How to Unclog a Shower Head
Whether you own your home or are in a rental, there might come a time when the shower head no longer provides the pressure it once did. At that point, you might wonder how to unclog a shower head so that you can once again enjoy warm, relaxing showers.
The good news is that figuring out how to unclog a shower head isn’t particularly challenging. Usually, you can accomplish the task with products you already have a home — no special purchases necessary.
Here’s what you need to know when your shower head is clogged.
Why Is Your Shower Head Clogged?
You’re probably wondering, how on earth did my shower head get clogged, anyway? After all, the only thing that runs through it is clean water.
How hard your home’s water is — that is, the amount of minerals it contains — influences how quickly or not a shower head ends up clogging up.
Soft water, or water that’s been treated to reduce or remove its mineral content, isn’t likely to cause clogging. The water’s clear, so there’s nothing to build up in the little holes of a shower head.
But many people have hard water, or they have don’t have a water softener at home to get rid of those minerals.
If that’s you, the mineral content in your water eventually builds up in the pipes of your home’s plumbing and in the little holes of your shower head.
The minerals might be microscopic and mostly dissolved in the water. But as they build up, they can become large enough to create a blockage.
As a result, you end up with a crappy shower. The water pressure might become weak, or the spray from the shower head ends up coming out uneven.
The good news is that figuring out how to unclog a shower head is pretty easy. The even better news is that unclogging a shower head is itself one of the most straightforward home maintenance tasks you’ll ever do.
How to Unclog a Shower Head With Vinegar
For the most part, you can use an ingredient most people have in their kitchen cupboards to break up the mineral deposits that are clogging your shower head: Vinegar.
It doesn’t need to be fancy, vinegar either. Basic, distilled white vinegar, which you can buy by the gallon for just a few dollars, will work perfectly.
What’s Up With Vinegar?
Vinegar, in case you didn’t know, is an acid. Vinegar develops when alcohol undergoes a second fermentation, transforming from alcohol to acetic acid.
That’s why if you’ve ever had wine that’s just a little (OK, a lot) too old, it’s tasted disgusting, and like, well, vinegar.
While wine-based vinegar and apple cider vinegar are made from old booze, the distilled white vinegar you’re likely going to use to clean and unclog a shower head is usually lab-made.
Its laboratory pedigree means that distilled white vinegar is often more acidic than other types of vinegar, which does mean that you need to be careful when using it. You might need to dilute it to avoid damaging your shower head or other surfaces.
In the shower, vinegar’s acidity does double duty. The acid is strong enough to dissolve away mineral buildup.
If you’ve got soap scum buildup, acetic acid can also clear through that without much difficulty.
Now that you’ve got the 411 on vinegar let’s take a look at how you use it to unclog a shower head.
Unclog Shower Head With Vinegar Step by Step
The easiest way to unclog your shower head is to leave it on the shower arm. If it’s a real mess that’s super clogged, we’ll get into how to take care of a long-neglected shower head in a bit.
What you’ll need:
- Plastic sandwich bag
- Distilled white vinegar
- Measuring cup
- Twist tie, rubber band or hair elastic
Here’s what to do:
- Fill the sandwich bag with vinegar. Use about 1 cup of vinegar. Don’t fill the bag so full that the vinegar squeezes out.
- Dilute the vinegar if you are worried about it being too strong. Use a ratio of one part vinegar to one part water.
- Position the bag over the shower head. The shower head should be submerged in the vinegar.
- Hold the bag in place for at least 15 minutes. Just kidding — wrap the twist tie, rubber band or hair elastic around the opening of the baggy to secure it to the shower head.
- Let the shower head soak for at least one hour. Leaving it all day while you’re at work or overnight is even better. The vinegar will have plenty of time to work at dissolving the mineral buildup.
- Take the vinegar and sandwich bag off of the shower head. Turn the shower head on to rinse away any lingering bits of minerals and to rinse away the vinegar.
- Marvel at the increased water pressure.
Alternate Method for Unclogging a Shower Head With Vinegar
If you’re not convinced that vinegar alone will do the trick, you can try to mix it with a bit of baking soda. Combining baking soda and vinegar creates a reaction (remember your 4th-grade science class volcano) that offers even more cleaning power.
All you need to do is mix one-part baking soda with three parts vinegar (for example, 1/3 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar). Place the bag over the shower head and let it rest overnight or for a few hours.
How to Unclog a Neglected Shower Head
Maybe you’ve recently moved into an older building or fixer-upper, and the water pressure is lackluster. Perhaps you’ve let the minerals build up on your shower head for just a bit too long.
No matter the reason, there are times when shower heads need a bit more than a simple soak in a bag full of vinegar. To unclog a long-neglected shower head, here’s what you need to do.
What you’ll need:
- Toothbrush or other small scrub brush
- Toothpick or safety pin
- Bucket or sandwich bag
- Plumbing tape
Here’s what to do when a shower head is severely clogged:
- Use the wrench to remove the shower head from the arm of the shower. Make sure the water is off before you remove it!
- Flip the shower head upside down. Run a jet of water from your bathroom or kitchen sink through the shower head, in an attempt to dislodge any stubborn mineral buildup.
- Dip the toothbrush or small scrub brush in the vinegar. Gently scrub the holes of the shower head to remove buildup.
- Poke a toothpick or safety pin through the holes. Doing so will help clear the shower head of buildup.
- Fill the bag or bucket with some vinegar. Place the shower head in the vinegar, so that it’s fully submerged.
- Let the shower head soak overnight.
- Rinse the shower head. Run the shower head under a stream of water in your kitchen or bathroom sink.
- Re-attach the shower head. Wrap the plumbing tape around the screws on the shower arm, then re-attach the shower head with the wrench.
- Turn the shower on. Marvel at the improved water flow and pressure.
Maintaining Your Shower Head
Once you’ve unclogged your shower head, keeping it clog-free and running smoothly is a good idea. With a bit of regular maintenance, you can enjoy an even water flow and pressure for years to come.
Here’s how to maintain your shower head:
Repeat the vinegar soak every few months.
That’s it. That’s all you need to do it.
You might even get away with soaking the shower head once or twice a year, depending on how hard your water is.
Start out with soaking the shower head every three months. If you notice that it’s still clear after three months, wait a bit, then soak it after six months.
Final Thoughts on How to Unclog a Shower Head
A clogged shower head can seem like a major crisis. You might panic and think that you need to get a new one or deal with a large plumbing repair.
But no, for the most part, a bit of a standard kitchen ingredient, a plastic bag and a bit of patience are all you need to get your shower running cleanly again.
Now that you know how to unclog a shower head, there’s no excuse not to grab a baggie and some vinegar and give it a shot. You’ll thank yourself when you take your next shower!