I want to clean a stained porcelain toilet bowl. It feels like a small crusty coral reef right at the bottom in the water, visible to anyone looking down. I suspect its like calcium/lime but this is not normally a problem in our area.

Plain scrubbing with a brush has made no difference. I've tried a pot-scrubbing pad while wearing gloves but its minimal effect.

I want to soak the area in something like CLR rust remover, but the water is diluting it and minimising the effect, and I don't want to tip whole bottles of the stuff in to increase the concentration.

What can I do to push the water in the trap down without refilling the bowl?
Is scooping it out or using some kind of pump really the only option ?

I am aware the water trap keeps sewer smells down, this would only be for a couple of hours perhaps, until the stain dissolves or softens.

  • 2
    Will also need a way to hold the stuff you use to the bowl, most are liquid. Could be that the finish of the bowl is slightly damaged/rougher at the that line and holds stuff better.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 12:22
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    Note that some answers here may be affected by where exactly you are because toilet design varies by region. For example, most ‘normal’ toilets in the US use a greedy-cup-sipon design that can actually be mostly drained by adding enough extra water quickly enough (which will trigger the same siphon effect that is generated by flushing but without the refill from the tank), but the same is not true of, say, some ‘normal’ European designs. Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 19:46
  • 2
    I do it with a wet-mop but this high-technology device seems to be difficult to find outside Spain :)
    – Miguel
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 12:21
  • Most toilets I've seen (US), all you have to do is shut off the water supply and flush it until it empties - does this not work for you? Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 13:51
  • 1
    @Miguel: we have them in Germany, too :-) Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 16:04

15 Answers 15


I have done this for years. I just pour a bucket of water in the toilet bowl, pour it all at once so the force of the water is swift.

For getting that coral like "growth" off, I use a pumice stone, called a Scouring Stick

  • 1
    I don't understand how you end up with no water in the bowl when what you do is pour water into the bowl.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 14:32
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    @einpoklum it creates suction that draw water down the drain. With no additional water you end up with more or less dry bowl.
    – vasin1987
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 17:39
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    It's the normal way a toilet works. You add water to the bowl so that the level is higher than the drain inside the toilet, and do it fast enough to fill the pipe and create a siphon. The siphon then drains the toilet until the level is low enough for air to enter and break the siphon. In a normal flush the bowl is refilled by the water draining from the tank, here there's no refill.
    – IceGlasses
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 22:14
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    This doesn't work on a British toilet. I often dump buckets of dirty water down & never even considered this may happen.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 11:34
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    @IceGlasses American toilets mostly use a different siphon system than European ones. The "over-flush" thing won't work on most European toilets.
    – Tonny
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 12:46

A wet-capable vacuum cleaner

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If you only have a dry capable vac you can buy or build an interim canister that traps the water

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Any canister with a wall strong enough to resist being sucked flat will suffice

  • 2
    Interesting, I never thought of that intermediate container idea. Very smart!
    – jrh
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 12:45

Professional plumbers, like Richard Trethewey of This Old House, use a turkey baster to remove water:

enter image description here

  • This is probably the most sensible answer here, I should have done this for the last bit.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 23:42
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    Great idea. But I'm not coming to your house for Thanksgiving :-) Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 1:18
  • I needed to remove (disgusting) water from a fridge, and didn't have any pump. It's possible to create a DIY turkey baster from a semi-rigid coke bottle and two straws. I cannot find the tutorial anymore, though. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 8:32
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact -Rest assured, the baster used for draining toilets and the baster used to baste turkeys never get switched. Or, at least not very often. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 13:47

You ask what you can do to push the water down. That is like pushing a wet noodle. I do it the easy way and use my shop vac (wet/dry). I clean it out first then place the correct filter in it. When you suck it out you can dump the tank and rinse it out. Then put back the dry filter. I dump it on the flower bed as it is clean water. Your CLR should do the trick.

  • 2
    Sounds like a good excuse to buy a water-capable vaccum. I mean they're all capable of sucking water once, but maybe not the second time :)
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 23:37

The city water in our area is fairly hard, so handling these coral reefs is a recurring chore for us (our toilets will build up a rim of limescale a millimetre thick around the water line if left unattended for a few weeks). My favourite way of getting rid of excess water is to use an ordinary toilet brush in a up-and-down pumping action. If you hit the right rhythm, water in the bowl will oscillate up and down by a lot, quickly pumping most of it out over the trap weir level into the drain. You'll be left with just enough water to keep the trap sealed (or a little less). Maybe a half litre or so depending on the design of your toilet.

After that, my favourite limescale removal method is to just grab a bottle of ordinary vinegar (costs like €0.50 over here) and pour it in. It's unbeatable in terms of price per amount of acid that you can buy easily, so you can go all out and pour a whole litre in there, eliminating any dilution issues. Then just let it stand like that overnight and finish with a little bit of brushing.

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    If you find a reasonable source for it, (Asian grocery is my usual) citric acid (purchased as a dry powder) may be "cheaper yet" albeit it's not in every grocery store, unlike vinegar. Also sold as "sour salt" but usually not cost-effective in that guise.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 13:35
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    Citric acid is often the bulk ingredient in the cheapest "lemon pepper" blends at such stores. I know one where I can get about a cup for about $1-$2.
    – brhans
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 13:56
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    @Ecnerwal OK, so "unbeatable" was an overstatement, but citric acid likely doesn't beat vinegar by much if at all (hydrochloric or sulphuric acid could, but those are way trickier to handle). Around here, citric acid can be bought in retail for €4/kg while that 8% vinegar (which means roughly 80 g of pure acid in a bottle) translates to about €2.50 per kg of pure acid.
    – TooTea
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 14:23
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    @Ecnerwal Actually, turns out vinegar now costs around fifty cent per bottle, prices must have gone up while I wasn't paying attention. So it's roughly as expensive/cheap as citric acid now.
    – TooTea
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 14:33
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    Citric is somewhat stronger than acetic, kg for kg. But whatever is handy works.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 14:35

I genuinely can't tell whether people are having fun with you here... I'd only ever use a turkey baster if the toilet drain was leaking or I was in a drought and the shop-vac/leaf-blower ... forgive my prudishness, but I don't want a toilet water shower. I just don't.

The supply line on many toilets has a valve, usually behind the bowl and below the tank. Turn off the water supply to the toilet and hold the flusher down until the bowl is empty. When you turn the supply back on, the tank and bowl should both fill, so use the empty bowl as a reminder.

I've seen a lot of leaky supply shut-offs. If you're fast with the cleaning, this will all still work, but you'll want to schedule a new ball valve. You don't often need to turn the water off to the toilet, but when you do, you often need to do it fast.

As for the cleaning job, I can't top the existing answers - gentle acids and elbow grease... I'd save the pumice stone (which I love) for intermittent, harder jobs - porcelain should be able to take it, but pumice is quite abrasive and who knows what materials people will use for toilets.

  • 7
    Sounds like a different style of toilet - here the tank is separate to the bowl, and turning off the supply would simply stop it from refilling. I wanted to empty the water out of the bowl for better access, not from the tank. Still, +1 for the prudishness which I totally agree with.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 23:40
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    There is an adage about self-care that goes "You can't pour from an empty cup". I would be surprised if the tank and bowl worked differently from that.
    – user121330
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 14:42
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    Well,your toilet obviously works very different from mine (EU). Our bowls don't fill at all, flushing a toilet just means you open a valve at the bottom of the tank,so that water flows into the bowl and takes whatever is in there down the drain. Closing the fill valve just gives you an empty tank,so that flushing does absolutely nothing.
    – TooTea
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 19:03

Location: USA. Standard house toilet with tank and bowl.

Whenever I (DIYer, not a plumber) have replaced a toilet or a wax seal, I have:

  1. Turn off supply to tank.
  2. Flush toilet
  3. Use a large sponge to remove water from bottom of bowl.
  • 1
    Thank you - the design of toilet and bowl here does not leave the bowl empty if the tank is flushed in. Could be a good solution in the US though.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 3:18
  • Thanks. To clarify it would not leave the bowl empty here but low enough to bail and soak up enough.
    – Damila
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 4:07

A length of hose can be used to siphon the water out, epecially if your toilet is upstairs and you have a tap downstairs

  • Obtain some small-inner-diameter hose hose (smaller than a garden hose is good if you can get it, but garden hose will suffice)
  • Fill the hose with water (attach it to a tap, even if only loosely using your fist to shape a reducer). Hoses that are full of water start siphoned easily
  • Once full, pinch, bung or cap one end (if it's a small diameter hose) or both ends (if it's a typical garden hose or bigger) with something (your finger)
  • Put one end of the hose in the toilet bowl so the pipe inlet is as deep as possible - maybe trap it under the seat/weight the seat to hold it there too
  • Once in the water, this end can be uncapped
  • Take the other end to somewhere lower (the shower/bath drain hole/out the window etc) - even slighly lower will be fine but the bigger the height difference the faster the flow. There can be any number of "hills" along the way (over the side of the bath, or window sill for example) so long as the output end of the pipe is lower than the input end
  • Release the bung/cap/finger
  • Go make a coffee if it's a really small diameter tube

In particular if your house is upstairs/the toilet is above ground level:

  • Bring the garden hose in and up the stairs
  • Stick the end into the water
  • Weight the hose so it won't fall out
  • Go out to the garden tap, turn it on so the pipe fills with water/puts water into the toilet
  • Shut off the tap
  • Disconnect the hose from the tap and lie it on the ground (or bung the end and take it downhill/into a basement/ down a drain etc so the end is lower than the toilet bowl)

You can also start a siphon by sucking water out of the bowl into the hose and a lot of people use their mouth to do that sucking.. but using a tap to pre-fill the hose with water is probably more hygienic than your mouth in this case! 😆

You could also use a dry-only vac to start the siphon, if the hose is clear and you can see the water coming/if you want to make an imperfect seal between vac hose and water hose and watch for water emerging - a bit of water getting up a dry vac hose won't do any harm

  • I have successfully used this method, for this exact purpose. (I used some narrow, transparent tubing that I happened to have, and pre-filled it by submerging it in the bath, though doing that you have to be careful to get all the air bubbles out.)
    – psmears
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 10:39

Perhaps a frame challenge… don't empty it, remove the deposit with a specific product designed for the task.

We live in a very hard water area, but I grew up in a very soft water area - each builds its own type of deposit, over a different period of time.
This stuff - Harpic Power+ tablets treats both equally well. Drop one in overnight, don't flush til morning. Might need 2 or 3 nights if it's truly bad. They don't really tell you what's in them, but they work [& they're cheap enough that you didn't break the bank if it wasn't 100% successful].

The company is Reckitt; they say the Harpic brand is used in 40 countries so you can hopefully find it in the supermarket.

I wouldn't normally recommend a specific brand for something like this, but I actually don't know of any rival product.

enter image description here

It also completely avoids any of the potential hygiene issues of opening up the trap & subsequent exposure to the far side.

  • 1
    (Re: "They don't really tell you what's in them"): It's largely sulfamic acid.
    – Charles
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 2:05

Do the "pour an entire bucket of water into the bowl at once" trick to lower the water level in the bowl a bit. Then place toilet paper over the line of calcium/gunk at the former water level. Wet the TP with lime scale remover (CLR, etc.) and let sit for a while. Re-soak it with CLR every once in a while. After it has sat for a while, flush the bowl which takes the TP away. Then scrub the water-line with the toilet brush.

You will have to do this multiple times depending on how bad the calcium build-up is. The TP keeps the CLR in place long enough to dissolve the calcium.


While many of the answers have good tools for finishing the draining process, the best place to start is a tool you likely already have: a plunger. This should force a decent amount of water down the drain, leaving you with only the mouth itself to deal with (plungers cannot remove 100% of the water).

At this point, you can do what Damila mentioned (that fits with cleaning): use a sponge. The plunger should leave you with very little water. It wouldn't be hard to soak a sponge and wring it into a bowl or other container. Maybe a minute tops of this and the bowl should be empty in most toilets. I use a sponge to empty the toilet tank when needed (just wring it into the bowl if you're not draining that also).


Excellent ideas all!

In the end I used a mains-powered leaf blower to push the water down through the bowl and into the drain.

This was perhaps sub-optimal - very "splashy" because the airflow would whip up spray like a gusty day on the ocean waves. It did make a mess, so I immediately grabbed an old towel and laid that over the bowl and around the nozzle of the leaf blower. Towel got sodden quickly but kept most of the spray in the bowl.

Downside, this leaf blower takes air in the front, so I'm sure it inhaled a bunch of toilet water spray too. A vacuum cleaner set to Blow might have worked better.

You could also use a piece of sacrificial cardboard over the bowl, with a cutout to accept the blower. Even some food wrap (gladwrap, saran-wrap) would do the same.

The CLR product did excellently to soften and remove the buildup within 15 minutes. Curiously it did not form at the waterline, it was sunk to the bottom in the same place sand might end up if dropped into the water.

  • Leaf blower? AC current & water? SMH.
    – IconDaemon
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 1:41
  • @smh Yeah - always potential for issues near water, but I was careful. I had an RCD inline, and I wasn't putting the motor anywhere near the water. No worse than using a vacuum cleaner in a bathroom.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 3:17
  • 1
    Now it's clean, regular use of an acidic toilet cleaner (I think "Power Stain Destroyer" is one of those brands in the USA) will prevent the build up of minerals. Note that it must not be used at the same time as bleach-based cleaners because that would give off chlorine gas, which is bad for you. Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 10:58

With the danger of adding to the information overload, here's my take on it:

For emptying the toilet bowl, use a mop: basically a stick with dreadlocks. Let it soak up water, squeeze it out in the bucket, repeat. It is very easy to do, and surpriingly efficient.

For the coral reef: use acid; you can get toilet cleaners for removing lime scale, or you can buy Spirit of Salt (aka hydrochloric acid), but handle with care. The letter can often be found in builders' mechants under a name like 'stone wash' - it's for removing cement from bricks, if the builder wasn't all that skilled.


I routinely push almost all of the water out of the u-bend using my normal toilet brush.

Plunge the toilet brush down quickly enough and each time, a little of the water will be pushed over the lip, into the drain and the water level will get lower. Repeat several times and you will end up with the water level below the u, and with more, you can push out most of the water. Whether this works for you, and how many times you need to plunge, will obviously depend on the design of your toilet. For me, 6 or 7 swift plunges with my normal toilet brush leaves my toilet with about an inch of water in the bottom.

In terms of cleaning, I too have found the Harpic Power Plus Active to be the most effective way of cleaning a toilet bowl. Left over night it will usually dissolve all organic, and light mineral soiling. If you let limescale build up for too long though, you might need a more aggressive option.

I have found that getting the water line to below the limescale, letting the bowl dry, and then applying a gel descaler (which will sit on a dry vertical surface for long enough to have a significant effect) to be the most effective option. The important thing here is that the descaler is suspended in the gel, as traditional liquid descalers will just drain into the bowl and have little effect. A damp surface and a power descaler may work too, but I haven't tried that option.


Another option is to put an empty plastic bag in the bowl, then fill the bag with water. Optionally push on the bag to displace as much water as possible.

The flimsy trashcan bags works better, as they are more flexible and better conform to the toilet shape.

After the bag pushed out most of the water from the bowl, empty is back the bucket, and discard.

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