Your Shower Head May Be Spreading Germs—Here’s What You Need to Do

Neutral bathroom with gold showerhead.

Ashley Montgomery Design

A recent University of Colorado at Boulder study revealed nasty bacteria can lurk in your shower head. Researchers swabbed fixtures in 656 homes and discovered participants were exposed to several strains of bacteria every time they showered. Most of the bacteria found proved harmless, but not all—including Mycobacterium avium, a pathogen linked to pulmonary disease. (FYI, metal shower heads were found to harbor more bacteria than plastic).

It’s important to keep your shower head clean, not just for your health, but because a dirty shower head can spray unevenly if its holes get plugged with mineral deposits, resulting in a reduced water flow. “This is a passive problem, and the best way to prevent it is to stay on top of cleaning,” Melissa Maker, a cleaning expert and host of the Clean My Space YouTube channel says.

Meet the Expert

  • Melissa Maker is a cleaning expert and host of "Clean My Space," a YouTube channel dedicated to all things cleaning.
  • Craig Fitzgerald is the director of marketing for Water Pik. He's been with the company for over 17 years.

Our experts answer your questions on the best way to stay healthy and keep the water flowing in your shower. 

White tiled bathroom and gold showerhead.

Burchard Design Co.

How Often Should You Clean Your Showerhead?

“You can’t really put a time frame on how often you should be cleaning your shower head because the answer is dependent on how hard your water is and how often you shower,” Maker says. “If your water contains lots of minerals, you’ll have to clean more often.”

Don’t know if you have hard water? Ask your water provider for a water quality report or order a water hardness testing kit online. 

How Do You Know if Your Shower Head is Dirty? 

Evaluate your shower head by doing a quick visual inspection when you run the water. “A good indication you need to clean your shower head is if you notice a crooked spray or one of the nozzles is blocked,” Maker notes. 

What is an Easy Way to Clean Your Shower Head?

An easy trick is to loop a rubber band around the shower head pipe and fill a plastic bag with enough distilled white vinegar to completely cover the head. Place the bag over the head before securing it with the rubber band. “Let it soak overnight, unless it’s nickel-coated, gold, or brass plated, all of which can only soak for 30 minutes to prevent damaging the finish,” Maker notes.

In the morning, remove the bag, dip in an old, soft toothbrush—nothing hard-bristled, or you could scuff your metal—and give the shower head a scrubbing to remove any remaining deposits before flushing the vinegar down the drain.

Polish the head afterwards by wiping it down with fresh vinegar or by using a product such as Bar Keeper’s Friend, which tackles hard water and soap scum stains. 

What if That Doesn’t Work? 

If water is still not flowing easily out of some of the holes, it’s best to remove the shower head and clean it. “Unscrew the nut at the shower arm with a wrench, cushioning your tool with a rag to avoid scratching the metal, then rinse the shower head under a faucet while scrubbing it with a soft toothbrush dipped in vinegar to loosen any debris,” Maker suggests. “If your shower head is plastic, rub the nodules between your fingers to dislodge any mineral buildup, then soak the head overnight in a bucket with vinegar.”

You may notice your shower head has a filter screen, located where the shower head connects to the pipe. “Use a tweezer or pliers to remove the screen, then scrub it under running water to clear out any mineral deposits before replacing the screen and reattaching the head to the shower pipe,” Craig Fitzgerald, the director of marketing for Water Pik, explains. 

A final note: Never clean your shower head with bleach—the University of Colorado study showed it can actually increase the production of harmful bacteria. And Maker notes you shouldn’t be using it on metal surfaces anyway, as it can damage the finish. 

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