The Grapevine

Can Your Showerhead Make You Sick?

During your shower this morning, did you happen to take a look at your showerhead? There is a good chance of the surface being covered in gunk and deposits. And this is not even including the potential buildup on the inside!

Given that showerheads are often warm and covered in moisture, it seems obvious that household microorganisms would thrive inside and around them. But should you be worried about them?

To get an idea, researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU Boulder) examined hundreds of swabbed showerhead samples. These samples were collected from 656 households located in the United States as well as thirteen European countries.

"There is a fascinating microbial world thriving in your showerhead and you can be exposed every time you shower," said Noah Fierer, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at CU Boulder.

As noted in their new study, published in the journal mBio, the bacteria found in your shower are not dangerous for the most part. But certain strains found in American households may be tied to a lung infection.

These potential pathogens could lead to the development of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) lung infection, the study found. Three hot spots of this infection — Florida, New York, and Southern California — also happened to be the places with the highest concentrations of showerhead mycobacteria.

Nevertheless, the risk of transmission and complications was not high in most cases. People with weakened immune systems should take extra care as they are the most vulnerable to infections. But for the rest of us, some level of exposure to bacteria can actually be healthy as they boost our immunity.

"Most of those microbes are harmless, but a few are not, and this kind of research is helping us understand how our own actions — from the kinds of water treatment systems we use to the materials in our plumbing — can change the makeup of those microbial communities," Fierer added.

As per the findings, the microbes were found to be more prevalent in metal showerheads compared to plastic ones. Households that used water treated with chlorine disinfectants were also more likely to see the accumulation of microbes in their showerhead.

With regards to frequency, experts recommended you disinfect your bathroom at least once a week. This not only included cleaning of the showerhead but also the bathtub and the shower curtains. You may also consider scrubbing the surface with an old toothbrush and soaking the showerhead in a disinfectant like vinegar.

In short, simply make sure there was no visible slime building up over a long period of time. You need not go overboard with the aforementioned tips since it was not possible to remove all germs in such an environment.