Introduction: How to Turn Your Bleach-stained-red Bathtub White Again

If you tried to bleach your tub whiter but it came out looking like a murder scene, DON'T PANIC! You can fix it for about $1.50 and no elbow grease.

I recently moved into an apartment in Berkeley. It's a nice big place, but kind of a fixer-upper, with a fair amount of cleaning to do.

One of the problem areas was the bathtub: it looked a bit dingy, with vague yellow streaks down the sides. So I bought some bleach, rubbed it on thick, and let it sit for a couple of hours.

When I came back, my bathtub looked like a scene from a horror movie. Literally: rusty red-brown streaks all down the sides and bottom like dried bloodstains. Exactly how I imagine it would look if you murdered someone in there.

Naturally, I freaked out, turned on the shower, and started scrubbing- to no avail.

My next recourse, naturally, was the internet. After frantically googling search phrases like "bleach blood bathtub stains" and learning some interesting but ultimately unhelpful factoids regarding the reaction of urine and bleach, I struck gold at this somewhat obscure link. A miracle. You don't even have to scrub. So I thought I'd take some pictures and turn it into an Instructable, surfacing the link more readily for other desperate fools like me.

Step 1: The Magic Ingredient

Hydrogen peroxide– ideally in a spray bottle.

OR Oxi Clean

OR Clorox 2

(also work, according to various internet testimonials. But the peroxide is cheaper and more ubiquitous.)

The Science (as I understand it– Chem geeks, please correct me)
Why the tub turned red: The bathtub is an old porcelain with a ferrous (iron) component. The chlorine element in a classic chlorine-based bleach oxidizes the iron from the porcelain. Oxidized iron is rust, hence the rusty red color.

Why the tub turns white again: Hydrogen peroxide, Oxi Clean, and Clorox 2 are all chlorine-free cleaning agents (also the reason why they're color-safe) which have oxygen as a base element. I'd originally thought that since the red stains were also oxygen-based, we were seeing simple dissolution. But as ancienthart points out, that should only have loosened the stains and caused them to run down the sides. Since the stains instead disappeared without having to be wiped away, ancienthart suggests that it might be because oxygen is a reducing agent with basic solutions– so the oxidized stains are actually changing their chemical composition– and in this case probably also releasing chlorine gas. Make sure your bathroom is well-ventilated; you don't want to breathe in too much chlorine gas!

Step 2: Spray It On

Or pour or rub or sprinkle or whatever. As long as it hits all the stained bits.

Make sure your bathroom is well-ventilated! The chemical reaction you are causing likely produces chlorine gas as a byproduct, which isn't something you want to breathe a lot of.

This works best on a relatively dry tub. My tub was a bit wet in places from all the panic, but the water acts as a buffering agent (diluting the peroxide), so wet spots will require more peroxide for the same effect.

Step 3: Let It Sit.

You should notice the color start to lighten instantly. The pictures in this step show a stain before, immediately after, 2 minutes after, and 10 minutes after spraying it with hydrogen peroxide.

Step 4: Ta-da!

My tub looks a little cleaner than it did before this whole ordeal. And with all that bleach and peroxide, it's definitely the cleanest thing my house.

Comments

author
sharpdj1 (author)2017-07-22

Thanks ever so much for posting. This worked amazingly well and my tub is sparkling white again!

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Rmishk (author)2016-11-15

Worked but after a few showers turned rusty agin...help!

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BruceC101 (author)Rmishk2017-06-16

You probably have a lot of chlorine in your water

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AnnaC127 (author)2017-05-28

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

It worked incredibly well.

PS: Pay no attention to the horrendous caulking job. That's my next project.

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Badtzmaru2 (author)2017-01-13

Worked amazingly well! Thanks ever so much!

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617Sqdn (author)2016-10-13

Not sure about the above statement that oxygen is a reducing agent. In chemistry, an oxidising agent ( oxidant, oxidiser) is a substance that has the ability to oxidise other substances. Common oxidising agents are oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. If you want to see how hydrogen peroxide works, drop a very small piece (less that half fingernail size) of raw steak in a tablespoonfull of hydrogen peroxide. The bubbles released contain oxygen which is the active ingredient in oxidising the stain. If you want to speed up this experiment, use a piece of raw liver the same size as the steak - and stand back!

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ConnieV11 (author)2016-07-30

thank you so much. After hours of scrubbing with comet cleanser and adding even more bleach, I thought I permanently ruined the tub in my apartment. Then I found your helpful AMAZING article aND learned it was the bleach in the Tilex that ca used this nightmare. The peroxide worked immediately! Thanks for sharing.

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CarrieT22 (author)2016-05-06

FYI this works like a charm with 0 elbow grease. We had stains just like the photo and used Hydrogen Peroxide and bingo! They were gone immediately. I couldn't find the spray peroxide so I bought 2 bottles for .96 cents each and pure it all over the tub, immediacy the stains were gone. Thank you for this info!

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LuC11 made it! (author)2016-04-17

I bleached the shower curtain and probably didn't rinse thoroughly. Then came the horrible stain that we scrubbed for ages couldn't remove it. Thanks for the tips and could not believe it works so fast and easily

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SelkeyMoonbeam (author)LuC112016-04-22

That looks great! Glad I could help!

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warrenfufu made it! (author)2015-07-28

So.....there is a way. Hope it works.

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author

Wow! Glad to see it worked as well for you as it did for me :)

author

Yes, it worked. For that, I thank you.

As to the source of iron deposit, mine differs from yours. Mine is from rusty shower riser pipe (left unchanged during repiping) as all other metal items in the shower stall are either plastic or brass. With that, it made me suspect that your stain-streaked tub could also be caused by rusty water and not the cast iron bathtub. Your thought please.

author

Oh, that's entirely possible! We do have really old pipes in this building; they shudder if we try to turn the water on too high.

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Fionaussie (author)warrenfufu2016-03-31

Wow! Very cool before and after shots!

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Fionaussie (author)warrenfufu2016-03-31

Wow! Very cool before and after shots!

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MartineL4 (author)2016-02-10

This worked for the rust stains, but didn't brighten the grungy looking base area of the tub, I applied once again to see if it made any difference. Will let you know.

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MartineL4 (author)MartineL42016-02-10

yes still not out, had to scrub and still not out. But the rust stains are gone.

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Fionaussie (author)MartineL42016-03-31

The very best product I've found that will combat grunginess from build-up of various lard/lard-like products (the base of bar soaps) and body fat is Bon Ami. This is a mild, all-natural scouring agent that will not mar most surfaces no matter how hard you scrub. The one surface it WILL leave tiny scratch marks on is fiberglass (but then, any scouring agent will mar fiberglass). Any other similar product (think Ajax) will mar acrylic, but not Bon Ami. Bon Ami is mostly feldspar and baking soda. Baking soda is awesome for chrome and polished stainless steel surfaces, and feldspar is a common igneous rock (>50% of the earth's crust = feldspar) that when ground down makes a useful mild abrasive. And there you have the day's interesting factoids and helpful cleaning/shining/polishing tips :)

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Fionaussie (author)2016-03-31

I've found rust stains in clothing are resistant even to hydrogen peroxide. There's another product that combats rust very well even though you must sometimes reapply to the rust spot a few times in succession. It's called Whink, Rust Stain Remover. It's the ONLY thing I've found that will take out rust stains in fabric. BE CAREFUL THOUGH!! It has left cloudy marks on stainless steel sinks and, thinking I was smart, on my tiled floor. I did my spot treatment on the tiled kitchen floor (we don't have a laundry sink in this house) and the glazing is definitely hazy in the spots where the solution came into contact with it. Spot treat with this product in a plastic bowl or bucket, or use some kind of board to protect your surfaces (an old cutting board maybe?). RINSE WELL!! Because whatever the solution (I'm thinking it's some kind of acid), it doesn't like being mixed with other products. Happy spot-free clothing!

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Fred1995 (author)2016-03-10

Thank you, I thought I had ruined the tub and lost our $2000 security deposit. It worked perfectly! Grateful beyond words, I am.

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batwanger (author)2016-02-24

Yes I had bleached my old tube with chlorax, only for it to turn all brown......I have been embarrassed to even let anyone see. Thanks for the tips.

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EvanF8 (author)2015-08-18

Thank you so much!!! Unbelievable, it really works!!

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EvanF8 (author)2015-08-18

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warrenfufu (author)2015-07-28

Tried to bleach clean my ceramic shower stall and got a orange-red "carpet" instead. Horrified :-o .....and found this site. Applied Hydrogen Peroxide (3%) as instructed and ..... the white tiles are white again! :-) Thanks a lot for the rescue. I wish there is a way to show you the before and after pics. What a difference!

author
JackieG5 (author)2015-07-27

Thank you! My tub did look like someone was mmurdered and cleaning extra trying to sell the house this made me just panick so bad. The peroxide worked wonderfully. Yes, I did the scrubbing and praying. Thanks again ?

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GrammaTar (author)2015-07-04

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I've always cleaned tubs with bleach and this is the first time to see the red stains. It was instant panic. Scrub brushes and sore back to no avail. I used the little bit of peroxide I had and the stains are fading fast. Thank you so much!

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SelkeyMoonbeam (author)GrammaTar2015-07-08

Glad this worked for you! It's such a relief to watch the problem just fade away.

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bizarro.sf (author)2015-03-29

The closest thing to a miracle I have ever experienced. Thanks!

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ahla.saeed (author)2014-10-26

This worked out just perfect. Thanks! Hydrogen peroxide is $4-5 cheaper than the other two options. The brown stains were gone in 5 mins.

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yyjfan (author)2014-07-05

ive used lemon and course salt on rust stains.

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jaxboy (author)2014-06-09

I saw this, and have an area with red stains on a fiberglass tub from a steel basket sitting on the edge of the tub. I've tried oxyclean, vinegar, bleach and hydrogen peroxide, with absolutely no results. Any ideas to help me?

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Vampyra65 (author)2014-05-23

I find if you **open the bathroom window**, scrub the tub with Comet, rinse, take The Works toilet bowl cleaner and a wet rag all scum and stains will wipe right off. It too gives off fumes and if you have a smoke detector within 10 feet of this it will go off. Nothing removes bathtub, sink or toilet stains like this method. Make sure you rinse down all surfaces you cleaned with this very well after.

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chuckyd (author)2014-05-13

If the stain truly is caused by the iron oxide in the tub substrate, you have more troubles than stain. Water should not be penetrating the porcelain coating. SInce it is, you will be facing this rust problem until the tub collapses. Healthy porcelain is impervious.

I understand that there are ways to recover the porcelain, but I haven't tried any.

author
realguy (author)chuckyd2014-05-15

If you have ever chipped a stovetop, you know that porcelain isn’t indestructible. But all you need do is look at the faucet handles on the clean pic, and you can see that this is a matter of the water most likely dripping down from the shower walls. At one point the tile may have been replaced or properly cleaned, but the tub was not.

.

And for those of you that love trivia, high power hydrogen peroxide, dripping onto rust (iron oxide is the catalyst) is what caused the Kursk (Russian sub, ~2002) to explode when an old “faux” torpedo leaked peroxide onto its own rust, then the explosion blew up all the torpedos with warheads directly around it (the 1st was a dummy for fleet exercise) and thus punched the instant hole into the sub and it went down… with the ~16 guys still alive (those fumes and no O2 killed instantly though someone still SCRAM’d the reactors) trapped in the rear, tapping code, until they suffocated.

author
rondacosta (author)2014-05-14

This was a great "ible". Very informative and practical.
Since there is a lot of "Tub" experience here, I have a question:

I have a steel tub that is beginning to lose the beige porcelain enamel in spots. I see some shade of green in some of them.
I have the idea of painting it with nearly matching automotive spray paint, which should end up being shiny...
Can any of you provide some experienced inputs or suggestions about how to do it? Should I use primer too?
Much appreciated. ron.dacosta@gmail.c o m

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Eh Lie Us! (author)2014-05-14

Murder, eh...? The cops are on their way.

Kidding. Great post. I've never seen peroxide in a spray bottle.

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tbresler (author)2014-05-13

Great explanation! I believe this is the same reason peroxide is able to get blood out of fabrics also! (regardless of how long the stain had been there ex. Pillows w/bloody noses, etc.)

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doo da do (author)2014-05-13

Going to give it a go

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katerlyn (author)2014-05-13

This is very interesting, thank you. Back in the 1980's previous owners told me to clean the plastic shower walls and tub with clorox bleach mixed with shaving cream. You mixed it together and lathered the walls and the rust disappeared magically. I imagine the fumes were unhealthy, however.

author
realguy (author)katerlyn2014-05-13

the shaving cream was just to hold it in place otherwise it runs down the sides because of a thing referred to as "gravity.”

.

But seriously folks… you could have just used Comet cleanser as an alternative, if the abrasives were not harmful. Otherwise, simply spraying the right cleaner such as CLR or other rust removers negates having to atomize chlorine bleach through a spray nozzle and suspend some of it in air.

In addition - just cleaning more often would have likely made rubber gloves and a soapy bleach solution sufficient - something like Joy if not a liquid laundry detergent. Joy does not contain any quaternary ammonias and there would not be any cationic battles to set free chlorine vapor as can be the case with others such as Dawn.

THESE DAYS, the daily “Shower Clean” sprays would be sufficient. They are water, rubbing alcohol and a chelating agent (an acid, or possibly dissolved mineral like sodium carbonate that binds to iron) and you spray it on while the water has yet to dry. The spray binds the minerals in the water. The alcohol causes it to become very slippery, and runs down the sides of the shower/door/curtain before the water can dry, and thus the next day, you wash the powdery residue down the drain.

REPEAT immediately after “today’s shower” - and if you do this daily after an initial, thorough cleaning, you need not do any major scrubbing - but I’d still prefer a water softener for cleaning, bathing, rinsing away of detergents and soap residue from places that you didn’t spray (such as your own hands!).

author
jjardine (author)2014-05-13

This is a great one SelkeyMoonbeam. And, thanks to ancienthart for all of the "Mr Science" end of it! :)

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csanchez21 (author)2014-05-13

Similar happened to my toilet. Am gonna try that. If I would have seen my tub like that I would have freaked!

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ancienthart (author)2014-05-13

Hi SelkeyMoonbeam - I am chemistry trained and you've just ruined any chance of me having a normal week this week. :D
Your explanation of why the stains appear sounds pretty spot on. Classical oxidation reaction between the iron and the bleach.

But the fact that the red colour in the stains disappeared over time really rules out simple dissolving of the stains (Unless you saw the peroxide washing red colour down the drain). Some sort of chemical reaction must be occurring.

However, the thing that is now keeping me up, is that peroxide is a pretty strong oxidiser, so it shouldn't be reducing the rust back to clear iron (II) salts or to metal. So basically, colour me confused. :P

author
ancienthart (author)ancienthart2014-05-13

Hah. Found it (I think). Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidising agent in acidic solutions. But in basic solutions, it can be a reducing agent.

So it might be interesting for someone who has a really stained bath, to try peroxide by itself, and then try peroxide and bicarbonate of soda.

author
realguy (author)ancienthart2014-05-13

@ancienthart>>Hah. Found it (I think). Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidising agent in acidic solutions

.

Let’s go right to the chemistry texts and obliterate this usage of terms in this context.

  • Oxidation is the loss of electrons or an increase in oxidation state by a molecule, atom or ion.
  • Reduction is the gain of electrons or a decrease in oxidation state by a molecule, atom, or ion.

Although oxidation reactions are commonly associated with the formation of oxides from oxygen molecules, these are only specific examples of a more general concept of reactions involving electron transfer.

Redox reactions, or oxidation-reduction reactions, have a number of similarities to acid/base reactions. Like acid–base reactions, redox reactions are a matched set, that is, there cannot be an oxidation reaction without a reduction reaction happening simultaneously.

Oxidation and reduction properly refer to a change in oxidation state — the actual transfer of electrons may never occur. Thus, oxidation is better defined as an increase in oxidation state, and reduction as a <u>decrease</u> in oxidation state.

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fixfireleo (author)ancienthart2014-05-13

peroxide by itself is a bleach, i believe. i think it's what they use to use to bleach hair. although it takes special bleach to bleach hair because it has to open the scales on the hair to lift the color out. you can soak your head in chlorine bleach and it wont touch your hair color....i have tried.

author

This is great. Thanks so much for looking into this; dissolution didn't sound quite right to me either. And good note about the chlorine gas!

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ancienthart (author)ancienthart2014-05-13

And the research continues. I told you you were ruining my week. :D
Apparently basic peroxide will react with the most common chemical in bleach to produce chlorine gas - ventilation would be recommended.

author
bobjacksonjr (author)2014-05-13

Great idea and even an explanation, too!

But my problem is the copper build up in a slowly leaking and unused shower. Any ideas on how to get the copper oxide (green) out of a fiberglass shower/tub fixture? None of the 'store bought' cleaners for rust or lime will work.

Thanks anyway,

Bob jr

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