How to tell if your shower head needs cleaning
If your shower runs so weakly that you can't manage to get wet, while the water flow into the bathtub is just fine, what you've probably got is a clog in your shower head. Clogged shower heads usually occur when water leaves mineral deposits or tiny bits of sediment in the holes that control the water flow. It's not an expensive or complicated problem to fix, so get right in there—soon, you'll be soaping up with a song.
Many building codes require the installation of water flow restrictors (or low flow shower heads), which minimize the output of water while making the most out of the high pressure force you can get from it.
A low-flow shower can save hundreds of gallons of water each year while providing all the pulsing, spraying or pummeling the average person wants from a shower. While it's possible to install flow restrictors at the faucet, most people opt for low-flow shower heads because they tend to be a cinch to install. Just wind some Teflon tape onto the pipe threads, screw on the shower nozzle and grab your rubber ducky.
Dealing with a clog in your shower head
ASSESSING THE PROBLEM
If the shower head in question happens to be in a recently built apartment or house, mineral build up may not be the problem at all: it's possible that the shower head was installed without the pipes being flushed out first. This can be a problem, since new construction means that the water pipes carrying water to your shower may have been in contact with things like chips of wood, bits of plastic, shavings of copper pipe and blobs of solder. If the pipes weren't flushed before the installation of the shower head, the debris associated with construction can wind up in the shower head, effectively plugging it up right from the start.
If the shower head is in an older house, it probably worked well at first and then gradually lost its power. The low flow assembly may be clogged with debris either from city water mains or from your well. If your shower once worked but now doesn't, mineral deposits or stuff from the water pipes may be clogging it.
REMOVING THE SHOWER HEAD
The first thing to do whenever your shower head loses its power is to remove it from the half-inch diameter pipe to which it is attached. You may need a wrench to unscrew it, as the threads are either fastened tightly or may be rusted together. If you're faced with a rusted or corroded pipe, you may want to decide first if trying to remove the shower head is going to lead to bigger problems. Corroded pipe may break if the link to the shower head is stronger than the pipe. There have been cases of people who started to remove a shower head for cleaning and who wound up with a bathroom full of water and a broken pipe to be repaired. If your pipes look old and frail, you may need to turn off the water to the shower before even starting to take the head off, and you might want to just call a reliable, affordable plumber just in case.
INSPECT THE PIPE AND SHOWER HEAD
Once you get the shower head off the pipe, turn on the water to make sure the stream is strong coming from the pipe. Most of the time, clogs are in the shower head itself, but it doesn't hurt to make sure the pipe itself isn't clogged. Once you've determined that the shower head is the problem, look inside where it was attached to the pipe. If the pipe is clogged, it may be a good idea to take a look at our unclogging services.
Inside most low flow shower heads is a perforated plastic flow restrictor disk. Some shower heads don't have them, and if yours doesn't, your work is through. Get down to the hardware store and buy a new shower head—you can get them in prices ranging from around $12 on up to $50 or more for highly specialized heads.
Repairing the shower head
If your shower head has a flow restrictor disk, you can replace the whole thing, or clean the disk and head instead of throwing them out. Before removing the flow restrictor disk, make sure you'll remember which side faces the water line—you'll need to put it back the way you found it. (If you have trouble recalling things like that, use a marker to label the pipe side). Use a straightened paper clip to pry the perforated plastic disk from the shower head, and take it easy so you don't break it.
That small plastic disk may well be the obstacle between you and a decent shower. Use a pin to clean out the holes, which may be plugged up with minerals. Take your time and get all the holes opened up, and rinse them well with plenty of clean water. Also rinse the shower head—there may be more material stuck inside it.
With the disk cleaned, next clean the entire shower head. Warm vinegar in the microwave or on the stove, and soak the shower head in it for four or five hours. Vinegar is a great cleaning agent, and its acidic properties help remove hard water stains and mineral deposits. After soaking the shower head in the vinegar for the better part of the day, use a small nail brush or toothbrush to scrub away softened deposits. Rinse it well, and reinstall the flow restrictor disk. You may need to clean the old Teflon tape off the threads of the water line, or if it's really old, you may need to take a wire brush and scrub off rust, then apply the Teflon tape. The tape will prevent leaking at the join between the shower head and the water line. Screw on the shower head, and you're ready to go.
CONSIDER CALLING A PRO
If you find that a clog in your pipe is the problem, or if you aren't sure about what type of shower head you have, or what options you have when considering purchasing a new fixture, don't hesitate to give us a call. An experienced local plumber will be knowledgeable about which products will best suit your bathroom and may have access to more powerful or higher quality shower heads than what you'd find at a hardware store. It wouldn't hurt to read more about our shower repair services.