I Used This Hack to Clean My Shower Head and Here’s What Happened

The remedy for your water-stained shower head might be sitting in your refrigerator–or the cupholder in your car.
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shower head and coke bottle

Photo: Phillip Tinner

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Can you really clean a shower head with Coca-Cola? Several head-scratching Google searches and a few too many staring contests with the mineral buildup in my shower head later, I posed this question to myself a little more seriously.

In the name of science and spring cleaning—but mostly out of sheer curiosity—I dunked my shower head in sugary soda and hoped for the best. I was ultimately surprised with the end result, and I may have at last discovered what to do with all of the Coke left in my fridge after having soda-drinking guests over.

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How I Cleaned My Shower Head With Coca-Cola

shower head before
Photo: Phillip Tinner

When it comes to how to clean a shower head, I subscribe to the soaking method for its ease and effectiveness, and I normally do this with distilled white vinegar for my shower head’s satin nickel finish. (Your mileage may vary when using Coke on other finishes.) Thankfully, Coca-Cola is also a soak-friendly option. I raided my home and local grocery store for supplies to get started, gathering one-quart plastic freezer bags (in retrospect, I could have substituted these with reusable freezer bags), my trusty under-the-sink toothbrush for household cleaning, a fine sewing needle for poking shower head nozzles, and, of course, a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.

I took one last look at my hard water-stained shower head, shuddered, and unscrewed it from the shower arm. With my motley crew of cleaning supplies assembled on the bathroom counter, I deposited the shower head into the freezer bag and opened the still-carbonated Coke bottle—for the first time, not with the intention of pouring a glass. Instead, I held the bag open and began filling it with cola, watching my shower head almost completely disappear in a fizzy pool of dark brown. Once it was fully submerged, I zipped the bag shut and set a one-hour timer on my phone.

shower head soaking
Photo: Phillip Tinner

Returning every 15 to 20 minutes to agitate the bag a bit, the soda continued to form carbonation bubbles as it worked away; leaning forward, I could literally hear my shower head fizzing inside. Once the hour was up, I opened and emptied the bag into the bathroom sink while keeping hold of the shower head, before removing that and allowing it to fully drain, too. (Watching soda pour from both ends of your shower head is quite the sight!)

I then used the toothbrush to vigorously brush the shower head’s metal and plastic surfaces, paying special attention to rubber shower head nozzles and the threaded collar that connects to the shower arm. Some of the shower nozzles were completely blocked by mineral buildup, so I carefully poked and made stirring motions with the sewing needle inside each nozzle to break more of the hard water residue free. I took the toothbrush to the nozzles again for a final pass to remove as much buildup as possible before thoroughly rinsing the shower head and allowing it to drain in the sink.

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It Actually Worked—But Why?

shower head after
Photo: Phillip Tinner

After reconnecting it to the shower arm, my shower head was noticeably less dull, freer of hard water stains and deposits, and spraying in a tighter pattern than it had an hour earlier. It’s unclear how much of this is thanks purely to the soak in Coke or the minimal elbow grease I put in, but the softened mineralization seemed almost identical to the state in which I normally find it after a vinegar soak.

My foremost fear going into this cleaning experiment was that my next several showers would reek like dark soda, but I could hardly detect any Coke smell after letting the shower run for a short time immediately after cleaning. By the time I showered later that day, there was no scent at all.

shower head after on
Photo: Phillip Tinner

Doing my best to ignore the potentially unsettling implications of the world’s most popular soft drink doubling as a bathroom cleaner, I almost couldn’t believe it had worked—not quite as well as vinegar, but my shower head was definitely much cleaner. Now, though, I needed to understand why it worked.

The answer is relatively simple: Coca-Cola contains phosphoric acid and, very similar to distilled white vinegar, has a pH level of about 2.4. While weaker than the acetic acid in vinegar, that phosphoric acid eats away at hard water, grime, and more when given time to work. Coke is a bit pricier than distilled white vinegar at around four cents per ounce compared to three cents, so while it won’t be replacing vinegar for me anytime soon, it’s a worthwhile substitute in a pinch. Ultimately, it’s not the perfect shower head cleaner replacement, but if the Coca-Cola Company ever decides to enter the cleaning business, it may not need to considerably tweak the existing formula.