<rant> Why are shower heads made with a circular outer section that's nigh impossible to unscrew once they get stuck with years' worth of deposits,

PS: pardon my frustration and inadequate vocabulary; coming from Belgium, I'm somewhat disappointed with construction and fixture quality in California.

shitty shower head

instead of having a few flat faces so regular adjustable wrenches can be used?

sane shower head


Anyway, what are alternatives to Vise Grip pliers or pipe wrenches for unscrewing the regular stuck round shower head pipe from the shower arm? I've tried pliers and adjustable wrenches, but obviously they slip (the ridges are a joke and the picture shows how weak the metal is). WD-40 didn't help.

  • I'd use a channel lock wrench. – Dan D. Nov 20 '15 at 8:59
  • If you can't get it any other way, then you can unscrew the entire shower arm from the wall and replace that as well. – Jason Hutchinson Nov 20 '15 at 19:47

WD40 may not be the best solvent for the job. A solvent that's made mainly to loosen screws, like Liquid Wrench or B'Laster, may work better, but they also might not work too well against the residues that build up on plumbing.

Soaking the head in a cleaner made to dissolve calcium, lime, and rust, like CLR, or vinegar, with this trick (saw it on Lifehacker)

plastic bag trick to clean showerhead

may loosen things that the others don't. You fill a bag with cleaner and tape it onto the showerhead to let it soak.

You can grab the pipe with whatever wrench is handy, but the right wrench will grab more securely. A pipe wrench

Rigid 31000 Pipe Wrench

will grab it for sure, but it will bite into the metal and leave a visible mark.

A strap wrench

Klein S-6H Strap Wrench

will grab without marring, but the surface needs to be dry and clean - any wd40 residue would need to be cleaned off.

There are some cheap rubber strap wrenches available

Harbor Freight Rubber Strap Wrenches

Both types, strap wrenches and pipe wrenches only work in one direction - you'll figure out which way, just be aware of that.

  • Have you tried strap wrenches in 1/2" pipe? I doubt that either one of those pictured are made for grasping on something that small in diameter. – Michael Karas Nov 20 '15 at 15:23
  • 1
    I know what you mean, but you might be picturing one of the BIG ones that Klein or Rigid makes. The Klein in the picture is just 6" long, and it's set up so it will work with small stuff. – batsplatsterson Nov 20 '15 at 15:45
  • Thanks for the info on small sized strap wrench. I'll have to get one of those. – Michael Karas Nov 20 '15 at 15:48
  • Now I have some real doubts as to the applicability of even the 6" Kline strap wrench. This link - amazon.com/Klein-Tools-S-6H--5-Inch-Capacity/dp/B0000DIN9P/… - specifies the thing has a capacity range from 1.5" to 5". Totally not suitable for use on a small diameter 1/2" shower nozzle pipe. – Michael Karas Nov 20 '15 at 15:54
  • I see that, it does indeed say that ... but click the other sizes on that page, the info may be listed wrong. I have one and I don't think I've every used it on anything bigger than 1" :) Or maybe I have been using it illegally! It seems to work... – batsplatsterson Nov 20 '15 at 16:36

Wrap the head in a rag, and then apply the vise-grip or channel locks as tight as you can get them. Make sure you've got a good bit of material between the pipe and the pliers; if you're using an old T-shirt you'll want to fold it a couple of times. The rag will compress when the pliers squeeze and will give it more surface area to grab than using just the pliers, and will also prevent the pliers from slipping off due to the softer metal of the pipe giving way to the hardened tool.

  • 1
    I was taught to use leather when doing this it is a good use for old belts. I prefer strap wrenches I find less damage from them. – Ed Beal Nov 15 '17 at 19:59

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