Q: Over the years, especially during our recent drought, I have become an "occasional flusher" to conserve water.

I clean the toilet with a brush each week, but there is a hard scum that has built up at the bottom, and a ring at the water line. I have been able to remove these stains with a razor blade, but I’m out of energy and don’t want to do this anymore.

Is there a better/easier way to do this? Why are my friends’ toilets not getting stains like mine?

A: We applaud your sensitivity to water conservation, but you really need to flush the toilet. Urine sitting in the bowl will cause stains. Mineral deposits from hard water, also known as lime scale, compound the problem.

We can’t tell you what’s happening with your friends’ toilets. Our guess is that they have "softer" water with fewer minerals.

"Hard water" is potable water with a high concentration of dissolved minerals — mainly magnesium and calcium. Hard water is not bad for you (it’s actually a nice way to get your minerals), but it is a pain when it stains and builds up on plumbing fixtures.

You have a couple choices: Install a water softener for hundreds of dollars, or do regular cleaning with the toilet brush.

Water softeners operate on a simple principle: Calcium and magnesium ions in the water switch places with sodium (salt) ions. The exchange eliminates the problems of hard water because sodium doesn’t precipitate out in pipes or fixtures like calcium and magnesium.

Although the amount of sodium this process adds to your water is quite small, if you have health concerns, discuss them with your doctor.

The alternative is to set up a weekly cleaning regimen to keep on top of the lime scale. This is the way we’d prefer to go because we’re loath to spend the bucks on a water softener unless absolutely necessary. We’ll opt for a little elbow grease over opening our wallet any time.

Use products such as Lime-A-Way or CLR to cut through the deposits. The first cleaning will be the toughest. Turn off the toilet water supply and flush the toilet to empty the bowl. Then, soak rags in the liquid scale remover and make a kind of poultice to place on the deposits. Leave the poultice on for a while to soften the scale.

You’ll probably have to go after the softened scale with a razor blade one last time. After this, weekly cleaning with a toilet brush after emptying the bowl should do the trick.

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