How to Repair Your Tub and Shower Compression Faucet

Leaky faucet? Check out these step-by-step instructions to fix it yourself in no time.

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The inner-workings of your tub and shower faucet may be a foreign concept to you, but don't let that stop you from handling repairs. A leaky faucet is one of the most common concerns amongst homeowners, so if you hear dripping, don't call the plumber yet. Like most electrical, plumbing, or other handywork, repairs to your faucet are a lot easier than they seem. Follow along with our steps below to save yourself the cost of professional help. 

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Getting Started

Tub and shower faucets work much like sink faucets, but they are oriented horizontally rather than vertically and their parts are usually larger. A two-handle stem shower faucet has a stem with a washer that presses against a seat to seal off water. A three-handle unit adds a stemlike diverter to direct water up to the shower or down to the tub spout.

Getting the parts
Often leaks can be fixed simply by replacing the washers. Even if you need to replace the seats or stems, it's easier to repair than to replace an old shower faucet, because replacement requires opening the wall. If parts are hard to find, order them at a plumbing-supply store.

What You Need

  • Screwdrivers
  • Handle puller if needed
  • Adjustable wrench or groove-joint pliers
  • Stem wrench or seat wrench if needed
  • Washers
  • O-rings
  • Seats
  • New stems if needed

Step 1: Remove Handle

Before you begin any plumbing project, shut off the water to the fixture you are repairing. Then, turn on the faucet until the water stops running—this lets you make sure there is no longer water running in the pipes. To remove the handle, pry off the decorative cap and remove the screw; use a hex wrench or screwdriver as needed. Lift off the handle.

Step 2: Loosen Stem

If the stem protrudes far enough past the wall surface, loosen it with an adjustable wrench or groove-joint pliers. For a recessed stem, use a stem wrench.

Recessed Stem: Using a Stem Wrench

If the stem nut is behind the wall, use a stem wrench, which is a deep socket wrench made to fit a bathtub stem.

Step 3: Replace Packing Washer

If water seeps out around the handle, replace a worn packing washer or stuff thread packing around the stem and into the cavity behind the packing nut.

What If... The diverter leaks?

The diverter on a three-handle tub faucet is essentially a stem. When its washer presses against the seat, water cannot rise up to the showerhead and is diverted to the tub spout.

Repair a diverter by replacing the washer at the bottom and replacing any O-rings and other removable parts.

Step 4: Replace Washer

If water drips out the spout or the showerhead, replace a worn washer with a new one that is exactly the same size.

Step 5: Replace Seat

If replacing the washer does not stop the leak or if washers wear out quickly, remove the seat with a seat wrench and replace it. Or grind the seat smooth with a seat grinder.

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