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If there is one part of household cleaning that has me endlessly searching for solutions it’s the hard water stain dilemma.  How do I get rid of them?  How do I prevent them in the first place?  Well, Jaime Derringer has compiled a list of helpful tips that answer those very questions.  And if you’re looking for the perfect solutions for a shiny, brand-new looking bathroom, this, my friends, is THE answer.

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From Jaime Derringer… How did your once bright-white tub or toilet begin to look old, dingy and almost rusty? Why aren’t the dirt or grime stains coming off with regular bathroom cleaner? The problem is probably hard water.

Hard water is water that’s high in mineral content, such as calcium and magnesium. Water can absorb these minerals through rocks and soil before making its way to your pipes. The more minerals in your water, the “harder” it is. In contrast, water with low mineral content is often called “soft water.”

Hard water isn’t harmful to your health, but it can be a headache. The minerals react with soaps, preventing them from lathering. Hard water can also can also make detergents less effective, causing unwanted spots on your dishes even after they’ve been through the dishwasher, for instance. Hard water can also cause buildup in your pipes and unsightly brown or white stains in your shower, sink, and toilet.

Want to know if you have hard water? Turn on the sink, gather some soap in your hands, and run your hands under the water. If it lathers easily, you don’t have hard water. If it barely lathers at all, you probably have water with extra minerals. If you have brown or white residue or scum that builds up in your shower, toilet or sink and won’t come off easily with standard cleaners, this is also a tell-tale sign of hard water.

Here’s what you can do to remove stubborn hard water stains — and prevent them in the first place.

To clean the shower and sink

1. Get an empty spray bottle and fill it half with water and half with pure white vinegar.

2. Spray the vinegar mix onto your shower doors, tub and tile and use a paper towel or rag to clean off the scum. Alternatively, you can put the mixture in a bowl and soak a towel in the bowl, then scrub the surfaces with the towel.

3. If you want to amp up the cleaning power, try creating a paste from white vinegar and baking soda. Spread it out over the surface of the stain, wait about 15 minutes and then scrub with a cloth or sponge. Rinse the area clean, and dry with a towel. Drying the area is very important, as you don’t want to cause more problems by leaving the water on the surface for too long.

4. If this doesn’t work, cut a few lemons in half or place lemon juice in a spray bottle. The acidity in the lemons should help break up the stains.

For more natural cleaning methods, check out these suggestions from the Natural Handyman

5. If all else fails, try a chemical cleaner that contains hydrochloric acid. It’s important to ventilate the area well and use protective gloves.

To clean the toilet

1. Add 1-2 cups of vinegar to your toilet bowl and a few sprinkles of baking soda.

2. Using a brush with nylon bristles, swish around the cleaner in the bowl for a few minutes then let it sit for bout 15 minutes.

3. Scrub the surface again with your scrub brush. If this does not get all of the stains, add some lemon juice, which should help dissolve the last of them.

4. Flush away the cleaner and repeat if necessary.

To prevent hard water:

1. To start, purchase detergents that are specially formulated for hard water. Check the label and ingredients for more information.

2. Each time you shower, wipe down the shower doors with a towel to prevent moisture buildup.

3. Get a liquid or powder water softener such as CALGON and use it in your washing machine.

4. Purchase a water softener system. A water softener removes the calcium and magnesium ions in the water and replaces them with sodium ions. They’re not cheap, running over $400 for a system. However, it will save you time srcubbing and money spent on multiple cleaning products in the long run.

Photography: Matthew Williams for The Novogratz