Every day hundreds of millions of science experiments are happening in toilets around the world. The end result of these experiments manifests itself visibly as a dark or more colorful ring of “gunk” around the edge of the water line in the toilet bowl. So what exactly is toilet bowl ring? We get this question from customers often enough that we wanted to provide some detailed insight into the root cause of this common problem and how to fix it. If you have toilet bowl ring, you are not alone … EVERYONE HAS TOILET BOWL RING. Ok, almost everyone has toilet bowl ring.
Q: What is toilet bowl ring?
Understanding the root cause of toilet bowl ring is the key to solving this very common problem. Many people don’t understand what toilet bowl ring actually is and have fallen into the routine of just dealing with when they see it rather than addressing the root cause. Toilet bowl ring can be caused by a wide variety of factors but we will break down the 2 most common issues, including but not limited to: (1) microorganisms and (2) hard water, or most likely, the combination of both. The growth of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, mold, mildew, etc.) and the appearance of a dark or colored line around the edge of the toilet water are often confused with hard water stains; let’s discuss each common issue separately and drill down to the root cause and method of solving.
(1) The Growth of Microorganisms
Bacteria, fungi, mold, and mildew among other things love to grow in the standing water of our toilets and are one cause of the dark ring around the edge of the toilet water (this is also one reason you should never let your pets drink from the toilet). These tiny organisms reproduce and multiply best when they can both cling to something and become concentrated together. The standing water in the toilet bowl located on the interface between the water and the toilet bowl (hence the ring) provides a perfect environment for the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms because it slowly evaporates to concentrate the bacteria in your toilet water around the edge to provide a foothold for such growth to occur under these optimal conditions. If you look closely the growth of microorganisms has a discontinuous, fuzzy and usually a gray colored appearance and if left to grow longer than about a week you can see an increase in the clumpy/fuzzy appearance as it transitions to more random growth with time.
Serratia marcescens (pink slime)
Some types of organisms can give a colored appearance to the ring which may be confused with hard water. For example, Serratia marcescens is a bacterial species common to bathtubs, showers and toilets and characterized by a pink ring. This pink ring has been confused with iron containing hard water which produces an orange rust colored ring (discussed below). In most cases, flushing the toilet will not remove the ring of growth and the removal requires either scrubbing or some other method of inhibiting the growth. In the later scenario, most of our customers have found preventative measures to be more effective than scrubbing the ring away after it forms.
(2) Hard Water Stains
Everyone has hard water to some extent – the difference is in the concentration. Hard water describes the presence of metals such as magnesium, calcium and iron dissolved in water, the buildup of hard water deposits can make your toilet increasingly difficult to keep clean over time. As the water on the edge of the toilet bowl evaporates, the metals dissolved in the water have no place to go other than directly on the toilet bowl interface with the water. Iron has a characteristic orange rust color and is actually iron oxide. Other metals may appear as dark gray or even black but are still in the oxidize form such as calcium and magnesium oxide (science lesson will be provided in a later post). The higher the concentration of hard water someone has, the faster hard water stains appear. Customers with well water will have significantly higher hard water concentrations than customers on city water and/or those with a water softener. Water softeners can remove much of the dissolved metal content of the water but not 100% and therefore everyone is prone to having hard water stains.
Hard water scale on counter
How do we fix toilet bowl ring?
Now that we know the 2 main causes of toilet bowl ring (1) microorganisms and (2) metal oxides, what is the best way to fix it? If you search to the internet, there are seemingly hundreds of ways to clean toilet bowl ring including everything from Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi, Colgate Toothpaste, Arm & Hammer baking soda, vinegar, DIY toilet bowl fizzies… and the list goes on. Before you turn your toilet into a soda fountain or homemade volcano, let’s think about a better way to handle this and apply what was learned above, there’s no need to waste perfectly good household products. All of the toilet bowl cleaning methods learned on the internet and practiced by most people boils down to cleaning the toilet bowl ring after it forms which means you clean it once and then have to clean it again and again and again because it’s guaranteed that the toilet bowl ring will return. The best method is prevention. Rather than cleaning the toilet bowl ring after it forms, let’s focus on preventing the formation of toilet bowl ring. After all, nothing is worse than using your last liter of soda and a scrub brush to find the dark ring making another appearance just days later. It’s like you can feel it growing, you know it’s back, and as much as you try to ignore that pesky ring, you know it’s not going away.
The most effective way to rid your life of toilet bowl ring is to prevent it from growing in the first place. This can be accomplished by applying a small amount of cleaning agent each time you use the bathroom. The cleaning agent stays in the toilet between uses to maximize the cleaning time. If you use liquid bleach to clean your toilet, you can apply a small amount of bleach after every flush and the liquid bleach stays in the toilet to clean over the course of several hours.
A better method is to use an automatic toilet bowl cleaner which accomplishes the same thing as manually applying the liquid bleach but does it automatically after every flush.