I’m standing here in my bathroom looking at my leaky tub and shower faucet. Every time I try to take a shower and I turn the shower diverter valve to the “on” position I still get a lot of water flowing out of the tub faucet. And on top of that, the limited amount of water that does come out of the shower head is coming out with very low pressure. I’ve also seen tub or shower faucets that would not stop running even when in the off position. If you find yourself in this predicament you will eventually have to ask yourself: “Can a leaky shower faucet be repaired?”
Yes. In most cases, a leaky shower faucet can be repaired. Regardless of whether you have a tub and shower valve or a shower only valve, there are two basic solutions that will work for a 3 handle setup, a 2 handle setup or a single handle. The first option is to remove the shower diverter valve stem(or hot and cold valve stems) and replace the worn out washers, rings and other components and then reinstall it. The second option is to remove the valve and replace it entirely. If you have a single handle faucet, it may be faster and easier to replace the parts because the valve may not be sold at your local store. Additionally, single handle valves are usually made of plastic are less likely to be damaged by corrosion. But if you have a 3,2 or single handle setup, the chances are very good that you will be able to purchase a complete valve off the shelf from your local home improvement store. There are some additional steps and considerations that must be kept in mind regardless of which option you choose. Let’s identify these considerations, along with how to perform each step as well as the tools you will need.
Lets’ start with the three handle version. If you have a 3 handle tub shower valve and can’t get all of the water to run only from the shower head, and instead part of the water is still coming out of the tub faucet, there is a good chance that your shower diverter is the root of the problem.
On and 3 handle faucet valve there are 3 handles. Typically the handle on the right controls the cold water, the handle on the left controls the hot water, and the handle in the middle allows you to change the water supply location back and forth from the tub faucet to the shower head.
If you are feeling a little uneasy about this whole process, and you need a little humor, check out my post about a funny and extreme bathroom remodel before and after (w/pictures and video). You’ll thank me later.
How to Remove a Shower Valve Stem?
The handles are screwed into or attached to what is known as a valve stem. The stem is usually not visible because it’s covered by trim pieces, which are typically chrome for this age faucet. In order to work on the problem, we will need to remove the handle.
If you’ve been maintaining your shower knobs then you likely have a clear plastic piece at the center of each handle. “H” represents hot, “C” represents cold, and the arrow symbol represents the shower. Regardless of whether they are installed on the correct handle, the diverter is the one in the middle.
As a precaution you should always turn off the water supply to your shower valve, this will require you to cut off the water coming into the house either in the crawlspace or basement or outside at the street.
The instructions that we are about to cover are for removing and replacing a diverter valve, however, these same instructions are accurate for replacing the hot and cold valve stems as well.
Changing out the diverter stem technically should not result in water flowing from the open valve if the hot and cold are turned off, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for changing the hot and cold valve, it’s flat out impossible to change them without turning off the water supply to the house. Do not forget this important step.
This is coming from someone that has seen a house flood from a tub shower valve!
Before you get started, place something over the drain to prevent losing any parts from them falling down the drain. Once the drain is blocked, use your finger or flat head screwdriver to remove the plastic or metal cap from the end of the faucet handle.
Then use a Philips head screwdriver to remove the set screw from the center of the handle. Once the screw is removed, you should be able to pull the handle straight off. Now that the handle is removed you should be able to see the end of the valve stem.
Now for the next step, we need to remove the valve stem. In order to do so, you will need to unscrew the stem from the hexagon-shaped portion of the stem. And how the valve is installed will determine what tool you will need to remove it. Some valves are installed jamb up against the framing in the wall.
This type of installation often makes it possible to remove the valve stem with pliers because the hexagon shaped area that you need to access is usually close enough to the face of the tile to be able to grip it with pliers or a wrench. If it’s not accessible, don’t worry, and don’t strip the hexagonal head trying to remove it.
Instead, you will need a shower valve socket wrench. This tool slips into the hole and over the hexagon shaped head. Then using your hands, try to turn the wrench counterclockwise to loosen the stem.
If you are not able to loosen the stem by hand you can then use your pliers or wrench to grasp the socket wrench and then turn it gently counterclockwise. This will unseat the stem and allow you to fully unscrew it and remove it from the wall.
Now you will need to take the valve stem that you have just removed and carry it with you to the store so that you can identify what type of replacement parts you will need.
How to Identify Shower Valve Stem?
The best way to identify the stem is by in-person visual comparison. Trying to identify the valve stem by eye is not recommended and should only be done as a last resort. The reality is that there are tons of different styles of valve stems and many of them look similar to one another and they also come in different lengths and sizes. Being able to hold your old stem up next to the new ones in the store for a close comparison is the best way to go.
If going to the store isn’t a good option for you, then try this online stem identification tool by Danco. Danco is one of the largest suppliers of replacement for all manufacturer brand valves for showers, tubs, and sinks.
No matter whether you plan to repair or replace the valve, you have to be able to accurately identify it in order to buy the necessary parts. Once you determine the model/match you can select the replacement kit or you can replace the entire valve. I personally prefer to just replace the valve stem, because its easier to me.
Once you get your new replacement stem( or you install your new step parts), just reinstall the stem back into the valve in the wall doing the reverse of what we just did to remove it. Open the hot and cold valves slightly to allow pressure and air to escape, and then turn the water back on and test.
What Else Can Cause a Shower Faucet to Leak?
In the event that your valve is still leaking when the shower is on, this could be due in part to high water pressure. Turn the pressure down on your pressure reducing valve (PRV) and retest. In the event that you don’t have a PRV installed, you may need to have on installed in order to fully eliminate the problem.
If you aren’t sure whether you have high pressure just observe the flow of the water from the faucet. If you can turn it on slightly and you hear your pipes screaming and/or water starts pumping into the tub, there is a good chance that you waterline has high pressure and could benefit from a PRV. When in doubt consult a plumber, as installing a PRV yourself may be more than you really want to get into.
On a different note, if you are trying to identify the location and cause of other leaks at your tub/shower, check out an article I wrote identifying many of the locations where a tub can leak.
How to Repair a Leaky 2-Handle Shower Faucet?
If you have a two handle faucet, then your solution may be less involved. The mechanism that allows you to divert or change the water location from the faucet to the showerhead is on the tub spout. There is a small set screw on the underside of the tub spout that holds it in place.
Loosen the set screw and you should be able to pull the Spout straight off. Once the spout is off, you have two options to fix the diverter issue. You can either replace the parts inside the spout with a spout diverter repair kit, or you can replace the entire diverter tub spout.
The upside to replacing the parts is that you don’t have to worry about the new spout not matching your existing control valves and showerhead. Additionally, you also have the assurance of knowing that your spout will fit properly.
If you have a single handle shower valve, then your diverter is most likely located on the tub spout just like the two handle faucet. So you can use the same steps and option just covered in the section above. But if you have an issue with your hot and cold mixing valve, on a single handle faucet, the process is similar, but the parts are a little different. Most single handle valves have plastic cartridges that control the flow of water.
If you begin to have issues with these components, you can simply replace the worn out rings and fittings inside the cartridge. You do have the option of replacing the entire cartridge, but often this will require you to order the cartridge online because they keep a more limited supply and variety of this style assembly in stock and on the shelf in the stores.