Ditch the Drips: How to Fix a Leaky Shower Faucet

Updated
Get rid of that annoying drip from your shower faucet with our easy to follow steps to fix it.

All showers drip for a little while after you turn them off, but is yours dripping more than usual? There could be a fault somewhere in the hardware. You might need to replace worn o-rings or washers, or you might have to replace the whole inner mechanism.

In our guide to fixing a leaking shower faucet, we look at how to dismantle the faucet and replace, or fix, the faulty parts for a drip-free shower.


Which Type of Shower Faucet Do You Have?

We’ve got you covered for a single or double-handle faucet. But, irrespective of which type you have, there are a few things you need to do for both:

Warning

Before starting any repair, make sure you turn off the water supply. The shut-off valves could be underneath the bath, or in a panel in or near your bathroom. You might have to find the main one that controls the water for the whole home.

Step 1: Plan Your Repair

Plan a suitable time for your repair and warn the rest of the family if you’re turning off the mains water supply.

Step 2: Drain the Water from the System

Drain any remaining water in the system by opening the hot and cold faucets in your bathroom.

Step 3: Don’t Lose Vital Parts

Plug your drain so any removed screws or parts can’t drop down it and get lost. Have a small container to put removed parts in, ready to be replaced once your repair is completed.

Step 4: Clean Inside the Faucet

Before completing your repair, ensure you clean any build-up or debris inside the faucet.

You can soak a cloth in white vinegar and leave it inside the pipe for a short while to loosen mineral deposits. Use a scourer or small brush to remove build-up and flush through afterward.

How to Fix a Leaky Shower Faucet: Single Handle

What You Need

  • Flathead screwdriver.
  • Philips screwdriver.
  • Deep-welled socket wrench or cartridge puller.
  • Needle-nosed pliers

What You Do

Step 1: Detach the Shower Faucet Handle

Locate the screw securing your faucet handle; it might be under a decorative cap that can be popped out with a flathead screwdriver.

Use a Phillips screwdriver that fits the screw head and remove it. Some handles might have more than one screw. The handle should now pull off.

Step 2: Take off the Decorative Faceplate

Behind the handle fixed to the wall will be a faceplate. Locate and remove the screws holding it in place. Pull the faceplate off, wiggling it gently to free it if it’s stuck to the wall.

Step 3: Pull off the Escutcheon

There’s a metal sleeve covering a shower valve. It resembles a pipe and should slide off by hand. It might be screwed on, so loosen it off and remove it. This can also be done by hand.

Step 4: Take out the Locking Clip

Some shower faucets have a clip that holds the valves in place. If there is one, it will be metal and U-shaped, sticking out at the top of the valve.

This is removed by lifting it upwards with your needle-nosed pliers or prying it up with a flathead screwdriver.

Step 5: Loosen the Cartridge

Inside the faucet valve is a cartridge that controls the temperature and flow of water. It’s cylindrical with a round metal piece at the end sticking out.

Fit the socket wrench over the end and loosen it. If the wrench doesn’t grip the cartridge, size down until it does.

Step 6: Pull out the Cartridge

Remove the cartridge from the valve. It might pull out with the wrench. If not, use needle-nosed pliers to grip the end and pull it free.

Step 7: Get a New Cartridge

You may know the model and type of cartridge in your faucet and already have one to hand. If not, take the removed cartridge to the hardware or plumbing store to ensure you buy the right replacement.

Step 8: Install Your New Cartridge

Install the cartridge and tighten it by turning clockwise with your socket wrench. Be careful not to over tighten it.

Step 9: Reassemble Your Faucet

Reverse steps 1–4 to replace the faucet parts.

Step 10: Test Your Repair

Restore your water supply and turn your shower on and off. If the leak persists, call a plumber.

Pro Tips

Using the following will aid you in your DIY process:

1. Deep-Welled Socket Wrench

A deep-welled socket wrench can be fitted into holes to remove nuts and screws. They are readily available online or in hardware stores and generally come in a range of socket sizes.

2. Use a Hairdryer!

If your faucet handle won’t move when you try and pull it off, heat it with a hairdryer or hot water.

Remember, it might be hot, so protect your hands with a towel when you try to remove it after heating.

Alternatively, a lubricant like WD40 might help loosen stuck parts.

3. Check Your Owner’s Manual

Different shower brands might vary slightly in their components. Check your owner’s manual for your particular shower faucet to familiarize yourself with the parts.

This might also list the actual number of the replacement parts, meaning you can buy them ahead of time.

More On This Topic
Plumber installing water faucet in the bathroomHow to Replace a Bathtub Faucet the Right Way

How to Fix a Leaky Shower Faucet: Two-Handle

What You Need

  • Flathead screwdriver.
  • Philips screwdriver.
  • Deep-welled socket wrench.
  • Needle-nose pliers.
  • Heat-proof faucet grease.

What You Do

Step 1: Check Which Faucet Might be at Fault

Test which faucet is leaking by placing your fingers under the drips and seeing if the water is hot or cold.

It’s possible that both need repair. Start with whichever one you think it is, and if it still doesn’t work, repair the second one as well.

Step 2: Take off the Shower Faucet Handle

Locate the screw securing the faucet handle; it may be under a decorative cap, which you can pry off with a flathead screwdriver.

Use a Phillips screwdriver to take out the screw and then pull off the handle.

Step 3: Remove the Escutcheon

The escutcheon, or faceplate, sits behind the handle against the wall.

This will either have screws or be threaded. Either remove the screws or unscrew the faceplate from the wall.

Step 4: Undo the Retaining Nut

Located over the stem of the valve is a hex nut that secures it in place.

Use your deep-welled socket wrench to loosen and remove the nut, rotating it counter-clockwise.

Step 5: Take out the Stem

Now the retaining nut has been removed you should be able to grasp the stem with your fingers and remove it.

Step 6: Change the Washers

At the base of the stem, you’ll see a rubber washer pressed onto it. Use pliers to remove this and replace it with a new one the same size. Make sure you seat it correctly.

Step 7: Grease the Washer

Use a heatproof grease or plumber’s grease to lubricate the washer. This will help provide a good seal and protect the washer.

Step 8: Inspect the Stem for Damage

It’s possible that the stem has worn down or become damaged. When this has happened, replace the stem in its entirety. Remember to take your old one with you to the hardware store to get an exact match.

Step 9: Reassemble Your Faucet

Reverse steps 1–5 to put your faucet back together.

Step 10: Test Your Repair

Turn on the water to your shower using only the faucet you repaired. Still leaking? Fix the other faucet following the same steps.

If the leak persists after fixing both faucets, you might have to enlist the help of a plumber.

Pro Tip

When refitting the faceplate, clean away any old caulk left on your tiles, and apply fresh caulk to seal it in place.

More Reasons and Fixes for Leaky Showers

It’s possible that the reason for your leaky shower faucet lies within the head of the shower or diverter valve as opposed to the faucet. Here are ways to locate and fix those leaks.

Unclog Your Shower Head

Blocked holes caused by limescale or mineral deposits in your shower head can cause it to drip continuously. Water will be retained in the head of the shower and will slowly seep out.

What You Need

  • Screwdriver.
  • Vinegar.
  • Container large enough for your shower head.
  • Plastic scrubbing brush.
  • Toothpick or nail.

What You Do

Step 1: Turn off the Water Supply

Locate the shutoff valve to your bathroom and turn the water off. If you can’t find one, then you may need to turn off the main supply to the home.

It’s a good idea to schedule this task for a time when you won’t need water for a few hours.

Step 2: Remove the Shower Head

The method for this can vary depending on the brand. In general, you’ll need to undo some screws to pull the shower head off.

You might have to remove both the faceplate and shower head.

Step 3: Soak the Head in Vinegar

Place your showerhead in a container and cover it with white vinegar. This will help break up the mineral deposits. Leave it to soak for eight hours to loosen deposits.

Step 4: Clean the Head

Remove any remaining build-up by scrubbing with a plastic brush. You can use a nail or a toothpick to push deposits out from the holes in the shower head.

Step 5: Replace the Parts

Put your shower head back on, turn on the water and test for leaks. If they persist, then look for other reasons for the leak.

Pro Tip

For a shower head fixed to the wall, fill a plastic bag with vinegar and secure it, so it’s submerged. Leave it to soak and then scrub it afterward.
Related Reading
Plumber cleaning hair from drain in bathroomHow to Unclog a Bathtub Drain (3 Ways to Keep It Clear)

Replace the Washer in the Head of the Shower

There’s a washer located in your showerhead, which might have become worn and needs replacing.

What You Need

  • Screwdriver.
  • Wrench

What You Do

Step 1: Take off the Shower Head

Follow steps 1 and 2 above to disconnect the water supply and detach from the connecting pipes.

Step 2: Locate the Collar Nut

While models will vary, there should be a nut attached to the arm of the shower. It resembles a regular metal nut but might be a little longer. It also has a neck that’s wider in diameter than in the body.

Step 3: Loosen the Collar Nut

Using a wrench, loosen the collar nut, and separate the shower head from the shower arm.

Step 4: Locate the Swivel Ball and Washer

There’ll be a swivel ball that lets you move the head of the shower directionally. Beneath this is the washer.

Step 5: Remove and Replace the Washer

Prise off the rubber washer, and replace it with one the same thickness and size.

Step 6: Reassemble the Shower Head

Reverse steps 1–3 to put your shower head back together and test your repair.

Pro Tips
  • Collar nut: When removing the collar nut, protect any decorative finish by using a cloth or some rubber underneath the wrench.
  • Rain shower: For a fixed position overhead rain shower, the washer and o-rings are located in the pipe immediately above it. There’s often a butterfly screw that can be undone to take off the shower head. The o-ring and washer are located either end of this screw; one beneath it, and one inside the pipe.

Clean or Replace the Diverter Valve

The diverter valve lets you switch between water running from your shower head and bathtub faucet. It’s usually located between the hot and cold faucets. This valve can become clogged with mineral deposits and deteriorate.

Cleaning or replacing it can fix this.

What You Need

  • Screwdrivers; flathead and Phillips.
  • Wrench.
  • Vinegar.
  • Small wire brush.

What You Do

Step 1: Shut off Your Water Supply

Turn off the water to your faucet either in the bathroom or at the main supply for your home.

Step 2: Drain the Water

Open your bathroom faucet and let the water drain from the system.

Step 3: Take off the Diverter Handle

The handle on your diverter will resemble that of a faucet.

Locate the retaining screw; it should be under a plastic cap. Prise off the cap with your flathead screwdriver, then use a Phillips screwdriver to release the handle; pull the handle off.

Step 4: Remove the Diverter Valve

Beneath the handle is the diverter valve secured by a hex nut. Using your wrench, undo the nut and remove it.

Next, unscrew the diverter valve. If it’s stuck, use either WD40 or a vinegar-soaked rag left wrapped around it for a while.

Step 5: Examine the Diverter Valve

Firstly, remove debris and build-up from the diverter valve using white vinegar and a wire brush. Once this is done, allow it to dry and look at it carefully. Check for cracks or damage to the valve or washer — if there are signs of wear, replace them.

Step 6: Reassemble the Diverter Valve

Reversing steps 1–4, put the parts back together.

Step 7: Restore your Water Supply

Turn the water back on and test your repair. If you still have drips, then a plumber might need to check it out for you.

Pro Tip

It might be a good idea to check your repair before finally screwing the faucet handle back in place. This will save a little time if you need to take it apart again.

The Process of Elimination

When dealing with a leaking shower faucet, it’s sensible to use a process of elimination and do the quick fixes first. Work your way backward from the head of the shower to the valves in the faucets.

This might save you time and money if it’s just a washer that needs renewing.

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Checking Out Your Handy Work

Now you know how to fix a leaky shower faucet, go ahead and give it a try. It’ll save money on bills from all that water dripping down the drain (1). It could also mean you won’t have to enlist the help of a plumber.

Be sure to choose the right process depending on your faucet type. If you’re in doubt or feel it’s too much for you to handle, consult a plumber.

Please let us know how you get on with your repairs by leaving a comment below. Don’t forget to share this article with a friend in need.

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About the Author

Peter Gray

Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.
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