Limescale is a substance mainly made up of calcium and magnesium which is left behind when hard water evaporates. It produces a hard, chalky deposit and builds up where water is heated or left standing. It is most commonly found, although not exclusively, in association with hot water – for example in kettles and on taps and shower heads. However, it also builds up in less visible areas – the inner surfaces of pipes, in radiators, washing machines and dishwashers for example.
What does limescale look like?
Limescale can take many shapes and forms, it’s often a white deposit when seen on surfaces like a chrome tap or coloured plastic, but inside of a toilet where the ceramic is white – it often just collects over time and then causes unsightly stains.
Is Limescale harmful?
Limescale build up can cause problems in your home as it can build up on any surface that hard water has had contact with. At the extreme it can block boilers and radiators and cause pipes to crack, just by using water in the normal way, an average family of 4 can create approximately 70 kg of limescale in a year!
Limescale deposits can accumulate quickly, particularly on taps and shower heads and if not cleaned away it will restrict the flow of water you receive and reduce the efficiency of your taps and showers. Over time this means you will use these appliances for longer than necessary and this could impact your utility bills.
Whilst limescale can cause problems in the home and it is not attractive, the general consensus is that it is not bad for your health and running a tap or shower through it is not unsafe or harmful. Bottled mineral water contains magnesium and calcium which is good for your body and limescale is in essence a build up calcium and magnesium. If you live in a hard water area, limescale can dry out your skin but In summary, it is not the limescale that is harmful or dangerous but it is what it can cause that could be – the damage to appliances, pipework, taps and showers.
Here is a helpful video from Wessex water with some really easy techniques to battle limescale in your home.
We have included some written instructions below which offer some other ideas/examples.
You need to use plain white vinegar and not malt vinegar.
So specialist cleaners work?
Many companies create their own cleaners for a specific purpose. Sinks and taps are not different and you can see a full list of professional cleaners in our store.
These do generally work, however make sure you are always using them as directed – and do not use anything corrosive on finished surfaces.
How to remove Limescale from taps
The limescale content of water can be seen when dry by its white, chalky appearance and will generally form a crusty layer around the spout outlet or diffuser/aerator, the base of the spout and the body of the tap. It will also gather internally on the ceramic cartridge/valve, reducing the life of it over a period of time.
The most simple solutions to remove limescale marks and deposits from taps are home remedies, which are also better for the environment. Although there are store bought products available, home remedies are kinder and more cost effective.
White Vinegar and warm water – areas of limescale on your tap can be cleaned with a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water. Depending on how stubborn the limescale is you may only need to wipe the tap over with the solution or you may need to lay a cloth to soak on it for a few hours. Either way make sure you wipe the tap after with a clean, damp cloth and dry it fully (NOT SUITABLE FOR CHROME OR GOLD PLATED TAPS).
Bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice – mix bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice to make a thick paste and gently rub onto areas of limescale, again depending on how stubborn the limescale is the paste may need to be left for a short while to break down the limescale deposits. Wipe away the paste and clean the tap with a soft, damp cloth and thoroughly dry it afterwards.
Lemon juice – it is common knowledge that the longer the limescale has been allowed to collect, the more time this will take to remove. For very stubborn or thicker limescale deposits use lemon juice to soak affected areas overnight. For tricky spots such as the end of the spout or aerator place the lemon juice in a small plastic bag or cap and secure it around the spout with an elastic band or string, an old toothbrush may be helpful for tight areas like the base of the tap. Again you will need to thoroughly clean and the areas with a soft, damp cloth afterwards and thoroughly dry them.
DO NOT scrape or pick at the limescale as this will cause damage to the finish or surface of the tap.
How to remove Limescale from a shower
The easiest way to clean a shower head is to remove it from the shower hose and using a bowl or bucket soak it in equal parts freshly squeezed lemon juice and water. Make sure there is enough lemon solution to fully submerge the shower head and soak for 30 minutes. Remove the shower head and rinse in warm water and dry thoroughly, you can use a soft cloth to remove leftover limescale and repeat if needed. If you have a fixed shower head, do not worry you can create the lemon solution in a small plastic bag and secure this around the shower head using string or an elastic band instead.
Limescale can also gather on shower screens, tiles and bath tubs leaving a white film. To remove these, firstly give the area a good clean. Then in a spray bottle, using a ratio of 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water cover the area and leave for one hour. After an hour use a soft cloth or toothbrush for any hard to reach areas and warm water to remove any leftover residue, be sure to dry the areas thoroughly with a soft cloth.
How to remove Limescale from a toilet
There are a couple of options when removing limescale from a toilet, depending on where the limescale deposit is. First give any areas of limescale a good scrub with a toilet brush or toothbrush. Then for small areas use a vinegar mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water and spray the limescale deposits, leaving for up to an hour before removing any leftover residue with a brush and cleaning with warm water or flushing the toilet to rinse away deposits.
For thicker more stubborn areas of limescale poor pure white vinegar over them, rather than diluted and leave for 3-4 hours or overnight if needed, again rinsing thoroughly or flushing the toilet afterwards to remove any residue.
For limescale deposits that are in the bottom of your toilet bowl and a little harder to reach you can also use coke! Poor a 2 litre bottle of any brand coke (NOT DIET) into the toilet and leave for at least 4 hours, overnight is best if you are able to. The coke contains phosphoric acid which is effective in breaking down limescale, clean and flush your toilet after the alloted time and should be left gleaming.
How to remove Limescale from pipework
Limescale which is out of sight can still be cleaned. Removing limescale from pipework can take time though so it is best to plan for this kind of job.
Make sure your pipes are as clear and empty as possible from the last time they were used. Put one cup of baking soda down the drain using a funnel if you can, followed by 8 litres white vinegar poured slowly. Repeat this in each bath or basin drain and leave for 4 hours. After the alloted time pour boiling water down each drain quickly to wash away any soap residue and leftover limescale build up.
Many homes in the UK are located in hard water areas and so are prone to limescale build ups, some households decide to treat their water to minimise the chance of limescale building up on surfaces and in appliances, taps and showers. A water softening system can be installed, using a chemical process it raises the sodium quantities to replace calcium, this softens the water but does make it undrinkable. An alternative which still allows you to drink the water is a water conditioning system, a device is attached to your pipes which uses radio or magnetic fields to treat the water.
Prevention is the key!
It is good practise to clean and dry areas prone to limescale after each use to prevent a build up, this will make it harder for limescale deposits to come back. Wipe taps, showers, screens and work surfaces completely dry after use so that water cannot sit and evaporate.
These preventative measures require diligence and persistence, particularly if you live in an area with hard water as it contains a higher mineral content limescale builds up more quickly but building them into your daily routine may mean deposits don’t ever come back.
It’s important to understand how much of an issue hard water is in your area, as it will likely impact how often you need to clean surfaces, appliances etc to prevent limescale damage. Please see the map to the right, which shows clearly in colour the severity of hard water in your area.
Source: Drinking Water Inspectorate Information Leaflets, DEFRA. Crown copyright made available by the Open Government License.
Untill next time…