Most people wake up to an invigorating shower as a means of waking up to face what the day has in store. If your shower is suffering from low water pressure, your day can get off to a rough start.
You may struggle to clean yourself properly and the shampoo may never seem to be fully rinsed from your hair. This is not a problem that you want to endure for a prolonged period and it is important to get it fixed.
In this guide, we will look at how to test for low water pressure in your shower, the causes of low water pressure, how to solve the problem, and why you may want to consider a shower pump.
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How To Test For Low Water Pressure In Your Shower
Before you opt for calling out a qualified plumber, you want to ensure that you can isolate the problem of low water pressure to just your shower.
If the issue is more systematic and affects your bathroom sink and the other faucets in your home then this is a bigger problem that you will want to discuss with your plumber.
To test for low water pressure, you only need a few items that you should already have in your home. These include a timer, measuring jug, and the calculator on your smartphone.
Hold the measuring jug under the shower to catch the water, put the shower on full, and time how long it takes to fill that measuring jug.
Should it take over six seconds to fill a liter-sized jug then you have a real issue. A typical water flow rate is over 10 liters of water every minute which typically means high water pressure.
There is another method that can be even more exact and involves a five-gallon bucket instead of a measuring jug. Place the bucket underneath the shower and turn it on full then click the timer (see also ‘Best Shower Timer Shutoff‘) and see how long it takes to fill up.
You want to calculate the gallons per minute (GPM) measurement so once you have worked out the total time, divide this by five.
For instance, if it took five minutes to fill the bucket then the GPM is 1 GPM which would indicate low water pressure.
The US Federal WaterSense standard is 2 GPM so if it takes longer than two and a half minutes to fill a five-gallon bucket then this is still considered a low water pressure.
You can also try a similar method with other faucets which should all have a steady flow of water that increases as you turn the faucet.
If you can judge that just your shower is suffering from a low water pressure then at least your qualified plumber can simply concentrate on solving the problem.
However, it could be an indication of a bigger problem such as a blockage or leak in your larger plumbing system.
The Causes Of Low Water Pressure In Your Shower
Several causes can result in low water pressure in your shower. These can include clogged pipes, an obstructed water shutoff valve, a flow-restricting/water-saving shower head, as well as old and undersized piping.
An older house can suffer from iron piping that is vulnerable to rust. Should any pieces of rust break off inside the pipes, this can cause an obstruction that clogs any water going through it.
Construction debris can also get into the pipes along with leaves, dirt, or sand. This can be a particularly tricky problem to resolve as it means inspecting all the water pipes that lead into your home.
You may not be able to find one but a leaking pipe can seriously lower the water pressure before it even reaches the shower head.
A leaking pipe can also cause significant damage to your home so this is one problem that you will want to check with a qualified plumber as a matter of urgency.
An Obstructed Water Shutoff Valve
One easy way to resolve your low water pressure is to check the water shutoff valve. This can be easily, and accidentally, obstructed and if it is not fully open then the water cannot flow properly.
Check under the kitchen sink as a cleaning product could have dropped and pushed the water shutoff valve so you can just reopen it. However, if the water shutoff valve is broken then you should look to contact a qualified plumber.
Check The Water Heater Shutoff Valve
If it is not the obstructed water shutoff valve then it may be the water heater shutoff valve. A simple test is to see if the water pressure is high when using the cold water but dramatically drops when using hot water.
Just like when checking the water shutoff valve, see if the water heater shutoff valve is open and you can simply open it up which should resolve the issue.
A Flow Restricting/Water Saving Shower Head
If your shower head already proclaims to be flow-restricting or water-saving then this can work too well and result in low water pressure.
Several showerhead manufacturers in the United States were required to incorporate flow restrictors into their shower heads as part of the National Energy Act to assist customers in helping protect the environment by reducing their water consumption.
If you live in California, there may be a legal requirement on your shower head due to the state’s dealing with drought problems. Showerheads were developed initially to meet 2.5 GPN but this has gradually been reduced to 2 GPM then 1.5 GPM.
There may be a setting on the showerhead that you can change which may resolve the issue or open up the showerhead and remove the flow restrictor itself.
To remove the flow restrictor, you will need to remove the showerhead, check for the connector nut and then find the rubber seal. There should be a piece of white plastic with some holes in it which is the flow restrictor (see also ‘How To Remove The Flow Restrictor From A Delta Kitchen Faucet‘).
Once you have taken out the flow restrictor (see also ‘How To Remove The Flow Restrictor From A Bathroom Faucet‘) you can turn the shower on and see if the water pressure has improved. However, you can always replace the showerhead with one that does not prove restricting to allow more water to flow through.
Kinks In The Water Hose
The cause of your low water pressure may not even be with the shower head as it could be to do with the water hose that directs the flow of water. The water hose could be leaking or have a kink in it that could restrict the water flow and reduce the water pressure.
If it is leaking then you can head to a plumbing store to find a replacement water hose that can be simply installed.
Flush The Hot Water Tank
Tanks and pipes can get clogged which has the effect of reducing the water pressure. Even your water heater can gradually become clogged by debris and sediment that gets caught in the pipes.
To flush your water tank you may need to dedicate a few hours yet it can prove highly rewarding if it resolves the issue and should be done regularly as maintenance. There should even be instructions for how to do it on the manual found on the outside of the unit.
Issues with the piping are not that uncommon and can be difficult to solve. For instance, the old piping is typically a result of many municipal areas in a city center using older pipes in their main water systems.
Unfortunately, your local authority is unlikely to replace them due to the disruption that would cause to the area.
Undersized piping can also be difficult to resolve as it can be costly and disruptive so you may not even want to be around the house while it is being completed.
The issue is more commonly known in older houses with their original plumbing system and effectively restricts the amount of water coming in. If there is less water coming into the system then there is less pressure coming from your shower.
If your water comes from a well and you live in a rural area, the problem of low water pressure could be down to a faulty or damaged pump. If there is too much demand on the water coming from the well then this can lower the supply and the pressure.
The Solutions To Low Water Pressure In Your Shower
Once you have checked the water shutoff valves and ensured that you do not have a flow-restricting, water-saving showerhead then you may be wondering what the problem is.
You may even want to time your showers for when no other appliance is using the water supply. For instance, the washing machine or dishwasher can reduce the water pressure when they are running.
Before you contact a local, qualified plumber, you may want to see if you can resolve the issue yourself.
Cleaning/Replacing The Shower Head
Even if the showerhead is not flow-restricting or water-saving, it could still be the cause of the low water pressure. Try to find out if you can remove the showerhead by unscrewing it.
If you can then you use a stiff-bristle brush to scrub away any sediment buildup or dirt and grime.
Do not worry if you cannot remove the showerhead as you can fill a sandwich bag with white vinegar and secure it to the showerhead with an elastic band to let it soak overnight to break down and remove any debris or limescale.
You can try to use a toothpick to remove any stubborn buildup out of the holes in the showerhead.
If the buildup proves too stubborn or it does have a water restrictor in place that is causing the low water pressure then it may simply be easier to change it.
You can either remove the water restrictor in the showerhead or replace it with a low-pressure showerhead. This can resolve the issue itself but not if the real problem is with your mains water supply.
Install A Pressurized Unvented Cylinder
You can simply install a pressurized unvented cylinder though this should only be considered if you wanted to modernize your water system. This is still not exactly a quick, inexpensive solution and will require a qualified plumber.
The job primarily involves removing your existing cold water tank to replace it with a pressurized cylinder that uses the feed from the mains.
Install A Cold Water Accumulator Tank
Installing a cold water accumulator tank may be a wise option if you are already considering getting an electric shower and hot water tends to be in short supply.
In effect, the shower would be directly fed by cold water from the accumulator tank which is separate from your main water tank.
The electric shower then heats the water to fire it out of the showerhead with some high pressure added too. As it is a separate water tank, this also bypasses the problem of the water dropping in pressure when someone uses a faucet elsewhere in the house.
Why You Should Use A Shower Pump
Should the problem of water pressure be isolated to your mains water system then install a water pump that raises the pressure of the water coming out of the showerhead.
The shower pump is a tiny device that can be fitted to your home water system and activated when you turn on the shower.
Once the water leaves the main tank it goes through the water pump on the way to come out of the showerhead. As it hits the pump, it uses an impeller which is similar to an airplane engine to increase the pressure just before it comes out of your shower head.
This is a cheaper and more cost-effective way to raise the water pressure of your shower and can ensure that the problem does not recur.
It should also only take a day or so for a qualified plumber to install one and does not involve replacing any of the shower (see also ‘How To Replace A Shower‘) parts or intrinsic parts of the plumbing system.
Taking a shower when it is suffering from low water pressure can be a poor start to any day. Thankfully, there are some simple methods to increase the water pressure that involve cleaning or replacing the showerhead or checking the water shutoff valve.
If the problem is centered on your mains water supply then you can use a shower pump, cold water accumulator tank, or install a pressurized unvented cylinder to ramp up the pressure.
Whichever method you choose, you may want to consider getting an expert opinion from a qualified plumber.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Using A Smaller Shower Head Help Increase The Water Pressure?
Not necessarily. The water pressure in your shower is linked more closely to the design of the showerhead rather than its size. The size of the holes in the showerhead can also influence how pressurized the water feels.
However, if the water reaches the showerhead at low pressure then there are other methods to resolve that problem. These include a shower pump or a pressurized unvented cylinder.
What Is A High-Pressure Shower?
A high-pressure shower can maximize the flow of water that goes through the showerhead and result in a powerful spray. This is largely done by specially designed water passages that minimize the restriction of water to optimize the force of the shower.