Learn how to clean your shower head and unclog spray jets in a few simple steps, without the chemicals.
No matter your deep cleaning philosophy, there’s one item in your house you may be forgetting — the shower head! Cleaning a shower head isn’t something we think about too often, as it’s rarely in contact with anything besides the water it sprays out.
Yet if left unchecked, your shower head can collect a significant buildup of bacteria, mildew, mineral deposits, and other gunk that can clog up the flow of water and keep you from getting your cleanest. Getting rid of any potentially harmful bacteria and grime is good not only for your health but also helps your fixtures perform as they should. Plus, who doesn’t love a clean bathroom?
It’s a good idea to clean your shower head regularly in addition to doing a deep clean every few months. We know that might sound optimistic, but promise it’ll be worth it! There are a couple of different shower head cleaning techniques you can follow, all of which prioritize natural remedies over chemicals. We’ve listed those out below with some tips on best practices.
How Often do you Need to Clean a Shower Head?
The frequency of shower head cleaning depends on your personal preference, shower use, and the age of the fixture. For older houses with shower heads long-ago installed and used for many years, you’ll want to start with a deep clean until you’ve removed all of the mineral buildup and grime.
As a general rule of thumb, do a baseline clean — without removing the shower head — every two weeks. If you have a cleaning routine, you can incorporate cleaning the shower head into that process. Then, for a deeper clean — which may or may not involve removing the shower head — once every three months or so should do the trick.
Supplies You’ll Need
While you may have bathroom cleaning products already on hand, when it comes to cleaning your shower head all you really need is some white vinegar, baking soda, a brush, and water.
As there are several different ways to clean shower heads, ranging from the quick to the more intensive, we’ll put a full supply list here should you choose to go all-out:
- White vinegar
- Baking soda
- Spray bottle
- Soft cloth or towel
- Rubber bands, string, or twist ties
- Plastic bag (or some sort of bag that won’t absorb liquids and won’t leak)
- Bucket, pitcher, or bin (big enough to submerge the shower head completely)
- Toothpick, safety pin, or something else slim that can be used to poke gunk from the shower head holes
- Rubber gloves
Techniques for Cleaning Your Shower Head
As mentioned, there are several methods to choose from for cleaning a shower head. Try one, try all of them; it’s totally up to you and the demands of your particular situation!
Note that if your shower head is newer or you already clean it regularly, there’s no need to remove your shower head to clean it until further down the road. However, for more significant buildups of minerals and grime, or if the shower head seems clogged, removal will be necessary to get the deepest clean possible and unclog any deep-set debris.
Tips Before You Get Started
Here are a few quick tips to make sure the steps you’re taking will help, not hurt, your shower head.
- If your shower head has a gold, brass, or nickel-coated finish, you shouldn’t leave any vinegar solutions on for more than 30 minutes at a time in order to prevent tarnishing.
- Stiff-bristled brushes work well for scrubbing out gunk from the nozzle portion of your showerhead, though be careful not to scrub the outer surface too vigorously in order to prevent scratching. You can use a towel or soft sponge instead of a brush for the outer portion, too.
- It can be a good idea to wear rubber gloves to protect your hands, especially if you have sensitive skin.
The Basic Clean
You can do this one in only a few minutes. It works quickly, effectively, and should be safe for all types of shower heads. (If your shower head has a more unique finish or one you’re worried about staining, it’s a good idea to check the manufacturer’s website for any do’s and don’ts on maintenance.)
Step One – Mix a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray onto the shower head, concentrating especially on the nozzles where the water comes out. Let the vinegar sit for about five minutes.
Step Two – Use a toothbrush or other small brush to scrub away the dirt, soap scum, and any buildup or residue. You can use a towel to wipe and polish the shower head, as well. If there’s gunk in the nozzle holes, toothpicks work well to poke some of that loose.
Step Three – Rinse thoroughly by pouring water over the fixture and turning on the shower water to clean out the holes of any loose debris and vinegar. Repeat steps as needed until clean.
This is an excellent method for cleaning your shower head regularly. The white vinegar will help disinfect and kill some bacteria, while the fine bristles of the toothbrush clean out clogged mineral deposits.
The Basic Clean 2.0
Got a little more grime on your showerhead that won’t come out just using vinegar? Try this.
Step One – Mix ¼ cup of baking soda with a little warm water in a small bowl or cup to create a paste. It shouldn’t be too thick, nor too runny. The amount of baking soda and water doesn’t need to be precise. You can add more or less of both, depending on the surface area of your shower head.
Step Two – Apply the mixture to the shower head using a brush, rag, or sponge. Focus especially on the nozzles where the water comes out and areas along the edge of the head that are dirty. Let it sit for no longer than 30 minutes and then lightly scrub using a toothbrush.
Step Three – Rinse thoroughly, turning on the shower water and pouring water over the top of the fixture, as needed. You can use a toothpick or safety pin, carefully, to poke loose any gunk in the nozzle holes, too. Use a dry cloth to wipe clean and add a touch of polish.
You can do this one as part of your regular cleaning routine, or as a slightly more intensive clean every few weeks. Baking soda being alkaline helps dissolve the calcium and other mineral deposits on the shower head.
You can also substitute water with white vinegar in the solution for added cleaning power, in a process known as descaling. If you’re really looking to descale (remove encrustations of minerals and other scum) from your shower head, you’ll want to try one of the deep cleaning methods below.
The Deep Clean
Looking to really deep clean your shower head? Do this a few times a year, depending on how dirty the shower head is, to remove limescale, buildup, and bacteria.
Step One – Fill a gallon-sized plastic bag (that won’t leak!) with a few cups of white vinegar, enough so that your shower head can fully submerge into it. You can also mix in about ¼ cup of baking soda, which will fizz up and add a kick of cleaning power.
Step Two – Fasten the bag around the shower head, using rubber bands or a type of tie to keep it secured. The shower head should be completely submerged. If the vinegar is spilling out of the top of the bag, dump a little out so it doesn’t create a mess!
Step Three – Let your shower head soak in the vinegar anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight. (Just make sure not to do it for more than 30 minutes if the finish is brass, gold, or nickel-plated!)
Step Four – Remove the bag and rinse the exterior of the fixture with warm or hot water. Be sure to also turn on the shower and let it run for a minute to clear out the nozzles.
Step Five – Finish by wiping clean with a towel. If there’s a lot of debris buildup, during the rinsing process you can use a toothbrush or sponge (not one you’ll use for dishes after!) to loosen it up.
The Ultra Deep Clean
If you’re wondering what the best way to clean a shower head is, it might be this. It’s thorough, unclogs blocked spray jets, and removes mineral deposits and other grime from deep within the shower head. As this is more intensive, there’s no need to do it more than a few times a year.
Step One – Remove your shower head by unscrewing it or using a wrench (not pliers, as those can damage the surface finish). Note that you’re not removing the entire fixture from the wall, but just the shower head from the arm. This process can be tricky if your shower head is really dirty — if you’re having trouble, start with the vinegar method listed above to remove surface grime and make removal easier. Check out this video on how to remove your shower head if you’re looking for more detailed steps.
Step Two – Rinse off the interior and exterior of your shower head under a faucet. You can use a toothbrush with little vinegar or the baking soda paste to scrub away excess debris. Use a toothpick or safety pin to unclog nozzle holes, too. These things make the next steps more effective.
Step Three – In a bucket or pitcher, mix 4 cups of white vinegar, ½ cup of baking soda, and 1 cup of warm water. Adjust these amounts as needed, in order to get enough solution to fully submerge your shower head. Oh, and you may have read elsewhere that you can mix in dish or castile soap here, though soap and vinegar don’t mix well when cleaning!
Step Four – Submerge the shower head into the solution and let it sit for 30 minutes to several hours. This helps remove limescale and other buildup encrusted on the shower head.
Step Five – Rinse thoroughly with warm or hot water. Wipe clean and polish with a soft cloth. Reattach the shower head to the rest of the fixture.
Deep Clean Your Home Sustainably
As tempting as those chemical cleaning products can be because of their advertised potency, many natural methods work just as well in everyday situations. Whether it’s cleaning your shower head with vinegar, scrubbing out the tub with a plant-powered bathroom cleaner, or just doing regular chores like laundry, we believe in the power and necessity of eco-consciousness at home.
Explore more natural how-to guides, recipe ideas, sustainability tips, and more on the Public Goods blog. And let us know in the comments below what worked best for you!
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