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How to Clean a River Rock & Make it Shiny

River rocks are rocks that have been smoothed and rounded by moving water. They can be found on beaches or by rivers and come in different colours. If you have found a beautiful rock by the river, this post will show you how to clean your river rock, and make it look shiny!

How to Clean River Rock

How to Clean a River Rock

I love finding interesting shaped stones and rocks by the river. Over the years I’ve found many rocks which are now decorating my garden.

The first thing I do before polishing my rock, is simply to rinse it in soapy water to wash away any dirt.

I normally use an old toothbrush to remove any loose debris from the surface of the stone, but you could also use a scrub brush. I find that normal dish soap works well at this stage, even if there’s a lot of dirt.

Once all the dirt has been removed from the rock, I move on to chemical cleaners depending on what kind of stains are on the rock. For example if the stone has dark brown, or black manganese stains, I may try to remove these with a mild bleach solution.

If there is stubborn dirt that a dish detergent won’t remove, I might try other acidic solutions and mechanical cleaning methods, like citric acid, or vinegar with a stiff brush.

You could also use bubbling to loosen any dirt on the stone. This involves soaking the rock in baking soda before adding vinegar. The introduction of an acid to the alkaline solution cause vigorous bubbling, which may help to lift off grime from the stone.

You can find out more information about each of these methods below.

How to Clean Your River Rock

Cleaning Rocks with Baking Soda

Baking Soda is a good option to try if you have stains on your rock, and I find it works best when combined with vinegar.

If you want to try this method, dissolve some baking soda in a bowl of warm water, and soak the rock in the water for 15 minutes.

Next add vinegar to the water. You will see and hear the water fizzing and bubbling as the two solutions are mixed. While the water is bubbling, take the tooth brush and scrub the stained area of the rock. Make sure you are using gloves before you put your hand in the water.

In my opinion mixing baking soda and vinegar is the best method for removing stains, and the easiest way to remove any stubborn dirt.

Cleaning Rocks with Baking Soda

Cleaning Rocks with Vinegar

It’s possible to clean rocks with vinegar alone by leaving them to soak in a cup of vinegar for 2-3 days. If you find that your stone starts to produce tiny bubbles when you add it to the vinegar, this is probably because it contains calcite.

Leaving rocks to soak in acidic solutions like vinegar or citric acid will remove calcite and other calcium minerals from the rock.

After the rock has soaked for 2-3 days use a brush to scrub away any unsightly stains and loosened calcite. Wash the rock thoroughly in distilled water to rinse away the vinegar.

Cleaning Rocks with Muriatic Acid

Muriatic acid is a diluted form of hydrochloric acid, which is a very strong and corrosive acid. If you are going to use this method it’s important you wear gloves to protect your skin, and safety glasses.

Muriatic acid will remove salt deposits from rocks, and dark stains caused by manganese. Compared to vinegar, muriatic acid removes stains ten times faster, however muriatic acid can be very dangerous. I would advise that you try vinegar, citric acid or oxalic acid first before trying this option.

Cleaning Rocks with Oxalic Acid Powder

Oxalic Acid is often used to remove stains in laundry. It’s very good at removing ink and rust stains, but can also be used to clean and polish stone. Soaking a rock in oxalic acid is a good way to remove stains caused by iron oxide.

To clean your rock with oxalic acid, add 2 tablespoons of oxalic acid to two litres of water. It’s best to do this in a ventilated area outside, and make sure you are wearing gloves.

If you use hot water the stains will be removed faster from the stone. Leave the stone in the liquid until the stain is removed. The amount of time this takes will depend on the severity of the staining.

How to Clean Algae off River Rocks

How to Clean Algae off River Rocks

Acidic solutions such as vinegar or mild bleach will remove algae from river rocks. Vinegar will also help to remove any moss.

If your rock is covered in algae or moss, try leaving it to soak in a cup of vinegar overnight. You can then scrub the algae off with a toothbrush before rinsing the rock in water.

How do you Brighten River Rocks

How do you Brighten River Rocks and Make them Shine?

Once your river rock is completely clean, you can either use oil or clear nail varnish to give the rock the appearance of being wet, and make it shiny. This is a way of making river rocks shine without a tumbler.

As well as nail varnish, you can also use wax, or other types of varnish from your local hardware stores. You can buy different varnishes with varying levels of gloss.

If you want to put your river rocks in your garden, you may want to paint it and add a waterproof sealant. Decorative rocks are a creative way to add colour to your garden.

What Can You Do with River Rocks?

River rocks make a beautiful addition to a water feature or rock garden, and smaller rocks can be added to aquariums. You can leave the colour of the natural stone as it is after thorough cleaning, or add paint, stain or varnish to the rock to brighten it up.

If you are planning to paint your rock to add it to an aquarium, you should first check whether your paint is toxic to fish. There are certain paints you can buy which are safe for fish.

If you like the appearance of river rocks, you can also buy landscaping rocks online and use them to to create paths or sections in your garden. Landscape rocks can help to add dimension and depth to a front yard, or hide a messy garden bed.

The rock specimens I’ve found whilst walking along the River Wandle Trail are only small, and decorate a small part of my flower bed. You can buy large rocks online however, or order hundreds of small rocks and have an entire patio made from coloured river rocks.

The photograph below shows what you can create with river rocks in your garden. River rock patios are usually cleaned with a broom, leaf blower, pressure washer or garden hose.

If you are redesigning your garden you can also get landscape boulders, or a large river rock to section off different parts of the garden. These rocks can be cleaned with high-pressure water to remove any bird droppings or dead leaves that accumulate over time. You should always take safety precautions before power washing.

This Post was About How to Clean River Rock

Thank you for reading my post about how to clean river rock. A river rock can be a beautiful find since that are all unique, and come in different shapes and colours. After a good scrub they can be a great addition to a fish tank, or for hiding roots in a plant pot. If you have found any interesting stones near the river, leave me a comment below.


Sunday 3rd of September 2023

Hi how would you clean rocks from fields, gravel pits? I love the wet look but if I am doing a large amount of stones = work.


Wednesday 30th of August 2023

Thank you for the information re: brightening rocks or river rock. Can’t wait to try some of your suggestions