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How to Change a Shower Head – Comprehensive Guide

8 min read • February 16th, 2024

Heil Plumbing

Are you dealing with an outdated shower head? Or perhaps you’ve recently moved and the existing shower setup simply doesn’t meet your needs? Whatever your reason, changing a shower head can improve your morning (or evening) shower experience. What’s the best part? “How to change a shower head” is a DIY project that most homeowners can tackle on their own.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the process of changing a shower head, from the initial removal of the old one to the final leak test of the new installation. Whether your shower head won’t come off or you’re curious about how often you should change your shower head, we’ve got you covered. Plus, we’ll address common questions like, “Does changing the shower head increase pressure?” and “Are all shower heads easy to change?”. (Note: If your shower head or handle is dripping even when the water is off, you may actually have a valve leak on your hands. We covered this problem comprehensively, tackling both one-handle shower valve leaks and two- and three-handle shower valve leaks elsewhere).

Watch our step-by-step video for visual guidance, and keep reading to discover:

  • Essential tools and materials for the job
  • The straightforward steps to remove your old shower head
  • How to properly install a new shower head and ensure it’s leak-free
  • Practical tips for dealing with common installation challenges

Changing your shower head not only has the potential to enhance water flow and aesthetic appeal but also allows you to customize your shower experience to your preferences. Let’s dive in and transform your shower into a place of relaxation and rejuvenation.

Materials and Tools You’ll Need for Changing a Shower Head (0:15-1:08)

Before embarking on changing your shower head, gathering the right tools and materials is crucial for a smooth and successful installation. Fortunately, you won’t need an extensive toolkit for this job, making it an accessible project for DIY beginners and seasoned home improvers alike. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Adjustable Wrench: Opt for one with smooth jaws to prevent damaging the finish of your new shower head. A wrench will help you securely fasten the shower head without leaving any marks or scratches.
  • Teflon Tape: Also known as plumber’s tape, Teflon tape ensures a watertight seal between the shower arm and the new shower head. A few wraps around the threading will do the trick.
  • Blanket or Towel: Lay this down in your tub or shower area before starting. It serves as a protective layer to catch any dropped tools or parts, safeguarding the surface of your bathtub or shower base from scratches or dents.

Pro Tip: While these are the basic necessities, having a pair of tongue-and-groove pliers on hand can be helpful, especially if you encounter a stubborn old shower head. Just remember, if you use pliers, wrap the shower arm with a rag to protect its finish from the plier’s teeth.

Step 1: How to Remove a Shower Head (1:30-2:06)

The first step in upgrading your shower experience is to remove the old shower head. This task can range from straightforward to slightly challenging, depending on how long the shower head has been in place and the water quality in your area, which can affect mineral buildup. Here’s how to get it done:

  1. Preparation: Place the towel or blanket you’ve gathered in your tub or shower area. This precaution protects your bathing area from any accidental drops or slips, ensuring the surface remains scratch-free.
  2. Loosening the Old Shower Head: Grip the base of the shower head or the connecting nut with your adjustable wrench. To avoid damaging the finish, consider wrapping the shower head or nut with a piece of cloth before using the wrench. Turn the wrench counterclockwise (remember the “lefty loosey” rule) to loosen and unscrew the shower head. If it’s particularly stubborn, applying a gentle back-and-forth motion can help break the seal.
  3. By Hand: Once you’ve loosened the shower head with the wrench, you should be able to unscrew it the rest of the way by hand. This method provides you with more control and minimizes the risk of damaging the shower arm.
  4. Dealing with a Stuck Shower Head: If the shower head won’t budge, it’s likely due to mineral deposits from hard water. A helpful tip is to apply a vinegar solution (a mix of equal parts white vinegar and water) to the connection. Soak a cloth in the solution and wrap it around the stuck area. Let it sit for an hour before attempting to loosen it again. The vinegar helps dissolve the mineral buildup, and should make it easier to remove the shower head.
Not sure how to change a shower head? You need to remove a shower head first. We'll show you how.

Step 2: Cleaning the Neck Threads (2:13-2:35)

With the old shower head removed, you’re halfway there. The next crucial step is preparing the shower arm for the new head, which involves cleaning the threads on the neck. Proper cleaning ensures a perfect seal and a smooth installation process. Here’s what to do:

  1. Inspect the Threads: Start by examining the threads on the shower arm for any leftover Teflon tape, mineral deposits, or corrosion. These residues can interfere with the installation of the new shower head and lead to leaks.
  2. Remove Old Teflon Tape: Gently peel away any old Teflon tape from the threads. Removing all remnants is important to ensure the new tape adheres properly and provides a watertight seal.
  3. Clear Mineral Deposits: If you notice mineral buildup, lightly dampen a cloth with white vinegar and wrap it around the threaded area. Let it sit for about 30 to 60 minutes. Vinegar works excellently to dissolve these deposits without damaging the metal. After soaking, use a soft brush or cloth to scrub away the loosened minerals gently.
  4. Dry and Assess: Once cleaned, dry the threads thoroughly with a clean cloth. Take a moment to assess the condition of the shower arm threads. They should be clean and clear of any debris, ensuring a smooth surface for the new shower head installation.
  5. Apply New Teflon Tape: Before installing the new shower head, you’ll need to apply fresh Teflon tape to the threads. This step will be covered in detail in the installation process, ensuring a leak-free experience.

Step 3: Installing the New Shower Head (2:35-6:00)

After removing the old shower head and ensuring the threads are clean, you’re ready to install the new shower head. This process is straightforward but requires attention to detail to ensure a leak-free installation. Follow these steps to attach your new shower head correctly. Note: If the new shower head comes with a gasket or washer, skip to step 2, as the washer (not Teflon tape) will provide the seal in this case.

  1. Prepare the Threads with Teflon Tape: If your shower head does not come with a gasket or washer, wrap Teflon tape around the cleaned threads on the shower arm to form a water-tight seal. The tape helps prevent leaks by sealing the connection between the shower head and the arm. Apply the tape in a clockwise direction, which is the direction you’ll be screwing on the new shower head. Two to three wraps should suffice, ensuring the tape is flat and smooth against the threads. Do not wrap the threads more than three times, as too much Teflon tape can actually clog the shower head.
  2. Attach the New Shower Head: Carefully start screwing the new shower head onto the shower arm by hand. Hand-tightening ensures that you don’t cross-thread or damage the connection. For shower heads that come with a rubber washer or gasket, make sure it’s seated properly inside the head before attaching it, as this also helps prevent leaks.
  3. Secure the Connection: Once the shower head is hand-tight, use your adjustable wrench to gently snug it down. Remember to protect the finish of your shower head by placing a cloth between the wrench and the shower head or using a wrench with smooth jaws. It’s crucial not to over-tighten, as this can damage the seal, the threads, or even the shower head itself. Just a slight turn with the wrench should be enough to secure the shower head without risking damage.
  4. Final Check and Adjustment: After the shower head is installed, turn on the water to check for leaks. If you notice any dripping from the connection, you may need to tighten the shower head just a tad bit more. If an extra half-turn does not do the trick, you may need to add one extra layer of Teflon tape. Adjust as necessary to ensure a watertight seal. (Remember: If the shower head is leaking even when the water is turned off, the problem may not be your shower head but a shower valve leaking.)
  5. Enjoy Your New Shower Head: With the installation complete, your new shower head is ready to use. (Note: if you bought a shower head with a handheld sprayer, the handheld attachment will come with a gasket (screened washer) to form your seal. You do not need to add Teflon tape to the handheld attachment head. Also, do not tighten plastic handheld sprayers with a wrench. See the video above starting at minute 6:13.)

Step 4: Testing for Leaks

The final step is to ensure everything is watertight. Turn on the water and observe the connection between the shower head and the arm. Any sign of dripping or leakage needs immediate attention. Tighten the connection slightly if necessary, but remember, overtightening can cause damage. Finally, if leaks persist, consider adding a bit more Teflon tape and reinstalling.

How to Change a Shower Head FAQ

How do I know if my shower head needs to be changed?

Signs that it’s time to change your shower head include decreased water pressure, visible signs of mineral buildup, corrosion, or if it’s simply outdated and no longer matches your bathroom aesthetics. Regularly inspecting your shower head can help you determine the right time for a replacement.

How often should you change your shower head?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, as it depends on the water quality in your area and how well the shower head is maintained. However, a general recommendation is to consider replacing your shower head every 5 to 8 years, or sooner if you notice performance issues.

Can all shower heads be easily changed, or are there specific types that require professional installation?

Most standard shower heads are designed for easy DIY installation, following the universal “thread-on” method that fits most shower arms. However, some specialized shower systems may require professional installation, especially if they involve complex adjustments to plumbing or electrical connections.

Does changing the shower head increase water pressure?

Yes, changing your shower head can improve water pressure, especially if the old one was clogged with mineral deposits or designed with lower flow efficiency. Newer models are often designed to optimize water pressure, even within the limits of water-saving regulations.

How do I remove a shower head that is stuck?

For a shower head that won’t come off easily, apply a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water to the connecting nut and let it soak to loosen mineral deposits. If it remains stuck, using tools like adjustable wrenches with protective cloth or specialty tools designed for plumbing can help, but be careful not to damage the shower arm. Warning: If you apply too much force, you could break the shower arm or even the pipe in the wall, which can lead to water damage in the home. If all else fails, call a plumber.

Is it necessary to use Teflon tape when changing a shower head?

While not absolutely necessary, applying Teflon tape to the shower arm’s threads before installing a new shower head is recommended. It helps prevent leaks by ensuring a tighter seal. Wrap the tape clockwise around the threads 2-3 times for the best results.

Can I change a shower head myself, or should I call a professional?

Most people can change a shower head themselves using basic tools and following the steps outlined in this guide. However, if you encounter complex issues, such as damage to plumbing or if you’re installing a shower system that requires alterations to your home’s plumbing or electrical setup, seeking professional help is advisable.

Shower Head Won’t Come Off in the Baltimore or D.C. Area?

While changing a shower head is a manageable task for many homeowners, certain situations may call for professional expertise. If you’ve encountered challenges beyond the scope of DIY fixes, or if you’re considering more extensive bathroom renovations, contact a trustworthy local plumber. Our team is here to help.

Our Howard County plumbing team is equipped to handle any of your plumbing needs. Need our plumbers in Anne Arundel County? We’re ready to assist you! Live in Baltimore County? Our expert plumbers in Baltimore are here for top-notch assistance. Closer to Washington, D.C.? Our Montgomery County plumbers have you covered.


Heil Plumbing Team

8177 Mission Rd Jessup, MD, 20794, United States

(410) 799-7727

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