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Low Shower Head Water Pressure

DEAR TIM: The flow of water that comes from my shower is miserable. It is so weak it takes forever to wash my hair. The water flow out of the tub spout is fine as is the flow at the bathroom sink. I have been told there is a flow restrictor in the shower head that is the culprit. Can I remove it or modify it so I can take a reasonable shower? Is there another possible problem? Pamela F., Lakeland, FL

DEAR PAMELA: If there is not a flow restrictor in the shower head itself, there may be one in the body of the shower faucet. But more often than not, the flow of water is controlled at the shower head. There are strict laws in place that force manufacturers to limit the amount of water that a faucet and/or shower head can deliver in a given amount of time. It is a good law in that it helps to conserve precious natural resources.

At the bottom of this shower head inlet is a small plastic disk. It has small holes that can readily clog with sediment. When this happens, the water flow can be reduced to a trickle. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

At the bottom of this shower head inlet is a small plastic disk. It has small holes that can readily clog with sediment. When this happens, the water flow can be reduced to a trickle. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

I am quite certain that with a little work the shower head will perform as designed and give you the desired strong stream of water you deserve and so desperately desire. It is possible that within 30 minutes you can make this shower head perform like a champion. If this is a new home and the problem has been a chronic one since the day you moved in, there is a good chance the problem can be traced to a workmanship error.

As water supply lines are installed, small pieces of solder, copper shavings, wood dust, wood chips, globs of soldering flux, pieces of plastic, etc. can get into the water lines. It is the responsibility of the plumber to flush out the water supply lines before any fixtures are installed. Flushing the water lines can happen at most fixtures just after the water shut-off valves have been installed but before the flexible supply lines have been connected from these valves to the faucets or fixtures.

But shower and tub valves are far more challenging. These valves are almost always installed before the interior of the house is finished and often before the water service from the street or pump has been connected to the interior plumbing lines. In other words, it is very difficult - but not impossible - to flush the shower water supply lines.

If the lines are not flushed before the shower head is installed, the rapid flow of water carries a mixture of water and debris into the shower head. The extremely small holes in the flow restrictor can become clogged or partially clogged in an instant.

If the shower head worked fine and the flow became reduced over time, pieces of sediment or debris from the city water system or your well could have clogged the restrictor. This is a very common occurrence, especially if you live in an area with older city water mains. If a city water main is serviced, pieces of sediment are often dislodged in the main water main as the water flows through the giant mains toward your house.

I would remove the shower head from the angled pipe that projects out from the wall. Once the shower head is off, turn on the shower faucet to see if you get a respectable amount of water flowing from the one-half inch diameter pipe that connected to the shower head. If so, the problem must be in the shower head.

Look inside the end of the shower head where the water line connected to it. You should be able to see a small plastic disk. Use a very thin pointed piece of metal to get a purchase under one edge of the disk. Try to pry the disk out of the shower head. Work slowly and pay attention to which side of the small disk faces out towards the water supply pipe. When you go to reinstall the disk, it must be installed the same way it was at the factory.

Once the small disk is out of the shower head, use a small straight pin or other object to clean out the small holes. Use plenty of fresh water to help rinse away any debris. Place the disk near a bright light so you can ensure each of the holes is perfectly clean. Be sure you rinse the shower head at the same time to ensure no debris made it past the flow restrictor.

If the shower head is caked with hard water deposits, let the shower head soak in some warm white vinegar for several hours. The vinegar will often remove or soften the hard water deposits. After soaking, use a toothbrush to remove any residual deposits and rinse with clear water. Install the small plastic flow restrictor disk and reattach the shower head to the water pipe.

Not all shower heads are designed the same and after removing one from the water supply pipe at the wall you may not see a plastic disk. If this happens and the flow of water from the supply pipe is adequate, just go buy a new shower head.

Shower heads are readily accessible and they are a common replacement part. In fact, you may find one that produces a better stream of water than what you had before.

Remember to use pipe thread compound or Teflon tape on the water supply pipe that connects to the shower head. These materials prevent leaks where the shower head connects to the water supply pipe.

Companion Articles:  Low Water Pressure in Faucets, Tub Faucets

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5 Responses to Low Shower Head Water Pressure

  1. I had my bathroom remodeled. I now have a handheld shower head and a fixed shower head in the same shower. The pressure in the handheld shower head is fine but the fixed shower head's water pressure is low. I am not happy. Did the contractor do something wrong? Can the problem be fixed? Prior to having my bathroom remodeled the water pressure in the shower was fine.

  2. Installing a new bath faucet (Pfister one handle,same as I already had) made shower lose terrible pressure, which was fine before. I removed shower head, soaked it and the filter in vinegar for 3 hrs.,scrubbed it with brush and it's still the same. Restrictor was removed when I first bought it and shower was fine until now.
    I'm at my wits end, because I love my showers.
    Plumber did flush the pipe before replacing shower head, so that's ruled out.
    Help. Thank you.

  3. Hi Tim, the water pressure is low in our shower head and tub but the rest of the house is fine. Also, the problem is only intermittent. We took apart th shower head and cleaned it. But no change. It happens once or twice a day and no other appliances are on at these times. Any ideas?

    • What about installing a new cartridge in the valve? Maybe you have sediment that's blocking water flow inside the valve. What's the water flow like when you have the shower head off and just the neck arm there?

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