Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind, but you can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. And in the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment from a DIY task done well!
Even the most fastidious housekeepers can get caught off guard by clogged showerhead nozzles. Unlike tubs and toilets which can show signs of grime after just a week of use, showerhead nozzles clog up at an imperceptibly slow pace. And by the time you notice that they’re dirty, you’re usually taking a shower — not a great time to break out the cleaning supplies.
This cleaning task catches up to all showerheads eventually. But if you do the job right, you can restore your showerhead to like-new condition and enjoy months of smooth-flowing showers before those clogs come creeping back.
Off the Wall
Easy showerhead cleaning begins with the removal of the showerhead from the pipe extending from the wall. If this proves to be difficult or impossible, don’t worry — we’ll show you a workaround in this article — but completely removing the showerhead makes this task substantially simpler. A thorough cleaning often involves clearing out individual nozzles, and that work is much easier on the arms when you’re not working above your head.
Fortunately, most showerheads are easily removed in one of two ways. Modern showerheads usually screw directly onto the pipe, so you can gently turn the head to the left and remove it without any tools.
Others may be connected with a nut located a little farther up the pipe. To remove these, support the showerhead with one hand while using an adjustable wrench to loosen the nut. If your hardware has a decorative finish, you can prevent scratches by wrapping a rag around the nut before loosening.
A Bath for Your Shower
The next step is to soak the showerhead in a cleaning solution to dissolve the clogs. If you were able to remove your showerhead, you can soak it in the smallest container that is large enough to hold it. If the showerhead is still attached, you can use rubber bands or a zip tie to fasten a solution-filled plastic bag around the showerhead to get the job done.
But before you take that step, you need to choose your cleaning solution. The heavy-duty option is a store-bought solution formulated for calcium, lime and rust; you might choose this for a severely neglected showerhead. A cheaper and gentler choice is common household vinegar, which contains mild acids that break down mineral deposits. Unless you know you need to bring out the big guns, it’s worth trying vinegar first.
Soak the showerhead for at least an hour, or let it sit overnight to dissolve the buildup to the greatest extent possible.
Your showerhead should look better already, but it will take a little scrubbing and detailing to get it truly clean. Fortunately, the best tools for this job are dirt cheap: an old toothbrush and a toothpick.
Start by gently scrubbing the nozzles with a toothbrush, using your leftover cleaning solution to keep the brush wet. After a thorough scrubbing, flush the showerhead out with water from the inside, then rinse off the outside.
Take a close look at every nozzle, and if you see any remaining gunk, pick it out with the toothpick. It might seem tedious, but all it takes is a tiny obstruction to make a nozzle spray water in an odd direction. This is the step where it’s really useful to have your showerhead detached!
When your showerhead is finally clean, it’s time to reattach it to the pipe. This might be a good time to apply a little plumber’s tape to the pipe threads, which will help prevent leaking. Just be sure to unroll the tape to the right as you apply it, because otherwise it could come undone when you screw the showerhead back into place.
Now that the dirty work is behind you, it’s time to consider whether your clogged showerhead nozzles could be a sign of a bigger problem. In most cases, these clogs develop as a result of mineral deposits, such as calcium and manganese, which result in hard water. Showerhead nozzles will slowly develop this buildup even if mineral deposits are present in trace amounts, but they’ll clog much faster if you have hard water.
Hard water not only creates these mineral clogs, it makes it difficult to lather when showering. Clothes come out of the washing machine scratchy and dingy, and dishes come out of the dishwasher with spots. And those calcium deposits can build up for years inside those appliances and your water heater, too.
If you think you might have hard water, you can pick up a test kit at most hardware stores for just a few dollars. And if you know you have this problem, the next step is to talk to a plumber about a water softening system. These systems treat the water coming into your home so that cleaning is easier and water-connected appliances last longer.
Movin’ On Up
One last thought: taking apart your showerhead provides a great opportunity to consider a replacement. If you see signs of rust on the inside — or if you’re just ready to pamper yourself with an upgrade — this might be the time to make a small investment in your shower.
Water massage settings have been around for years, but there are some other truly new features in today’s showerhead market, such as built-in bluetooth speakers and color-changing LED lights. If turning your shower into a disco isn’t your thing, you might try a thermostatic shut-off valve. This feature will automatically shut off your shower once it warms up to the desired temperature, saving water and taking the guesswork out of getting your shower just right. When you’re ready to get in, just tug the cord to resume water flow.
And if water conservation is what you have in mind, be sure to look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense label when picking out a new showerhead. While ordinary showerheads flow up to 2.5 gallons per minute, those certified by WaterSense use two gallons per minute or less.
If you need help with this upgrade, picking out a water softening system or even getting that stubborn showerhead off the pipe, your licensed, local plumbers are ready to answer the call.