way too ambitious for my own good
April 16, 2008 6:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to replace the shower head for the shower in my apartment. The old one will not come off. Help!

I don't know how long the old shower head has been installed, I've only lived in my apartment for about 8 months. But I just renewed my lease for an additional year, so I figured I might as well spend that time bathing in something more than a light tapping of water.

The old one won't come off. I've tried a basic wrench and pliers. I've been able to twist it off one time around, but it won't budge any more, and I'm afraid of damaging the pipe by forcing it too much. It's pretty damn stuck.

So I picked up some WD-40 from the CVS, and left it on for about 20 minutes - no luck. It's not rusted, I don't see any visible lime buildup, and my total lack of home/apartment improvement skill, merged with my gusto to want to accomplish this small task by myself, is leaving me stuck, too.

What else can I do? Besides wussing out and calling maintenance or keeping with my light sprinkle showers, are there any other modes of action I can try to remove the old fixture?

(ps) I think this is either exactly or very close to the one currently installed, whether that makes a difference, I do not know...
posted by raztaj to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
These use pipe threads, which are slightly conical and should get easier to turn as you unscrew them. It's hard to make sense of why it would unscrew one turn and then stop.

The back of the shower head should have flats for either a Crescent or open-end wrench. Don't use pliers, which can slip and scratch the chrome and brass. If you were using pliers, are you sure it actually unscrewed at all? Could the pliers have been slipping around the fitting? Also, which joint are you trying to disassemble -- the head to the arm, or the arm to the wall?
posted by jon1270 at 6:41 PM on April 16, 2008

Don't shower heads unscrew clockwise?
posted by idb at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2008

WRT direction, mine unscrewed counterclockwise in my apartment. Can't help much more than that.
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:57 PM on April 16, 2008

Use a strap wrench to hold the arm and if necessary the head; if you need to remove the arm because the head is cross-threaded or otherwise screwed up, new ones are cheap and easy to find. Also, when replacing these sort of fixtures, teflon tape is your friend.

An alternative may be to remove the old shower head and soak it in vinegar, or if you are really serious CLR. It is quite likely that it is simply clogged with lime or other deposits and a cleaning will fix it. Another possiblity is that you have a low flow showerhead (warning: link is to a libertarian rant against environmental regulations, but does a good job of summing up shower flow regulations in the us). Finally, your water pressure may be to low to begin with, but you would probably notice that elsewhere in your apartment and that would obviously be a maintenance issue.
posted by TedW at 7:04 PM on April 16, 2008

I had a similar problem, and it took days and days of continued forcing to finally "break the seal" and get the shower head off. I felt like one hell of a man after working it off, though.

I vote for persistence.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:17 PM on April 16, 2008

Thanks so much for the suggestions.

Mine definitely unscrews clockwise. The one-turn-progress I was able to make, didn't come in one go, but lots of small attempts. Then it wouldn't budge anymore. I'm trying to unscrew the head from the arm (which itself is a bit shakey, but doesn't show signs of rust or lime). The water pressure in the sinks and tub seem to be fine - not omgwow! but good - enough to make me think that a new showerhead could show at least some improvement.

This is embarrassing, but I never thought of trying removing the arm altogether. I went and tried to give it a moderate turn with some force (though not my all) and the arm would not budge either. Should arms generally turn clockwise as well? Clearly I am not very adept at these kinds of things.
posted by raztaj at 7:22 PM on April 16, 2008

Shower heads are pretty cheap so preferentially thrash the shower head, while trying to keep the arm from damage or unscrewing. Seconding the strap wrench to not damage the arm. You might have got one thread off and then gotten stuck because the head is (seconding) cross-threaded. This will take a lot of force to get through so don't be afraid to really reef on the shower head.
posted by jet_silver at 7:24 PM on April 16, 2008

Clockwise will tighten it, not loosen. Showerheads are threaded the same way as all the other threads in your house (same as a lightbulb, for example). Check that you are actually loosening the thing, rather than tightening it -- compare to something that you can actually loosen (like a lightbulb) to make sure you are turning it the right way.

There are products that are better than WD40 for freeing stuck bolts -- your local hardware store or auto parts store should sell several with names like PB-Blaster; the $5 or $8 that the spray can costs is well worth it.

Strap wrenches and pipe wrenches should do the trick, depending on what you can grab on to. At a minimum, those long gooseneck pliers will work much better than small standard pliers.
posted by Forktine at 8:12 PM on April 16, 2008

lefty loosey, righty tighty

All my showerheads used standard threads.
posted by albolin at 9:20 PM on April 16, 2008

Run hottest water possible, then immediately attempt to loosen.

This worked for me once.
posted by Kevin S at 9:34 PM on April 16, 2008

Thirding righty tighty, lefty loosey. Be careful not to do what I did and break the plumbing in the wall getting an old showerhead off! Depending on where you live, the showerhead may have a water-saving device in it. Take that out!
posted by mzurer at 9:40 PM on April 16, 2008

Clockwise will tighten. Counter clockwise will loosen.
posted by snowjoe at 11:27 PM on April 16, 2008

Just did the same project at my partner's place. Vice Grips did the trick for me. Just be careful not to crack any tiles or break the plumbing in the wall.
posted by JimmyJames at 12:08 AM on April 17, 2008

A Stilson wrench would be a better bet than either pliers or vice grips - it's what a plumber would use. But only if you don't mind damaging the chrome surface. Definitely don't try to unscrew it clockwise, or the most likely result is you will either strip the thread or snap the arm off. Even worse, if you apply enough force, you could crack the pipes inside the wall. Then you are in some serious trouble.

Get some penetrating oil and apply it with a generous amount of patience - keep putting a few drops around the thread a couple of times a day and giving it a try each time. Patience and gentle persistence will be rewarded.
posted by dg at 3:29 AM on April 17, 2008

If you were able to move it even a little then WD-40 and penetrating oil are not likely to benefit you now. They are really for when it is frozen together. It could just be cross threaded in which case only brute force will get it off, but the hot water idea might help, with the best being to heat the shower head but not the pipe to which it attaches, say with a torch. It might also be a build up of lime inside that you can not see in which case putting some vinegar or even something stronger on the threads to soak them for a few hours or days may help. Good luck.
posted by caddis at 5:27 AM on April 17, 2008

Oh, and when you put the next one on make sure you use some plumber's tape so that this won't happen again. It also prevents leaks.
posted by caddis at 7:31 AM on April 17, 2008

Thanks so much for the responses and suggestions, all - I got it off!!!! Applied some liquid wrench, lightly hammered the connection point, and picked up a stilson wrench to try and turn (yes, you're all right, clockwise). Repeated this about 5 times, waiting about 20 minutes in between each time... and it came off like a charm.

I feel victorious. Hooray.
posted by raztaj at 11:25 AM on April 17, 2008

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