You may scrub your tub and wipe down your shower doors, but when was the last time you cleaned the showerhead itself? A study at the University of Colorado at Boulder revealed that nasty bacteria can lurk in your showerhead. Researchers swabbed fixtures in 656 homes, and they discovered that participants were exposed to several strains of bacteria every time they showered. Most of the bacteria found proved harmless, but not all—Mycobacterium avium is a pathogen linked to pulmonary disease. (FYI, metal showerheads were found to harbor more bacteria than plastic.)
It’s important to keep your showerhead clean, not just for your health but also because a dirty showerhead can spray unevenly if its holes get plugged with mineral deposits, resulting in a reduced water flow. We spoke with experts Melissa Maker and Craig Fitzgerald to settle the score with our showers once and for all. “This is a problem, and the best way to prevent it is to stay on top of cleaning,” says Maker, a cleaning expert and host of the Clean My Space YouTube channel.
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 almost 20 years.
Below, learn from our experts as they answer your questions on the best way to keep your space clean and improve the water flow in your shower.
How Often Should You Clean Your Showerhead?
“You can’t really put a time frame on how often you should be cleaning your showerhead, 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.” As a general rule of thumb, it's smart to clean your showerhead at least once a month.
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.
Things You'll Need
- White vinegar
- Bathroom cleaner (like Bar Keepers Friend)
- Tweezers or pliers
- Plumber's tape
How to Clean Your Showerhead
First, it's important to learn how to tell when your showerhead is dirty by doing a quick visual inspection when you run the water. “A good indication that you need to clean your showerhead is if you notice a crooked spray or one of the nozzles is blocked,” Maker notes. When it's time to clean, follow these simple steps to clear any buildup and ensure your showerhead streams fresh water.
Step 1: Soak With White Vinegar
First, start by soaking your showerhead in white vinegar. Loop a rubber band around the showerhead pipe, then 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. Polish the head afterward by using a product like Bar Keepers Friend, which tackles hard water and soap scum stains.
Step 2: Scrub Using a Soft Toothbrush
In the morning, remove the bag and dip an old, soft toothbrush in the vinegar—nothing hard-bristled, or you could scuff the finish. Give the showerhead a thorough scrubbing to remove any remaining debris before flushing the vinegar down the drain.
Step 3: Remove the Showerhead
If water is still not flowing easily out of some holes, it’s best to remove the showerhead and deep 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 showerhead under a faucet while scrubbing it with a soft toothbrush dipped in vinegar to loosen any debris,” Maker suggests.
Step 4: Do a Second Soak for Plastic Showerheads
“If your showerhead is plastic, rub the nodules between your fingers to dislodge any mineral buildup," Maker says. The rubber pieces covering each hole where water flows through may have additional buildup, so a second soak may be necessary to clean it properly. "Soak the head overnight in a bucket with vinegar.”
Step 5: Remove the Filter Screen With Tweezers
You may notice your showerhead has a filter screen located where the showerhead 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,” says Craig Fitzgerald, the Director of Marketing for Water Pik.
Step 6: Re-Install the Showerhead
Once you've finished cleaning and reassembling the small pieces of your showerhead, it's time to re-install it. Screw the threads back onto your shower's main water pipe, then seal the edges with pipe tape to ensure no additional water leaks out when you take your next shower.
Never clean your showerhead with bleach. Maker cautions against using it on metal surfaces, as it can damage the finish. Additionally, chlorine-based disinfectants are not a reliable way to kill some of the harmful mycobacteria discussed in the University of Colorado study, since these can be resistant to chlorine found in most tap water.
How to Keep Your Showerhead Clean Longer
Between monthly cleanings, it's easy to keep your showerhead clean in one easy step. Simply fill a spray bottle with white vinegar to store in your bathroom, then spritz the showerhead once a week after taking a shower to prevent bacteria and minerals from your pipes from causing excess buildup.
How to Get Rid of and Prevent Smells in Your Showerhead
If your showerhead is prone to having an unpleasant smell (even with regular cleanings), the problem may lie deeper than the fixture itself. It's possible that something inside your pipes is causing a smell to rise to the surface each time you shower—so remove the showerhead and check the water pipe. If you come across a clog, mineral buildups, or excess dirt hiding in the pipe, rinse it thoroughly with hot water. Freestanding tubs like clawfoot models typically have an easy-to-access pipe in the bathroom, but for a standard shower, consult a plumber to remove clogs deep inside pipes mounted in your walls.
Gebert, Matthew J., et al. Ecological Analyses of Mycobacteria in Showerhead Biofilms and Their Relevance to Human Health. MBio, vol. 9, no. 5, 2018. doi:10.1128/mBio.01614-18