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How To Clean a Shower Head: 10 Ways To Get the Gunk Out and Make It Shine Like New

It's not fun, but it's worth doing.

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There’s nothing better than a hot shower. Soothing bubble baths are relaxing, but when you want to feel squeaky clean, a shower can’t be beat. However, the shower head in your bathroom can become worn and dirty over time, and without regular TLC, it can get gross. The good news is that cleaning your shower head isn’t difficult, and it can be done fairly quickly. If your shower head isn’t performing like it used to or you’re simply wondering the most efficient way to give it a good scrub, keep reading.

Why do shower heads need cleaning? 

Taking a refreshing, cleansing shower every day is a privilege and a pleasure that we often take for granted. Most of us don’t think about where our running water comes from or why there’s a difference between strong and weak water pressure — until we encounter a dirty shower head. But weak water pressure shouldn’t be your main concern when dealing with a clogging shower head.  

According to a recent study conducted by Manchester University, the hot water that sprays from shower heads can harbor more bacteria than you’d find on the average toilet. Additional research has shown that slime buildup in shower heads contains microbes linked to a range of illnesses, from Legionnaires’ and Crohn’s disease to septicemia and skin, hair, ear, and eye issues. But that’s not all — in another study performed by the University of Colorado Boulder, researchers discovered that an alarming 30 percent of shower heads showed significant levels of Mycobacterium Avium, a pathogen linked to pulmonary disease. Scientists also found that the harmful bacteria Stenotrophomonas Maltophilia thrives around the black gunk that gathers around shower heads. Turning your shower on disperses these itty-bitty microbes into the air, making them more easily inhaled. Needless to say, a regular thorough cleaning of your shower head is important.

How do shower heads get dirty?

Over time, shower faucets can develop limescale and calcium deposits. In some cases, mineral buildup can develop from hard water. Each of these mineral build-ups can create a blockage at the end of the shower nozzle, making it difficult for water to pass through. As a result, you may experience low water pressure or water spraying in various directions. 

What are the signs of a dirty shower head?

The telltale signs of a dirty shower head include:

  • Visible black mold surrounding the shower head
  • A non-existent water flow
  • The presence of calcium
  • Pink mold” and slime
  • Weak water pressure

In addition, a dirty shower head can cause dandruff and infections on the scalp. If you’re experiencing itchiness and flakes on the top of your head, consider giving your shower head a good scrub. 

How often do shower heads need to be cleaned?

You should start a shower head cleaning routine that repeats at least once every other month to eliminate mineral deposits and limescale, both of which reduce water flow and water pressure, and can serve as a breeding ground for health-threatening microbes like bacteria, fungi, and mold. 

Pro Tip: Live in an area with hard water? Deep clean your shower head monthly as opposed to bi-monthly. 

3 Effective Cleaning Tips for Your Shower Head

Now that you know how and why your shower head gets dirty, it’s time to talk about tips for getting it clean. There are many things you can do to heavy-duty clean your entire shower head.

Tip #1: Scrub the Nozzles

Many shower heads have flexible rubber nozzles. To dislodge mineral buildup and wipe away grime in these nozzles, simply massage the openings with your finger. To remove hard water stains, gently scrub them with a soft-bristled toothbrush. 

Pro Tip: If the limescale buildup is really bad, make a DIY baking soda paste with vinegar to scrub the nozzles. Dip an old toothbrush into your mixture and gently scrub the fixture to wash away grime and other debris.   

Tip #2: Let the Shower Head Soak in a Vinegar-Based Cleaning Solution

One of the easiest ways to deep clean your shower head is by submerging it in distilled white vinegar. This bathroom cleaning solution will quickly unclog the small nozzles and remove icky buildup and blockage. To use this method and fix a clogged shower head, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Fill a plastic bag with one cup of vinegar or a vinegar-based cleaning product
  • Step 2: Submerge your shower head in the bag, making sure the nozzles are completely immersed in the liquid. 
  • Step 3: Attach the bag firmly to the shower arm, securing it tightly with a rubber band. 
  • Step 4: Leave it to soak for a few hours. 
  • Step 5: Remove and discard the bag. 
  • Step 6: Using an old toothbrush, lightly scrub any remaining buildup on the shower head. 
  • Step 7: Run the shower to clear the vinegar as well as any remaining mineral deposits from the shower head. 
  • Step 8: After letting the water run, use a clean cloth to wipe down the shower head. 

I like this method because I don’t have to uninstall my shower head from the shower arm. If you don’t mind doing this extra step, you can opt for a bucket of vinegar instead of a bag. 

Pro Tip: Don’t have any distilled white vinegar on hand? Substitute apple cider vinegar. Lemon juice is also effective in dissolving soap scum and tackling mildew.

Tip #3: Regular Cleaning of the Filter Screen

Is your shower head still sputtering after soaking it in vinegar? Chances are a dirty filter screen is to blame. You may need to take a look at the shower head instruction manual that came with the appliance to clean its filter. Don’t panic if you can’t find your manual — it can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website or by contacting the customer service department. 

Generally speaking, the filter screen is located in the part of the shower head that connects to the water pipe. You’ll need to remove the shower head from this pipe to get to the filter screen. Here’s a step-by-step guide to follow:

  • Remove the shower head with a wrench or lockable pliers.
  • Clear any loose debris by flushing the interior with water. 
  • Grab a pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the filter screen before giving it a good rinse.
  • If the filter screen has mineral buildup or feels slimy, place it in a container with vinegar to soak. (This is a good time to clean the rest of the shower head, as well.) 
  • Reinstall the filter screen and reattach the shower head. 
  • Once everything is reassembled, allow the water to run at full pressure for several minutes to flush out any remaining debris. 

Do reference your shower head’s instruction manual before taking it apart to clean the filter. If done incorrectly, you can cause permanent damage. There are many different types of shower heads out there, and these steps are meant only as guidance.  

Done and Dusted

Cleaning your shower head may not be your favorite activity, but considering all the gross bacteria, fungi, mold, limescale, and other debris it can harbor, it’s an important one. Keeping your shower head clean keeps microbes that cause illnesses at bay and prevents slowed water flow and reduced water pressure. To clean this essential appliance, all you need is some distilled white vinegar, a little baking soda, and a soft-bristled toothbrush. You can opt for special cleaning chemicals if you’d like;  just be sure to properly ventilate the room, as it’s never a good idea to breathe in toxic fumes.  

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