Thursday, May 3, 2012

Go With The Flow: Improving Water Flow of Clawfoot Tub Faucets and Clawfoot Tub Showers

Low or irregular flow is not only a complaint heard by urologist and proctologists. It is also a common complaint in the plumbing industry. In plumbing, poor water pressure from showerheads and faucets is frequently caused by debris left behind by hard water. Calcium, magnesium, and other minerals in hard water form deposits that restrict water flow or get trapped in valve openings. The majority of homes in America have hard water so this problem is not isolated to old homes or antique plumbing. The good news is that [A] hard water is not a health hazard (some even argue that the minerals in hard water contribute toward a healthy diet) and [B] cleaning faucets and showerheads can inexpensively reduce the buildup that causes poor water flow.

Sunflower Showerhead
Hard water deposits are often visible on showerheads and handheld showers as white build-up around nozzles where water is discharged. The build-up can clog nozzles or cause erratic spray patterns. Soaking a showerhead overnight in distilled white vinegar will dissolve mineral deposits or loosen them so they can be gently brushed away from nozzles. If this does not improve flow, hard water debris may be blocking the showerhead's flow restrictor. Modern showerheads, including antique reproduction showerheads for clawfoot tub showers, have flow restrictors integrated in them to conserve water. Essentially, a showerhead flow restrictor is a disk with a small hole in it. The small hole in the disk limits the amount of water that passes through the disk but it can also be easily clogged by debris in hard water. The flow restrictor is usually located at the threaded end of the showerhead. Soaking the flow restrictor in vinegar and cleaning as previously described will open the port to restore normal flow to the showerhead.


Improving water flow for a clawfoot tub faucet is often as easy as cleaning the aerator. Aerators are installed on the end of faucet spouts to mix air into water to reduce splashing and create the perception of greater water pressure. When sediment from hard water gets trapped in the aerator, water flow is actually restricted by the aerator. Uninstall the aerator from the end of the spout and clean it just as described for a showerhead.

Thermostatic Clawfoot Tub Faucet
Our final hard water victim is faucet valves. Just as we described how hard water deposits and debris can block the port in showerhead flow restrictors, it can also block clawfoot tub faucet valves. The build-up around valves will not be as easily detected as it is on showerheads and aerators because valves are internal but reduced flow or irregular flow are strong indicators that valves are blocked by hard water buildup. Antique clawfoot tub faucets with compression valves are particularly susceptible to hard water because the minerals deteriorate rubber washers causing the faucet to drip. Hard water can also be especially problematic for thermostatic clawfoot tub faucets and showers because they include additional check valves that are easily overlooked when troubleshooting flow issues. The check valves, or vacuum breakers, are integrated into the inlets on thermostatic clawfoot tub faucets to provide anti-siphon protection. If check valves get blocked by hard water deposits they will prevent water from reaching the thermostatic mixing valve. If you have a thermostatic faucet that isn't mixing correctly, there is a good chance that it is because one or both check valves are clogged. The location of check valves varies depending on the faucet and cleaning them is best left to an experienced, licensed plumber.

Routine maintenance of clawfoot tub faucets and clawfoot tub showers is an important step in reducing flow problems caused by hard water. Clean showerheads and faucet aerators regularly to improve performance and extend the life of your faucets and showers. If removing buildup from aerators and showerheads does not solve flow problems, consult with your trusted plumbing professional for help maintaining faucet valves.

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