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

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

About: An engineer, seamstress, cook, coder, and overall maker. Spent a summer at Instructables; got a degree in E: Neural Engineering at Olin College; made a microcontroller (tessel.io); now thinking about climate...

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.

2 People Made This Project!

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58 Comments

Thank you . I have a rude Shih Tzu who stained my white cotton bath rug. I bleached it and the rusty red stain appeared. Now its gone, you taught this old dog a new trick.

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

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

1 reply

You probably have a lot of chlorine in your water

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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Worked amazingly well! Thanks ever so much!

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!

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.

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!

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.

2 replies

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

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 :)

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!

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

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.

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

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!

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 ?

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!