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Clean and Descale a Shower Head with Citric Acid

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Faced with a showerhead beginning to spray water in every direction except my body, I set out to do a full cleaning and descale of the showerhead pictured below. Although it has far outlived the era (if it ever existed) in which it was stylish, I’m in love with the output from this low-efficiency old Delta shower head.

I didn’t want to scrub and didn’t want to deal with harsh chemicals, but I decided to give it a soak in a citric acid bath to see what would happen. The results were so dramatic I just had to document and share:

Recipe for descaling a shower head using natural ingredients

What you need:

Only a few things:

1. A pair of channel locks (like, the best pliers ever- because they do the job of a pair of pliers, a pipe wrench, hex bolt tightener, etc, etc.)

2. Powdered Citric Acid

3. Hot water and a non-reactive bowl.

Steps To Descale a Shower Head with Citric Acid:

First, you need to completely remove your shower head. Don’t worry, it’s not hard!  There are tons of two-minute tutorials for how to remove a showerhead on youtube. The channel locks make it 100 times easier than using pliers.

A shower head with a crust of mineral deposits.

Next, mix a strong solution of powdered citric acid in a non reactive bowl. (plastic works, this time I used a stainless steel bowl) I used about 3/4 cup powered citric acid to 1 gallon of near boiling water. Stir to dissolve the citric acid completely.

A gross shower head next to a stainless steel bowl of citric acid solution.

Carefully, using a large spoon, lower the shower head into the solution. (Be careful! The water will be HOT and though citric acid isn’t particularly caustic, it’s not something you want to splash into an eye) You’ll immediately see bubbles start to form on the shower head and rise- that’s the acid dissolving the minerals built up on and inside your shower head!

A showerhead in citric acid solution, bubbling as the acid descales the plastic.

Let sit 1-2 hours, then repeat the process if any mineral build up remains. When you are satisfied, since the shower head thoroughly inside and out, reattach to your shower spigot, and enjoy an immensely improved shower!

A clean and descaled shower head, without mineral deposits.

It’s easy to clean and the descale showerheads and other items crusted in hard water buildup using citric acid.

I can’t remember how I initially got introduced to using pure citric acid as a cleaning agent, but once I tried it, I was hooked. As I rode out a cold winter at Hawk Hill, I began experimenting with this powerful but natural cleaner. Initially, I used citric acid to remove stubborn rust stains.

Cleaning products sold for rust removal typically bear labels with terrifying safety warnings, so I was excited to discover Citric Acid was a great alternative to traditional rust removers. I was thrilled to find that citric acid did a great job removing rust stains from my bathtub that had, apparently, dripped for several years before I moved in, leaving a stubborn rust stain on the porcelain tub.

Next, I tackled the well house and the blood-red rust stain running down the siding. Although Hawk Hill is on city water, an old pumphouse remains, housing a still-working well which I use to water horses, irrigate my garden, and fill my above-ground garden pond. Unfortunately, the water is a bit high in iron, resulting in oxidization where the leaky spigot sprays water onto the siding. Remarkably, citric acid completely removed the rust sain from the siding.

After noticing how well it worked to remove rust stains, I wondered, would this cleaner work to remove literal rust? With some wintertime kitchen experimentation, I was delighted to discover that the method did, in fact, work extremely well to remove rust from tools and found objects. After my rust removing discovery, I quickly began using citric acid to clean all kinds of things around the house.

While I never quite found the thrill that I did and using citric acid to remove rest, the cleaner worked extremely well to descale. So I quickly set to work descaling my showerhead in my favorite bathroom using citric acid. Although the showerhead was dated, plastic, and not much to look at, the showerhead worked phenomenally, and actually put out a volume of water now prohibited in the United States.

I suppose that would be a good reason to replace the showerhead, but my love for a great shower won out over my desire to save the world one high-efficiency shower at a time, so I would regularly descale this old showerhead with citric acid.

While other people report having luck using this method with vinegar, vinegar is a very weak acid compared to properly mixed citric acid. Actually, I checked! I ordered pH testing strips a few years ago, at the peak of the popularity of my rust removal without scrubbing article‘s success, and tested the level of acidity in household vinegar compared to citric acid – you may be surprised to learn that citric acid was a significantly stronger acid than household vinegar!

Recipe for descaling a shower head using natural ingredients

kivia

Monday 12th of October 2020

Going to give a try, thank you so much for sharing.

Lula Singleton

Wednesday 30th of September 2015

You did a great job with your shower. I am going to try cleaning with citric acid. I bet it smells fantastic. I have never cleaned my shower head. I hope it is as easy as it seems. Thank you for sharing your article. Greetings!