You step into the shower each morning and you enjoy the feeling of cleanliness and being refreshed, ready for the day, right?
What if your shower, instead of making you feel great, made you sick?
According to a number of research efforts, your shower – and particularly your showerhead – is an ideal location for bacterial growth. Unless dealt with on a regular basis that growth can cause you great harm.
In fact, according to one study , showerheads are a prime location for people to come into contact with microbes that you inhale. Further, say the researchers, showerheads “have been implicated in disease.”
In their study the scientists examined 45 showerheads collected from nine locations around the United States and found about 30 percent of the shower heads they tested had bacteria that was a relative to the same organism that causes tuberculosis. When the scientists did further testing – with more sensitive collection methods - they found up to 80 percent of showerheads had the bacteria.
They concluded “that showerheads may present a significant potential exposure to aerosolized microbes, including documented opportunistic pathogens.” Surprisingly, they concluded that the bacteria even survived chlorination and other cleansing methods used before municipal water arrives at your residence.
While the presence of bacteria may not be harmful to healthy people, it may in particular have an efCredit: Wikipedia commonsfect on those whose immune systems are comprised such as the elderly, or already suffering from other diseases.
Another study  associated showerheads with the deadly Legionnaires Disease.
Does this mean that we should evacuate our showers, avoid gyms and other facilities where showers are available? No, of course not. But, it does suggest we ought to be less sanguine about using showers and make sure we regularly clean our own home or apartment showers. And, for those whose health is in question it may mean regularly changing out bathroom showerheads.
While changing out showerheads may seem extreme, the researchers found it may be the preferred safety method because ordinary cleaning may not do the job. The researchers even tried cleaning the showerheads with strong cleansers like bleach, but that failed.
The type of showerhead you use may also be a factor. The researchers say that metal showerheads are less likely to develop bacteria growth than are plastic showerheads.
Another way to diminish bacteria growth short of replacing a showerhead several times a year is to consider using a whole house water softening system (although that could be more costly than just replacing the showerheads. On the other hand there can be financial benefits to softening systems in that water heaters can last longer with soft water and maintain better efficiency over their lifetime). Water softeners dissolve the minerals, like calcium, magnesium and iron that are normally found in hard water. Left untreated, these minerals are the culprits that may leave a residue build-up in the showerhead, which plays host to bacteria.
Several products – such as filtering systems, bacteria-destroying lighting and more – have been introduced, some even having been given patents by the U.S. Patent Office. But, thus far no sure fire method has been found that is effective, safe, and economical.
So, for the average shower user the watchword is caution. In most cases just cleaning your shower and showerhead as you normally do is sufficient. However, if you have some other condition that affects your immune system taking steps to avoid and prevent what might be waiting for you in your shower could be a good idea.
1. Opportunistic Pathogens Enriched In Showerhead Biofilms by Leah M. Feazel, Laura K. Baumgartner, Kristen L. Peterson, Daniel N. Frank, J. Kirk Harris, and Norman R. Pace. Biological Sciences – Microbiology. PNAS 2009 106 (38) 16393-16399.
2. Association of Shower Use With Legionnaires' Disease: Possible Role of Amoebae. Robert F. Breiman, Barry S. Fields, Gary N. Sanden, LaJean Volmer, Arlin Meier, John S. Spika. JAMA. 1990;263(21):2924-2926. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440210074036