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The Latin American Suicide Shower

ARGENTINA | Thursday, 7 September 2006 | Views [31002] | Comments [21]

A Latin American suicide shower.

A Latin American suicide shower.

Some areas of the world have particular things that define them, and although a good idea they are only found in one continent or region and nowhere else. This even applies to electrical appliances and for Central and South America one of the defining bathroom fixtures is the Suicide Shower. I was first told about them by some American friends in London who told me to watch out for a contraption that fits over the shower head and is plugged into the electric mains. Pretty scary until you get used to them, I was told.

The idea behind suicide showers is to provide hot water where the plumbing system does not run to a hot water boiler, which is the norm in most of tropical America. The water is heated inside the shower head and usually provides a constant and dependable stream of hot water. Getting the stream of water right is something of an art that comes with practice, if the water flow is low it will come out boiling hot, too high and it’s only lukewarm. Controlling the flow to the optimum level can take some time and in some hotels there are detailed instructions on the back of the bathroom door.

Of course the really scary thing about suicide showers is that they combine that lethal combination of water and electricity. They need a lot of power in order to work and so are wired straight into the mains; you know they are working because when you turn on the water all the lights go dim. Being South America you can buy one of these things in any hardware store and simply wire it up yourself using a few bits of insulation tape. Some of the bodge jobs I’ve seen have been truly terrifying, like you really feel you are taking your life in your hands. Do I really want to be clean that much? Sometimes when you turn the water up too quickly, an electric blue flash comes out of the side of the shower head and you really feel - this is it. One of the guide books says that they are perfectly safe as long as you don’t fiddle with them and I have only ever experienced a mild shock off one, so this does seem to be true.

Of course some suicide showers are better than others, with most of the best made in Brazil. South of the tropic and the Rio/San Paulo area they are no longer found as its cold enough in winter here for hotels to install real heating and hot water systems. As I am leaving South America soon it is farewell to the suicide shower, a part of the Latin experience.

Update October 2010

It seems I’m mistaken that suicide showers are only found in Latin America. I’ve just returned from East Africa and in some countries like Kenya, they are found in a few places. The altitude is high which makes the climate cooler, cool enough to want a hot shower, but not cool enough to warrant expensive heating systems. Importing these heaters is a cheap and practical solution.

Tags: travel tips

Comments

1

Hi Graham,
Couldn't help telling you about my own experience of a suicide shower. This one was in a chalet in Khana Kisli, Madra Pradesh, India. (The place where Kipling wrote the Jungle Book). These were semi detached chalets, and the first thing my aunt and uncle saw as they entered the ajoining chalet was a huge rat or chichundry, it promptly disappeared into a cupboard. My aunt told me about this, but advised me not to tell Judith.

That night Judith woke me to ask what the scrambling noise was on the roof, knowing what it was, I told her it was a bird because any other answer would have meant no sleep for the rest of the night!

The 'electric' shower was en-suite, traditional Indian wet room with hole in the corner, shower head, taps and a bucket half the size of a dustbin. Stripped off and standing on a wet concrete floor I grasped the tap and was aware of a sensation of 50Hz buzzing through my body. However, having been in the scouts, I improvised with a poly bag to turn the tap on and combined it with standing in the 20 gallon plastic bucket, managed to shower in relative safty! You can't beat an invigorating shower at the end of an adventuring day.
Regards,
John

  John Sep 8, 2006 6:22 AM

2

haha yeah, im brazilian and these electric showers are really normal here. i admit, when i have to use one of them i stay afraid. but i dont know anyone who died taking a shower, they are pretty safe. the problem to use them is if u have a salty water, good conductor of eletricity otherwise it is safe. bye!

  fee Apr 27, 2008 7:04 AM

3

I am loaded with $$$$ cash and my Brazilian girlfriend lives in a really nice apartment but she forces me to use a "suicide shower" and leave my credit cards with her...

  Jules. Aug 30, 2009 10:16 PM

4

I used to live in paraguay. Had these showers. We had no salt water. But dont touch the water head when its on. You fill a little sap. Beeing 6'4" you learn that pretty quick. Other then that, these showers are not bad at all.

  Toby Oct 2, 2009 1:07 AM

5

I´m brazilian and I always had an electric shower in my bathroom. It´s very common here. I think the term "suicide shower" is too exagerated, since I´ve never heard of anyone who died while taking a shower. This kind of shower is pretty safe.

  Luciana Jun 29, 2010 12:24 AM

6

Hey gringo, I'm from brazil and I'm here, at the middle of the jungle (São Paulo still have monkeys running free at the streets, didn't you know?), reading this marvelous text you wrote, well done...

Do you have the numbers of people who died using one of that you call "suicide
shower"? I use one of these since I was born, most people here too, but I never ever heard about a death caused by one of these. Curious, isn't it?

Is the central heating system generally safer? Maybe, it can be, but I've heard before, a lot of times, that the gas escaped from it, killing everyone in home poisoned by inhalation. Maybe you could be killed by an explosion too, when the gas escapes and someone just turn on the lights...

Are you afraid? Put yourself inside a cage in your house and STAY there. If you avoid to write like that, it would be a lot better.

I'm sorry for my bad english, the monkeys here aren't great english teachers.

  Brazilian with proud Jun 29, 2010 1:59 PM

7

Nice to know that Brazilians read my stuff. One thing they don't seem to teach you in English class is irony.

  Will Jun 30, 2010 5:24 AM

8

SEU FILHO DA PUTA, IRONIA É O CARALHO. MACACA É SUA MAE!

  RICARDO Jul 1, 2010 7:00 AM

9

gRINGO BURRO.

  RICARDO Jul 1, 2010 7:02 AM

10

Dear Ricardo,

Thank you so much for making my point.

Best
Will

  Will Jul 1, 2010 8:15 AM

11

suicide showers are used by poor people. every upper middle class house has a boiler system. just the poor use this kind of shower.

and you're not gonna find any hotel (at least 2 stars up) here in Brazil that still uses those suicide showers.

i've never used one of this and i hope i'll never have.

  JP Jul 1, 2010 10:50 PM

12

Will

First, don't be bothered by the trolls - they're universal.

I really liked your post because I've been around those showers all my childhood and always felt there was sonethin terribly stupid about the very idea of mixing electricity and water, but it never occurred to me that it was a Latin American "thing".

All beach houses my family ever rented for summeron some summer had those and although I never actually heard about anyone being seriously injured, 1 out of 3 baths I would feel a big shock when closing the shower.

There's an urban legend that you should wearbrubber shoes to the bath when going into one of those but that's simply silly, since the flip flop will be completely wet also. The best solution I found was to never touch the handle with your hand, just open the water by hammering it with a shampoo bottle.

Fortunately mist houses willbhave a decent boiler, even in rio. Except of course for cheap hotels...

  Alex van de sande Jul 2, 2010 4:38 AM

13

im not very used to take baths on those showers, it is a stupid idea to mix electricity and water.... and i never knew that this is a "latin american" thing

  whoops Jul 15, 2010 11:01 PM

14

Dear Whoops,

It's a stupid idea for me do barbecues with hamburgers! Dear god,you really dont know how to eat.

Anyway, as someone told before: the gas system it isn´s safe either. But I never heard about someone died caused by an eletric pane on these showers.

Bye

  Gabriela Jul 19, 2010 10:34 PM

15

i heard that a few travellers have died due to the dodgy wiring of a guesthouse shower in san pedro la laguna in guatemalas lago de atitlan region.

  Rob Aug 29, 2010 1:15 PM

16

I like the whole idea of using this kind of shower heads. I'm in the process of importing them in India from a Brazilian company. Any suggestions??

  Mayank Oct 22, 2010 7:27 AM

17

Hi! Hahahaha, I liked your point, electric showers sounds kind a bizzare idea. The main problem with these stuff is the power, they use too much amps to work, so a bad installation always causes wire melting, haunting sparks and a shower that don't heat the water enough, but well installed, they are harmless and heats the water too much at the higher level, enough to a good bath in a winter with -1°C to 0°C.

But as many tourists stay in poor hotels (almost wild places only have poor hotels), it's easy to find showers in a too bad conditions like that in the picture, but people usually make a good work with their shower in their houses, so that's almost all people don't have issues against this stuff, but in hotels with electric shower, even I who use electric showers since always would be very concerned XDDD
Bye!

  Gustavo Miranda Feb 14, 2011 7:09 AM

18

Well... the electric showers are pretty safe if installed correctly. Remember, electricity always follows the path of least resistance, and although tap water can conduct electricity, the heating wire inside the shower offer a much easier path. There's also a ground wire inside the shower, but too often brazilian buildings don't have a proper electrical wiring with a ground wire connected to earth. If you see a disconnected wire on a shower, it's probably the ground wire.

Also, it's not connected directly to mains. The shower is supposed to have a dedicated fuse, but guess what, sometimes that's also missing.

That thing does look scary, but it's very unlikely for someone to be electrocuted while showering. What usually happens is someone with little or no training tries to fix and/or replace the shower and gets electrocuted.

  Diogenes Jul 21, 2012 3:06 AM

19

Actually, thinking a little more about it, I bet a lot more people die by dropping some electrical appliance in a bathtub (hairdryer, telephone, etc), than by showering with an electrical shower. I am a lot more scared by a gas or electric water boiler that can explode like a bomb inside my house than by an electric shower.

The point is, in many countries these things are properly installed and supervised. In Brazil they aren't...

  Diogenes Jul 21, 2012 3:16 AM

20

Hey not Brazilian people! These, as you said, "suicide shower", must be connected to ground, like any other electrical appliance, this way it is very safe. There are regulations and standards which the appliance must comply to avoid electrical risks, not only in Latam.
For your information there is an European standard for this same kind of product, an IEC standard (IEC 60335-2-35).

As you can see, the only problem is that you are not used with this product, but it is safe and accepted by regulations and standards, including in Europe.

Listen and Learn!!

  Paulo Valle Nov 12, 2013 11:34 AM

21

Will,

I am Brazilian and I have to admit that people from my country (and probably Latin America as a whole) have a very low self-esteem and an inferiority complex when it comes to more developed nations so don't be impressed that people take everything personally and start calling you names here.

I’ve never heard of this term 'suicide shower'. We just call them electric showers. I have relied on them my whole life and to be honest, before I had the chance to travel overseas for the first time, I used to think that the whole world used them, since they’re so ubiquitous here.

As for them looking scary, I think it's more a matter of getting used to them (I for one am way more scared of the slippery tiles of Brazilian bathrooms). With proper grounding and installation, these showers are completely safe and in 27 years of life, I've never heard of one single person dying because of them. But then again, I live in a relatively developed area in São Paulo, Brazil, so I can't speak for the whole of Latin America.

  Sergio Nov 26, 2013 6:24 AM

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