The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 15, 2013

Lessons Learned from Failed Plastic Plumbing Repair


I thought this was post was going to be another one of my triumphant reports about how I avoided buying a new plastic gadget because I was able to fix the old one. Like the tale of the rice cooker, or the umbrella, or the laundry basket, or even the washing machine. I imagined how proud and accomplished I would feel to report how instead of replacing my worn out shower head, I had cleaned and repaired it and made it good as new.

Sadly, this is not that post.  No, this post is about trying, failing, and wasting a whole lot of duct tape. But lessons were learned. Possibly. So I’m going to share the experience here anyway.

The Problem(s)

I bought this plastic Waterpik hand-held shower massage head at least 10 years ago. (I would not buy a hunk of plastic like this now.) Since then, the water has slowed to a trickle or simply stopped coming out through the holes it’s supposed to come out of.


The collar that holds it up on the wall broke so that it often falls off while in use. (Btw, collar looks like metal but is really plastic.)


We put up with these problems until this week when water started spraying out from where the handle connects to the metal hose.


We figured it was a waste of water to give the ceiling a shower every time we took one. So I decided to put on my handy ma’am pants and do something about it.

The Plan

I had a three part plan.

1) Replace the hose and thingie that connects to the pipe in the wall with the one that actually came with the shower head. I think when I installed the shower head the first time, I just used a hose that was already there for some reason when we moved in. Doing that would keep it from falling off the wall.

2) Soak the shower head in white vinegar to unclog the water holes. Try Googling “How to unclog shower head.” Everyone, and I mean everyone, recommends soaking in white vinegar.

3) Fix the leak at the bottom of the handle with Teflon tape and duct tape over that. I debated the Teflon tape because I don’t generally like to use perfluorochemicals. But the women in my Eco Women Warriors Facebook group all agreed nothing else works like good old PTFE.

So, I started out strong. I removed the old hose


Wrapped Teflon tape around the pipe threads


And screwed on the new (old) hose. Remember, I already had this. I didn’t go out and buy something new.


So far so good until…

The Unexpected

The plastic handle snapped right off the moment I tried to unscrew it from the hose.


Not good. It was already cracked, which is why it was leaking. What to do now?

The Fix(es)

Well, I continued with my plan to soak: it in white vinegar for several hours.


After that, I scrubbed it with an old toothbrush.


Then… hmm… how to attach it to the hose now that it had no threads to screw it on? How about duct tape? Duct tape is plastic. But better to use some duct tape I already have than go out and buy a new shower head, right?

Michael said I would need something stiff to hold the two pieces together. So he donated one of his old ear drop bottles for the cause.


I cut off the top and bottom.


And then started with the duct tape. Duct tape to seal up the house connection.


Duct tape to attach the hose and shower head together.


Then the ear drop tube…


And then a whole lot more duct tape on top. Wow, isn’t that elegant?


The Result

This is pretty much the definition of the word “fugly”. The beautiful thing is that the water sprays out of the cleaned shower head perfectly! The sad part is that it also sprays out of the duct tape. No matter how much I use.


Um… it’s dead, Jim.

Fortunately, in scrounging around looking for plumbing supplies, I found another shower head in a bathroom drawer. It’s not handheld, and it doesn’t massage all that well, but it works and doesn’t leak, which is what matters. I can’t tell if it’s really metal or chrome-covered plastic. We’ll see how long it lasts.


You know how long it took me to install that one? Maybe two minutes. I had to take the other hose off first.

Lessons Learned

1) Um… I’m not sure if the lesson is that plastic is crap and will eventually wear out and crack or if it’s that you shouldn’t screw plastic into a metal fitting it wasn’t meant to be screwed into in the first place.

2) White vinegar is proven awesome once again.

3) Duct tape actually will not fix everything.

4) Sometimes the simpler, easier solution is actually the better one, if less heroic.

5) Still, it’s always worth it to try things. How else do you learn?

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5 years ago

10 years is a good long time for a hand held shower to last, I would just buy a new one!

Danielle Leggett
7 years ago

I just wanted to say that your story sounds so much like how I operate. Save a dollar, waste a butt load of time to still end up with the same problem! I think that this was so well written. Thank you

10 years ago

Can you borrow a propane torch? My suggestion is to buy 2 metal hose clamps, get a pair of needle nose pliers, nut driver, and a propane torch. Remove all of the first repair. Open the window, start the torch, and gently heat the hose with the torch (it will take seconds). Don’t get it too hot, you don’t want it to scorch or turn color. You’re trying to make it pliable. As soon as it looks soft, turn off the torch, use the pliers to stretch the hose by sticking them inside of the hose and opening them. Quickly shove the warm hose over your handle. You want to work quickly so the hose doesn’t stiffen. After you get the hose over the handle, slide the clamps over the connection and tighten with a nut driver (firm but not too tight). You might even install the hose clamps on the hose before you start, scooting them out of the way. This is a little bit of a bubba solution, but it should work. I understand if you’re concerned about off gassing of the hose and decide not to try it. Just an fyi (:

10 years ago

Beth Terry You could probably cut the broken parts off clean and turn them down so they were round and then cut threads in them, then you would do kind of what you did with the ear drop container, but use a metal pipe, it would probably be much more trouble than its worth though. If you had access to a CNC machine you could design a replacement part and cut the whole thing out of metal, but that’s way expensive if you aren’t doing it for fun with scrap metal. One of the perks of my old job that I miss and did not use enough was being able to do personal projects.

10 years ago

You know what might be handy? A lot of times I read your blog and think “I could make that out of metal” I learned a lot of my basic machining skills from taking a class at CCSF. There’s one on Saturday that’s really fun, if it’s the same guy it’s a retired shop teacher and machinist who teaches to keep himself busy. You should check it out!

10 years ago

KatherinEdwards ^ what she said.

Claire Raby
10 years ago

yeah I made this same mistaken assumption, that duct tape would be water-tight, despite my utter hatred of everything duct tape. needless to say I still had a leak.

10 years ago

I LOVE that you share your success stories as well as the well…not so successful ones. I learn so much from your postings. Thanks (again) Beth!

Tracey TieF
10 years ago

I’m going with:
Plastic falls apart and breaks. Yes, it does. And then unlike glass, it’s just toxic waste.
Duct tape will not fix everything.
For plumbing bits, second hand stores and free cycling are my go-to s.
My last adventure in shower heads had me “buying” a metal looking thing on Canadian Tire points that turned out to be plastic. So I returned it.
You are heroic. The fracking things should be made of durable materials and last forever with cleaning.

10 years ago

i tink for me the most troubling thing is that – though we now KNOW without a doubt how harmful all of tghis plastic is, I continue to see more packaging switching from paper or glass to plastic! ritz crackers used to be in wax paper. no more- its plastic now!! i used to have options purchasing Juice- glass- but no more- its ALL in plastic now. a hershey bar used to be in foil and paper- no more- its in plastic!!! I’m baffled at trying to figure out who’s bright ideas they are- to switch from perfectly acceptable paper/etc to more plastic. I wonder if Nell Newman (a COA graduate) knows how many tons of plastic MC Donalds are contributing by selling their newman’s own iced coffee in plastic containers instead of waxed paper cups! Even worse, I’ve read that biodegradable plastics exist- have been invented – and should be replacing ALL of these types of single use plastics.

10 years ago

Ha ha! I have been throuhg some similar piece of crap plastic plumbing repairs. I dont think duct tape is the best option. they make some glue specifically for attaching PVC piping together that might have worked better- but anyway, the real reason I am commenting was I wanted to pass along some interesting info. The local college (College of the Atlantic) that my husband and I are graduates of has been sponsoring some interesting research on microplastics in our apparently crystal clear ocean waters up here. Marina garland , a student there, did a research project last year on this, with frightening results – showing microplastics were present in EVERY sample they have taken from all different locations in both shallow and deep, bays and marshes and open ocean- in ALL of our surrounding waters this plastic is present. very, very sad. The Blue Hill MERI (Marine Education Reseach Institute ?) has picked up on it too, and is also going to be publishing results of their own study later this year likely confirming Marinas depressing results. Anyway, here are some links for you about this research:

10 years ago

The experts always know exactly what to do but you, being an average person like the rest of us, set out like Columbus not knowing what will happen – the element of uncertainty makes for photo-scrolling excitement!
Duct tape – another drawback is after the passage time, if you need to remove it, a sticky gooey mess left to handle. I find electrical tape (alas, plastic) often works well.
We’ve a big jug of white vinegar, I’ll remember to use it on the shower head.

10 years ago

Good to know that duct tape can’t fix everything!
if you want to get another hand held- they are cheaper at Ross.

Miser Mom
10 years ago

Your shower head looks like the one I grew up with! What a memory!
New low-flow shower heads are almost certainly worth the investment, even if your current one isn’t leaking. It’s easy to see the plastic right in front of us (aka, the shower head), but when we take showers, we’re wasting all sorts of petrochemicals that we don’t see, in the form of the energy that’s heating our water. As you’ve discovered, replacing a shower head is easy . . . just about as easy as changing a light bulb, really. And if you use half the hot water you would have, that’s a real benefit to the plante.