Rain shower heads are terrific at providing a spa-like experience in the comfort of your own home. However, when the water pressure is lacking, it can be frustrating to use, especially as you try to rinse off soap and shampoo.
We’ll go over all the ways you may be able to increase the water pressure of your existing shower head.
Problems with new vs. older shower heads
To help figure out what the problem is with your shower head, it’s important to know the age of your shower head. Here’s why:
- Newer Shower Heads (installed in the last year): The common problem of why the pressure is lacking with many newer shower heads is that they simply don’t have a high GPM (gallons per minute) flow rate. If possible, look up the flow rate of your shower head. If it’s less than 2.0 GPM, then you may want to replace it with a higher flow rate model or look at replacing the flow restrictor valve (more on this later).
- Older Shower Heads (1+ year post-installation): For older models, mineral buildup, sediment trapped within the shower head itself, and clogged nozzles are likely culprits for why the pressure is lower than expected.
Optimal performance begins with regular cleaning
To ensure that your shower head remains operationally efficient and that the water pressure remains up to par, it’s important to take the time to clean it regularly. When cleaning a shower head, either use a chemical-based cleaner like CLR, especially if you live in an area with hard well water or a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water.
Since rain shower heads are difficult to clean, we recommend tieing a storage bag onto the shower head and filling it with your cleaner of choice, then allowing it to soak overnight. The following morning, run the water for a few minutes, turn off the water, and use a toothbrush to scrub off the remaining residue.
We discuss this in more detail on our How to Clean a Shower Head page.
What is the measured flow rate, and how it impacts water pressure
All shower heads sold in the United States after 1994 must not exceed a flow rate of 2.5 GPM by law (source). GPM stands for gallons per minute and is the amount of water that flows through the shower head each minute it is fully open.
Despite federal regulations, some states and cities place additional restrictions on the flow rate of shower heads. In contrast, rain shower heads are typically larger than standard shower heads, they still must adhere to the same flow rate restrictions.
Why does this matter?
While flow rate isn’t a direct indicator of water pressure or the force by which that water is produced, a high GPM means a higher output of water. This, in turn, often provides higher water pressure.
But where things get complicated is that rain shower heads are significantly larger than standard shower heads. This results in a lower pressure per square inch.
If your rain shower head is 12″+ in diameter, then the pressure will feel weaker compared to a smaller one.
It’s important to look at the flow rate of the shower head and the size of the shower head when making a purchase. If you want increased pressure, it may be worth downsizing.
Can you remove or change the flow restrictor?
To regulate the flow of water, companies add a flow restrictor valve. This small plastic or mesh valve is inserted into the shower head and limits the flow of water to the advertised rate to comply with federal and local regulations.
Luckily removing or changing these valves is surprisingly easy. Hardware stores or online retailers sell various restrictor valves that reduce water to anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 gallons per minute.
To remove the existing restrictor valve, simply remove the shower head and unscrew or drill out the small plastic disc inside the shower head itself. When inserting a new restrictor valve, set it in the correct orientation and reassemble the head.
Is sediment building up in the shower head or on the nozzles?
Depending on your water source, be it well or city water, sediment can also build up in the plumbing and shower head, reducing the water pressure. This is especially pronounced in areas with hard well water.
To reduce sediment, limescale, and other minerals, consider installing a shower filter that removes common contaminants in hard well water.
Does your shower head have multiple spray settings?
While rare, some rain shower heads may have multiple spray patterns – allowing you to adjust to a more concentrated flow of water. For example, the GROHE 26797000 rain shower head has three patterns; you can adjust the flow of water to be either a gentle rainfall to a more concentrated jet spray.
Double-check to see if your rain shower head has such settings.
Is the water main fully open, or are other appliances on?
If you recently had work done on your plumbing or someone turned the main water valve to the shower head off, double-check that it is fully open.
Additionally, if you shower in the morning while the washer, dishwasher, or any other appliance is on, there could be a decrease in the shower head water pressure as the water is being diverted to the other appliance.
Install a separate handheld wand for cleaning
Lastly, if none of the above solutions work, you can always consider installing a separate handheld wand. This makes it easier to get thoroughly cleaned and rinsed off without having to worry about the water pressure. When reviewing some rain shower heads that include a separate handheld wand, most have several spray settings, including a high-pressure jet spray.