How to Install a Handheld Showerhead

Close-up of human hand adjusts holder shower head with hose.
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Overview
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $15 to $150

A handheld showerhead makes a shower more versatile and pleasant. Getting hot water directly on an achy joint is something you can do only with a handheld showerhead, and for people with mobility issues, a handheld shower makes it possible to bathe while seated. Many models attach easily to the existing shower arm—the short, bent pipe that comes out of the wall and connects to the showerhead. A handheld showerhead also can be installed onto a tub spout that has a special diverter fitting.

There are several types of adapter kit available:

  • A standard fitting attaches to the existing shower arm and replaces the old showerhead with a flexible hose and handheld shower unit that can serve both as a stationary head or a handheld shower.
  • A cross-tee diverter fitting works with the existing showerhead and includes a hose and handheld showerhead unit as a secondary showerhead. The diverter T-fitting has two outlets—one for connecting the new handheld showerhead and hose and one for connecting the original showerhead. 
  • A tub spout diverter valve is commonly used when you want to add a shower function, and there is no existing showerhead. Usually, this requires replacing the old tub spout with a new one that has a hand shower diverter.

Preparation Steps

If you are replacing a standard showerhead with a hand-held showerhead, there are preparation steps required.

First, remove the old showerhead, using an adjustable wrench or channel-type pliers. Turn the showerhead nut counterclockwise to loosen it. The showerhead probably will turn along with the nut, which is fine. If you will use the showerhead elsewhere, then protect its finish by wrapping it with a piece of heavy cloth or leather before using the wrench or pliers.

Then, clean the threads on the shower arm to remove mineral deposits or old pipe compound or plumber's pipe-seal tape. Wrap the threads with plumber's tape, wrapping in a clockwise direction (as you face the end of the shower arm) four or five times. The tape helps to prevent the new shower fitting from leaking at the connection. Keep the tape on the threaded area, so it won't show when the new showerhead unit is installed. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers
  • Hex key (as needed)
  • Drill and bits (if needed)

Materials

  • Plumber's pipe seal tape
  • Hand-held shower head kit
  • Tub spout with diverter (as needed)
  • A piece of heavy cloth or leather

Instructions

How to Add a Handheld Showerhead Using a Standard Fitting

With this method, a hand-held shower attaches to the existing shower arm, replacing the old shower head with a flexible hose and handheld shower unit. The handheld unit either screws onto the end of the shower arm or fits onto a bracket that's mounted to the wall, depending on the model.

  1. Attach Showerhead Base

    After removing the old showerhead (see above), wrap several loops of plumber's pipe seal tape around the threads on the shower arm. Screw the hand-held shower head base onto the shower arm, and tighten it down by hand.

  2. Attach the Hose

    Wrap several loops of plumber's pipe seal tape around the cross-tee nipple on the shower head base, then thread the flexible shower hose onto the nipple. Tighten it by hand. 

    Turn on the water at the faucet and check for leaks. If either connection point leaks, tighten carefully with an adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers, using a piece of heavy cloth or leather to protect the finish.

  3. Mount Wall Bracket

    Mount the wall bracket, if applicable, following the manufacturer's directions. This may require drilling holes in the wall to insert expandable anchors.

How to Add a Handheld Shower Using a Cross-Tee Diverter Fitting

This method adds a handheld showerhead but also leaves the existing shower head in place. It involves temporarily removing the existing showerhead, then installing a diverter tee-fitting that has two outlets—one for connecting the new handheld showerhead and hose and one for reconnecting the original shower head. 

  1. Install Cross-Tee Fitting

    After removing the existing showerhead (see above), clean the threads on the shower arm. Wrap several loops of plumber's pipe seal tape around the threaded end of the shower arm, then thread the cross-tee fitting onto the shower arm. Tighten by hand.

  2. Reconnect the Shower Head

    Wrap plumber's pipe-seal tape around the threads on the cross-tee fitting, then screw the original showerhead onto one outlet of the cross-tee diverter. Tighten by hand.

  3. Attach the Flexible Hose

    Fasten the flexible hose of the handheld showerhead onto the outer outlet on the cross-tee diverter, and tighten by hand.

    Turn on the water at the faucet and check for leaks. If either connection point leaks, tighten carefully with an adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers, using a piece of heavy cloth or leather to protect the finish.

How to Add a Hand-Held Shower Using a Tub Spout Diverter Valve

Where you have no current showerhead at all, you can use a tub spout diverter valve to add a hand-held shower. Usually, this requires replacing the old tub spout with a new one that has a diverter fitting.

  1. Remove the Tub Spout

    First, remove the old tub spout.

    • If there is a hex-head (Allen) setscrew on the spout, it is a slip-on type: Loosen the setscrew with a hex key (Allen wrench) and slide the spout off the pipe nipple coming out of the wall.
    • If your spout doesn't have a setscrew it is a threaded type: Unscrew the spout counterclockwise, using channel-lock pliers, until it comes off the threaded nipple.
  2. Install a New Spout

    Purchase a new diverter-style tub spout that uses the same attachment method as the old one—slip-on or threaded. 

    • If your spout is threaded, wrap the pipe nipple threads with two or three clockwise wraps of plumber's pipe-seal tape, then screw it onto the stub-out pipe.
    • If the spout is a slip-on design, slide it over the stub-out pipe and tighten the setscrew with a hex key. 
  3. Mount the Slide Bar

    Mount the slide bar or mounting bracket for the hand-held shower head) to the wall, following the manufacturer's directions. This may include drilling holes in the wall and anchoring the bracket with expandable anchors.

  4. Attach the Flexible Hose

    Attach the flexible hose to the nipple on the spout's diverter valve. Use plumber's pipe-seal tape around the nipple to ensure a tight seal.

    Turn on the water and check the showerhead unit for leaks. If the showerhead, hose, or diverter are leaking, tighten the connection carefully with an adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers, using a piece of heavy cloth or leather to protect the finish.