How to Clean a Shower Head

A dirty shower head.

When people want to learn how to clean a shower head, they’re usually not looking for ways to make it shine. Any bathroom cleaner will work to make chrome, nickel, or even plastic bright and new. People are searching for ways to get their water pressure back. They’re tired of leaving the bathroom with shampoo and conditioner in their hair. Below I’ll show you how to clean a shower head using two very popular, environmentally friendly methods. You will have yet another reason to keep a healthy supply of vinegar on hand.

Two Ways to Clean a Shower head

  1. bag around shower headQuickly clean a shower head using vinegar and a plastic baggie. Fill a strong plastic baggie with vinegar and attach it to the shower head using rubber bands. Leave it on overnight and presto, you’ve got a clean showerhead. If you have one that snakes around, just hang it in a bowl. Sometimes all you need to do is hold the shower head in a bowl of warmed vinegar for a few minutes. You can clean any stubborn calcium deposits from the shower head using an old toothbrush. Use a safety pin or paper clip to clear any of the holes in the shower head.
  2. tools loosening showerheadFor a more thorough shower head cleaning, first remove the shower head carefully. The main thing is, you don’t want to move or bend the pipe coming from the wall. Keep that pipe stable with pliers and unscrew the shower head using a wrench or pliers. To keep from scratching the pipe, place a rag between your pliers and the pipe. I learned this the hard way, stripping a bit of nickel off the shower head, revealing the copper underneath.
  3. soaking showerheadSoak the shower head in vinegar overnight. If you need to clean a shower head quickly, use heated vinegar. Put the shower head in a pot, fill the pot with enough vinegar so that the entire shower head is covered, and then heat the pot on your stove. Bring it to a simmer, not a boil. This not should take very long – twenty minutes to an hour depending on build up; still, it’s a bigger hassle than just putting the shower head in a container overnight. Either way, you’ll end up with a clean shower head.
  4. scrubbing showerhead with a toothbrushUse a toothbrush to remove mineral build-up and rinse. The last step in shower head cleaning is giving it a once-over with an old, retired toothbrush. This will break the spirit of any diehard mineral deposits that survived the vinegar wash. Use a toothpick or paper clip to remove any plugs from the sprayers. Lastly, rinse, and what you’ve got is a clean shower head, capable of producing water pressure that would strip the hide off of a rhinoceros…Ok, maybe that’s a stretch. But it will probably now get the shampoo out of your hair.
  5. putting on teflon plumber's tapeApply Teflon tape before reattaching the shower head.You’ve got a clean shower head – now you just need to reattach that thing and you’ll finally be able to shower, or pretend that you did. First, you’ll need to remove any old Teflon layers. Use a metal brush or just pick it off. Next, apply a layer or two of Teflon tape (found at any hardware store) over the grooves where the shower head attaches. This will keep the seal tight and prevent leaks.
  6. reattaching the showerheadAgain, carefully reattach using a wrench to reapply.Screw your now clean shower head on until it is hard to turn by hand. Stabilize the incoming pipe with pliers and, using the other hand, tighten the shower head one or two turns with a wrench or pliers. It is usually better to stabilize with your off hand, tighten with your dominant hand. Again, place a rag between your pliers and the shower head to prevent scratches.

Shower Heads in the News?

In the fall of 2009, researchers at the University of Colorado found that shower heads are a breeding ground for certain bacteria, such as microbacterium avium. These nasty little guys are small enough to be turned into an aerosol and ingested into the lungs. What’s more, killing them is nigh impossible. Not even bleach – the hydrogen bomb of cleaning – did the trick. For healthy people, this is no big deal. Your immune system will open-hand slap the bacteria and force them to make sandwiches for your white blood cells. Still, if your shower head is full of slime and gunk, you may want to pick up a new one (clean this shower head regularly). Forget plastic. Buy an all-metal shower head, as they are more resistant to bacteria build-up. If your immune system is a concern, you can buy shower heads with disposable filters. If these aren’t to your liking, replace your shower head every six months.

Shower Head Cleaning Gear

Jug of CLRCLR. Calcium, Lime, and Rust Cleaner is just as effective as vinegar. It can effectively clean a shower head, but it is useful for many tasks around the house. CLR is purportedly eco-friendly. They claim that their products contain “non-organic phosphates, hazardous solvents, or environmentally harmful surfactants.” Of course, like many commercial products, their exact formula is proprietary. You can order CLR from Amazon.

Shiny Metal ShowerheadEco-friendly shower heads.Clean shower head, clean conscience. Showers present the biggest waste of water in most households. Using a flow-restricting shower head can reduce your daily water use up to three to four gallons. With one of these, you’ll save money and the environment. Just make sure not to throw away your old one. Metal can be recycled, and Restore or any home salvage shop will put it to good use and keep it from the landfill.

Padded pliersPadded plumbing pliers.Sure, you could pick these up on alliteration grounds alone, but they are also quite useful. Any time you’re working with faucets, shower heads, or fragile pipes, you’re going to want one of these.