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How to remove limescale

By Sarah Ingrams

Bathroom lost its sparkle? Get our top tips on how to remove unsightly limescale build up.

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Tackling limescale can be a thankless task. If you have hard water you'll need to be vigilant to avoid it taking over - crusting up your taps and dulling your tiles with a grimy sheen.

Here we share our tips on tackling limescale build-up on your kitchen and bathroom surfaces and household appliances. Plus, we reveal whether home-remedy vinegar is any good as an eco-friendly limescale remover.

To find out which limescale remover sprays blitz scale build-up and leave your surfaces soap scum-free, head straight to our Best Buy limescale removers.

What is limescale?

Limescale forms when salts dissolved in hard water are left behind as the water evaporates. It mainly consists of calcium carbonate from limestone dissolved in rainwater. If you have hard water you’ll notice white deposits build up on your surfaces – such as your shower screen, taps, sinks and draining board – in your kettle and, unseen, in your pipes and inside your appliances.

Limescale doesn’t dissolve in water and takes some elbow grease to shift through scrubbing alone. Limescale removers are acid-based chemical cleaners which work by dissolving (or technically reacting with) the calcium carbonate in limescale to help banish it from your surfaces.

Our independent tests assess how much limescale each cleaner can remove so you can find the most effective product – find out more on our how we test limescale removers page.

How to remove limescale from kitchen and bathroom surfaces

Choosing a Best Buy limescale remover spray will help you shift scale deposits easily, but make sure you leave it to work for long enough to get the best results.

Most limescale remover sprays we tested advise leaving them to work for five minutes on stubborn deposits before rinsing off thoroughly. But do check the packaging before you start cleaning: a couple of cleaners advise just 30 seconds of action time before they need rinsing off.

We also asked Which? members to let us know their top tips on removing limescale. These are:

  • Clean your surfaces regularly to avoid stubborn deposits building up
  • Wipe down your taps and showers after every use to stop limescale forming as the water evaporates
  • Don’t leave water standing in the bottom of the bath, shower or sink

Others told us they have installed a water softener in their home or filter water in the kitchen to help deal with the problem.

Source: survey of 765 Which? members who have hard water, March 2016

Chemical-free limescale removal

Home remedies for removing limescale are popular – 40% of Which? members who have hard water say they’ve tried one – but how well do they work?

We’ve heard about using lemon juice, vinegar, cola, baking soda, citric acid powder, liquid soap and soda crystals as alternatives to commercial limescale removal products. Vinegar was by far the most popular method tried by Which? members so we included this in our test alongside branded and supermarket own-brand limescale removers.

Vinegar removed more limescale than some cleaning products in our tests

Vinegar removed more limescale than four dedicated cleaning products in our tests, but it’s no match for the best limescale removers you can buy. It’s also poor at shifting soap scum, so if you do try it you’ll need another detergent to hand to clean off dirt and soap residue.

It is cheaper than specialist limescale cleaners, costing around 18p per 100ml compared with 30p per 100ml for the cheapest product we tested. But, when quizzed, members warned us about its ‘long-lasting odour’ which ‘made the kitchen smell like a chip shop’!

If you’re keen to go eco-friendly, we’ve tested products from Ecover and Ecozone. Check our full limescale remover test results to find out how they fared.

How to remove limescale from kettles and irons

Limescale can be a pain beyond your kitchen and bathroom. Read our tips below on tackling limescale in your small appliances.

  • Kettles Limescale build-up is the most common kettle problem, affecting 15% of owners according to our annual reliability survey. The user manual will advise the best way to descale your kettle. Some manufacturers say you can use white vinegar instead of a descaler. If so, use up to 250ml of vinegar with at least 750ml of water. Boil the kettle and leave the mix to sit overnight before reboiling with just water to remove any vinegar residue. To find a kettle with a good limescale filter, check our full kettle reviews - we rate how effective they are at keeping limescale flakes out of your tea.
  • Steam irons The amount of steam your iron produces can be hampered by limescale build-up over time. Look for an iron with a built-in anti-calcium cartridge (check the tech spec of any model in our iron reviews) or use distilled water instead of tap water. If your steam levels are dwindling, pick one of our Best Buy irons, which have all passed tough limescale resistance tests.
  • Coffee machines One in five Which? members have never descaled or cleaned their coffee machine. Scale build-up can cause leaking, dripping and reduced water flow. Some manufacturers warn that the guarantee will become invalid if you don’t descale regularly. You can use vinegar to descale some machines; others require commercially available descaler. Check the manual and read our guide on how to clean your coffee machine.
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