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How to Stop a Dripping Shower Head

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When faucets and shower heads are dripping, they can be extremely annoying. That “drip-drip-drip” noise while we’re trying to fall asleep can be listed in the top 10 annoyances of all time. In addition to the annoyance, there is also the issue of water that is wasted as the water slowly falls from your plumbing. To avoid this, let’s learn how to stop a dripping shower head.

Why Shower Heads Drip

The first place to start looking at when you shower head drips is the threads that connect the water pipe from the wall to your showerhead. These devices are designed to mate correctly with the base pipe threads, but sometimes issues occur where a gap forms or the threads end up off center.

Water leaking from a shower head

Incorrectly Tightened Fittings

It seems very simple, but if a shower head is not screwed onto the wall pipe tight enough, water will probably leak out. On the other hand, if the fittings are too tight, they may compress the gaskets beyond their designed tolerances.

Bad Gaskets

The connector between the shower head and water pipe, without any additional mechanisms, would just be metal (or plastic) screwing into metal. Since this combination by itself would lead to a large number of leaks, the connection with the end of the pipe is bolstered by a gasket or o-ring. This small piece of rubber is one of the most important pieces of the shower head to pipe connection.

If a gasket or o-ring starts to break down, whether from age, incorrect installation, or a myriad of other reasons, water will be able to leak out of the shower head connector.

Hard Water

Hard water buildup can be a leading contributor to dripping from shower heads. Hard water contains many minerals that, when they dry, solidify into hard deposits. As they add up, those deposits of calcium, lime, and other minerals can close up the spray holes. When the holes are restricted, they force water back to the wall pipe, causing a mixture of pressure that the shower head connector is not designed to handle.

High Water Pressure

Similar to hard water deposits restricting water leaving the shower head, high water pressure can cause drips by producing more pressure than the typical head connector is designed to deal with. If you find that the water pressure in your home is too high, it can cause many more problems than just a leak in your shower. Additional pinhole leaks can happen at any point in your plumbing system necessitating expensive repairs, so correct your water pressure immediately.

A crescent wrench

Items Needed to Stop a Dripping Shower Head

There may be a few different reasons why your shower head is dripping, but we will discuss the items needed to cover all bases.

  • Large rag or towel
  • Small rag
  • Crescent wrench, pipe strap, pliers, or similar tool.
  • Replacement gasket, washer, or o-ring. Check the manufacturer and model of your shower head to make sure that you purchase the correct size.
  • Plumber’s tape
  • Bucket or large bowl
  • Vinegar
  • Nylon brush
  • Brass brush

Instructions to Stop a Dripping Shower Head

  1. Turn off the water that leads to the shower head. Most of the time you can just make sure that the tub faucet is turned off and the diverter valve is set to fill the tub, but if your shower has a separate valve, you may need to shut off the water to the entire house.
  2. Spread the large rag or towel on the bottom of the tub under your work area to help with cleanup, and to keep the area from getting too slippery to stand in. Bunching a bit up in the drain can help keep any pieces from getting lost.
  3. Remove the shower head using your hands if possible. If you cannot get a good grip, dampen a small rag and wrap it around the head fastener. If the head is still difficult to remove, use a tool like a crescent wrench with the rag protecting the surface of the shower head fastener.
  4. Check the gaskets, washers, and/or o-rings. Most shower heads only have one of these parts, so don’t worry if you can’t find all three. Make sure they are not warped, cracked, or stiffened. If they are, replace them.
  5. Remove the existing plumber’s tape. Remove and dispose of any old tape that is already gathered in the threads.
  6. Clean the pipe threads. If the pipe has a large amount of mineral buildup, wipe with vinegar and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Scrub with a stiff nylon brush, or if the buildup is very hard to remove, a brass brush. Rinse with water when done.
  7. Replace plumber’s tape. Also found as teflon tape, this white tape on a blue roll is specifically designed to wrap around threads in plumbing (water) applications. Apply new tape by wrapping it flatly around the pipe threads. With medium pressure, wrap it around the pipe threads close to the end around 4-5 times.
  8. Clean the shower head. Place the shower head in the bucket or bowl, and cover with vinegar. Leave to soak for around 20 minutes then remove. Scrub the body and threads of the head with a stiff nylon brush. If the screw threads and fittings are metal and the deposits are difficult to remove, use a brass brush. NOTE: A brass brush may scratch delicate surfaces, so do not use on exposed areas.
  9. Rinse the shower head. With clean water, rinse the shower head thoroughly to remove any sediment and excess vinegar. Running it under a faucet would work, or you can rinse and refill the bucket with clean water and dunk it until any loose deposits are removed.
  10. Install the shower head. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions if available, but when it comes down to it, just reverse the method you used to remove the head. Be sure not to tighten the threads too tightly; start by tightening by hand as far as you can go, and then test.
  11. Test for leaks. Turn the water back on, or just divert water to the shower head. If leaks are occurring in the same place as before, check for cracks and other integrity problems with the shower head and pipe. If a leak happens in a new place, examine whether it is not screwed on tightly enough, or perhaps the gasket installation was not correct.
Bathroom with a shower head and shower rod with a white curtain

Problems Caused by a Dripping Shower Head

Lack of sleep can be a big problem for a lot of people. The sound of a dripping faucet or shower head can be ignored by many, but for the rest of us it can be a maddening annoyance that will keep us up all night.

In addition to the annoying sound of drips coming from your bathroom, a dripping shower head can also become costly over the long run. When it comes down to it, A leaky shower head can add about $20 a month to your water bill

There are other considerations as well when it comes to energy. If your shower is connected directly to the hot water heater, a leak can add additional costs in the form of heating water. With a standard gas water heater this may not amount to much, but an on-demand electric water heater can increase your costs by quite a bit.

Conclusion

Plumbing can be a difficult home improvement category for many, but thankfully in this instance there are generally simple solutions. A dripping shower head may be an annoyance, but with the right tools it can usually be an easy fix.