Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Compression faucet repair

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.


  1. Great tutorial - I have the exact same hardware, and have the same leak on both the hot and cold handles. Thanks for taking the time to document your work. Have you ever had an issue with your shower diverter? I'm getting about half of the water coming out of the showerhead and the other half coming out of the faucet. I'm carefully trying to remove the faucet, assuming it unscrews since there's not a small screw anywhere. If so, let me know!

    -Alan (amccarty @ jenneka dot com)

  2. I removed the handle of my shower facet and the front nut as you did. But on mine the stem is inside a chrome cylinder that extends out from the wall (about 1 inch in diameter). There are flat edges at the end that look like you might be able to unscrew the cylinder but after using fairly strong force with a wrench I was unable to budge it. I'm afraid to use full force or a big wrench since maybe the whole thing can break (?) Of course the stem won't come out at this point. Any idea what I could do? (I have a picture)

  3. Hello anonymous,

    My shower faucet stem was also hard to loosed at first. I mentioned in Step 3 that you might have to use CLR to remove calcium deposits from the shower faucet handle. Similarly, you might have to use CLR on the faucet stem cylinder to loose up any calcium, lime, or rust that might be built up (and subsequently working as a bonding agent for the threads).

    If you use CLR around the wall, I'd recommend putting the CLR onto a sponge and then applying it to the faucet assembly. You'll have better control over the liquid CLR that way.

    Incidentally, CLR is sold at most hardware stores. It comes in a gray plastic bottle. CLR stands are calcium, lime, rust. It's most likely found with other cleaning agents. If you have rust in your sink or calcium or lime built up on sink or shower hardware, I'd highly recommend CLR.

    Good luck! - Bergie

  4. This was a great step by step tutorial.The pics helped a ton.You are better than Bob Villa himself !!!!!

  5. Thanks so much for this post. My dad and I were working on an old leaky faucet today when I came across your post. It turns out my old tub has almost exactly the same type of system as you are working on in your post. Much thanks!

  6. You sir are a lifesaver! thank you so much for posting this. I stripped my valve stem recently and had to replace. What a great tutorial. This tutorial saved me $150 in plumber bills!

  7. I have something close to this, but the retainer peice that holds the rubber washer is lose and can actually be removed from the stem. I fear this is not how it's supposed to be and have searched several plumbing supply stores for a replacement but nobody knows what I have.

    Also, how did you match up the packing/fabric o-ring? Mine had to be ripped out in pieces so i have no way to know the size.

  8. If I were you, I'd try to find a good hardware store near you. I have an awesome Ace Hardware near my home with a great selection of fittings for old home plumbing as well as a great staff that knows their stuff.

    When I rebuilt my first compression faucet, the rubber O ring and fabric O ring came out in one piece. They knew exactly what I needed. Since you don't have that luxury, can you take the entire assembly into the hardware store?

    Good luck... keep your chin up!

  9. Dear Bergie,

    Your faucet repair tutorial has led to roaring success!
    I am now literally a hero in my wife's eyes!

    I had looked for repair hints on many other sites, but yours was second to none: Your
    close up pictures plus your clearly written instructions really did the trick on these legacy (but good) faucets.

    You and your audience might be interested in two aspects (psychological and procedural) that led to my successful repair:

    (1) I had your blog site right next to my repair site. Referring
    to your 20 step pictures/explanations gave me the moral confidence that success is possible. And believe me, I was ready several times to throw in the towel and let a plumber do it.

    (2) Step 6, or in my case step 7, was absolutely crucial to my success. Instead of using "Channel Lock" adjustable pliers I used "vice grip" pliers. This did not work at first, but after removing
    with a pointy spike the lime deposits around the perimeter of where the threads start, I finally was able to loosen that hex nut. After that everything was a breeze by comparison.

    There was one surprise near the end: After I had pulled out the stem (step 8) I hadn't realized
    that the "head inside the wall" (step 16 B) also comes out. That
    it does, and seeing right in front of me, was actually very helpful
    in understanding the internal workings of the faucet, and therefore made the reassembly that much easier.

    Again, many thanks for your typical American can do spirit implicit in your "Compression faucet repair"



    P.S. For me, the duration of this first time faucet repair job was
    ~3hours. But it was worth it!

  10. Many thanks for your invaluable help! As a divorced woman in new OLD home, I almost resorted to calling a plumber until I found your site. I have the same faucet on my tub/shower, but the problem is with my matching sink faucet. I had a terrible time getting the hex nut off and wasn't sure I was doing the right thing until I read your helpful instructions. Now my annoying leak is gone, and I feel great about having fixed it myself!

  11. Any suggestions on a broken screw without calling a plumber?

    The head of the screw broke in a first attempt to remove the handle. Everything inside is so rusted and the faucet won't stop leaking!

    Thanks for the great tutorial :)

  12. Very helpful. thank you.

  13. Just in case your ever tempted to take this web page down because you think nobody needs it anymore....DON'T!!!!

    I'm a single mom trying to keep this old plumbing working and your tutorial was a Godsend! I was able to keep it working just a little longer.

    I also had a screw break and was fortunate to have another from a replacement part that turned out to be the wrong kind and I never returned.

    Thank you so much.

  14. This is a great blog, and reassuring too! What should I do if I can't get the stem back in?

  15. What holds the cylinder in the wall still while you are turning the handle. I have repaired a faucet of this style and now when I turn the handle, the whole assembly (stem) turns in the wall and the water will not go off/on. HELP!

    1. I'm having the same problem. I believe that when you tighten the outer nut it's supposed to press up against that inner cylinder and press it in there hard enough to hold it in place. I've installed a new seal around that outer nut and I believe it's too thick preventing me from tightening the outer nut enough to compress the inner cylinder, but without it, there's no seal and it might leak. I had a problem with water leaking in the wall. I've done the same thing to both the hot and cold side and I'm having the same problem with both. I'm not sure how to solve this.

      I'm searching online for a solution and this is the only web page that appears to have this type of faucet but no information on this problem.

  16. The disassembly photos were excellent. It gave the guts to take mine apart with the hope of knowing what to expect. The surgery went just fine.

    High 5 to you sir!

    Grzegorz Brzeczyszczykiewicz

  17. this is the best assembly and pics ive seen on the net good job

  18. I can't thank you enough for the great photos and tutorial. I have been searching for a year to find out how to fix the exact same fixture.

    I repacked it - but since I had no idea what some of the replacement parts looked like new, I didn't know what to get at the hardware store. My eroded parts didn't look anything like your parts, so now I know what to get!

    My attempt to fix the leak with some packing string gasket - slowed down the leak, but it's back and getting worse. (My water bill is rising!)

    I rent and since I try to cover repairs so my rent does not go up, the cost to replace the faucet is way too expensive. The back of the tub faucet is literally cemented to some sort of 1939 cement to the copper pipes in the back. The cement had been covered with a metal mesh, that has rusted away! I also like the look of the vintage faucet which goes with the vintage black and white (is it called subway tile)) tile and black and white mosaic original tile floor.

    I'm going to try to fix this again thanks to your great instructions and authentic photos. The local handyman failed. He tried his luck before I made my "slow down the leak a little" fix.

    He also (sob) marred up all the handles and especially the spout on this classic 1939 installed fixture. It looked pretty good before he used a wrench without protection. I was not happy, but what could I do. He was hired by the landlord. He gave up trying to fix the leak.

    Does anyone have ideas on how/what type of replacement part for the spout and handles that will fit. I also need to replace the nut(s) seen in photo 4 and 5 as they are stripped and also rounded off and marred. They are all chewed up by - the handyman. What am I looking to ask for to replace this 1939 spout and a couple of the handles? I am not sure of how to remove this spout and what I need to do to seal it or replace it., etc. I would appreciate hints. Does it just screw in?

    My fixture is exactly like that of "Bergie".

    Again, thank you and please keep up this post for others. I'm a female in the Northeast and I appreciate your spending time to put up this tutorial.

  19. It is the middle of the night and I was covertly trying to repair a leaking shower faucet in the bathroom located in our bedroom. The hot side is leaking and steaming up the bathroom. My wife wanted to leave the door open and the sound is driving me crazy.

    I took it apart and replaced the compression washer. Apparently I need to get the Teflon string and replace the O-ring as well. I will wait for the store to open.

    Your step by step guide with the GREAT photos has pointed me in the right direction.

  20. This was an enormous help, I can't thank you enough!

  21. This is a fantastic tutorial!! I just purchased my first home and walked into a leaky shower. I googled leaky shower, figured out what it might have been, and found this blog. Absolutely fantastic. As a single female, I had no idea where to begin. This helped me so much. I was able to go to a hardware store and identify what I was looking for, thanks to your pictures. My compression valve stem definitely needed to be replaced. The o-ring wasn't even rubber, it was the original leather! I guess that's 1956 for ya. Anyways, thank you so much!

  22. Hi,

    What if I'm the only person in my home for the next few hours? Will it still be necessary to shut off the water to the entire house?

  23. Very helpful. My 1950s hardware looks like yours in the photos. This was a wonderful find. Thanks!

  24. I really want to do this job myself, but I can't even get my handles house was built in 1941 and the design of these handles doesn't have anything to pop off in the front. There is a little hole on the side, and there are gear teeth in there, but I don't get how to remove the handles!

  25. If you think you have a cracked or broken pipe, you should follow both the cold and water pipes in the home. Begin in the basement and trace the pipes while looking and feeling for dripping water. You will be able to see the exposed pipes. You can actually turn the taps on to help you better locate the leak. click here for plumber | Desentupidora

  26. I've been using this web page for years as a reference when fixing my leaky bathtub handles. They look identical to these photos. I don't know how I could have found the courage to do so otherwise.

    However, eventually the brass parts become so pitted and worn that 1952 parts need replacing. I had always assumed you couldn't find replacement parts, but that's not true!

    I was desperate, I started searching the web. It turns out that if you use the search terms "old american standard faucet stem" you find a number of places that sell parts just like in the photo above.

    I bought a faucet stem and escutcheons from faucetpartsplus dot com. I bought an American Standard 5.25" long faucet stem with 22 spline broach. Turns out I should have measured from barrel to stem tip, which would have 5 5/8". But they don't have that size; 5.5" would have been best.

    The new one looks like a fancy piece of jewelry next to the old stem.

    So ... I installed it and it worked first time! No constant leaking! The new one keeps spinning the handle even after the water stops, so I am not sure if the dimensions are slightly different and somehow the barrel isn't held tightly.

    The escutcheons are slightly different, so they won't work for me. So think twice before ordering new shiny ones!

  27. EXCELLENT!!! I have finally conquered my leaky faucet. This has been the best site I've come across regarding "old style" faucets and repair.