How to Clean a Shower Head
Keep your shower head flowing freely by removing mineral deposits like limescale with these simple cleaning steps. You'll be surprised by how much buildup natural shower-cleaning ingredients like vinegar and baking soda can remove.
If your shower head is spraying every which way or not providing a consistent water pressure, chances are it could use a good cleaning. Shower heads often spray unevenly because their tiny holes have gotten plugged with mineral deposits. In order for water to flow freely, you need to remove these deposits.
Cleaning your shower head is also good for your family's health. Wet environments like the one inside a shower head are breeding grounds for bacteria. In fact, a recent study by researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences found that residential shower heads often contain abundant amounts of Mycobacterium—a bacteria known to cause lung disease—growing in the slimy “biofilm” that lives inside your shower nozzle.
Here are two descaling methods our pros swear by: both will clean your shower head overnight while you sleep, and one doesn't even require using any tools!
How to Unclog Your Shower Head
Before you start cleaning, figure out just how bad the blockage is. If water is still coming out of the nozzle and most of the tiny holes seem clear, you probably won't need to remove the shower head for a deep cleaning. If the water flow is very restricted and the buildup seems severe—or if you tried cleaning the shower head without removing it but are still having water pressure issues—you may need to remove the head from the shower arm.
Also, if your shower head has a chrome, stainless steel, or other protected metal surface, try the non-removal method first. Tools can scratch those delicate finishes so avoid if you can.
Cleaning a Shower Head Without Removing It
If you can't remove your shower head or simply want to skip that step, you can remove surface mineral deposits with this little trick that requires nothing more than a rubber band, a plastic bag, and some vinegar:
Step 1: Secure Bag with Vinegar
First, slip a rubber band over the top of the shower head. You may want to loop it around the shower arm once or twice so it's tight on the water pipe. Fill a plastic bag with white vinegar. Attach the bag to the shower head by slipping the top edge of the bag underneath the rubber band.
Step 2: Wait and Rinse
Wait one hour, then remove the bag and turn on the water to flush. Polish with a soft cloth.
Deep Cleaning a Shower Head
If mineral deposits prove to be beyond the power of vinegar alone, you will need to remove the shower head to do a more thorough cleaning.
Step 1: Disconnect the Showerhead
To disconnect the shower head, unscrew the nut at the shower arm. Take care not to damage the fixture's finish. Use a wrench rather than pliers. Cushion your tool with a rag while you work to avoid scratching.
Step 2: Rinse the Showerhead
Run a sharp blast of water through the shower head by holding it upside down underneath a faucet. Your goal is to rinse loosened debris out through the opening that connects to the shower arm. If there are still mineral deposits, you can scrub the shower head with an old toothbrush and vinegar to loosen debris.
Step 3: Dismantle and Clean the Showerhead
Use a toothpick or safety pin to poke out additional deposits. (If you have a shower head with pliable plastic nubbins, you can likely manipulate them with your fingers to break calcium deposits loose.)
Step 4: Soak the Parts in Vinegar Overnight
Immerse the showerhead completely in vinegar to dissolve and remaining limescale deposits. For extra cleaning power, scoop a few tablespoons of baking soda in the vinegar before soaking them. The natural abrasive will help release clogged passages. Rinse again.
Step 4: Reassemble and Reinstall Your Showerhead
First, wrap new plumbing tape around the threads of the shower arm to ensure a good seal. Reattach the shower head to the shower arm using a wrench. Protect the fixture's finish with soft rags or towels while you're working.
To keep your water pressure steady and strong and keep bacterial growth to a minimum, plan to thoroughly clean your shower head at least once a month. Make surface cleaning with vinegar part of your bathroom cleaning routine on a weekly basis. A few other words of advice when it comes to cleaning your shower head:
- Don't use bleach to clean a shower head. In the CIRES shower head study, researchers found that chlorine bleach actually increased the production of harmful bacteria in one of the shower heads studied. Plus, bleach can be caustic and ruin clothes. Better to avoid it.
- Don't use a hard-bristle brush. If your shower head has a chrome or protected metal finish, it may be susceptible to scratching and scuffing.
- Do work in a well-ventilated space if you're using any cleaner with strong fumes. This can include vinegar as well as commercial cleaning products. Everyone reacts differently to fumes, but it's best to open a window or turn on a ventilation fan whenever you're cleaning your shower.