A handheld showerhead makes a shower more versatile and pleasant. Getting hot water directly on an achy joint is easier 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 shower head. A handheld shower head also can be installed onto a tub spout that has a special diverter fitting.
There are several types of adapter kits that let you turn an existing shower or tub into a handheld shower:
- 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 shower head unit as a secondary shower head. The diverter T-fitting has two outlets—one for connecting the new handheld shower head and hose, and one for connecting the original shower head.
- A tub spout diverter valve is commonly used when you want to add a shower function, and there is no existing shower head. Usually, this requires replacing the old tub spout with a new one that has a handheld shower diverter.
If you are replacing a standard showerhead with a hand-held showerhead using existing plumbing connections, there are a few 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, protect its finish by wrapping it with a piece of heavy cloth or leather before using the wrench or pliers.
As you're removing the old showerhead, take care not to apply pressure to the shower arm that comes out of the wall. If it snaps, it will leave the threads inside the fitting in the wall, and it can be very tedious to get them out. To avoid this, plumbers recommend using a scissor bit with two wrenches, a technique they call "holding against ourselves."
Then, clean the threads on the shower arm to remove mineral deposits, old pipe compound, or plumber's tape. Wrap the threads with new plumber's tape (also known as Teflon tape), working in a clockwise direction, four or five times. The tape helps to prevent the new shower fitting from leaking at the connection. Don't wrap beyond the threaded area, so the tape doesn't show when the new shower head unit is installed.
Equipment / Tools
- Adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers
- Hex key (as needed)
- Drill and bits (if needed)
- Plumber's pipe-seal tape
- Hand-held showerhead kit
- Tub spout with diverter (as needed)
- A piece of heavy cloth or leather (as needed)
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 new showerhead base or fits onto a bracket that's mounted to the wall, depending on the model.
Attach Showerhead Base
After removing the old showerhead and wrapping several loops of plumber's pipe-seal tape around the threads on the shower arm (see above), screw the hand-held shower head base onto the shower arm, and tighten it by hand. Hold the shower arm while doing this and do not overtighten at this point.
Attach the Hose
Wrap several loops of plumber's pipe seal tape around the exposed threads of the showerhead base, then thread the flexible shower hose onto it. Tighten it by hand. Attach the showerhead unit to the other end of the hose.
Turn on the water at the faucet and check for leaks. If any 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.
Mount Wall Bracket
If your new showerhead assembly has a built-in bracket for your showerhead, then simply slot it in and you're done. Otherwise, mount the wall bracket 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 showerhead in place. It involves temporarily removing the existing showerhead, then installing a cross-tee fitting that has two outlets—one for connecting the new handheld showerhead and hose, and one for reconnecting the original shower head.
Install the Cross-Tee Fitting
After removing the existing showerhead (see above), screw the cross-tee fitting onto the shower arm. Tighten by hand.
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. Tighten by hand.
Attach the Flexible Hose
Fasten the flexible hose of the handheld showerhead onto the other outlet on the cross-tee fitting, 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.
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 stub-out pipe 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 stub-out pipe.
Removing the tub spout is not always easy and can very quickly go wrong. Most tub spouts are installed onto a brass nipple, pre-cut copper pipe with male adaptors, or a slip fit (straight copper pipe), which is secured by a set screw on the spout. Sometimes the entire brass nipple may unscrew from inside the wall, or the copper is so tight that it twists and breaks off. If you encounter any of these issues, call a professional.
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 the spout is a slip-on design, slide it over the stub-out pipe and tighten the setscrew with a hex key.
- If your spout is threaded, wrap the pipe threads with two or three clockwise wraps of plumber's pipe-seal tape, then screw it onto the stub-out pipe.
Mount the Slide Bar
Mount the slide bar or mounting bracket for the hand-held showerhead) to the wall, following the manufacturer's directions. This may include drilling holes in the wall and anchoring the bracket with expandable anchors.
Attach the Flexible Hose
Attach the flexible hose to the threads on the spout's diverter valve. Use plumber's pipe-seal tape around the threads to ensure a tight seal. Attach the other end to the showerhead unit, also using the tape first. Hang the showerhead on the bracket or slide-arm.
Turn on the water and check the assembly 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.