If you’ve been living with weak water pressure for a while, you’ve likely given up, and resigned yourself to extra-long showers.
Perhaps you think solving the issue will be complicated, expensive, or both. But that isn’t necessarily true: a little detective work could be all that’s required.
This article delves into how to increase water pressure in your shower. Even if you don’t get to the bottom of the problem, at least you’ll get a crash course in plumbing!
How to Increase Water Pressure in Your Shower
For most people, plumbing is something we don’t think about until it isn’t working. When an appliance breaks down, we reach for our phones to search for a nearby professional.
We concede that household plumbing is anything but simple. There are lots of complex mechanisms keeping your toilets flushing, taps running, and appliances washing. This also means there are plenty of potential culprits that can be responsible for low pressure.
Low water pressure could be caused by something as simple as a dirty showerhead, for example. If your area suffers from hard water, minerals can form solid deposits (or scale) which clogs up fittings and restricts water flow (1). Alternatively, there might be a valve that isn’t all the way open somewhere in your home.
Increasing the water pressure in your shower depends on the cause of the problem. This is the hard part, but we take you step by step through the different methods below.
We encourage you to have fun with the process. Consider yourself a scavenger hunter: the prize is enjoying your showers again.
Method #1: Check Water Heater
If both cold and hot water are equally weak, head to the next section.
- Open Water Heater Shut-Off Valve: The shut-off valve in your water heater controls the hot water supply. If it isn’t open all the way, the hot water flow will be affected. Check your water heater’s manual to determine where the shut-off valve is, and ensure it’s fully opened before trying the hot water again.
- Clean Out Water Heater: Remember those nasty scale deposits we mentioned earlier? They can form inside the tank of your water heater, which can clog it up. Flush your water heater to see if it improves the pressure. This job will vary based on the make and model of the unit you have — consult your owner’s manual.
How to Flush the Water Heater
You should have the manual nearby to be able to identify all the relevant parts. Once you’ve done this, follow these steps:
- Unplug: Cut the power supply to your water heater. If it’s electric, unplug it or switch off the breaker. Gas models can be turned to pilot or vacation mode.
- Valve off: Locate the valve that supplies cold water and turn it off.
- Connect hose: Connect a garden hose to your drain spigot. Lead the end of the hose outside, or into a drain or pan. Make sure it’s snugly connected, but don’t force it or you can damage the threads.
- Run hot water: Open up a faucet anywhere in your house. Run hot water to let air into your water tank. This will enable water to drain out.
- Open spigot valve: Open up the drain spigot valve. You may need a screwdriver to do so. You should hear water flowing into the house.
- Pressure relief valve: If you don’t hear any water flowing out, the faucet technique wasn’t enough. Open your pressure relief valve up.
- Drain the water: Water should begin flowing out of your hose. Let it drain until the tank is empty.
WarningKeep clear of the draining water; it will be scalding hot.
- Dislodge sediment: Once the tank is empty, open up the cold water supply valve again for about 10 to 15 seconds. This should start to dislodge sediment trapped in the tank.
- Repeat: Continue opening and closing the cold water valve a few more times until the water runs clear.
- Close spigot valve: Close your drain spigot valve.
- Cold water valve: Let the water heater fill back up completely by opening the cold water valve. Switch your pressure relief valve back on and then close the cold water valve again.
- Open spigot valve: Open the drain spigot valve again and let the water flow out. You want to get all the buildup and debris out completely.
- Close spigot valve: Close up the drain spigot for the final time. Switch on the cold water valve to let your tank fill. Don’t wander off or water will come pouring out of your open pressure relief valve. You’re leaving it open to let air escape safely.
- Close spigot valve: Once you estimate the tank is roughly half full or close to the level of your pressure relief valve, shut that valve tight.
- Plug in: Plug your electric water heater back in, or turn the thermostat back on in your gas unit.
- Well done! Congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Method #2: Open the Shut-Off Shower Valve
The solution to your water woes may be one so simple you never thought of it.
Shut-off shower valves in the shower are water-conserving devices. They enable you to switch the water on and off without fiddling with the temperature knobs.
Yours may not be all the way open. If the mechanism is corroded or simply stuck, you may have to remove it entirely and buy a new one.
Method #3: Investigate Drips and Dribbles
Leaks can sap the strength from your shower’s water pressure.
Run your shower and look at all the connecting parts. Is there water coming out of the shower hose? Perhaps the internal threads of your showerhead are worn out and letting water escape?
If your shower hose is leaky, it’ll have to be replaced. The same goes for a showerhead with cracked threads — the part that screws into the shower arm.
Method #4: Inspect Diverter Valve
A diverter valve lets you have multiple attachments in your shower. You can also use it to switch between the bathtub faucet and the showerhead as needed (2).
- Isolate showerheads: If you have a diverter for multiple attachments, it could be distributing water unevenly. Try using only one showerhead at a time and see if the pressure gets any better.
- Inspect diverter valves: Take a closer look at the diverter valve that switches between the tub and faucet. Is there water coming out of the tub faucet while you shower? If so, look to replace the valve using the steps below.
How to Replace a Diverter Valve
Make sure the new diverter valve you buy is compatible with your setup. Installation is swift and simple:
- Remove the old: Remove your old tub faucet and diverter valve. This will vary depending on the setup you have, but there should be screws you can pull out. Either unscrew or pull the faucet out.
- Attach the new: Attach your brand new one, tightening as needed. Your shower should be back in shape.
Method #5: Clean Your Showerhead
If you’re already thinking of skipping ahead to avoid this chore, don’t do it. Your quest may end here, if you’re lucky:
- Unscrew: Try to unscrew your showerhead by hand. If it’s resisting, you’ll need to grab slip-joint pliers, two towels, and an adjustable wrench.
- Grip: Place a towel around the shower arm (the part that connects to the head). Grip the towel and arm with your pliers.
- Loosen: Wrap a towel around your showerhead so as not to scratch it. Loosen your showerhead with the wrench until you can unscrew it by hand.
- Apply vinegar: Put your showerhead into a bucket or container. Pour white vinegar over it until the part is completely submerged. The acidity of vinegar should break down any deposits (3).
WarningBe careful using vinegar near natural wood and stone. The acidity of the vinegar can ruin the finish (4).
- Wait: Leave the showerhead in the vinegar solution for 30 minutes at the minimum. You can let it sit overnight for deep cleaning.
- Rinse: Rinse the showerhead with water, scrubbing it with a soft bristle brush. An old toothbrush should suffice.
- Reconnect: Reattach your showerhead. Hopefully, water pressure is restored.
Method #6: Remove Flow Restrictor
Your shower might be equipped with a flow restrictor or regulator, which limits water flow in the interests of conservation. Unfortunately, it can seriously worsen shower performance. Flow restrictors typically have a limit of 2.0 gallons per minute (GPM) (5).
The good news is they’re not hard to take out. First, check the manual for your showerhead. There may be instructions on how to take it out.
If not, here’s a brief overview of how to do it. We’ve covered strategies for both possible locations:
How to Remove a Flow Restrictor From the Showerhead
- Remove your showerhead: As with our cleaning guidelines, use a wrench and needle-nose pliers if it doesn’t want to come out. Cover both the arm and the head with towels to protect from scuffing.
- Remove with pliers: The valve will be in the narrow, connecting end of the showerhead. Try to remove it with needle-nose pliers first.
- If needed, use a screwdriver: If the pliers method doesn’t work, use a screwdriver, or a screwdriver and a nail, to loosen it, and then pull it out.
How to Remove a Flow Restrictor From the Shower Mount
- Unscrew the mount: If it doesn’t want to come off, resort to the adjustable wrench and towel to remove it safely.
- Remove the restrictor: The restrictor should be easily removable by hand.
Method #7: Check Your Water Main Valve
The water main valve controls water flow to your entire house. If this component isn’t all the way open, your water pressure will suffer.
Usually, it can be found somewhere within the perimeter of your home on the side facing the street. Consult your property inspection report to find out exactly where it is if you don’t know.
Once you’ve located it, ensure it’s all the way on. Turn the lever or knob in the appropriate direction (e.g., clockwise or counter-clockwise).
You may want to have an assistant in the house to monitor the water supply if you’re not sure which way to turn it.
Method #8: Adjust Pressure Regulator
Many homes have water mains built with a pressure regulator. This gizmo keeps the pressure of the water going into your home at a certain level.
Most homes have regulators set at 50 pounds per square inch (PSI). Note that higher pressures can reduce the lifespan of all your fixtures (6).
It’s possible to adjust it a little higher. You’ll need a standard pressure gauge to test the pressure.
- Locate: The pressure regulator is typically found near your water meter, in the same place as your water main. It’s a bell-shaped device that’s hard to miss.
- Switch off: Switch off your water heater (disconnect the plug or turn it to vacation mode). Make sure no water is running anywhere in your home.
- Attach the gauge: Attach a pressure gauge to a faucet, washing machine shut-off valve or the drain spigot on your water heater.
- Run the water: Run the water in your home to get a pressure reading first. You need to know what you’re working with before you start adjusting. When you have a reading, turn the water off.
- Loosen the nut: With a wrench, loosen the nut on top of the water pressure regulator.
- Adjust the pressure: To raise the pressure, turn the adjuster bolt clockwise. To lower it, turn it counter-clockwise.
Quick TipDon’t let the locking nut and bolt touch; they can wear each other’s threads out.
- Rerun and test: Run the water in your home again and monitor the pressure gauge you set up. Keep adjusting the pressure as above until it’s at the desired level.
Method #9: Try the Curb-Side Water Main
The street-side or curb-side water main is the one your water company deals with. It runs into the water main that leads into your house (7). Construction or human error may have lead to the valve being left partially open.
You’ll need to buy a water key to use this method. It’s inexpensive and can come in handy in the future.
- Locate the mains: Find the curb-side water mains. There should be a metal cap or box outside of your home on the side facing the street.
- Remove the cover: Using the water key, pry the cover off. Be careful as the cover is likely going to be heavy. Set it down to the side.
- Inspect: You’ll see the valve and water meter underneath. You can look at your water meter if you’re curious. Open the protective cap and see.
- Locate the valve: The valve should be either horizontal (shut off) or vertical (switched on). If it’s at an angle, that might be where your shower troubles began.
- Adjust: Grip the valve with the water key and twist it on fully.
Method #10: Look for Leaks
If you’ve reached this stage, you might have a legitimate problem on your hands. At this stage, you can do a simple test to see if you have a leak somewhere.
- Take a water reading: Check your water meter and then write down the reading.
- Wait: Wait for two hours and don’t use any water.
- Take another reading: Look at your water meter again. Has the reading changed? If so, you almost certainly have a leak in your home (8).
Method #11: Call a Professional and Repair Issues
We have to hand it to you, dear reader; you’ve done all you can to get to the root of the issue. If none of our previous solutions have worked, you should contact a professional to help you from here.
More complicated issues need attention from a plumber. For example, you might have blocked pipes. A clog can affect how your fixtures function and can put unnecessary strain on your system (9). Damage or age-related wear and tear can also be interfering with your water pressure.
There’s a chance that you live in an area prone to low water pressure. If that’s the diagnosis you get from your plumber, we have two last resort solutions for you below.
Method #12: Buy a Pressure-Amplifying Showerhead
A pressure-amplifying showerhead forces water out at a higher pressure than a standard model does. The water pressure in your home stays the same, but it should feel stronger when showering.
We’ve covered this area with our analysis of the best high-pressure showerheads for low water pressure.
Method #13: Purchase a Pressure Booster Pump
A pressure booster pump is a surefire way to increase the water pressure in your shower. They’re optimal for homes where the water pressure isn’t sufficiently high for the demand, e.g., running multiple appliances at once (10).
Enjoy Your Invigorating Shower
There’s nothing fun about washing shampoo out of your hair with a slow trickle of water. Showers should be refreshing or soothing, not tiresome and irritating.
We hope you’ve found a technique that worked to restore your shower water pressure. But don’t see it as a failure if you couldn’t handle it yourself!
Some of our solutions are quick and cheap methods to increase water pressure in the shower, and you could save yourself a call-out charge from a plumber with these. However, there’s no shame in calling up the experts to get the problem resolved. The important thing is, you tried — and learned more about your plumbing in the process.