Keeping Showerheads and Faucets
Running Free – Quick Fixes for
uick and easy solutions can be
found for a home’s most common
problems, from leaky pipes to sticking
doors. As a rule, start with the easiest pos-
sible repair, advancing to more difficult
fixes as needed. If you’re unsure at any
point, or if a problem remains stubbornly
unsolved, don’t be afraid to call in an
expert . . . but do watch how the expert
solves the problem. There’s nothing like
learning from the best.
If you’re dancing around under your showerhead in order to get wet, or
your faucets are sputtering rather than flowing, there may be an easy fix.
Over time, minerals and particles in your water supply can form deposits
on showerheads, faucets, and sink sprayers, eventually obstructing the
water flow. Eliminate the buildup (usually visible as a white or grayish
deposit), and you can enjoy free-running water again.
You may not even have to remove the showerhead. Fill a plastic
bag with white vinegar, and seal the bag over the showerhead so that
it’s soaking in the solution. Let it sit overnight, and then brush off the
deposits with an old toothbrush. If some of the spray holes are still
clogged, carefully insert a thin needle or toothpick through the holes.
(This can also work for faucets and sink sprayer nozzles—the latter can
be dipped into a bowl containing the vinegar.)
If this doesn’t work, remove the showerhead. Use one adjustable
wrench on the showerhead to unscrew it (counterclockwise) and one
wrench on the shower arm (the pipe that the showerhead attaches to) to
steady it so that it doesn’t twist (potentially breaking the piping inside the
wall). Wrapping the wrenches with masking or duct tape will prevent
them from gouging the pipes. If the joint still won’t budge, try a shot of
penetrating oil, and leave it for twenty-four hours.
Once the showerhead is off, wash it well in hot water with some dish
detergent to dislodge any loose deposits. Soak the showerhead overnight
in vinegar, then try the toothbrush and toothpick tricks again. When you
replace the showerhead, wrap the threads on the shower arm with three
layers of Teflon (or plumber’s) tape first, to ensure a tight seal.
Always wrap Teflon or plumber’s tape in the direction that you’ll
be tightening—most of the time, this is clockwise. Otherwise, the
threads can tear the tape, which clogs the threads instead of
sealing them. In this case, the showerhead will screw on
clockwise, so the tape should be wrapped clockwise as well.
For stubbornly sputtering faucets or sink sprayers, try removing the
aerator (the assembly at the very end of the faucet). If it won’t unscrew
by hand, use an adjustable wrench or groove-joint pliers on it. (Sink
sprayers will often have a screw at the nozzle end that you have to
remove to get at the aerator assembly.) Try the faucet or nozzle. If the
water now runs fine, your aerator is definitely blocked. Although some
newer aerator models won’t come apart (in which case you’ll need to
replace them), most will. You’ll find some combination of one or more
wire mesh screens, a nylon disk, washer(s), and an O-ring.
▲ The aerator’s components add air bubbles to reduce (and therefore conserve)
the water flowing out of the faucet without impairing the effectiveness of the flow.
Soak the pieces in vinegar; then loosen deposits with a toothbrush.
Rinse each piece, and put everything back together. If you can’t remove
the buildup or corrosion, replace the aerator.
When fixing faucets or showerheads, block the sink or tub drain
with the plug or a clean rag. If you drop a fiddly faucet part, you
won’t lose it down the drain. Also, place a piece of cardboard or a
paper towel nearby, and lay out the components in the order you
disassembled them. This makes reassembling much easier.