Home Ec

Home Ec: How to Get Stains Off Of Your Sink + Tub

by Grace Bonney

One of the oddest things I discovered when we moved into our house upstate was a series of hazy blue stains on just about every porcelain and tile surface. From sinks and toilets to the floor of the shower, there seemed to be a bright blue stain that, to me, looked like toothpaste had been sitting there for 40 years. I’d never dealt with copper pipes before, so I didn’t know they left blue stains, and I tried just about every cure under the sun until I found a simple vinegar trick that got rid of them in a hot (literally) second. So for today’s Home Ec post, I decided to tackle the stubborn sink and tub stains. From rust and lime to copper and calcium, these tricks will have your sink shiny and clean in no-time. Stay tuned for more cleaning tips for non-porcelain next week… xo, grace

*Image above, Alape Bucket Sink at Rejuvenation Home

Your Major Stain-Fighting Weapons:

Pumice Stick
-White Vinegar
-Baking Soda
Dish Soap
Bar Keeper’s Friend

*WARNING: Bleach can damage colored porcelain surfaces, so use with caution if you choose to use it.

Basic Steps:

1. Clean your sink/tub with a mild soap and warm water, allow to dry completely.
2. Attack with your least abrasive cleaners possible (a combination of baking soda and ammonia) to cut grease and help with surface stains.
3. Taking it to the next level, any of the combinations below will help you tackle tougher stains.

Rust Stains: I’ve found rust to be the easiest stain to remove so far, as it seems to relent completely when faced with a pumice stick. I ordered the one above and it has obliterated all our remaining rust stains, especially on tough antique bathroom sinks. I used this cleaning set to help me get in between small parts of the sink drain.

Copper Stains: I tried everything under the sun until I found this rather drawn-out video on Youtube. I’ll cut to the chase and say her tip works! Combine one cup of white vinegar with 1 tbsp of salt and boil until the salt dissolves. Then dip a cotton rag or towel in the liquid and place directly on top of the copper stain. I repeated this process twice and got rid of ALL our copper stains.

Soap or Grease Rings and Build-Up: These are gross, but they’re easier to tackle than rust, so I don’t mind them. Combine 1 gallon of water with 1 tbsp of ammonia and douse the affected area with the liquid, scrubbing on the sections most stained. Repeat until the stains are gone.

Hard Water/Lime Stains: When we had our water tested after moving upstate we found out the water hardness was off the charts. Which would explain why my hair was plastered to my head after taking a shower. It weighs everything down and leaves behind a heavy scale from the lime or mineral deposits in water. To remove these stains from your hardware, soak a cotton rag or paper towel in vinegar and wrap it around your faucets (you can hold it in place with a rubber band). Let it sit for an hour before wiping down the hardware with a clean dry cloth. You can also try making a paste from baking soda and water (3 parts baking soda to 1 part water) and applying that paste to the hardware, and then letting it sit for an hour before removing. To remove general hard water stains from your tub or sink, spray them with a mixture of vinegar and lemon to break down the mineral deposits.

Spot Stains: Some spot stains are hard to identify but can be caused by cleansers or other minerals in your water system. For these, try a mixture of baking soda and/or salt on top of a lemon (cut in half). The lemon adds acid to break down the stain, liquid to create a paste with the powder and it gives you a good surface to hold on to while you scour the stain away with the paste.


This post and the Home Ec section are brought to you by Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day. Visit the Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Home-Grown Inspiration section featuring 20 DIYs, including seven from Design*Sponge!

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  • Thank you for the helpful tips! Quick spelling typo–under basic steps, point 2. you said you used a baking sofa…I think you meant soda. But I would love a sofa that baked for me. I might never leave the living room.

  • It could be one other thing besides copper stains, it could be bluing. I have a beautiful claw foot tub in my rental and the other day I decided to treat a white piece of clothing with some bluing (which I use instead of bleach) and when I poured some in to the bath, a little got on the side of the tub and stained immediately. I scrubbed at it and it wouldn’t come off until on a whim I used a little laundry detergent (method free + clear) and it came right off.

    • nicole

      thanks! i’d never heard of that. ours was copper for sure because it was right below the drains where there had been a slow and steady leak (which is now fixed). but that bluing thing is fascinating- i’d never even seen it before!


  • oy! We have had some similar troubles with kitchen sinks as well. The first one cleaned up well with the lemon and salt. The next one (each of them is over 60 years old). The current one has seen harder use overall so has lots of scratches and grooves. That one gets cleaned with a dishwasher “cany”. Those little candy shaped soap inserts for the dishwasher. So different than dish soap. I take one and dampen the sink, then run the cube/candy shaped soap all around the sink. Then I let it sit for a long while…hours later I come back and it’s pretty well cleaned up!
    Maybe not the lovely diy way that salt and lemon offers but it does get the job done! :-)

  • Is there anything healthier you’d recommend for grease/soap build up as an alternative to ammonia? This is for an old claw foot tub where most of the finish is worn- the dirt just sticks! I’ve tried barkeepers (which usually does the trick). I might just put a mask on and go for the ammonia unless there’s another way :) Thanks!

    • hi marisa

      sadly i haven’t found anything else that works as well. and the commercial cleaners are far more toxic, so this has been the best bet for me so far. you could always go with baking soda and lemon and really scour away, but it’s not quite as effective and takes more elbow grease.


  • Thank you for this post! We bought our 160 year old house in NE Pennsylvania a few weeks before you guys did… It was all sparkling clean and then we came up one night and the tub was completely blue- what a shock! Love following your house story, despite it all its still the best decision we’ve ever made!

  • Great tips and just in time! Our apartment has a deep, 2 chamber porcelain sink that we love, but it has stains on it too from the previous tenant. One of these days I will actually take an afternoon to get them off once and for all!

  • we are on a well with very hard water and my favorite tool for getting rid of scale is a single edge razor blade. Obsiously your mileage may vary, and test on an inconspicuous place first to amke sure it does not scratch, but on flat hard surfaces like the granite sink surroudna nd backsplash, it is the bomb…just scrapes it right off.

  • I was just cleaning an old cast iron sink yesterday to sell on craigslist! I used bar keepers friend, but I would have preferred a more natural method.

    Is that photo your kitchen? I LOVE those ceiling lights! Where are they from?


  • Could anyone please tell me how to get rid of those marks metal does to enamel? The ones that looks like someone went bananas with a pencil on all my beautiful vintage kitchenware?

    I have tried everything besides painting it with tippex.

    • hi lena!

      have you tried these?

      if that doesn’t work, i’ve heard putting coca-cola on the stains works…but that stuff eats everything away, so i’d be careful with that.

      let me know if the link above doesn’t work and i’ll find something else for you :)


  • Never mix bleach and ammonia as the fumes are toxic!

    After years of trying everything on an older very-worn-in-spots cast iron tub, (and then sponging these toxic cleaners out of the tub because I have a septic system) I decided I could live with some “clean stains”. Some were blue, some were grey, some were from wear to the finish.

    However, now I set the drain stopper, pour a puddle of white vinegar into the tub, dump a pile of baking soda in the corner of the tub, and using a dampened and well-wring out sponge with a non-scratch plastic pad, I take my time with the vinegar and baking soda to scrub the tub.

    The first time took a while, so I put on some music. My tub is white for the first time and now that it’s clean, it’s easy to keep white with once a week scrubs.
    Open a window because even vinegar smells after a while.

    It’s not a problem for my septic system.

  • This is awesome, thank you! I am totally lazy when it comes to cleaning the sink. If only they could clean themselves, haha. This will definitely come in handy.

  • For copper stains, the video you cite says 1 tsp salt (not 1 tbsp) with 1 cup vinegar. Have you tried using 1 tbsp?

  • OMG! I had major copper stains in a ceramic sink after leaving my sink drip for my cat. I had tried several techniques that were unsuccessful. The vinegar & salt (I had watched the youtube previously thinking it was mainly for cloth) worked like magic! I soaked cotton balls and laid them in the sink, kept them soaked and was amazed at how fast the stain was gone! These stains were caused by electrolysis which has also been fixed. Thank you! Valuable site!

  • Thank you for this great idea on removing copper stains. I had tried several other things that failed but this work effortlessly and quick!!

  • Belated question about blue stains and electrolysis. How did Karen resolve that issue? Someone told us about something to do with grounding the water heater or ? That might be part of our problem. Thanks!

  • I need help everything is blue my floors kitchen tub even my hNds turn blue and my dryer help

  • Lovely post. I read so many useful information about your article. I enjoy to read your article. Basically, I am using baking soda cleaning my sink. By the way, thanks for sharing this informative post. Keep it up.

  • Hi, Grace. Getting rid of stains from sink and tub is really hard. But after reading your guide, I think it will help people a lot. I just have one suggestion, apple cider vinegar will work better than the white one. What do you think?