The Frightening Case Of The Homicidal Shower Head

Friday, August 16, 2013


Those who have traveled through Central America or Southeast Asia know what I’m talking about. Suicide showers, also known as “widow makers,” are showers where the water is heated in the shower head rather than the traditional method of being fed from a centralized hot water tank.

During the year I lived in Jocotenango, Guatemala, the suicide showers in our bathroom were a source of endless excitement and constant terror. Every few months one of them would explode and emit sparks, turning a simple shower into a scene from Armageddon.

After installing several brands, I began to suspect that the shower heads were not to blame and that maybe our house had shitty wiring. I brought this concern to my landlord who quickly dismissed it, assuring me that he had wired the house himself.

When friends and family visited me, I would warn them, “Don’t touch the shower head, it can kill you.”

But can it really? I knew that it could give someone quite a shock and that it was never pleasant when they exploded, but I had never actually heard of anyone being killed in the shower from one. So can they really kill you?

The answer, apparently, is yes, they can kill you.

After a little research, I learned that in 2011, a Swedish couple was killed in Thailand when they were electrocuted by a shower in their hotel. As reported by Sweden’s The Local, friends staying in the next room rushed in to the couple’s room after hearing the their screams.

The first person on the scene found them unconscious and attempted to revive them when she too received a powerful shock when she made contact. The Local also mentioned that this was not the first time Swedish tourists in Thailand had been killed by an electric shower. That’s a high price to pay for hot water, and further research shows that this is not an isolated incident, but one of the less considered dangers of travel.

After picking up dirt from the road, there’s nothing better than a hot shower, but just remember the sleeping psychopath. Enjoy the water, but do not touch the shower head.

By Luke Maguire Armstrong


About the Author

A Promise Stretching Through Time In Kenya After setting out to hitchhike from Chile to Alaska, Luke Maguire Armstrong stopped in Guatemala where he spent four years directing the social service programs of the charity Nuestros Ahijados. He is the author of iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About, which is especially enjoyed by people “who don’t read poetry.” His new book, How We Are Human, was recently released. (Follow Luke on Twitter: @lukespartacus)

  • TiagoBarufi

    Actually the suicide shower is far less dangerous than one could suppose, given it works by providing heat by a live wire inserted into the water flow.
    Even if there’s no ground wire, the fact is that the current usually ‘prefers’ to travel from the live wire to ground by the water, whether through the piping or even through the water flow.
    The danger is only present if the thing is not properly insulated or defective and someone touches it when not turned on, and being wet and barefoot: then the shock can be deadly for sure.
    The other common problem is the fire hazard, since the thing is really powerful (usually about 5kW), and sometimes people choose to spare resources and wire it with inadequate cabling.
    I live in Brasil and here these contraption is the norm especially in the tropical areas; I’ve never heard about any serious accident involving electric showers.

  • Hudson


  • Lily Hess

    hot article =)

  • These shower heads need to the correctly installed. Most likely the earth wire was not connected at all. If earth is absent, you act as the earth and will be electrocuted.

    • mattstabile

      Ah, good point. So you’re saying I should’ve paid attention in science class in sixth grade?

    • Okay Dokey

      even if correctly wired up they are a deathtrap. The earthing is bullshit with a blank copper wire being suspended in the water. Which WILL corrode, and there will ALWAYS be some current leaking.

    • Sam Greenaum

      What wire? There isn’t an earth wire!

      These have a live, uninsulated coil of resistance wire, right in the shower head. The water flows directly through it. Live, uninsulated. It’s connected directly to the mains. Thus they are known as “Suicide Showers”.

      It’s insane, but people use them.

      • stoffer

        Why would anyone in their right mind use uninsulated heating element!?

        • Sam Greenaum

          There’s only so many things you can insulate a heating element with. You can’t use plastic, because it would melt. You can use ceramic, enamel. But that’s not flexible, and will likely crack into little bits that’ll get into the water flow.

          Also of course, because uninsulated heating wire is cheap. That’s most of the reason.

          Water itself is more-or-less an insulator, particularly when it’s broken into drops. Like the Mythbusters pissing on a live rail experiment. So in general these tend not to kill lots of people. They’re still really fuckin’ dangerous in my eyes, living in a country where we have electrical safety regulations. But I suppose the risk : price ratio is just right for people in poor countries.

        • TiagoBarufi

          because usually any escaping current travels by the water, thus sparing the body. I’ve never heard of any serious accident involving so-called suicide showers.

  • mattstabile

    Luke, can you provide tips or warning about any other means one may die in a shower? I feel this is useful information, and something I think about often while in the bathroom.

    • Lukespartacus

      There are many ways to die in a shower. If, for instance, you are very old, you could die from old age in a shower. You could also die from AIDS or cancer if you have either and spend your last minute in the shower. I suspect the Swedish couple that died we doing some heavy petting in the shower, and you know how heavy petting leads to the raising of the arms (to raise the roof) which probably cause one of them to touch a wire they shouldn’t have and the rest is, well, unfortunate history.

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