What's the White Buildup on My Shower Head?

Have you ever taken a good, hard look at your shower head and thought, “What’s with all this white stuff caked on here?” If you have, you’re not alone. This is a frequent question and an even more frequent problem. Read on for plumbing answers, on why this happens and information on how to fix it.

The White Buildup

The white buildup is actually mineral deposits. How do those minerals get there? Well, if you have buildup chances are you have hard water. A water softener removes most minerals from water, but without one you are susceptible to all types of mineral buildup. Don’t cities have standards for what can be allowed in water? Yes, but these standards are a lot lower than you might think. Also, there are many minerals that are not harmful at all to the human body, but can still do damage to pipes and plumbing fixtures.


If you want to get rid of this mineral buildup, the first step is to soak the shower head in vinegar. Since most people don’t want to go through the effort to remove the shower head, most people choose to pour a cup of vinegar into a bag, and attach the bag to the shower head. However, if you leave the head in place you may risk some of the cleaning solution getting in your eyes and on your skin. Make sure the head is fully immersed in the vinegar, or at least all the parts of the head where the buildup is present. The head should be allowed to sit in the vinegar at least 30 minutes, as it takes some time for the vinegar to break down the minerals.


Once the shower head has soaked at least 30 minutes, it is time to brush away all of those pesky minerals. Use a brush (an old toothbrush works great for getting in small crevices) and give the entire head a thorough cleaning. Once the shower head looks to be clear of any white stuff, use your fingers to inspect further. Any rough spots may indicate that minerals are present, but not yet visible, so get rid of them before they develop into a problem. Reattach the shower head now if you removed it, but in either case be sure to run water for a few minutes to remove any of the cleaning solution that got inside.

Future Prevention

Mineral buildup is not only unsightly, but it can wear out metal fixtures more quickly, and can even lead to plumbing failure inside of your pipes. Unfortunately, the only way to prevent future buildup is to install a water softener. A water softener may seem expensive, but it can prevent plumbing problems and keep your shower looking cleaner longer.

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