One of the most rewarding parts of cleaning, and a personal obsession of mine, is to get a shower screen that has been stained with hard water deposits for years, sparkling and looking brand new. In our years of cleaning, we have cleaned thousands of shower screens. Some already fairly clean, some opaque with buildup. But how to clean a shower screen seems to be more of an art than a science, and a quick look around the internet seems to confirm this. There are hundreds of methods of getting hard water and calcium deposits off a shower screen although no two people agree on the best way to do it. Anyone asking how to get their shower screen clean, will get a flurry of very confident and enthusiastic answers from people with the methods that have worked for them, to which the OP usually responds, “Tried that! No love.” So for the person wondering how to clean a shower screen, they have to troll through pages of responses on forums to find a solution that might work. We have combined the most effective methods that we’ve found into one handy resource, to help you solve the dilemma of how to clean a shower screen.
Stage I & II Corrosion
Why is there no agreement on the best way to clean a shower screen? Well firstly lets look at what the deposits are that make your otherwise beautiful translucent shower screen dull and cloudy. The staining is caused by “hard water” which refers to the density of vitamins and minerals in your water supply, usually calcium and magnesium carbonates. “Harder” water has a greater density of minerals in it than softer water and if your area has hard water, then these minerals will buildup on your shower screen. Your shower screen can also become grimey through a buildup of soap scum. Buildup of minerals on your glass is known as Stage I corrosion and creates that cloudy appearance but doesn’t actually cause damage to the glass, so it can be removed from the surface of the glass.
As long as the Ph stays relatively low, or acidic (below 9 on the Ph scale) the deposits will remain on the surface of the glass. Once the Ph raises above 9 and the glass becomes too alkaline, the hydrogen ions in the water loosen the silicon ions in the glass creating a pitted effect on the surface of the glass. Sodium and calcium ions in the water then bond to the surface of the glass. When the minerals deposited on the glass start to eat away and damage the glass leaving etching, it is known as Stage II corrosion and is far more difficult to remove. Soap scum is highly caustic (alkaline) and can facilitate this reaction. Some people refer to stage II corrosion as “glass cancer” and claim that it’s irreparable. There are some things that you can do about stage II corrosion that may be effective depending on how far the damage has progressed. We will discuss them later in the article.
Because there’s no way to diagnose how far the damage has progressed without first trying to remove the buildup, we suggest you experiment for yourself. Our cleaning method is always to start with our mildest cleaning products and escalate only as needed. If any of the acidic or physical abrasion methods work, even a little bit, then you’re dealing with a mineral buildup, and that can be removed. or at least reduced. But it may require some heavy duty elbow grease and repeated attempts depending on how bad the buildup is. If none of your best efforts make any difference then chances are that you’re dealing with etching in your glass, and you may have to buff the scratches out or ultimately replace your shower screen depending on the extent of the damage.
Before you start, we recommend taking a photo of the glass. as some methods may make incremental differences but you may not be able to tell if you’ve made any difference. Alternatively you can work in a small section then rinse and dry off and compare it with the rest of the glass.
Some people claim success if the buildup isn’t too bad with a mild acid such as vinegar which disintegrates the build up and wipes clean with a cloth. The thickness of the buildup makes a big difference in how easy it is to remove, and using a physical abrasive may help to at least take off some of the buildup before re-approaching it with an acid like vinegar.
As far as physical abrasives go, you have a few options, always being very careful of course to not scratch the glass. One of my favourite and most underrated cleaning tools is a scraper blade, the kind used by window cleaners and painters to scrape surfaces clean. Here you have to ensure it’s a new, clean blade, hold the blade straight and apply even pressure. Always use a scraper blade on wet glass to reduce the risk of scratching. Hold the scraper at 90 degrees to the glass and scrape in one direction, not back and forth. Do a small section, rinse off and check if it’s worked and hasn’t damaged the glass before tackling a larger area.
Another potentially successful physical abrasive is a cleaning paste such as Gumption, Jif ,Enjo Marble paste or our very own Eco Friendly Animal Friendly Marble Paste from the Pristine Cleaning shop. “But won’t that scratch my glass?” I hear you wring your hands and cry. You would be surprised. Shower screens, are made of toughened glass and very hardy. Also, cleaning pastes are a very fine abrasive so your shower screen should be safe. However we always recommend testing any cleaning product on an inconspicuous area first to ensure it is safe for the surface you’re using it on. Apply cleaning paste with a cloth and firm pressure. You may be able to feel the buildup and you may also be able to feel it smoothing out. Woohoo! What a great feeling that is!
If that is another disappointment, fear not, we’re only beginning to reach into our bag of tricks.
0000 Steel Wool
The next step is 0000 (quadruple 0) grade steel wool. This is a very fine grade of steel wool that is designed for use on glass without scratching. Use on wet glass or in conjuction with a cleaning paste. Again, test on an inconspicuous area first.
This will likely require a bit of elbow grease and dedication. Give it a good go before rinsing off and seeing if it’s made a difference.
Magic Erasers are another option and they are also available from the Pristine Cleaning shop. Again they work as an abrasive, use wet and rub against the shower screen. There’s no risk of these scratching glass.
Dryer Sheets are another weird trick that can work very well. If you’re like me and you’ve never heard of dryer sheets before looking into how to clean a shower screen, they’re squares of fabric that have been infused with fabric softener you add to a dryer load to reduce static and soften your clothes. Just moisten the dryer sheet or the shower screen and rub against the shower screen.
You can also use fabric softener straight. Apply the fabric softener, and leave for an hour or two then wipe off with a cloth.
If you’ve found that any of these methods have worked even a little bit, great! Keep trying. Rinse and repeat and you may be able to reduce the buildup incrementally. Rotate amongst the methods that you think might work. Go back to the scraper or do a bit more scrubbing. Or you may be satisfied with some improvement and leave it at that. If you don’t like to be defeated by inanimate objects, we still have a couple tricks up our sleeves.
Here’s where we start to bring out the big guns. With our eco-friendly ethos, we avoid using heavy duty commercial cleaners and are well aware of the hazards of using them. We even wrote an article about it here. But if you’re okay with them and are fully committed to getting your shower screen clean, open up all the windows and doors for the best possible airflow, wear gloves, a mask and turn the fan on. If you have natural stone tiles DON’T get any of these products on them as they will eat away the finish. Lay a towel down.
Calcium Lime and Rust Stain Remover
We’ve already used vinegar, which works as a mild acid. but there are stronger acids out there. CLR is one of them. Apply liberally to affected areas, leave for an hour or so and then re-approach with a scraper blade or abrasive. Reapply as needed
Zep Calcium Lime and Rust Stain remover is more powerful version. You can find it online here. This is a heavy duty acid. it is unlikely to damage the glass but it will strip the chrome or aluminium on the shower screen trim. So be careful, and don’t get it on your skin. Here’s a video of it in action.
Finally you can try oven cleaner. The non-caustic foaming type is the easiest to avoid breathing in. As always test on an inconspicuous spot. Follow the instructions on the can and wipe off with a cloth. There are some other cleaning products that might work, but they are also likely to damage your shower screen, so we don’t recommend them.
Glass Etching (Stage II Corrosion)
There! We’ve tried everything that is likely to work on a mineral buildup (Stage I Corrosion). If you’ve so far had no success, then your problem is not a mineral buildup, but an etching on the glass. Difficult to fix, but we’re not going to give up on you yet! We’ll reach into our bag of tricks like Felix the Cat and pull out a few more options that might help, depending on the extent of the damage. The depth of the etching is the important point here because you will literally be sanding or buffing back to the bottom of the scratches.
Disclaimer: The following methods involve buffing the shower screen glass in some way and some involve the use of power tools. You may wish to leave this to professionals. There are many companies that offer this service, but if you decide to do it yourself please inform yourself thoroughly of any risks and use the appropriate safety equipment. You may decide that you’ll have to replace your shower screen anyway and attempting to repair the damage yourself is a cheaper option than replacing your shower screen. Proceed with caution and use discretion.
One option is to polish out etching using Metal polish. Silvo and Autosol are good, although any metal polishing paste should work as long as the particles aren’t too coarse. Apply the cream with a wet cloth to a small, inconspicuous area at first until you’re sure that it’s working. If the etching isn’t too bad, the glass should come up as new. If the glass is padly pitted then the calcium will be deposited inside the cracks and it will be very difficult to remove. You can also use a headlight restorer kit, available from any automotive shop.
You can purchase an electric buffer with a compound from your local automotive shop. Attach to an electric drill and follow the instructions to buff the glass back to it’s original condition.
Super Fine Sandpaper
Another option is, you can polish the etching out of the glass. A super fine grade sandpaper can be effective in this. 5000 to 7000 grit sandpaper can polish the glass, removing any scratches and etching. Proceed with caution. Start in an inconspicuous spot and check that you’re not damaging the glass before doing a larger area. This may cause a distortion in the appearance of the glass if done unevenly.
If it is badly pitted, some oils will seemlessly fill the cracks, albeit temporarily. You can try WD40 or essential oils such as goanna oil. The oil will need reapplication to keep up appearances.
If none of these methods work for you, then your shower screen is too deeply damaged to be repaired and if you can’t live with the state of your shower screen as it is, the only option is to replace your shower screen.
An ounce of prevention.
Mineral buildup on your shower screen can be avoided completely if you don’t give the water or soap scum a chance to deposit on the glass in the first place. The best way is to have a squeegee in your shower, IKEA sell them for $1.99. Use it dry off the glass after every shower. It will take less than 10 seconds and will keep your shower screen in pristine condition. Then give your shower screen a good scrub when you clean your shower.
Stay away from bar soap
Bar soap is more likely to leave soap scum deposits than liquid soap. We suggest you switch to liquid body wash as it will leave less of a deposit of soap scum on your shower glass and avoid creating such an alkaline environment in which hard water deposits begin to bind to the glass.
A water repellant such as Rain-X will keep water from settling on your shower screen so that hard water deposits won’t get a chance to build up on your shower screen. This will need to be reapplied periodically.
Best of luck getting your shower screen clean. If any of these methods have helped you, let us know your process in the comments below.And happy showering!