Suicide Shower (Guatemala snapshot)

(Click for super grande). I'm traveling in Central America. I took this snapshot in a K'iche' Maya village in Guatemala where people bathe using a traditional tuj (Maya sweat bath of hot rocks and steam and herbs). I think the family whose home this is in installed it for visiting aid volunteers from the US, a long time ago. But they only get running water a couple times a week for a few hours at a time, and it's full of pathogens, at that. Perhaps in part for that reason, the family themselves never ever use this thing. Guess what? I can assure you that I will never ever use it, either.

See how the electric wires go right into the incoming stream of cold water, to heat it up? Yeah.

A friend who lives in Costa Rica says they have 'em there, too, and they call them "suicide showers." Am I just a big old scaredygringa, or do you also find this gadget terrifying? Boing Boing readers, if you've seen these contraptions (or have used one and lived to tell), I'd love to hear your harrowing tales in the comments.

Image link, and here's another snapshot that kinda shows you the context (not terribly high quality photo because I shot on iPhone).


  1. That water heater setup is typical in Costa Rica, and you get used to it and use it if you want a warm shower. However, the placement of that switch is what frightens me more than anything.

    1. Took the words out of my mouth. Anyone who’s been backpacking in costa rica will let you know this is the norm.

  2. Half of the hostels in Guatemala City use this kind of shower. They look scary, but the water they heat up is probably more dangerous to your health.

  3. I’m not sure about the example you posted, but we have these type of overhead water heaters in Bolivia. They work fine, sometimes, but at others, it can get bad.

    I heard the story that 2 people were taking a shower at the same time in 2 different bathrooms with connected water pipes. Apparently, the current traveled through the water/pipes and, when one guy connected the circuit by standing in the shower and touching the shower knob, he got a pretty severe shock.

    We also had one when I was in Belize that shorted out and caught fire WHILE I WAS IN THE SHOWER. I’m not sure how I dodged the bullet there, but I got out of there in a arrhythmic heartbeat.

  4. my home wiring skills are neolithic, but what scares me… for this to work, is that there would have to be no breaker. I pulled guatemala’s electricity faqish, 120 volts, 60 cycle AC… which is pretty much ours. but without a modern breaker if you become the ground in this situation….. you’d be a nicely steamed potato

  5. I’d assume that, most of the time, the shower user would not be the preferred return path to earth and would thus escape alive.

    However, I am equally sure that any competent electrician could think of half a dozen very plausible failure modes that would silently flip the “murder_user” bit.

  6. I installed one of these things myself while living in a rural town in Honduras. Sure, you could go without hot showers indefinitely, but for a relatively low price, why not take your life into your own hands for a few minutes of warm wakeupness in the morning.

  7. they have those in belize as well. although the one in my house doesn’t have the current quite so visible.

  8. Tons of hostels and hotels in Peru and Bolivia have these showers. You hear a lot of backpackers complain that they felt a jolt when their hand touched one of the wires by accident, but I’ve never heard of any serious electrocutions.

  9. I used one of these in Ecuador years ago, and it shocked the hell out of me several times. Not fun, but a cold shower isn’t either, even living near the equator. Eventually, my desire to live won out and I opted for the frozen amoeba shower instead. Just don’t open your mouth.

  10. I used these all the time when I lived in Costa Rica. They seem incredibly sketchy and make a crazy electric frying sound when the water goes through them. But I always turned them on because the prospect of electrocution was not as bad as having a freezing shower each morning.

    I think we called them Frankensteins, BTW.

  11. I showered using almost the same model in Cuzco, Peru, when I visited a friend two years ago. Since he had been using it for 3 years, I figured out I could survive too.

    At times, there was some current going on. I had a few muscle contractions, like the ones you have when you trip on an electrified fence for cattle, but I managed to stay alive. (I don’t know if the amp/volt was lowered before it went in there, I didn’t want to check and I’m not good enough with electricity, anyway :) )

  12. Back in 2002 I was travelling in Brazil for about 4 months and I had to use these things just about everywhere I went. I remember once touching the tap while bathing and getting electrocuted to the point that I was thrown back against the back wall of the shower and to the ground, where I lay limp and stunned for around five minutes.

    It was literally terrifying. The moral of the story, use a dry towel to turn the tap off after showering.

  13. I used the one in my house in Belize every day for two years. They do make an absolutely terrifying sound, but damn they do get the water hot.

  14. I’ve used these in Guatemala. One time I foolishly reached up to adjust the shower head while taking a shower and got a nasty buzz. That was dumb. I think if you don’t do that then you should be OK. After all you don’t hear up about electrocution as a leading cause of Guatemalan deaths, and I’m pretty sure it’s not an immunity thing. Though that would be awesome.

  15. Yep, they’re very common in Guatemala. Used them everywhere we went back on our honeymoon. The worst side effect was a slight electrical current running through a side nozzle on the shower head. No biggy :)

  16. I actually prefer the electric models to the in-line gas powered shower heaters also in use in Brazil, which sometimes get a little explodey.

  17. Hello from El Salvador… We have them here too and once installed correctly they do a heck of a job of heating up water for a hot shower. The one in the picture is definitely an amateur electric job and a “suicide” waiting to happen.

  18. I saw (and used!) one of these once in Santa Elena, Costa Rica. I probably wouldn’t have used it, only I saw someone else emerge unharmed, so I figured…what the hell.

    I came out alive, but do remember actually feeling a bit of an electric tingle; I think it was when I touched the showerhead to adjust the water direction (a stupid move in hindsight). But hey, at least I didn’t have to take a cold shower.

  19. I used several similar ones while travelling around Perú and Bolivia a couple of years ago. The most common problem was they overheated and cut out on any setting approaching warm, leaving you to take a cold shower.

    On one of them I could feel a mild current current grounding through me, felt a bit like touching an electric fence with a wet stick, but nothing spectacular like johnpaul.

  20. This looks like something you’d find on the site
    and I’ve seen other sites featuring photos from building inspectors of other hair raising “fixes” people come up with. Can you use them a whole bunch of times without killing yourself? Sure. But the whole idea behind safety is to keep the injuries and deaths down to nil.

  21. I’ve used these things before, assuming that my assumptions about electrical safety are just part of my imperialist baggage, along with my desire to drink non-instant coffee in the land where it is grown. But guess what? These things ARE dangerous. I reached up to make a little adjustment in the showerhead and could feel a strong tink! tink! think! in my forearm coming from the juice. I got the fuck out of there and never used another one.

  22. Yeah I zapped myself on one of those when I was in Flores Guatemala. My spanish kinda sucks and I had a fun time trying to translate, “My Shower is Electrocuting Me.”

  23. they have these all over cuba as well – i used them without incident although i was terrified and laughing my head off the first time!

    1. I installed one in my apartment in Panama, no breaker, but it runs off 120 lines. Of course it could kill, I suppose, but it hasn’t yet. I think these are great because when I was in Cuba, the water ran through an electric water heater plugged into the wall and grounded on the copper water pipe. Touching that pipe while standing in the shower was a real eye opener. Of course the Cuban coffee was more dangerous than the hot water.

  24. Been there, done that, got the shock. The one that got me was actually installed in a metal-walled cubicle in a youth hostel shower block. I’m just glad that the walls weren’t live as well.

    In Peru, they’re known as “Brazilian showers”. Needless to say, many of them are DIY jobs by people who have no business doing anything with electricity.

  25. those are really common, and that wiring is also pretty common…i learned to use a dry towel very quickly after a small electrocution my first time in guatemala.

  26. That looks scary, but it’s mostly because the wiring is so amateurish.

    Electric water heaters are common in the more developed countries, including the US. And they also work by putting electric heating coils in contact with (and high voltages in close proximity to) the very same water you’re showering in. But the wiring is far away and hidden from view when you bathe, so it doesn’t seem so scary.

    I don’t see why this sort of arrangement couldn’t be used with a GFI for additional safety.

    1. It isn’t that electric resistive water heaters are unsafe, it’s that there are safe ways and unsafe ways of building them.

      In a properly built resistive heating element, you’ll have the current carrying resistive wire, surrounded by a thermally conductive but largely inert material(usually magnesium oxide) and then the whole lot enclosed in a watertight outer sleeve. This gives you good thermal contact with the water; but decent electrical isolation. A GFI helps shut things down should some component fail.

      In this case, if the quality of the exterior wiring is any indication, somebody probably just stripped the insulation off a bunch of wire, coiled it up, and called it a day. I’d have minimal confidence that the heating element was properly engineered to provide electrical isolation.

      Engineering is, in part, about looking safe; but it is also about building systems that are genuinely safer.

  27. When I was in Costa Rica I only ever heard of one “shocking story” and the shower heads even warmed the water up on some occasions. I studied water microbes in a lab and there is no reason to think these showers have worse bacteria than the ones in the US, as long as you don’t drink the water. Which I did while I was there. I found it to cause less stomach problems than Beijing but more than Dar Es Salaam.

  28. We use to have one in my dad’s summer house back in Bolivia. It had two temperature settings, I was zapped a couple of times with 220v while trying to change the setting with the water running. After that I always set the temperature before opening the water. LOL

  29. Electric shower heaters can be purchased at Lowe’s and Home Depot here in the States. Hopefully they’re installed better, but the idea is the same. Electric heaters such as this actually save a lot of energy over the tank variety.

    In Costa Rica, this is simply known as “the shower”. It’s perfectly normal. I used one every day even though at first I was more put off by it than the cockroaches. The placement of that switch does seem a bit off though.

  30. No big deal, these are used throughout South America. I have one of these in my shower and for the kitchen sink. The bigest problem is that they use a lot of electricity.

  31. These are common in homes throughout South America, from what I’ve gathered in my travels there. In Ecuador, I stayed with a family whose showerhead was wired to a Dr. Frankenstein-style knife switch that arced impressively when you turned it on or off. In Brazil, they seemed somewhat safer, with what appeared to be a sealed and grounded rotary switch, although it didn’t silence the water + electricity = death alarm bell in the back of my mind.

    It goes to show that in the USA we take for granted things like our 35 gallon hot water heaters, which are standard in even the grimiest of hovels. In Brazil, I was staying in the home of two physicians, and they didn’t have central hot water heating. Even in other first world countries, like England, hot water is something of an after thought in older homes with a small on demand heater in the kitchen.

  32. Just dropping in to say pretty much the same thing as most of the folks here: those things are perfectly safe so long as they’re installed correctly. The one in the photo: NOT correctly installed…ooks like a great way to die.

    I used these all the time in Costa Rica, and the only complaint I ever had was the fact that you usually had to very actively adjust the flow of the water to find the “sweet spot” where the water had enough time in contact with the heating elements to actually warm up. Too much water moving too fast through the shower head = cold water. Too little water and the heating element would automatically click off (presumably for fire safety or something) = cold water. That sweet spot usually meant you were getting a pattering trickle of decently warmish water, but you had to keep your hand on the faucet control to make constant tiny adjustments.

  33. I used one of those in Costa Rica and I thought, “people must use this all the time,” so I went ahed and tried it. Went to adjust the flow of water, shocked the shit out of myself. I certainly won’t try that again.

  34. “Electric heaters such as this actually save a lot of energy over the tank variety.”

    aka tankless water heaters.

    I found that these wire contraptions didn’t get the water very hot when I was traveling rural Guatemala. Same thing with my old Titan tankless heater at home.

  35. I used that in Peru. There’s no gas pipes in most of Peru, so you have either that or an electrical heating tank which takes about half an hour to heat a 10 minute shower. I got the shocks too (the shower was very law and I generally touched it while shampooing) but it wasn’t that bad. It was connected to ground voltage too (220v in Peru). Given what the food is like there, I find this form of suicide to be friendly.

  36. These are also common in Chile as well as Belize. I’ve never heard of anyone facing any problems with these when used correctly, but… I have been advised “don’t touch the wire.”

  37. Used one of these in Ecuador for two years. Mine was spliced into the lightbulb socket wires and sucked so much power the lights dimmed halfway when the shower was on. This system does make a worrisome sound when it’s running, but it gets the water hot. The only real danger is if you touch the thing while soaking wet. Sounds like an easy rule to remember, but I was definitely knocked to the ground at least once.

  38. In 1986 or so while vacationing in Costa rica we had showers like these in our hotel at Manuel Antonio State Park ( or something like that) on the pacific coast. It was a little scary but it did provide hot water. And a scare to our friends who we were traveling with who also had one but with a broken exposed wire in their room. This forced one of them to come down to our room to have a hot shower which provoked some other kind of sparks.

  39. I definitely experienced these when I was living in Guatemala. I remember hearing a loud shriek from my roommate, Rosa, as she was mildly electrocuted when she raised her razor up to rinse it. Our showers had dramatically curly wires, and the shower head looked more ancient than the one pictured here.

  40. I lived in Peru for over a year, and these types of showers are all over the place. They’re actually one of the better methods of heating up water to shower (gas powered heaters give you a blast of hot water and then a long trickle of frigid ice water, not the nicest thing when you’re waking up), but you have to be careful not to reach up to high while washing under your arms…near the shower head the water is still in continuous stream, and will give you a bit of a shock. I think they stop down the current or something, because it’s not much worse than sticking your tongue on a 9v battery.

  41. Yep, first used one of those sketchy-looking jobbers in Huehuetenango around 1985 or so, although I see others have noted they are not particularly hard to find even now.

    Personally I never got a zap out of one, no doubt due to a seriously heightened state of vigilance.

  42. I used those in Cuba all the time when staying at casa particulares (Bed & Breakfasts). That one looks fancy compared to some of the ones I used. A switch? One of them I had to put the live wire onto a bolt in order to turn it on or off.

    Maybe all of the good rum gave me more courage…

  43. I have used these in my frequent travels to Panama. That said, the picture shown here is pretty scary. The ones I’ve used have the switch just outside of the shower. I have also seen some with a heat adjuster right on the shower head. I’ve gotten shocked, but not seriously, and only when touching the exposed wire.

  44. Used this type of shower for 2 years as a peace corps volunteer in Paraguay and then for another year or so traveling around South America. You wear flip-flop sandals in the shower not just for bacteria issues, but because (I was told) so I wouldn’t get shocked..

  45. My Aunt Patty in Guadalajara has a shower in which the Cable TV cables cross the whole shower and go out to the roof through a vent. And I’m not talking about a shed or a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. It’s an actual house with normal wooden floors in the urban area of guadalajara.

    You need to get over getting scared about everything. Try to enjoy the whole experience.

  46. I haved used them often in Perú without a problem (yet). However, my friend was not so lucky- his 6’5″ height and the landlord’s thrifty habit of replacing fuses (plomos) with cheap coat hanger wire combined to produce quite the circuit. He remembered his name after a few minutes and everything was fine.

  47. I lived with a number of families in Central America including Guatemala. The first time I seen a shower head like the one above, I refused to use the water heater and took an absolutely-cold-as-ice shower. The family had specially installed it for their guests. They knew that I didn‘t use it and asked why. I told them that in Canada I always took mountain-water-cold showers in the mornings. They did not believe me.

    Throughout that day, as I experienced more things that pushed me off of my cultural centre of gravity, I reflected that the family that I was staying with would likely think that driving in some of the traffic back at my home was even more suicidal. At any rate a combination of things broke me down and the next day I had a wonderfully warm and refreshing shower.

  48. Yeah, this is not out of the ordinary in Peru. When we visited my sister in lima, her first apt. had one just like this. I can remember tasting the metal in my fillings every time I showered. Our taller male travel mate got a pretty substantial shock during one of his showers. Of course, we laughed. (c:

  49. Yes, I used one of these at the panamerican villa outside Havana. Warm water untill you were just relaxed then ZAP painful electric shocks. It sure stops you from wasting water with long showers.

  50. I’ve only seen one shower in Bolivia that did not have this. It was in a German hotel.

    The circuit breaker in this picture looks like it will get wet. I’d get a different room if this was a hotel. Other than that, it looks like the dozens of showers that haven’t killed me yet.

  51. I’ve used one of those before (but not with an exposed light switch like in that picture. That’s scary)

    They would give you a little zap sometimes but nothing terrible.

  52. I had a shower like this in Cape Verde and I was never shocked. The wires and switch weren’t hanging out all helter skelter though.

  53. Exactly the same type/brand/setup/everything as I used when on holiday in Cuba. I’ve even got a pic of it that I just tried to put on ImageShack but I’m on a crappy internet connection so I couldn’t.

    I put my stock in “the lonely planet would have told me if too many people die from this” and happily sang under its warm drizzle every day.

  54. I lived in rural Nicaragua in the mid 1990s. My local friends talked about the luxurious heated showers of their neighbours in Costa Rica and Honduras. Some of them even talked about the wonders of 1980s Cuba and Soviet-era Moscow. I suppose “scary” is a relative term.

  55. I used these in Brazil, where the wiring generally looked more or less sane.

    In the Dominican Republic, where the wiring in the street looks like huge rats’ nests, hanging from balcony railings, sometimes hanging low enough you could clothesline yourself on it if you weren’t paying attention crossing the street, loose ends of cables hanging down to the ground, power poles that looked like a beaver had been at them, I did not use them.

  56. I have a house in Bogotá, Colombia and my neighbors use these all the time. I’ve used them. While showering, you can hear the crackling sound of the water reacting and boiling as it touches the hot coils. Then the boiling water mixes with the cold and it comes out warm. Looks dangerous but I’ve never heard of any injuries.

  57. I travelled thru South America for a year and these things were everywhere and all I can say is that while i was never shocked they did make me pretty nervous, especially in Guatemala where the wiring jobs were generally like this one. If you can find the breaker to turn it off (usually the breaker is IN the shower or right next to it) then I might suggest a liberal helping of electrical tape from any Ferreteria to make it marginally safer. I carried a roll of electrical tape and teflon tape with me for 7 months.
    Upside: more hot water for a longer time than either my NYC apartment with a boiler or my Paris apartment with one of those European Gas heaters that hang perilously over your head in the bathroom. But yeah, keep your mouth closed when you wash your face. I got poisoned by the water once in Guatemala and it was nasty, and i got typhoid in Bolivia and it was soooo much worse!

  58. I (reluctantly) used one in Peru that looked nearly that bad. There’s no better way of enforcing water conservation than threatening them with a potential dose of 220v.

  59. I used one in Bolivia in the early ’70’s that had a nice extra touch-a large Dr. Frankenstein style knife switch. The drain ran slow so I was standing in two inches of water as well. It was a bit scary but, I was sixteen and fearless. -Cort

  60. The hostel in which I stayed in San Jose, Costa Rica, had the same thing, though I wish I had taken a picture. I think it was called the ‘Maxi Ducha Electrical Shower Head’. One of the showers in my how is a pretty long distance from the water (solar) heater, and I was thinking about putting in something like this (with the right electrical work though) if I ever refit my bathroom.

  61. Having read others responses, my own “shocked in Costa Rica” story seems much more mundane than before. I can add that at the time I was shocked, I was suffering from severe alcohol poisoning, the result of a half bottle of rum, four or five double whiskeys, and many fuzzy hours in San Jose bar with a Calypso band playing in my ear. In addition, I had spent my morning two days prior, collecting magic mushroom in cow fields between the pacific ocean and jungle mountains, and as a result was covered with chigger bites.

    In an attempt to pull myself from the blury hung over mess that I was, I was in shower similar to the one depicted. The main difference with my Costa Rican death trap, was that the heating unit attached to the shower head was missing its cover and had exposed 220 volt wiring on the side. As I reached up with my hand and grabbed the nozzle to adjust the direction of the flow, I was met with a 220 volt jolt that went through my arm, across my chest, down my leg, and out my foot to the water and drain below. My guess is that the surge is detected by a GFI or something, as the shock only lasted a split second. Oh, and the chigger bites were gone the next day; have never been sure if it was the alcohol poisoning or the 220 volt shock that cleared them up.

  62. Yep, those are common in Guatemala. I must admit I was surprised to see the setup the first time I used one. Take a chance, it will be worth the hot shower.

  63. I used one of these in Costa Rica, and i was messing with it trying to get it hotter, and it shocked the hell out of me.

  64. When I was visiting Brazil fifteen years ago (eep! It was that long ago?!?) I stayed at a house that had a similar shower. Exposed wires (with little caps on the ends, for safety!) connected what was essentially a stove element just underneath a shower head, so the less water pressure you fed into the system, the hotter it was. It freaked me out so much that in the week I stayed there, I only showered once…

  65. Yep, very common in Nicaragua as well.

    And, from a convenience + low energy consumption factor, these work well. Since they’re on-demand ( you aren’t paying to keep hot water heated in a tank all day ), they’re quite cheap to operate.

    However… as many of these that I’ve both seen and used I have never seen one with the switch in the line of water flow! No way in hell would I turn that one on!

  66. I’ve been shocked (shocked!) by one of these in Lima, Peru. It was metal and ungrounded. I tried to adjust the shower head and let out a scream as I was jolted by 220 volts.
    This was at the house of the parents of my then girlfriend (now wife). I’ve used that shower since and was careful not to touch the shower head again.
    These small in-line water heaters don’t produce much hot water at all and are not worth the risk (unless you’re lucky enough to find a shower with a really good one). Now when I’m in Peru I use a sitz-bath made hot with boiling water from the kitchen and I pour the water over myself with a bowl.

  67. A couple of months ago I traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I stayed at a very fancy place… and they had this type of shower. I think they had plastic taps and they told me there’s no way I could get electrocuted… but still, seeing those wires while taking a shower was really weird.

    I also stayed in Buenos Aires, Argentina… and they had a shower that was actually the bathroom. There was no barrier for the water, so the entire bathroom was actually a shower… or, put in other words, the sink and the WC were “in” the shower.

    The only “normal” bathrooms were in Chile… no wires and no weird showers.

  68. xeni –

    i hate to call ya a scardeygringa, but these things are everywhere in latin america. i used one all the time at my friend’s place in brazil. it’s not that the wires are going right into the hot water, though. the white shower head thingy is a heater. there’s a resitor or some other low tech heating element in there. sure, the wiring is rough, and visible, and interacting directly with it could be dangerous. far cry from the US, where the goal seems to be no risk, not even remotely, whatsoever, for anyone, ever, at any expense, any sacrifice acceptable. that’s why the US is sterile and covered with warning signs, inconvenient railings, speed bumps, blah blah blah. it’s made the american landscape ugly with overcompensated safety, and made americans both stupider and feeling more entitled to risk-free living at any cost.

    anyway i used these showers in brazil. they’re fine. i never got shocked. water on first, then the heater. turn the heater off before the water. it’s actually kind of nice that the hot water never “runs out”.


  69. “In 1986 or so while vacationing in Costa rica we had showers like these in our hotel at Manuel Antonio State Park ( or something like that) on the pacific coast. It was a little scary but it did provide hot water.”

    I had the same experience in the same place, Playa Manuel Antonio. National Park was just south of the small town. I miss guaro w/ tons of lime, and watching the iguanas dive bomb.

    I stopped trying to use this and just bathed outside with a water hose. Costa Rica had great water, drank it all the time.

  70. We have those in Venezuela. A lot in Merida, where it can be cold in the mornings. I have lived in several places with one of those, and at my sister’s house here in Caracas, we have one. I have never felt any shock or heard a sotory about it. They are not too common, but neither rare.

  71. The most I ever got from one of these was a mild jolt. But they get the water warm, and I’ve never heard of anyone dying from them if they’re made correctly (intelligently).
    I’ve seen them in Costa Rica and Columbia

  72. I got a shock every time I turned it on, a shock every time I turned it off, and a shock every time I adjusted the water pressure. It made interesting crackling, sparking and buzzing noises. After being in a place that didn’t have electricity or hot water, it was luxury.
    When I got back to my cheap apartment in Canada, I wished I could buy one here, since it worked better than the central water heater with the landlord controlling the thermostat.

  73. Yeah I’ve used one of these in Cuba. Though it looked a little safer then this one. I’d basically expalain it as a container with a electric bbq starer in a can. Worked quite well, I didn’t get shocked at all…. Though I did make my peace before stepping into the stream of water! =P

  74. The casa particulares we stayed at in Havana, Cuba had these. I’d get a nice little tingle on my scalp when I stood up tall. Yikes!

  75. That’s pretty normal for Latin America. I’ve seen them in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, with no difference based on affluency of the area, in both hostels/hotels and in private residences. It seems to depend more on the social norms of the building owner than anything else, with the indigenous population favoring the suicide showers and most foreign-run or european-influenced (read: buenos aires) areas using more western designs. I’ve used them, never been shocked, but I was always a big scared… some are worse than that one, with bare fuses instead of a switch where you can see the contacts and the bare wires in the wall. Try not to splash!

  76. Yep. Used them in Belize. Got buzzed a few times. Seems I remember that these shower heads were made in England. I liked the work-on-demand concept. They probably are a fairly ‘green’ alternative.

  77. I lived in Peru for a while and these showers were pretty much standard issue, maybe not in higher end hotels, but certainly in a lot of homes. Ive definitely gotten shocked on more than one occasion by either turning the device on or accidentally touching the nozzle. (Im 6’0″ and peruvian showers werent designed for people over about 5’9″). You just get used to it and learn how to be careful. None of the shocks was any worse than touching an electrified chicken-wire fence on a farm.

  78. I encountered the same thing in a home I stayed in in Cuba in 1998. Needless to say i didn’t turn it on and had a cold shower. I do wish i had taken a picture though.

  79. They’re fairly safe unless you try to touch the shower head while the water is running – whereupon you can electrocute yourself… Which happened to me in Turialba, Costa Rica in 1999.

  80. Sadly, the only suicide shower i’ve ever heard of electrocuted my solider friend while he was serving in Iraq. Seems they have a very similar wiring system in the mobile showers they had set up at his remote base… he did survive, but only by somehow kicking himself away with a boot. Yay America!

  81. What are we, a nation of pussies afraid of things that look weird? As someone pointed out already, that shower is built the same way as the on-demand water heaters here in the US, except here the wires are hidden.

    In Brazil, virtually every single shower in the country is like that one (minus the switch placement). Brazilians must take something around 100 million showers a day and nobody ever gets hurt. It’s safe.

    You probably have a bigger chance of winning the lottery, being hit by lightning and being gored by an unicorn *all at the same time* than being electrocuted and hurt by one of those showers.

  82. My fiancée lived in Guatemala for four months doing graduate field work, and while there she mentioned these electric shower heads to me over the phone I nearly fell on the floor. At the time I had no idea such things existed. I forwarded her this post and this is what she had to say:

    “Yep! That’s exactly what I showered with at my host family’s bathroom. Not such a smart idea but after a few cold showers (the kind where you can see your breath) you’re desparate for a warm shower no matter how it happens!”

  83. Indeed this is common all over Central and South America. The workmanship seems to get scarier the further away from populous centers one gets. Had plenty of “what the hell” moments but never got any sort of jolt from any of them. Must be lucky I guess from reading some of these comments. Quality of service is highly variable from somewhat worth it to why the hell even bother with the damn things. The few on demand gas units I ran into worked better but still lacked quite a bit of luster. And having to chase down the gas truck to get a refill can be a tricky; awesome if you catch it and very disappointing if you don’t as it would be days before it might come back around. Honestly the gas thing was more important for cooking than bathing.

  84. Yes! I used these while living in Ecuador for about a year. I would regularly feel an electric buzz through my hand while turning it on, but fortunately never got more of a shock than that. I know them as “suicide showers” too, but I don’t remember if that was the name given them by the locals or the travelers.

  85. I remember as a teenager, a missionary giving us a thrilling account on being in wish of a hot shower and using one of these things. They pulled his jittering body out of the stall, gave him a few slaps to the face and a good thump on the chest to revive him. Needless to say, he viewed cold showers as a gift from God for the rest of the time he was out of range of standard tank water heaters.

  86. Hi: the ‘chuveiro elétrico’ (electric shower) was developed in Brazil in the 40’s. It’s only an electrical resistance heating the passing water. When the water flow stop, the current is automatically turned off. They usually have two positions: ‘Summer’ (tepid water) and ‘Winter’ (hot water)

    Of course the wiring and the switch inside the shower-box in this picture is scary.

    But it works just like an Immersion Heater

    Here’s more info (in portuguese only, sorry)

    and a video class:,,GIM1170979-7823-CONHECA+O+FUNCIONAMENTO+DO+CHUVEIRO+ELETRICO,00.html

  87. these showerheads use ceramic heating elements and the water is completely isolated from the electric side, if you touch the water pipe which is connected to ground its awhole different story however.

  88. Well, I’m chilean and i’ve lived north and south of my country and I’ve never seen this kind of shower anywhere. Only “califont” gas water heaters and in smaller proportion those electrical tank water heaters.

  89. My father was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and he definitely used these. He stated that it was never hot, but just maintained a lukewarm temperature. He would occasionally get a ‘poke,’ but never enough to knock him out. If anything else, it definitely makes me feel slightly spoiled.

  90. I used this type of shower in Brazil while I lived there for 6 months. I never heard anyone dying from this type of shower. I even replaced one at a friends house. I took the old one apart a was surprised at how it worked.

  91. I’ve seen these showers plenty in Guatemala and every time I see one I resort to my Chiquimula solution of just boiling some water and using the pila water with small bucket action. Works wonders!

  92. The house I lived in in Costa Rica had one with a scary looking double pole throw switch. I remember being affraid of it the first few times. It was that or the shower with just the garden hose attached high on the wall. I hadn’t thought of that in years :)

  93. These were available in Jamaica (most homes don’t have hot water, if they even have indoor running water). I chose the boil some water, dump into larger tub approach for early-morning or late-night warm-water bucketbaths (the climate is such that “cold” water isn’t that cold except in the mountains, and is usually refreshing regardless…)

    I knew some people who safely braved those (it’s like putting an electric stove element on your shower head), though.

  94. Please can everyone stop telling everyone that everyone in South America has them? I think we’ve all got the idea now, KTHX

  95. This is not particularly safe or particularly dangerous. The amps we are talking about won’t, for example, cause current to arc between drops. So you won’t get a sustained amount of current. But grabbing the metal water pipe won’t be comfortable. However, this is not anywhere like dropping the toaster in the tub.

    But, to keep things in perspective, many British bathrooms have on-demand electric hot water heaters that can expose you to nearly the same sort of shock hazard as they age.

  96. this kind of shower is usual in center and south america (properly installed), but the wired is more than poorly and dangerous, besides the dirtiness and poor conditions of sanitation is a local plus. :D

  97. I used one in my time visiting Guatemala, they work to get hot water. I didn’t think much of it back them when I used it, but now that I think about it. It’s pretty scary looking.

  98. Here in the UK and Ireland electric showers are also a very common thing. Although the showers here have much more stricter safety laws to comply with and are generally much safer to use. You can get ones that use up to 10 kilowatts of electricity and they’re very good. I don’t feel like I’m taking my life in my hands when using one (unless its really old) and you can touch it to change the temperature and pressure WHILE ITS ON!

Comments are closed.