clear solution typically consisting of 4–7% acetic acid and 93–96% water.

Let’s take a deep dive into the science of this without getting too wordy, by having a look at this quick video that demonstrates a simple experiment that shows exactly what vinegar does to calcium carbonate:

But of course, as we’ve discussed, there’s also magnesium in hard water deposits. Here’s another video showing what vinegar does to magnesium:

Removing Hard Water Deposits from Hard Surfaces

So, what does all this mean for cleaning around your home? Well, call me lazy, but I’m more than happy to find any cleaning hack that doesn’t involve scrubbing, especially with difficult-to-remove mineral deposits. If vinegar works in the home, why not use it!

To test it out, Making this Home did a quick cleaning experiment to illustrate the cleaning potential of vinegar against limescale buildup. You can see the results in the photo below. The image on the left is the before shot, showing the extremely hard water-stained glass kettle that needed to be cleaned. The image on the right is the final result.

To clean the pot, it was filled to the 3/4 mark with water and the remaining 1/4 mark was filled with white vinegar. The kettle was then turned on and then left alone to boil.  A few minutes later, and the kettle was perfectly clean.

Vinegar to Remove Hard Water Stains in a Kettle

You gotta love a quick and easy cleaning job like that!

Some other hard surfaces that get lots of limescale buildup in the average home, but can be cleaned with a water and vinegar solution include:

Now, none of these surfaces can be boiled like a kettle, so how do you remove the buildup. Most surfaces can just be sprayed down with your 3 to 1 water/vinegar solution. Others, like your washer and dishwasher, can just have the raw vinegar added and be left to operate as usual.

Vinegar to Remove Hard Water Stains from Fabrics

While it’s less common, hard water can also leave stains and just a general gray dinge on your laundry as well. I say less common because most laundry detergent does soften water as it works, and most people use far more detergent than they need to in their laundry.

If you have water that’s very very hard, over about 250 PPM (you can easily test your water hardness for yourself with an at-home test strip like these I regularly use from Amazon, or any pool/hot tub testing strips you may own), and you find yourself with laundry that’s slowly becoming stiff and grey, using vinegar as a fabric softener substitute in the rinse cycle does a really good job of removing it.

I personally ditched the fabric softener years ago when I understood that it worked by coating the surface of the fabric, creating a film on your laundry that also leads to dingy clothes down the line.

Vinegar has many other benefits for your laundry as well, vinegar is even helpful for cloth diapers, which is arguably the most difficult laundry of all.

Most notably it neutralizes and removes detergent buildup (as I mentioned above, most of us use WAY too much detergent in our laundry), which can also lead to stiff and dingy laundry.

How to Use Vinegar in Your Laundry’s Rinse Cycle

To use vinegar as a laundry rinse, just throw some in your final rinse cycle. Most resources for using vinegar for laundry recommend about ½- 1 cup of white vinegar per load of laundry.

Most likely, the white vinegar you have in your pantry is this one from Heinz, so here’s their recommendation:

“White Vinegar is the perfect solution for breaking down the uric acid and irritating soap residue in all your baby’s clothing, blankets, and sheets. To keep them soft and clean, add one cup of Heinz® White Vinegar to each wash load during the rinse cycle. And for the rest of the family’s clothes, the same formula will do the trick.”

– Heinz

thewriteDuffy

April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books. She has a diploma in journalism and a post-graduate diploma in book and magazine publishing.