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 area charges for residential water, your money is literally going down the drain. So, fixing your leaky showerhead eliminates aggravation and saves valuable resources and money.
Fixing showerhead leaks is a two-stage process. You start with the easiest fixes located around the showerhead itself. If any of these fixes work, you can stop there. If not, you'll progress to more complex fixes located around the faucet cartridge until the drip is gone.
Equipment / Tools
- Wrench set
- Phillips-head screwdriver
- Flat-head screwdriver
- Clean plastic container
- Blunt knife
- Allen wrenches
- Replacement cartridge
- White vinegar
- Water sealant tape (Teflon tape)
Tighten, Clean, or Replace Showerhead
Since the showerhead is leaking, the most obvious place to begin fixing the leak is there. Though fixing the showerhead alone often does not stop the leak, this fix is so easy that you should start here. Also, it's a good chance for you to check up on the condition of your showerhead and clear any sediment blockages.
Shut off the water at the shower controls. By hand, remove the showerhead by turning it counter-clockwise. If you need assistance, use a damp towel. Do not use a wrench.
Inside the showerhead will be rubber O-rings and a screen. Make sure that they are intact and not damaged or blocked with sediment.
If the inside of the showerhead is dirty, clean your showerhead by submerging it in a bowl of white vinegar for an hour or two. Rinse off with cold water after removal.
Wrap the threads of the shower pipe extension with water sealant tape, also called Teflon tape. Wrap in the direction of the threads.
Turn the showerhead back onto the shower pipe extension and tighten it by hand. Turn the water on briefly, then turn it off. Monitor the shower to see if the leak persists.
Replace the Faucet Cartridge
Showers that have single-handle faucets contain an element behind the controls and escutcheon (or, decorative faceplate) called a cartridge. The cartridge is responsible for regulating the flow of water.
If the cartridge does not seal properly, it will allow a slow trickle of water to continue upwards to the showerhead, creating the leak. It's much like having a garden hose that leaks. To stop the hose's leak, you don't address the end of the hose. Rather, you travel upstream to the source—the hose bib—and shut it off there.
Shut Off Water
Shut off the water upstream from the shower controls. Your home may have an intermediary shut-off valve located on the other side of the shower, accessed by a panel. However, in most cases, you will need to shut off the water at the main shut-off valve.
Shutting off water only at the shower controls will cause flooding. Some flooding may even extend behind the shower walls.
The handle will likely have a cap at the end that you can remove by gently prying it away with a blunt knife. With the cap off, unscrew the handle screw with the Phillips-head screwdriver. In some cases, you may need to use Allen wrenches to remove the handle.
Your controls usually will have a large faceplace, or escutcheon, that can be removed by unscrewing it from the shower wall with the Phillips-head screwdriver.
Remove Retaining Clip
The existing cartridge's retaining clip is metal and U-shaped. Carefully pry off the retaining clip with the flat-head screwdriver or the blunt knife. Remove the washer.
Unscrew Hex Nut
Use your wrench set to remove the hex nut.
Slide Out Existing Cartridge
Slide the existing cartridge out from the shower controls. Cartridges slide straight in and out, no turning or twisting required. However, you may need to initially loosen the cartridge by turning the control (with pliers, since the handle is no longer in place) 45 degrees with pliers.
Install New Cartridge
The new shower cartridge will slide straight into the controls. You will find a tab and groove on the controls and cartridge that slide into each other, properly aligning the cartridge. Be sure to engage the retaining clip.
Reverse the earlier steps to replace the control handle and escutcheon. Turn on the water at the source. Test the shower by turning it on and then firmly off again. Monitor the shower for any leaks.