Is your shower head giving you problems? Inconsistent or weakening water pressure, streams that shoot every which way but at you, and constant dripping all indicate you need to replace your shower head. If you want to save some money and do it yourself, you'll need to learn some basic steps.
Is it complicated? Do you need to have plumbing experience to do the job right? Can you do it even if you’re not especially handy? Assuming you have a regular shower and you just want a standard shower head, the job is not that difficult. We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to show you how to replace a shower head on your own.
Why Do You Need to Know How to Replace a Shower Head?
Knowing how to replace a shower head on your own will help you save a little money on minor home repairs. Shower heads can get clogged or otherwise wear out. You'll have to replace cheaply-made shower heads more often. Regardless, if you know how to do it, all you have to worry about is the price of the parts. You won’t have to pay someone to replace it for you. You won’t have to wait for the repair person to get to your house.
Replacing a shower head is such a minor task that there’s not much sense in having someone else do it. You can learn how to replace a shower head yourself using the simple steps we’ve laid out below.
How you know that it’s time to replace your shower head
First, shower heads wear out in all kinds of ways. Something inside might break loose and block part of its outflow. It might develop such a mineral buildup that the spray doesn’t work very well. You might notice that it leaks or constantly drips (driving up your water bill). Worst of all, it might develop black mold. Black mold is toxic, and you can’t clean it off of a shower head very well.
Each of these is a sign that you should replace your shower head instead of merely trying to clean it. You know you need to learn how to replace a shower head. Where do you start?
Where you can find shower heads
You can find new shower heads at pretty much any home improvement store. Home Depot and Lowe’s both sell a wide variety of shower heads. You can buy a simple one; one that allows you to adjust water pressure and flow; a rainwater shower head, and more. We suggest you buy a metal shower head, though, as plastic ones are more prone to black mold.
What it can cost to hire someone to do it
Like everything, the cost to hire someone to replace your shower head depends on where you live. It also depends on your shower setup. The fancier your shower, the more it will cost to do work on it. However, we can give you ballpark estimates so you have an idea of how much you’ll save this way.
For a basic shower head and the required labor, you’ll probably pay anywhere from $50 to over $300. The difference is in the shower head you want, your existing fixtures, how your repair person chooses to calculate labor charges, and the materials they need. Some jobs will cost you more than $1,000. However, you can click here to get a more precise estimate for your specific needs and location.
Here's a Step by Step Guide on How to Replace a Shower Head
Now that you understand why you should know how to replace a shower head, how do you actually do it? Fortunately, it's not all that difficult.
Equipment you will need to replace your shower head
- Adjustable wrench or pliers
- Plumber’s tape
You will almost always require an adjustable wrench to remove a shower head. Years of use can cause rust and mineral buildup, making it impossible to unscrew it by hand. If you don't want to damage the finish with your wrench, use a rag to cover the joint. The rag will also help absorb any water that’s sitting inside the shower head and its arm.
You can replace a shower head with pliers, but a wrench works much better.
Finally, you need plumber’s tape (or Teflon tape) to seal the joint when you put your new shower head on. We’ll get into how to apply that below.
Choosing a new shower head
The first thing to keep in mind is that shower heads have different ratings for different levels of water pressure. Water pressure generally fluctuates from 40 to 60 pounds per square inch, and most shower heads use 2.5 gallons per minute of water. If you’re having problems with low pressure, find a shower head that's eight inches or less in diameter. That will help you get higher pressure out of your shower head.
Keep in mind that low-flow shower heads designed to save water may not actually save you any water. The lower flow means you take longer to get wet, rinse out your hair, rinse off your soap, etc. You may end up taking a longer shower and thus, using the same amount of water (or more). That's why considering your water pressure is more beneficial than your water volume.
That's not to say that you shouldn’t consider these shower heads at all. Just examine your shower habits, so you can decide whether it's worth it to install one.
Remove the old shower head
Now that you have your (hopefully) perfect new shower head, you need to turn all your faucets off and remove the old one. A lot of the time, you just do this by unscrewing it. Place the rag over the nut that attaches the shower head to its arm if you want to protect its finish (if you're not worried about the finish, don't worry about using a rag.) Use your wrench or pliers to turn the nut counter-clockwise until the shower head comes loose.
What if it doesn't want to come loose?
If you find that the nut is stuck, don't keep trying to turn it. Above all, don't try hitting the wrench to get it to move. You could wind up snapping the entire fixture off the wall. Instead, release your wrench and apply some WD-40 or penetrating oil to lubricate and loosen the nut. If you see evidence of rust or mineral buildup, you can also try soaking a rag in CLR or another rust and limescale remover, wrapping the rag around the nut, and letting it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. That may be all that's required to loosen it, but a lubricating or penetrating oil is probably your best bet.
Clean the threads on the shower arm
Here is an essential step because it will help determine how well your new shower head works after you put it on. If the threads on the end of the arm have debris, rust, mineral buildup, or any other gunk, you'll have a hard time ensuring a good seal. Something like CLR would come in handy here because you have direct access to the rust and limescale. Goo Gone and degreasers can help with other things that might be mucking up the threads.
Apply the plumber's tape
You need enough tape to completely cover the threads, from bottom to top, two to three times. Take your roll of plumber's tape and, starting at the bottom of the threads, wrap the tape around the threads in a clockwise direction as tightly as possible. Avoid wrapping in a counterclockwise direction, because the tape will come loose when you screw your shower head on.
Install your new shower head
Make sure you read the instructions that come with your new shower head before attempting to install it. The manufacturer may have some additional steps for you to complete before you put your shower head on. If you don't follow them, you may have problems with your new shower head.
If there are no additional instructions, or once you complete them if there are, screw the new shower head onto the shower arm in a clockwise manner. Wrap the nut with a rag and use your wrench to tighten it as much as possible. Turn on your faucet to make sure everything's running as it should. If so, The job is complete!
What If There's More to It than Simply Removing the Old Shower Head and Putting the New One On?
There are times when you have to do a little more work than merely unscrewing the old shower head and screwing the new one on. Most shower head fixtures have a ball joint, which is why you're able to aim it pretty much anywhere. In today's shower heads, the ball joint is inside and inaccessible. That protects it from rust and mineral buildup, so it works properly for longer. However, some older shower head arms may have the ball joint attached at the bottom, between the arm and the head. If this is the case, you'll probably want to remove that ball joint too.
Removing (or replacing) the ball joint
There are two types of ball joints: Fixed and removable. If you have a removable ball joint, you have another nut that you can simply unscrew. Use your wrench and a rag the same as you did with your shower head. Then proceed to clean the threads on the shower arm as you would when putting a new shower head on. If you aren't replacing the ball joint, you'll need to clean that too. Once you've gotten everything as clean as possible, wrap the shower arm with tape according to the directions above, and screw the ball joint on.
What if the ball joint is part of the shower arm?
Many older shower arms come with ball joints permanently affixed. If this is the case and you need to replace the ball joint, you need to replace the entire arm.
Removing and replacing the shower arm
You should be able to attach your shower arm to its feed pipe the same way that shower heads and ball joints attach to the arm. Wrap a rag around the nut that holds the arm to its water supply pipe. Then put the handle of a pair of pliers inside the shower arm and turn counterclockwise. This is a slight deviation from the previous two procedures, in which you grip the outside and twist until it comes loose. For this, you use the plier handle almost like a crowbar. However, be careful not to force it to turn. If you have trouble getting the shower arm to come loose, try WD-40 or penetrating oil to lubricate it before trying again.
Once the arm comes loose, continue to unscrew it by hand. Remove the flange as well, and remove any plumber's tape on the threads of the water supply pipe. Clean those threads as best you can so you get the strongest fit and seal possible. Apply new tape clockwise to the threads, and then attach the new flange and shower arm.
Next, you can attach your new shower head. Be sure to run your water once you think you're finished with everything to ensure that you did the job correctly and that everything works as it should.
So Why Do You Need to Know How to Replace a Shower Head?
Once you know how to replace a shower head, you've gained a valuable life skill and saved yourself some money. You also get the shower head that you want without having to worry that a professional can't, or won't, install exactly what you want. In other words, there's little downside to learning how to replace a shower head. When you've done it once, you can do it again more efficiently, and you can upgrade all the showers in your house.