Unclogging a water supply line for a bathtub is not a difficult task, although it does require that you have the proper tools on hand. To begin with, water supply lines are rarely clogged up unless the entire water supply for the house has extremely hard water over an extended period of time. If that's the case, get your water's hardness tested by a certified testing company. If your water tests high for mineral content, consider investing in a water softening unit that removes the hard minerals from the water before it enters into the household plumbing.
In most homes, the most likely cause of a clog in a bathtub's water supply is the accumulation of minerals present in the water system. Overtime, these minerals often referred to as "hard water", form deposits in either the shower head or the tub-and-shower mixing valve. In order to affect a repair on either of these, you will need a few tools, such as those detailed below:
A typical Tool box for plumbing repairs:
- Phillips Head Screwdriver
- Straight Slot Screwdriver
- Assorted Allen (Hex) Wrenches
- Adjustable (Crescent) Wrench
- Channel Lock Pliers
- Locking (Utility) Pliers
- Rag, for cleaning up and mopping up
- A stiff brush, such as an old toothbrush
- Teflon Tape
You should begin by turning off the water supply lines at the nearest point to the fixtures. There may be an access panel directly behind the tub and shower unit that will permit you to do so. If you cannot locate an access panel, just turn off the water at the nearest point to the bathroom you can find. In some homes, you may have to turnoff the entire household water supply.
Clogged Shower Heads
Mineral deposits from water with high levels of calcium are likely causes of clogs in shower heads. Correcting this problem requires your to remove the shower head and take the assembly apart. Use a properly sized wrench, such as a crescent wrench to remove the shower head. Using pliers or vise-grip pliers will result in unsightly nicks and burrs on the soft chrome. Many shower head assemblies that look like chrome plated metal are actually made from plastic these days. Unless you want to go the expense of replacing the old clogged shower head with a new, inexpensive assembly, you should use care in removing and replacing it.
Although there are many shapes, sizes and types of shower heads, a typical shower head assembly consists of a locking collar, an O-ring, a cylindrical body that may have a spray adjustment nozzle, and a faceplate. They are screwed on to the threaded portion of a curved neck that extends outward from the shower wall.
The shower head faceplate is likely held in place by a screw, which you should clean before applying the force of a screwdriver to it. Do this by soaking the shower head assembly in a suitable dish or pan filled with a vinegar solution or a commercial mineral-dissolving cleaner. After soaking, simply brush off the sediment and remove the faceplate. After cleaning the assembly with a stiff brush and a few more soakings in the vinegar solution, the shower head should be well-cleaned and ready to reassemble. Note that water saving devices, such as a shower restrictor, should be removed and cleaned at the same time.
Complete your repair with a close visual inspection. When you are satisfied that your shower head is completely clean, you can reattach the unit to the threaded pipe after wrapping the treads with a few turns of Teflon Tape.
Tub-and-Shower Mixing Valves
Unclogging a tub-and-shower valve is a more complicated matter. Here you need to remove and replace the mixing valve assembly and the cartridge, if necessary. Note: These assemblies vary widely, and the following instructions may not apply to your particular unit.
To remove the valve assembly, first remove the valve cap with a small file or screwdriver. Next, remove the screw that holds the valve handle in place and pull off the valve handle after removing the set screw that holds it in place.
After removing the set screw, and depending upon the style of the assembly, you may need to remove the cover plate and any other parts covering the valve assembly. Once the handle and any other hardware are removed, you should be able to remove the retaining clip that holds the mixing cartridge in place. Remove the locking nut and use pliers to extract the cartridge from the valve assembly. Always refer to and follow the manufacturer's instructions if you are installing a new cartridge.
Once the cartridge is removed from the assembly, turn on the water supply just long enough to flush out any residue that may be trapped inside the mixing valve body. If you cannot get both hot and cold water to flow from the valve's body, you probably have a more serious problem. Decide if the problem is either the hot or cold water supply line and consider retaining the services of a plumber.
Assuming that the supply lines are clear and you have a good flow of water from the mixing valve; you should turn off the water and install a new cartridge, again being sure to follow the manufacturer's directions. Soaking a cartridge in a cleaning solution such as vinegar or a mineral-dissolving cleaning solution may produce some success, but a new valve isn't very expensive and will produce a much better result. Nevertheless, if you choose to reinstall the old cartridge, be sure to replace the old O-ring at the base of the cartridge's stem with a new one after the unit is thoroughly cleaned and free of hard minerals. Finally, reinstall the handle and all other hardware and polish up the chrome work until it looks a bright as new. Your unclogged mixing valve should now be good for quite some time.