Can I make my shower less horrible?
March 14, 2022 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Shower was already haunted, has now become pathetic (and haunted). Looking for first-hand experience of potential fixes that don't involve a landlord or plumber.

We live in an old-ish building with presumably old-ish pipes. Our water turns boiling hot at least one to two times during a typical shower, which I have learned to live with (I haven't). But yesterday, the water pressure and volume abruptly dropped by at least 30% and has not returned. It was never great, so now it's like showering under a stream of drool. Drool that intermittently scalds you.

My parents insist that they solved a similar temperature fluctuation by replacing the shower head. I'm skeptical—it seems like the sort of thing that must be related to the plumbing or water boiler, though it's not clearly connected with other activity that would be using that infrastructure (at least not in our apartment). This new thing, though, seems like MAYBE something we can fix by replacing or cleaning the shower head? This is not something I've done before but if there are mitigation efforts we can try that have a reasonable chance of success, I'd rather give them a shot before involving the landlord. We have a pretty good neighborhood hardware store, a motley selection of tools, and not a lot of technical know-how.

YANMP, but have you fixed a similar issue through purely external, DIY means?
posted by babelfish to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Cleaning a shower head is incredibly easy so definitely do it first. Tie a plastic bag of vinegar over the head. Use lots of rubber bands. Make sure the head is completely submerged in vinegar. Leave it overnight. The vinegar will go right up inside the holes and fizz away the lime scale that’s clogging them. If the shower head comes off, doing it in a bowl is even more effective but the plastic bag will help.
If your tap is fancy metal only soak an hour.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:15 AM on March 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Replacing a shower head is also easy. Take off the one you've got, turn the cold water on, and let it run for a while. There may be a poltergeist some sediment/pipe garbage that has shifted and plunked itself into the shower pipe, throttling the output. Clean the old one or replace it with a new one. Even a cheap showerhead, if it's new, can be a real improvement over an old shitty haunted one.
posted by phunniemee at 7:18 AM on March 14, 2022 [13 favorites]

If you genuinely think it’s haunted, befriend the ghost.

From the ghost’s perspective, you’re an uninvited guest who’s getting naked and pooping in their house so be humble about it.

Say hi and apologize for not introducing yourself sooner.

Explain who you are and how long you’ll be there.

Give them a snack (put a food you think they’ll like on a nice little plate, and a glass of clean water, tell them it’s for them, leave it for a day, and then pour the drink into the earth and put the food into the garbage.

Ask the ghost if you can help them with anything. If they tell you something (via an intuition, a sign, or a dream), try to do it and then tell them about it.

After you’ve made peace with them, respectfully ask them to let you shower and poop in peace.

Put a little plant or some flowers in the bathroom and keep it clean and tidy. Ghosts like candles and incense too.

Remember the ghost was there first so discuss your boundaries in a gentle humble way.

I don’t quite believe in ghosts with my literal mind, but this method combines traditions from several West African, Caribbean, Asian, and Latinx cultures so there’s probably something to it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:23 AM on March 14, 2022 [32 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't really believe in ghosts, however I do thank the ghost whenever it allows me to get through a shower without boiling my skin off. I contain multitudes
posted by babelfish at 7:26 AM on March 14, 2022 [16 favorites]

The temperature of your shower is controlled by the knobs, not in the way you might be thinking but there are temperature regulators inside that control the hot/cold mix (unless your knobs are really old). They might have broken. Assuming the pressure coming out of the bath faucet is ok (if it has one) then the pressure is controlled by the showerhead, and replacing or cleaning are the best options.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:27 AM on March 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Vinegar will only work on line scale. If their are flakes of rust from worn galvanized pipe in the showerhead nothing will happen.

Re: flow. First thing is to just see what the flow sans showerhead is. If it's strong replace the shower head (or clean it possibly) if their isn't getting your land Lord involved will be required.

Intermittent scalding isn't really diy addressable. The simplest bandaid fix would be replacing the shower valve with a temperature control fixture.
posted by Mitheral at 7:27 AM on March 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

The simplest bandaid fix would be replacing the shower valve with a temperature control fixture.

Yes, that's really the only way. Something like this.
posted by beagle at 7:32 AM on March 14, 2022

Does a similar effect happen to other water faucets in your apartment (sinks, tub)?

If not, then perhaps you could use one of those attachments for washing hair?

Alternatively, you could try showering at odd hours or consider using a gym membership for this purpose?
posted by oceano at 7:45 AM on March 14, 2022

Best answer: You could remove the shower head just to see what things are like without it in the way. If the flow is still weak or the temperature inconsistent, it's not the shower head. If it's strong and consistent, then you know where the blockage is.

Any chance you've got a leak elsewhere (maybe the toilet keeps refilling itself)?
posted by trig at 7:51 AM on March 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Before you start twisting anything, get up close and examine the showerhead and plumbing. I've lived in places that were clearly plumbed by Satan's personal contractor and the only way to get to the place where the showerhead screwed onto the pipe was to get behind the tile or just start cranking and hope for the best, but mostly everywhere I've lived has had a reasonable and standard junction between showerhead and pipe and replacing it is one of the first things I do when I move in.

Then, just go gently. Turn the showerhead while holding the pipe behind the threads so you're not yanking the pipe around. You may need a good bit of force ultimately to get it to start turning, but ramp up slowly. When it's off, take the minute to clean the threads of any old teflon tape or buildup - you may need some vinegar or CLR to really get it clean, but it's worth the effort.

When you replace the showerhead, you might add in a filter, which is much easier to replace every few months than having to soak your showerhead again if that's turned out to be the problem.

The hot and cold issue suggests there are (probably additional) problems further back along the line than the showerhead, but I am also curious if you have the same fluctuations if you run the bathroom or kitchen taps for long enough. I've had a water heater that was clearly full of large clunking chunks of...ghosts, probably? And we sometimes had problems I assume were related to that.

The showerhead replacement should at least get you some amount of relief, and you can get "high pressure" showerheads that should improve your experience even if there are some supply issues, but probably the big picture problem is something the landlord will have to deal with.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:43 AM on March 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

abruptly dropped by at least 30%
The abruptly part plus the largeness of the drop makes it sound like a leak. It would be great if it were not a leak and instead turned out to be phunniemee's shifting sediments thing, but if it's not and it's a leak, find it and fix it ASAP, especially if you're paying for this water.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:11 AM on March 14, 2022

If the bag with vinegar trick does not seem to do anything, take the shower head off and look for things like sediment or crumbled pieces of washers.

(I've seen both clog a workplace faucet VERY rapidly - so it's totally possible in a showerhead.)

If that doesn't work - and it should be simple and quick to try - you need to contact the landlord ASAP in case of a leak, like others have said.
posted by stormyteal at 10:00 AM on March 14, 2022

Best answer: > abruptly dropped by at least 30%

Pace Don Pepino but actually to me this suggests a piece of rust getting stuck in the inlet into the shower head, especially likely in an old building that may have iron pipes.

I think the first step in diagnosis is removing the shower head and cleaning it out. If possible check whether the flow from the pipe that held the shower head is clear when the head is off (redirect the water with something wrapped round the pipe outlet so it doesn't spray everywhere).

If the flow is not clear without the head then the problem is in the controls or the pipes, which of course are a pain to deal with and almost certainly need a real plumber.
posted by anadem at 10:00 AM on March 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If it makes a difference, the abrupt drop happened while the shower was running (I was waiting for it to warm up).
posted by babelfish at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2022

This app (where you speak to a real life plumber) is really useful: Plunjr. They talk you through it and even will order and ship parts to you.

This Old House also has very (very) detailed step by step instructions on installing a temperature regulator.
posted by museum nerd at 10:30 AM on March 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

This happened to me a while back and it wasn't the showerhead or anything around there. It was a filter in the knob where you turn it on.

I'd rather give them a shot before involving the landlord.

Involve the landlord. I can fix a good amount of stuff but it involved getting the part and then taking apart the shower knob assembly, and after I messed with it a bit I thought better of it. Landlord had maintenance come out and they went right in to change the filter or whatever it is, and had a rough go of it but finally got it done. Life changing, shower-wise.
posted by cashman at 11:14 AM on March 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've absolutely had gravel and stuff in the screen of the showerhead. Take it off and make sure. If it's clear, then it's a plumbing issue and you should involve the landlord because that's one of the benefits of renting.
posted by rhizome at 12:34 PM on March 14, 2022

I recently had a hand-held shower/ tub faucet that I had rigged to the tub faucet via a screw-on faucet diverter abruptly lessen flow. Turns out the cold valve had a gasket/washer thing suddenly crumble into bits, blocking both the faucet screen and the handheld screen. What seems like solely a flow issue was clearly not once I removed the faucet-end diverter and saw all the bits blocking everything. So start by just taking the shower head off and checking the flow and temperature before anything else.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:59 PM on March 14, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you Metafilter! Husband is a Mefite and had removed and cleaned out the shower head on your advice before I even got a chance to. It did in fact have some debris in it. I just took a shower and not only is the water pressure back but I didn't even get scalded?? So I'm thinking the ghost wasn't happy about the gunge and is grateful we cleaned it out.
posted by babelfish at 4:31 PM on March 14, 2022 [9 favorites]

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