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.
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.
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 the name and number of a reliable,
affordable plumber just in case.
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.
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.
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
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 inside of 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.