Replacing a shower head is one of the jobs that even the un-handiest homeowner has looked at and thought, “I could do that.” And usually, they’re right.
However, doing a job and doing a job well aren’t the same thing. If you don’t know all the ins and outs of your home improvement project, you run the risk of having to do it over again. At worst, you can do damage to your home.
So is shower tape a necessity when changing out a shower head? Let’s look at the ups and downs of shower tape, also known as thread tape or Teflon tape.
Shower Tape’s Job
Shower tape, or Teflon tape, acts as a seal when you wrap it around threads in just about any plumbing situation. In fact, some plumbers even use it on gas fittings as well. But what is it?
Technically, it’s called polytetrafluoroethylene tape, or PTFE tape for convenience and pronounceability. It’s a synthetic polymer, and Teflon is a brand name. The polymer is resistant to high temperatures and hydrophobic, which means it abhors water. It also possesses non-stick qualities, which is why many of us associate it with cookware.
PTFE tape in plumbing applications seals the threads of two pipes screwed together. This seal prevents water from leaking at the joint.
Installing a Shower Head
Once you’ve removed your old shower head, you’ll be left only with the shower arm, the pipe coming out of the wall to which your shower head was attached.
- Clean the arm—the threads on the outside and inside of the pipe—with a rag. If there’s PTFE tape left on the arm from the last shower head installation, remove it.
- The next step is to wrap the newly cleaned threads with shower tape. You only need to make two or three passes, so don’t feel like you need to create some thick layer of tape.
- Press down on the tape to get it to settle into the grooves created by the threading.
- Then screw the new shower head into place. Only hand tighten it. Applying too much torque can crack or otherwise damage your new shower head or the existing shower arm.
- Turn the shower on and check for leaks. If you properly wrapped the threads with shower tape, you shouldn’t find any. If there are leaks, take the shower head down, check it for any faults that might be causing the leak, and then start back at step one.
Properly applied shower tape will seal the joint at the threads and prevent any water from leaking when the shower runs.
Different Mount Types
Not every shower head screws onto the existing shower arm. Some shower heads are top-mount, and if you’re swapping an old top-mount for a new one, the installation steps above will work.
However, if you’re changing over from a wall-mounted shower head, like the ones with a shower arm, to a top-mount, using PTFE tape will be the least of your concerns, as you’ll need to run new pipes. You’ll most likely want to contact a professional.
You may also have a handheld shower head that attaches to the bathtub faucet. Depending on the attachment design, you may or may not need (or even be able) to use shower tape.
Is There Any Reason Not To Use PTFE Tape?
As effective and seemingly ubiquitous as tape for shower heads is, the material does have a drawback or two.
- Not every shower head is compatible with PTFE tape. Cheaper, lightweight plastic showerheads can suffer damage from the tape or cause breakage in the shower arm when removed. This happens because the tape’s strength is too much for the plastic materials, and the stress causes damage.
- PTFE tape is rugged, but that means it’s difficult to remove. Once you wrap a pipe with it, the tape’s strength makes it hard to tear off. But after the tape has had a shower head screwed down on top of it, it settles into the threads and becomes even harder to remove. You might even need to resort to something like Goo Gone to get it off.
Neither of these possible downsides to PTFE tape should make anyone decide that the leaks you’ll get without are worth it. A cheap shower head won’t last all that long, so you might as well invest in a good one.
As for the difficulty in removing the tape, how often do you plan on changing out your shower head?
Frequently Asked Questions
Plumbing is fraught with possible pitfalls, so it makes sense that people have lots of questions.
When should I put Teflon tape on my shower head?
Use Teflon tape when you install the shower head. If you experience leaks from the joint where the shower head meets the shower arm, you might try removing the shower head and applying a new layer of tape.
Do new shower heads come with Teflon tape?
While every homeowner should probably have some PTFE tape handy, as it’s practical for many household jobs, most shower heads come with a small amount of tape included in the packaging.
Do I need Teflon tape with a rubber gasket?
Some plumbing fixtures have a rubber gasket included. In these cases, tape for shower head installations is unnecessary, as the gasket exists to seal the connection. Adding PTFE tape is overkill.
How do you tape a shower head?
Technically, you don’t. You tape the shower arm by wrapping shower tape around the threads— winding it clockwise— so that you have two or three layers of tape.
Can you use too much Teflon tape?
You certainly can. If you use too much (more than four or five passes over the threads), you run the risk of the pipe not sealing because there’s too much tape in the way, and you can also experience the tape gumming up the threads. Two or three passes of tape are all that’s required.
In most cases, installing a shower head includes the necessary step of applying shower tape to the shower arm’s threads. We do this to seal the joint and prevent leaks. A good, solid installation should last you for years. Eliminating leaks is part of that installation process.