Why Your Shower Head is Leaking: Common Causes and Solutions

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Our planet is 71 percent water, but according to the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), only 1% is available for human use. In daily life, showers and faucets are responsible for 39% of the average household’s water usage. As consumers, we pay for every drop that enters our homes.

If you have never considered the cost associated with a leaky shower head, the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) created a “drip calculator” to help you discover how much you spend in a year from a leaky faucet. You might be surprised to learn that one faucet, leaking five drips per minute, wastes over 231 gallons of water a year.

It’s more than an annoyance; over time, it can cost a considerable amount.

New innovative shower head systems are hitting the market every year. Not only can a constant drip take away the luxury of using one of these new specialized shower heads, but it can also lead to mildew, mold, and dry rot in your bathroom.

How Leaks Occur in Different Types of Shower Heads

Before we tackle why your shower head is leaking, let’s take a quick look at the growing variety of shower head options and the common related issues of each. Many of these shower heads offer a variety of settings and features that make each unique, but also have different ways of leaking due to these same features.

The Single Spray or Fixed Shower Head

Fixed Shower Head

These standard shower heads are typically the starting point for most homeowners. They get the job done but without any of the additional bells and whistles.

Because most homes have included these fixtures since the 1920s, it’s no wonder they develop leaks and become worn out with age. Many times, simply replacing the unit will remedy any leaking issues.

The Handheld Shower Head

Filtered Shower Head

In the early 80s, consumer demand required shower manufacturers to take a look at updating the standard fixed shower head. The handheld shower head is not only convenient but gives you the capability of bathing pets or taking care of loved ones who are unable to bathe themselves.

Unlike single spray shower heads, this option has two places that can form leaks – the head gasket and the hose. Not only does this make it more complicated to repair in some cases, but it also can double the chances of a leak occurring. Still, there are ways to avoid issues we’ll get into later.

The Rainfall (or Rain System) Shower Head

These stylish and sophisticated options offer the peaceful feeling of standing in the rain. Because the water falls from above, your entire body is hit at the same time, providing full coverage all at one time. Thus, the “rainfall shower head” is a very appropriate name for them.

However, ceiling mount systems in particular can have a variety of problems. One of the most common issues has appeared frequently in online message boards. These shower heads often leak throughout the day. As a house vibrates, the ceiling mount leaks due to air displacement. This is a common problem, and the solutions range from changing the orientation of the connecting pipe to the utmost extreme solution of placing your house on vibrational supports.

Dual Shower Heads

Twice as many shower heads can equal twice as many leaks. While dual shower heads often share the same connecting pipe, each or both of the shower heads can leak.

Additionally, for the majority of dual shower head models, at least one of the two shower heads will be a handheld unit. As these come with the additional hose for accessibility and versatility, the chance of the hose also springing a leak from time to time is always a possibility.

The Common Causes of Shower Head Leaks

Many of the shower head issues that we address below are a fast fix. However, some repairs can be more involved and may require the help of a professional plumber.

In some cases, the matter to address is related to the shower faucet, rather than the shower head. If you turn the water faucet off and the shower head is still dripping, it may be an issue with the faucet.

If the shower head continues to drip after the faucet is turned off, but then it eventually stops dripping, then it is most likely a shower head issue.

Many of the following problems and solutions require removing and taking apart the shower head system. Always begin this process by shutting off the main water valve to the house. Then, depending on the source of your leak, purchase the supplies needed to complete the repair.

Let’s take a look at a few common causes of leaky shower heads.

Your Shower Head's Seal Isn't Tight Enough

Problem:

Shower heads are always connected to a water pipe. Sometimes water sprays out from the threads of the pipe behind the shower head. The problem is that the seal isn’t tight enough.

Solution:

Unscrew your shower head from the connecting pipe and reapply plumber’s tape, also known as teflon tape, to the pipe. Simply use a wrench to tighten your shower head back onto the pipe afterwards.

Your Shower Head's Washer (or O-ring) Needs to Be Replaced

Problem:

The O-ring or rubber washer keeps water from passing through places it shouldn’t. For older shower heads, the O-ring may have deteriorated.

Worn seals are common causes of leaks, but don’t always require a plumber or complete shower head change to fix. Often times, a simple fix is just replacing your shower head’s washers.

Solution:

The solution to this problem requires disassembling and replacing the rubber washer (aka O-ring) located within the shower head. You can use the tip of a screwdriver to simply pry out the broken or worn ring.  If you purchase a faucet washer kit, then during this repair, you can replace all of the affected washers and seals. Doing this yourself can save you hundreds in the long run by not needing professional help or new shower head replacements.

Your Shower Head is Cheap or Poorly Manufactured

Problem:

Like any other product that you may purchase, you get what you pay for. Plastic shower heads can crack easily and may contain loose internal parts.

Older shower head models were not manufactured with the same quality as current fixtures either. Once they begin leaking, replacement parts might not be available anymore.

Faulty shower heads are always a possibility. It’s important to read online reviews to understand which brands and models have been reported to have defects in manufacturing, and which will likely last the longest for you.

Solution:

Purchase a shower head that is higher quality and offers a warranty to repair or replace a problematic shower head. Even if you don’t have the highest budget to work with, I recommend getting a shower head with at least a metal back to connect to the pipe. Plastic-backed shower heads tend to crack within six months to a year and a half of use, and you’ll definitely have to replace them down the line when that occurs.

Your Shower Head is Clogged

Problem:

All household water contains a variety of minerals, depending on the water source. Water can be delivered to your home from surface water (lakes, streams) or groundwater (springs, aquifers). Because groundwater has had more contact with soil and rocks, this “hard water” contains more dissolved minerals than treated surface water.

The calcium and magnesium in hard water can become a nuisance. Theses minerals can create a film over shower heads or clog the holes, causing leaks to form at the base of the hose or pipes. This can keep your shower head from producing the proper water pattern you’ve been accustomed to. 

Solution:

The first logical approach may be to use harsh chemicals and scrub the shower head. However, the solution is much easier and less abrasive in reality. Household experts recommend filling a plastic bag with white vinegar and using a rubber band to attach over the shower head. White vinegar can be used as an acidic cleaner that dissolves the effects of chemicals. After one to two hours, simply remove the bag and wipe the residue off with a rag. 

After cleaning, it can be beneficial to use a bright light to examine the holes in the shower head to make sure they are unclogged. The light will expose things that would be undetectable with only the naked eye.

You can also use a small straight pin or paper clip to remove any debris that is remaining in the showerhead. 

If you don’t have vinegar laying around at home, there are many other options to clean and unclog as well!

This solution requires time, rather than elbow grease, to do all the work.

Your Shower's Diverter Valve Has Been Damaged

Problem:

The diverter valve controls the water switching between the bathtub faucet and shower head. They can become worn or corroded. When the valve isn’t working correctly, the water will be partially or fully diverted to the tub, and only a small amount of water will continue to leak through the shower head. 

Please note that the opposite can also happen where water only flows through the shower head, too.

Solution:

If you’re not accustomed to some heavier DIY tasks, I’d suggest hiring a professional plumber to complete this job as it is more complicated. It requires taking the entire valve diverter apart and can be a tedious project. This is primarily due to the fact that the diverter valve’s connection is located inside your bathroom’s wall, typically.

For anyone attempting to do this themselves, I strongly recommend watching the following video. Remember to repair responsibly! 

The Impact of a Leaky Shower Head

There are a couple key factors you should note about your leaky shower head, and the problems that it can cause for you.

Reduced Water Pressure

In 2011, the Federal DOE began regulating the water pressure produced by a shower head system. All shower heads must include a water flow restrictor device that only allows 2.5 GPM (gallons per minute) that is based on the water pressure of 80 psi.

These water flow restrictors can be slightly problematic. The piece that blocks the flow of water can become easily clogged or blocked by small pieces of debris, causing an uneven water spray to push out from other parts of the shower head.

This can result in not only a leak springing up, but also low water pressure. Needless to say, this can be extremely frustrating. 

If you’re in a position where you’ve tried all the above solutions and you’re still running into a less than stellar water pressure experience, I strongly recommend considering changing your shower head to a high pressure model

Be sure to monitor your shower experience over time and remember to perform regular maintenance to prevent these clogs from occurring to the best of your ability.

Increased Water Costs

As mentioned in the introduction, water costs can be a steady source of misery stemming from a leaky shower head. Having just one or two awful, leaky faucets can increase your annual water costs by upwards of two to three digit amounts.

Repairing your leaky shower head using one of the above solutions is often far cheaper in the long run, and can even be cheaper in the short run as well in some instances.

Remember to always do your due diligence in maintaining your shower head and quelling leaks as soon as you can in order to reduce the total cost over time for you.

Final Things to Consider Regarding Your Leaky Shower Head

Whether a leaky shower head requires replacement or repair, it’s typically not a difficult project. You’ll generally only need just a few tools: usually, a wrench and a screwdriver.

Rusty, old or cracked shower heads should be replaced. Sometimes you’ll absolutely need a plumber or a lot of willingness to learn if you’re working with more advanced shower systems.

The costs associated with hiring a professional plumber can be justified in saving money from a leaky shower head over time.

Additionally, some of the more popular shower head brands come with limited or lifetime warranties. These include, but are not limited to: Moen, Speakman, Delta, and American Standard.

Lastly, like other more common household repairs, you may think a leaky shower head is not always a top priority. However, it’s vital in maintaining a properly functional bathroom and the little amount of time it takes to repair is worth it in the long run, and can prevent bigger issues from occurring later on.

Thanks for reading, leaky shower head haters.