The humidity inside the bath room and the shower stall or tub enclosure can affect the shower faucet handle in a negative way. Aside from temperature factors, the hard water and its mineral deposits can turn it white, and the dripping water from the shower head can also contribute to its discoloration. However, the most serious among the factors affecting plumbing system is corrosion, which can damage the threads on the faucet’s valve stems, leading to loose handles.
Now, if you have a loose shower faucet handle, remember that it would gradually grind away the valve stem to which it is screwed. To avoid such a problem, you should take action as soon as possible to fix it. Try to tighten the screw that holds the faucet handle in place, and depending on the type of faucet you have, you will have to pry off the decorative metal button that is found at the center of the handle to have access to the screw or you will instantly find a set screw near the base of the handle. Keep in mind that a set screw would usually require an Allen or hex wrench to loosen or tighten in this matter.
Here is a step-by-step guideline that you can follow to get this job done:
1. Secure the necessary tools and materials for this project. These include an Allen wrench, a 4-in-1 screwdriver and a Teflon plumber’s tape. By having these items at hand before you start anything, you will be able to save time and avoid frustration.
2. Before you remove anything, make sure you turn off the shower water shutoff valve that is usually located inside the tub or shower access panel. You can turn it off by turning the handle clockwise. If you cannot locate the shutoff valve in the shower room, you can shut off the main water supply to your house instead.
3. Release the remaining water contained in the pipes and the shower head by slightly opening the shower faucet and letting the water drain. You will know that the water supply was cut off completely when you see that the shower has stopped dripping after about 60 seconds.
4. With everything dry now, remove the loose faucet handle by removing the set screw that is holding the handle in place. Usually, this screw is concealed, so look carefully on top of the handle and around the sides to find it. Using your adjustable wrench or screwdriver, remove the set screw. The handle set screw accepts a 5/64 inch Allen or hex key and would pop easily off the stem, revealing the non-corrosive plastic spline that is mounted on the valve stem.
5. With the set screw removed, pull the shower faucet handle straight out from the housing and then inspect it closely to identify what caused it to be loose. Clean the inside of the handle with a rag and check if the teeth inside the hole of the mounting on the handle are not stripped and still sharp. If they are already stripped, then the handle must be replaced.
6. Try to see if the shaft on the shower assembly holding the shower handle is completely tight, and if it is not, tighten it using your adjustable wrench. Make sure not to over-tighten it, as this is the diverting valve component that contains the ball or cartridge assembly that directs water flow, and over-tightening it may cause a leak. However, take note that tightening the screw in the cold water stem would open the valve, so make sure that you firmly wedge the splined mount using a specialized wrench. Another suggested alternative is dosing the screw with thread locker, so that you will never have to undergo this complicated step again, but you should remember that this type of screw has coarse threads engaging another plastic doodad, which also engages a couple of wings on the splined mount. This means that you still have to do some re-tightening in every certain number of years.
7. Again, check the teeth on the diverter valve that protrudes from the shower assembly that you have tightened, and if you see that they are broken or worn, then you must replace the cartridge or ball diverter valve.
8. With all components in proper order, re-attach the shower handle and make sure that it is fully seated on the diverter valve shaft. Tighten the set screw, while making sure that the shower faucet handle retains its normal range of motion.
9. Turn the water supply back on and test the faucet.
More Useful Tips
When replacing a shower valve, take note that the process involves 2 main steps, namely removing the old valve and installing the new one. There is a lot of reasons to replace the valve, such as being broken and not being pressure balanced, causing the shower pressure to fluctuate that can be uncomfortable. However, this is more of an advanced task that requires good copper soldering skills, so this should be left to the professionals.
Also, take note that pulling off a stuck shower faucet handle can be difficult in some cases, so might have to lever a screwdriver between the wall and the handle to get it off. When performing this task, you can place a piece of wood between the wall and the screwdriver to protect the wall and to make the job easier for you. If you notice a leak from the valve stem or see that the handle is wet, turn off the water supply and remove the stem to replace any worn washers. If you think of using vinegar to take care of corrosion on the inner parts of the handle, do not even bother as it will not be effective.
If tightening the shower faucet handle does not work, then the stem inside it is most likely worn, especially if it is made of plastic. To solve this problem, you can wrap the stem tightly with the Teflon plumber’s tape and then slip the handle back over the stem. Most of the time, just a single wrap is enough to creates a snug fit.