How to Fix a Leaky Showerhead or Shower Faucet

A leaky, dripping showerhead is not only annoying, it wastes water. Before you call in a professional, this fairly common household problem may be relatively simple to fix by yourself (depending on the cause of the problem).

How to Fix a Showerhead

Step 1: Turn Off Water

Shut off the water main to the whole house. Have a towel handy — your water main may be shut off, but there could still be some water left in the pipe that will come out.

Step 2: Remove and Inspect

Remove the showerhead by unscrewing it from the pipe with your hands. If the head is stuck on tight (as they often are if they haven’t been removed in a while), use pliers or a crescent wrench to unscrew it. Look at the threads inside the showerhead for a small plastic washer or rubber O-ring. It’s often the wear and tear of age on this component that can cause a showerhead to leak and start dripping. Over time, it dries out and becomes brittle which decreases its ability to hold in water. If it looks worn or damaged, replace it.

Helpful Tips

Place a towel or large rag on the shower floor to protect it from possible damage if you happen to drop a tool. Also cover the drain so that any of the small parts from the showerhead don’t accidentally go down it.

Remember not to force anything. Whether you’re taking off the showerhead or putting it back on, don’t tighten it so tightly that you damage or crack something and then need to take on a larger project.

Step 3: Clean the Showerhead

Since you have the showerhead off, now is a good time to clean out the showerhead, especially if you’ve noticed decreased flow. Oftentimes, there can be mineral deposits or sediment left by hard water on the interior of the showerhead or at the pipe stem (where the pipe connects to the showerhead). This can significantly affect water pressure and flow and can contribute to a leaky showerhead.

In a small cooking pot or pan, mix water and three cups of vinegar and bring it to a boil. Once it’s started to boil, turn off the heat. Place the showerhead (minus any rubber parts that can be removed) into the solution and let it sit for approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Then remove, rinse and scrub the inside and outside jets with an old toothbrush; do this until no deposits remain.

Step 4: Tape It Up

If the washer or O-ring looks okay or you’ve replaced it, the next step is to wrap the threads on the pipe stem with Teflon tape. Don’t overdo it with tape though. Wrap a thin strip around the threads at the very tip of the pipe stem.

Step 5: Reattach the Showerhead

Screw the showerhead back on by hand-tightening it until you can’t turn it anymore. Then use pliers to give it a final turn. Remember not to turn too hard or you could break the showerhead or pipe.

Step 6: Turn On the Water

Turn the water back on and then run your shower for a few seconds. Turn it off. Wait a few minutes and then check to see if there still is a drip or leak.

How to Fix a Shower Faucet

If you’ve fixed the showerhead and a leak persists, you may have a leak in the shower faucet. Usually, this is from a worn-out washer on the shower stem, which can easily be replaced. You don’t need to call a plumber. Follow these steps to do it yourself.

Step 1: Cut Off Water

As you did with the showerhead, you will need to cut off the water supply to the shower at the water main. Next, open the faucet and let water drain out. Keep a towel on hand to soak up water that may be released from the pipes once you remove the faucet.

Safety Alert!

Because you will be standing in the tub or shower to do this project, be sure that the floor surface is dry. Any moisture could cause you to slip and fall.

Step 2: Take the Faucet Apart

How you disassemble it depends on what kind of faucet you have: one-knob or two-knob style. If you have a two-knob system then you will need to replace both valves. Use a screwdriver and crescent wrench to unscrew the valves and remove the shower faucet knobs or handles. Remove the guard and set it aside. You should see two nuts. Unscrew the larger of the two; only one of them needs to be unscrewed to reach the shower stem. Remove the shower stem by unscrewing it in a counterclockwise direction.

Step 3: Replace Washers

The shower stem works with several washers. You should replace all of them while you’ve got the faucet disassembled to make sure you cover all your bases, regardless of their condition. Look for a rubber washer at the tail of the stem. This is called the seat washer. The rest of them — packing washers — are at the center of the stem.

Step 4: Put the Faucet Back Together

Clean the pipes with an old toothbrush and a cup of vinegar and water solution. Scrub away any mineral deposits you can see on the pipes. Reattach the shower stem. Screw in the valves and reattach the knobs. After you’ve reattached the faucet faceplate or escutcheons, seal where they touch the shower wall by applying caulk around the entire plate.

How to Replace a Shower Faucet

If neither fixing the showerhead nor the faucet has dried up the drip, it may be time to swap your old faucet for a new one. While this project may be more involved, sometimes it is the only way to cure an ailing shower. Often this is a job for a licensed plumber, but it’s not impossible for a layman. While different faucets require different methods of replacement, below is a general guide for the most common faucets.

Step 1: Find a Replacement

Shower faucets come in many styles and sizes. Not all are interchangeable, so you need to find the correct replacement. Note that there are general guidelines (outlined in this project), but it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure everything is connected correctly. Get an exact measurement of the holes for the faucet and take the old one with you to find the right replacement.

Step 2: Remove the Old Faucet

Many homes have an access panel on the wall opposite the shower faucet so one can get in and work on the internal workings of the tub. If yours doesn’t, you will have to cut into the opposite wall to access and remove the old faucet and install the new one. Use a keyhole saw to cut an approximately 12″ square or rectangular hole into the wall directly opposite the faucet.

Remove the base of the faucet using a pipe wrench to unscrew the nuts fastening it to the shower fixture. Be sure the faucet has been removed completely from the water pipes. Don’t twist or turn the pipes when you’re extracting the old faucet to avoid potential complications.

Helpful Tip

If the pipes in your home are old, there could be complications from corroded pipes that can move around easily when you’re trying to remove the faucet. If this is the case, be careful so that you do not break the pipes which will cause water leakage behind walls and thus, a more expensive and time-consuming project.

Step 3: Install New Faucet

When putting in the new faucet assembly, you will be lining it up with the shower pipe and fastening it to the pipe with the pipe wrench. It is advised that you strictly follow the instructions from the manufacturer on how to correctly hook the new faucet up.

Step 4: Turn Water Back On

Turn the water back on at the main and check for any leaks. If you do notice any, try tightening nuts and screws to make sure everything is tight and secure. The manufacturer’s instructions can guide you. If you’ve tightened every connection and there are still leaks, disconnect the faucet and start over to make sure everything is done correctly.

Step 5: Patch the Wall

If you don’t have the access panel discussed in step 2, now you’ve got a fairly large hole in the wall opposite your shower. Don’t fret, making a wall patch and then repainting the wall will make it look like the work was never done.

Good work! No matter which fix it took, you’ll no longer hear that irritating drip, drip, drip.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.