Over the past couple years I’ve removed and replaced every shower knob and bathroom and kitchen faucet in my 50 year old home. I’m not a plumber but I’ve watched and learned from some professional plumbers and I’ve done just enough basic plumbing work around my house that I’m beginning to get a feel for some of tricks of the trade.
If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about your plumbing skills or and you don’t want to risk damaging your shower or sink or any of your plumbing then you may want to call a professional plumber. Even the smallest leak can be incredibly damaging to a home and I guarantee that paying a plumber to do a job right the first time will always be less expensive than paying a plumber to fix something that you broke later.
That being said, there are plenty of small plumbing jobs around the home that most adventurous do-it-yourselfers can do without too much difficulty. One of the most common plumbing home improvements that most people attempt at some point is replacing or repairing worn out faucet handles or shower knobs and assemblies. You often have to remove knobs and handles to replace washers, clean out “crud” (technical term) or just tighten different settings from time to time.
Here are some tips, tricks and general helpful hints for removing those stuck handles and knobs that can stop a plumbing job before it begins:
Shut Off The Water: Trust me, no matter how “small” you think your plumbing job will be, it’s always a good idea to turn off the water at a valve or main line somewhere. It will prevent you from accidentally breaking or twisting something and soaking you and your tools.
Figure Out How The Knob or Handle Comes Off: This sounds silly, but there are some pretty strange looking knobs and handles out there now. You’ll want to first figure out exactly how the knob comes off. There’s almost always a set screw that’s hidden somewhere which will hold the handle on to the stem. In most cases the screw is hidden behind a little plastic “H” for hot or “C” for cold or some such emblem. You can almost always pry these little plates off with a razor blade or straight edge screwdriver. Be careful, because one slip could put an ugly gauge across any chrome finish you might have on the knobs. This is where having the manual or even knowing the model and part number could really pay off. You can often get some great exploded views of exactly how your plumbing fixtures are built if you know what you have and you can search for it online. Also, be prepared: some set screws have will have a Phillips head, while some may have a hex head.
You May Have to Remove Caulk or Sealant: If you’re working to replace the washer or the entire mechanism behind a shower knob then you will more than likely have to remove the shower stem or cover places as well. These are sometimes held in place with caulk or silicone sealant and there’s no way to get around the fact that you’ll likely have to cut the caulk with a razor and then apply new caulk when you’re done.
Use the Right Tool To Remove Shower Knobs and Faucet Handles: You’re not the first person to ever have a hard with a stuck piece of plumbing. There’s a general rule of thumb with plumbing: if you see something with a flat edge on each side or hexagonal in shape then it’s probably designed to be turned with some sort of wrench. There are lots of specialized tools for twisting and turning stuck knobs and handles and here are two tools that can help remove stuck shower or faucet knobs:
- Faucet Puller: You’ve yanked and yanked, but that knob just won’t come off even after you’ve removed the screw holding it on. That’s where the faucet puller comes in.This little puller device is pretty clever. The center rod goes against the screw hole while the outer wings wrap around behind or under the knob. You then turn the corkscrew and it slowly pulls the knob right off. You won’t go shaking the pipes out of the wall with this. It’s simply pushing in the center of the knob while pulling from behind the knob.
- Shower Faucet Wrenches: Some people try to rely on regular plumbing wrenches and pliers for all their plumbing repairs, but I’ve found that a good set of shower wrenches can get into tight spots that most general wrenches can’t. You can use these to take apart faucet assemblies, remove shower diverters or remove shower faucet valves.
Fight Rust and Corrosion With Saturation: Obviously you’ll often come across a lot of corrosion and even some rust when you’re working with stuck plumbing hardware. There are lots of penetrating oils you can apply to rusted and corroded parts to loosen then up. You can use WD-40, Kroil, Liquid Wrench, soda, transmission fluid or even hydrogren peroxide. Will any of these work? You won’t know until you try a few. I would go with some of the more professional solutions and give it more than a few seconds. You may need to really saturate the area, let it sit and then reapply once or twice to get a really good idea if it’s working or not.
Hammer Away With Controlled Vibrations: A lot of people reach for the hammer when something gets stuck, but you need to do this with caution. Random hammering of plumbing can make a bad problem much, much worse. You can bend or dent the pipes, break fittings, and generally make a disaster of things if you’re not careful. I have found that sometimes repeated and controlled taps (sometimes hard taps) will vibrate loose some of the corrosion or rust or other things that are holding a knob or handle on tightly. Again, be careful. You’re not trying to overpower the stuck shower knob, you’re trying to shake it free in a controlled manner.
Apply Heat: Another trick which I’ve used with success is applying heat to a stuck shower knob. I had a reader give me this a suggestion when I replaced my shower’s diverter valve while back and it worked like a charm the first time I tried it. You’ll want to be careful to do this after any of that penetrating oil you used has dried or been removed. To apply heat just grab a hair dryer, set it on high and aim right at the nut or handle you want to remove. The theory behind this is two-fold: first, as things heat up some of the “gunk” and soap scum that may have built up will begin to melt away and second, the heat will be slightly expanding and stretching parts, which means that when they cool they may turn a little easier because they’ve “pushed” out ever so slightly. I am a little leery about using a professional heat gun or anything much more powerful than a hair dryer just because with enough heat you could actually melt some plastic or rubber gaskets that you don’t really want to melt.
Those are all the ways I’ve come across for removing a stuck shower handle or faucet knob. It’s important to be patient and thoughtful about how you go about tackling little setbacks in your plumbing projects. If you do have to call the plumber, remember that there’s no shame in it. Most plumbers have removed more handles and knobs in a week than many of us do in a lifetime.
How did I get to the point where I could do a lot of my own plumbing projects? I called in a professional and paid $133 for a plumber to replace one little washer. But I spent a lot of time talking to me (and he was kind enough to answer my questions) and I learned a lot of tricks and gained a lot of confidence from that one experience.
So take your time, think it through… and good luck getting that shower knob off!