We’ve all seen the white scaly substance in and around our showerheads, in the bottom of the kettle and on the coffee pot. When tap water evaporates it can leave behind minerals like calcium and magnesium, resulting in that flaky white stuff, also known as mineral deposits, calcium carbonate, lime or lime scale. The problem is usually more pronounced with hard water, since hard water has a higher mineral content to begin with.
Mineral deposits have a rather unpleasant look, but beyond aesthetics, there is cause for concern. If left unchecked, these deposits can clog plumbing fixtures. Clogged fixtures, like showerheads, faucets and toilets, do not work as efficiently as they should and may stop working altogether. In the case of showerheads, you’ll know you have a clog if the powerful flow that you once enjoyed is slowly reduced to a trickle.
For the best lime scale cleaner, don’t check the cleaning aisle at the grocery store. Instead, search the condiments aisle for a big bottle of white vinegar.
If you are removing lime from a kettle or coffee pot, the method is fairly straightforward – pour in some vinegar and let the pot sit. For showerheads, a little more work is involved.
To be thoroughly cleaned, a showerhead needs to soak for a while, so you will need to remove it from the pipe it is attached to. Have a wrench nearby in case the showerhead is fastened tightly or rusted on to the pipe. If the pipe looks old or rusty, you may want to rethink the whole process - removing the showerhead may cause further damage or even break the pipe. When in doubt about the condition of the pipe, turn off the water before removing the showerhead and keep the number of a plumber handy.
Once you have removed the showerhead, turn on the water to test the flow from the pipe. Most showerhead clogs are caused by lime deposits, but you should first make sure that water is flowing smoothly from the pipe into the showerhead. If the pipe is the problem, call a plumber. If the pipe is fine, you’ll need to clean your showerhead.
If you have a low-flow showerhead, it may contain a plastic flow restrictor disk. (If not, skip ahead to the next paragraph.) You can gently remove the disk with a straightened paper clip, making note of the way it was facing so you can replace it properly. Gently clean the holes with a pin. When you are done, rinse the disk and the showerhead.
After cleaning the disk, work next on the showerhead. Remove the rubber washer that is inside and then soak it in vinegar. There are two suggested methods for soaking the showerhead. You can place it in a pot with equal parts vinegar and water and then bring to a boil. Or you can warm the vinegar in the microwave or on the stove and then let the showerhead soak for four or five hours. After soaking, use a toothbrush to brush away any remaining deposits. Rinse the showerhead well.
When re-installing the showerhead, check the pipe. If it is rusty, you may need to remove the rust with a wire brush and apply new Teflon tape. If the pipe has old Teflon tape on it, you may need to apply new tape. Teflon tape prevents leaking at the point where the showerhead and pipe connect.