How to Clean a Shower Head (Plus Why You Need To)

This one cleaning tip will make your shower more luxurious.

If your shower has seen better days and only delivers a trickle of water, cleaning the shower head may restore the powerful stream of water you miss. Water, even from a municipal system, contains minerals that build up and block the openings in the shower head. And, if you live in an area with hard water or use well water, the problem can be even worse. Once the openings, or nozzles, become blocked, the shower head is a dark, moist, warm place for bacteria and mold to grow. It's time to clean your shower head.

Learning how to clean a shower head and remove mineral deposits isn't complicated, and if you have enough patience to let the solution soak, it doesn't require much scrubbing, either. Once you unclog the shower head, you'll be surprised how much more luxurious your shower feels. Follow the steps below to clean a shower head the right way—and you may be tempted to trade in your relaxing bath for a soothing shower.

Woman's hand under chrome shower head

How Often to Clean a Shower Head

If you've never cleaned the shower head or there is reduced water flow, it should be cleaned immediately. Set a regular reminder on your phone to clean the shower head thoroughly at least once every other month or more frequently if you live in an area with hard water. Regular cleaning will also help limit mold and bacteria growth inside the shower head.

What You'll Need:

  • Distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Toothpick or paper clip
  • Plumber's tape
  • Heavy-duty plastic food storage bag
  • Rubber band or twist ties
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Deep bowl or bucket
  • Old toothbrush
  • Wrench or lockable pliers
  • Needle-nose pliers

How to Clean a Shower Head With Vinegar

  1. Fill a plastic bag partway with distilled white vinegar. Be careful not to overfill the bag, as it could overflow when you submerge the shower head.
  2. Place the bag over the shower head until the entire fixture is immersed in the vinegar. If you need to adjust the vinegar level, do so now.
  3. Fasten the bag with a rubber band or twist ties wrapped around the neck of the shower head. Carefully test how secure the bag is to make sure it won't slip once you let go. (It's also a good idea to close the shower door or curtain so if there is a spill, it will stay within the shower.)
  4. Let the shower head soak for several hours. For an especially dirty fixture, leave it overnight. If you have a brass shower head, remove it from the vinegar after 30 minutes, as any longer than this could damage the finish, and skip this method on nickel-coated shower heads.
  5. Untie the bag and remove it from the shower head. Pour the vinegar down the shower drain (add some baking soda to help remove soap scum buildup in the drain).
  6. Run hot water through the shower head for a minute to flush out any mineral deposits stuck inside the fixture.
  7. Use a toothpick or paper clip tip to unclog any nozzles that still look clogged. Scrub the fixture with an old toothbrush dipped in dry baking soda if buildup remains. Focus on the areas around the holes where water comes out. Turn the hot water back on to flush out even more residue. Repeat this process until you no longer see mineral deposits.
  8. Polish the shower head with a soft, lint-free cloth for a finished look. Buff and dry it to remove water spots and help the shower head look like new.

If the shower head is removable, make cleaning even simpler by submerging the shower head in a bucket of distilled white vinegar. Follow the same cleaning steps after soaking and reattach the fixture.

How to Clean a Shower Head Without Vinegar

If you don't have any distilled white vinegar on hand, you can substitute a soak in apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and water. Apple cider vinegar and lemon juice both contain acids that will help dissolve mineral deposits. Follow the same soaking and cleaning directions.

If you don't want to wait for the shower head to soak, give it a scrub with a toothbrush and a paste of baking soda or salt moistened with some lemon juice. After scrubbing, run hot water through the shower head. If possible, take the shower head apart so you can clean the interior and exterior of the fixture. Rinse well and reassemble the shower head.

You can also use a commercial shower head descaler if these natural methods aren't working. Follow the label directions carefully.

How to Clean the Filter Screen in a Shower Head

If the shower head is still sputtering after cleaning the fixture, it's time to remove and disassemble the shower head and take a look at the filter screen.

  1. Remove the shower head with a wrench or lockable pliers.
  2. Flush the interior with water to clear away any loose debris.
  3. Remove the filter screen with a pair of needle-nose pliers.
  4. Rinse the filter screen with water. If the screen has mineral buildup, place it in a bowl with vinegar to soak or clean it with a commercial descaler.
  5. Clean the rest of the shower head by following the recommended steps above.
  6. Reinstall the filter screen and reattach the shower head.
  7. Run the shower at full pressure for several minutes to flush out any remaining debris.

How to Remove Mineral Deposits From a Shower Head

Using vinegar, lemon juice, or a commercial descaler and a bit of scrubbing action will remove mineral deposits and help unclog the shower head. The cleaners will also remove soap scum that may have accumulated on the exterior of the fixture. Follow the steps above to clear away mineral buildup on the nozzles. Be sure to dry and buff the fixture with a lint-free cloth to restore the shine.

If the nozzles are so clogged that you'd prefer to replace them rather than clean them, look for silicone replacement shower head nozzles for your specific shower head.

Routine Cleaning Tips for Shower Heads

  • When you do your weekly cleaning of the shower, clean the shower head by spraying it with a solution of equal parts water and distilled white vinegar or a commercial cleaner. Scrub the nozzle openings with a toothbrush and run the shower for a few minutes to flush away any debris.
  • At the first sign of reduced water flow, do a thorough cleaning. The mineral deposits will only get worse.
  • To reduce mineral deposits and bacterial growth, consider installing an exterior shower head filter, like this one from AquaHome, between the shower head and the waterline.
  • Choose a metal shower head. Plastic shower heads are more susceptible to mold growth than metal fixtures.
  • Use the bathroom fan during and after bathing to remove humidity as quickly as possible to help reduce mold and mildew growth.
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