No, You Don't Need To 'Detox' Your Showerhead

Don't believe the hype.

You’ve been told there’s dangerous mold inside your showerhead. But chances are, you don’t have to worry about it.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop published a Q&A responding to a question about “shower sickness,” which supposedly sets in due to bacteria and mold in the showerhead. Though Goop isn’t the first to sound an alarm on this issue, it did recommend a convenient fix: Readers should purchase Goop’s $275 showerhead, which is easier to clean than whichever one they’ve got.

This, frankly, is a bunch of goop.

The “shower sickness” to which Goop refers is a real disease caused by nontuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM. Between 12,000 and 18,000 people get NTM infections each year in the U.S., from mild to severe. The infection can become chronic, and treatment often includes multiple medications taken for a year or more.

But your showerhead is not any more likely to carry this bacteria than the water in your tap, the soil on the ground or the water that splashes off the pavement after it rains, said Dr. Steven Holland, a distinguished investigator with the National Institutes of Health and an expert on the topic.

NTM bacteria are present in all kinds of common water sources and even the air we breathe, especially when that air is warm and moist. We likely encounter it every day, and most of us don’t get sick.

But some people do develop an infection with symptoms including cough, shortness of breath and fatigue. Most of these people are middle-aged and have other preexisting conditions like lung disease, esophageal disorders and weakened immune systems. Researchers aren’t sure why the infection targets certain groups more than others, but they’re working to find out.

For now, the best thing you can do is continue life as usual and take note if you or someone you know in their 50s or 60s develops a persistent cough, Holland said. Doctors often don’t initially consider NTM as the cause of an illness, so it’s helpful if patients ask to be tested for it.

Oh, and you can keep your regularly priced showerhead.

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