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.

3 People Made This Project!

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65 Discussions

0
justsmile8383
justsmile8383

5 weeks ago

Thank you. This worked like a charm. Poured HP into a spray bottle, stains disappeared.

0
bvleisy
bvleisy

4 months ago on Introduction

I have an old cast iron tub and I always bleach it then break open a dishwashing tab and scrub off the yellow streaks with a green scrubby pad. Silly me I thought it was reacting to mildew and turning it yellow. All this time it was just a reaction to the cast iron beneath the surface. I can't believe this is the first time I ever looked this up. Never happened when I had a plastic tub, I should have been a little more curious a while ago. Thanks for the post very informative.

0
maggiemom122158
maggiemom122158

1 year ago

Thanks so much! I sprayed my tub with bleach for visitors arriving tomorrow - oh the horror! This fix was instant. Much gratification, so wow :-)

0
Jpandrhonda
Jpandrhonda

1 year ago

THANK YOU!! I have been so stressed trying to clean that stuff and it LITERALLY disappeared the minute I sprayed it on the tub!

0
WayneS155
WayneS155

1 year ago

good tip also try clr fo a great soloution

0
JenniferS504
JenniferS504

2 years ago on Step 4

I am sooooooo grateful for this article!!!!! I thought I was going crazy when this happened to my tub! I immediately typed in "Bleach on an old fashioned bath tub" and this came up! And hydrogen peoxide worked. I wonder who "figured" this out?!!!! (like who discovered how to make bread!).Thanks Selky for posting this!

0
MarieT43
MarieT43

2 years ago

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.

0
sharpdj1
sharpdj1

3 years ago

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

0
Rmishk
Rmishk

3 years ago

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

0
BruceC101
BruceC101

Reply 3 years ago

You probably have a lot of chlorine in your water

0
AnnaC127
AnnaC127

3 years ago

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

It worked incredibly well.

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

IMG_1730.JPGIMG_1732.JPG
0
Badtzmaru2
Badtzmaru2

3 years ago

Worked amazingly well! Thanks ever so much!

0
617Sqdn
617Sqdn

3 years ago

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!

2
ConnieV11
ConnieV11

4 years ago

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.

0
CarrieT22
CarrieT22

4 years ago

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!

0
MartineL4
MartineL4

4 years ago

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
MartineL4

Reply 4 years ago

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

0
Fionaussie
Fionaussie

Reply 4 years ago

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
Fionaussie

4 years ago

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!