How to Fix a Leaking Showerhead

Dripping Showerhead With Water Drop

Daniel Pupius / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $20 to $40

A leaky showerhead can keep you awake with its rhythmic drip-drip. But the problem isn't just one of annoyance. Though a single drop of water may not seem like much, a showerhead that drips every three seconds wastes nearly 700 gallons per year. If your community charges for residential water use, your money is literally going down the drain. So, fixing your leaky showerhead eliminates aggravation and saves valuable resources and money.

Although it's possible for a showerhead to leak because of a bad joint at the shower arm—the angled pipe that holds the showerhead and leads into the wall—it's much more common for the problem to lie either at the showerhead itself, or with the faucet valve that controls the shower.

Before You Begin

When a showerhead is described as "leaking," it can mean one of two things. First, you may have a shower where the water stream just dribbles out of the showerhead when the faucet is on, rather the spraying out in a strong stream. When you witness this, it's usually because sediment or lime buildup have clogged the holes in the shower head, preventing water from flowing smoothly from the many port openings in the shower head. If this is the issue, the problem usually builds gradually over a period of weeks. The water stream gradually weakens until it's more a dribble than a spray.

Strictly speaking, this isn't a leaking showerhead, but one that doesn't flow properly anymore. The repair here is a simple one, involving removing and cleaning the showerhead. Or, you can simply replace the entire shower head, a fairly easy repair.

But showers can also leak—allowing a small amount of water to flow even when the faucet is in the OFF position. Leaking showerheads are caused by problems with the cartridge insert in the faucet valve—the component that controls the flow and mix of hot and cold water through the faucet body and to the showerhead or tub spout. The fix here is to disassemble the faucet and replace the misbehaving cartridge that controls the flow of water. This, too, is an easy DIY task, and one that sooner or later will be needed for just about every shower.

Start your repair on the shower faucet by examining the showerhead itself, then move to the faucet cartridge if necessary.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Small scrub brush
  • Plastic bowl
  • Channel-lock pliers (if needed)
  • Hex wrench set
  • Screwdrivers
  • Utility knife

Materials

  • White vinegar
  • Thread-sealing tape
  • Replacement shower faucet cartridge
  • Towel (if needed)

Instructions

How to Service the Shower Head

  1. Remove the Shower Head

    Make sure the shower faucet handle is fully in the OFF position. No water should dribble out of the showerhead. (If it does, jump to the next repair, "How to Replace the Shower Cartridge").

    By hand, remove the showerhead by turning it counter-clockwise off the threaded end of the shower arm. If you need assistance, use a damp towel to grip the showerhead. In rare instances, it may be necessary to use channel-lock pliers to remove the showerhead, but this usually indicates a very old, corroded shower head that is best replaced.

    Tip

    Use care when removing the showerhead to avoid bending or damaging the angled shower arm. If the parts are old, you may find it easiest to unscrew the entire shower arm from the threaded drop-ear elbow fitting inside the wall, replacing it with a new one as you service or replace the showerhead.

  2. Inspect and Clean the Shower Head

    Inside the showerhead will be rubber O-rings and a screen, and perhaps other parts. Make sure that they are intact and not damaged or blocked with sediment. If the inside of the shower head is dirty, clean your showerhead by submerging it in a bowl of white vinegar for an hour or two. Rinse the parts off with cold water before reassembling them.

  3. Wrap Pipe Threads

    Clean off the threads of the shower arm with a small scrub brush, then wrap the threads with one or two loops of thread-sealing tape, sometimes sold as Teflon tape. Wrap in the tape in the same direction as the threads—clockwise as you look at the end of the shower arm.

  4. Reassemble the Showerhead

    Thread the showerhead back onto the shower arm and tighten it by hand. Turn on the shower faucet briefly to watch how the water stream performs.

    If the showerhead continues to dribble only when the faucet is ON, then you can consider replacing the entire showerhead—a simple matter of threading on a new shower head rather than reattaching the old one.

How to Replace the Faucet Cartridge

Nearly all single-handle shower faucets work by means of a replaceable cartridge inside the faucet body, which has seals and rings that control the flow and mix of water up to the shower head. If this cartridge does not seal properly, it will allow a slow trickle of water to continue upwards to the showerhead even when the faucet handle is off. These cartridges are meant to be replaced when they begin to leak, and the repair is an easy DIY project.

  1. Shut Off Water

    Shut off the water upstream from the shower controls. Your home may have intermediary fixture shut-off valves located on the other side of the shower, often behind a wall panel. Some shower faucets have water shutoff valves built into the faucet body itself; you simply turn the valves with a screwdriver to shut off the flow of water from the hot and cold supply tubes into the faucet body. These shutoffs are visible once you remove the shower faucet's escutcheon plate.

    But many showers don't have any fixture shutoff valves. If this is the case, you will need to shut off the water at the main shut-off valve.

  2. Remove the Faucet Handle

    The shower faucet handle will likely have a cap at the end that you can remove by gently prying it away with screwdriver or utility knife. With the cap off, unscrew the handle screw. In some cases, you may need to use a hex wrench to remove the handle screw.

  3. Remove the Escutcheon Plate

    The faucet valve is usually covered by a large face place, or escutcheon. Remove the escutcheon by removing the mounting screws that hold it to the wall. You may need to cut through a caulk bead around the escutcheon in order to remove it.

  4. Remove the Retaining Clip

    The faucet cartridge is usually held into place in the faucet body with a metal retaining clip. Carefully pry off this U-shaped retaining clip with a flat-head screwdriver. If there are washers present on the end of the cartridge, remove them.

    Ons some shower faucets, there is also a hex nut that needs to be removed in order to remove the cartridge.

    Tip

    Cartridge designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and the removal techniques can also vary slightly. Some manufacturers make special cartridge-puller tools that make it easier to remove their cartridges.


    Make sure to refer to the manufacturer's directions for this process. If you no longer have the printed instructions for your particular faucet, you can find them online.


    Thermostatic or pressure-balancing shower valves may have unique methods, specific to the manufacturer, for replacing the cartridges and adjusting the temperature settings.



  5. Slide Out the Cartridge

    Slide the existing cartridge out from the faucet body. Cartridges usually slide straight in and out, no turning or twisting required, but in some instances, you may need to grip the stem with channel-lock pliers and turn the cartridge to remove it.

  6. Install a New Cartridge

    The new shower cartridge will slide straight into the faucet body if you align the tab on the cartridge with the groove on the faucet body. After inserting the cartridge, replace the retaining clip and hex screw, if present. Replace any washers you removed.

  7. Replace the Escutcheon and Handle

    Reverse the earlier steps to replace the control handle and escutcheon plate. Turn on the water at the source. Test the shower by turning it on and then firmly off again several times, making sure the new cartridge controls the water flow correctly.