As I mentioned last time, I’m going to show you step-by-step the process of fixing the compression faucet in the shower of my downstairs bathroom. If everything is in good order, this type of home maintenance project isn’t too bad. For me, the job was made more difficult by the fact that the valve assembly hex nut had been rounded off, so I had to use something other than a socket wrench to get the assembly out of the wall.
Before you get started with this project, turn the water off to the faucet being repaired. If you’re lucky, there’s a shut off valve for the faucet being repaired. If you’re me (read: not lucky), you have to shut off the water to the entire house... a real crowd pleaser.
With the water off, we’re ready to get started.
Step 1: Remove the screw cover on the face of the faucet handle. If you enlarge the image to the right, you’ll notice there’s tread around the edge of this round cover. If you’re lucky, you can gently use a pair of pliers to remove the screw cover. Be careful not to mar the cover by digging the teeth of the pliers into the cover’s edge. If the cover doesn’t easily screw off, try applying some CLR or Lime Away to break up any calcium or lime deposits caused by your water. Do not apply more pressure with the pliers and use more force, you’ll only be sorry with the result. Be patient if you need to wait for the CLR to loosen the cover.
Step 2: With the cover off, remove the screw that holds the handle in place.
Step 3: Remove the shower faucet handle. I used the soft handle of my adjustable wrench (shown in step four’s photo) to gently bang on the back edges of the handle to remove it. Since you have limited room between the shower wall and the back of the handle, hitting the back of the handle too hard shouldn’t be a concern. Just be ready to catch the handle if it comes off all the way with one of the blows with your wrench. If the handle doesn’t want to come off, you might need to apply some CLR and let it loosen any calcium/lime deposits for a little while.
Step 4: With the handle removed, use an adjustable wrench to remove the nut that holds the primary valve assembly cover in place.
Step 5: Remove the nut and cover to expose the compression faucet’s valve steam assembly.
The photo to the right shows the calcium/lime deposits around the valve stem. You can also see the rounded-over hex nut on the back end of the valve assembly. That’s assuming you can see though all the crud. Just look for the bright brass areas. I’m sort of embarrassed to show a photo like this, but I thought I’d keep the valve as I found it so you can see what you might encounter. Cleaning up the valve assembly – or the wall for that matter – wouldn’t give you the full extent of what’s involved here.
Step 6: If the hex nut on the back end of your valve assembly is the good shape, you can use a shower valve socket wrench to loosen the valve assembly. I got the shower valve socket wrench at Ace Hardware, and it fits both 1-1/32” and 1-3/32” hex nuts, depending on which end you use. A screwdriver through the opposite end of the socket serves as a handle. Why not just use an adjustable wrench to loosen the valve assembly’s hex nut? It all depends on how far the assembly is recessed into the shower wall. My upstairs shower’s valve assembly is recessed into the wall about a quarter of an inch, completely eliminating the opportunity to use an adjustable wrench. Even if your valve assembly is sticking out enough from the wall, I’d recommend using the shower valve socket wrench so you don’t risk scratching the shower walls with your adjustable wrench.
Step 7: Warning: this step is only recommending in dire situations where the assembly can’t be removed by a socket wrench. Since my valve assembly hex nut was rounded over, I was forced to use a set of Channel Lock adjustable pliers to remove the assembly. I don’t recommend this tool on anything you want to keep pristine, because the teeth of this tool do a great job of digging in for great traction (especially in the soft brass of a valve assembly).
Step 8: Remove the compression faucet valve stem assembly from the wall. The photo to the right is how mine looked right after I removed it.
I know the leak from my compression faucet is coming from the area where the valve stem assembly meets the pipe in the wall (due to a worn out gasket), I’m going to make the extra effort to replace all the washers within the assembly since I have it out of the wall.
Step 9: Remove the screw on the very end of the valve stem assembly and remove the rubber compression washer. As you can see in the photo, this compression washer definitely needs to be replaced. If this washer started leaking water, the result would be a dripping showerhead, as the water would get around this washer and head up to the showerhead.
Step 10: With the compression washer removed, check to make sure the end of the valve stem assembly is in good shape. Mine was a little out of round, but the lip is easily bent back into place.
Step 11: At this point you’ll probably have to go to your local hardware store to pick up a new washer (I got mine at my local Ace Hardware). My piece of advice: these washers are cheap so buy a lot of them so you can save a trip to the hardware store on future faucet repairs.
Step 12: Install your new washer on the end of the valve stem assembly and reinsert the screw.
Step 13: On the opposite end of the valve assembly, remove the first nut (shown to the right). You’ll probably have to use one wrench on the large hex nut and another wrench to remove the smaller nut. This would be a great time to pinch some skin between the wrenches. Try to avoid that.
Step 14: With the smaller nut removed, you can pull the valve stem out the other end. Twisting it back and forth along with way will help. Take a flashlight and look in the end you just removed the stem from. There’s an O-ring within the assembly housing that needs to be replaced. I used a flat-bladed screwdriver to carefully dig out the old O-ring.
Step 15: When you’re at the hardware store, also buy a stash of O-rings for the valve stem. Mine are of the fabric variety, and fit around the valve stem very snuggly. With the O-ring on the stem, work it up into the assembly housing.
Step 16: I added plumber’s grease around the threads on the end of the valve stem. Once the assembly is back in the wall and joined with the head that’s tucked inside the pipe in the wall (see the photo below), this grease will ease the turning of the handle.
This shot shows the way the valve stem adjoins with the head inside the wall. When the faucet is turned off, the compression washer on the very end of the valve stem assembly presses up against the very end of the head, cutting off the flow of water. When you turn the faucet on, the water starts flowing around the compression washer.
Step 17: As I mentioned earlier, the area that’s leaking with my shower’s compression faucet was where the valve stem assembly meets the pipe coming from the wall. If you enlarge the photo to the right, you can see the gasket for packing the valve against the wall pipe was clearly warn. Remove all of the old packing material from around the rim.
Step 18: I used modern TFE String (a stranded, 3/32” thick material made of Teflon), cut to length to fit perfectly around the valve stem’s rim.
Step 19: Put the valve stem assembly back into the wall. If you enlarge the photo to the right you’ll see the gasket made from the TFE String. Compare that to the photo in step five and you can clearly see why this faucet used to leak.
Step 20: Replace the shower faucet handle parts shown to the right, and you’re done. Turn the water back on and cross your fingers! For me, the leak was gone and I was back in business.
There’s nothing like the satisfaction of tackling a home project that was once foreign to you and solving the problem... without resorting to the yellow pages! Now, back to reality that is the torn up bathroom upstairs. So much for a victory parade.