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  • Writer's pictureLanny Freng

Have a shower valve handle that is difficult to operate?

During home inspections, it is not uncommon to find a shower valve handle that is difficult to turn. Some get to the point where it is downright difficult to turn at all. What causes this and what can be done?

This is caused by a few potential issues. First is corrosion/mineral buildup, as the fixture ages minerals within the water can deposit on the interior components and cause binding. The mineral build-up may also result in low water flow. This process can be sped up if your home does not have a water softener that removes minerals from the water. Second is worn gaskets/o-rings, as the fixtures age rubber components can stiffen which impedes operation. Third is a faulty cartridge, this is typically a failure of an internal component within the cartridge itself.

Fortunately, these are not very difficult to repair. They are pretty simple in their overall design. If the repair goes smoothly it should take less than 10-15 minutes to correct and only requires a few simple tools. The first step and cheapest I would try is to attempt to de-scale the cartridge. With the removal of a few screws, the cartridge can be pulled from the valve housing and put in a bath of 50/50 mix of vinegar & water or CLR to soak. As it is soaking try and turn the handle stem back and forth with a pair of pliers to work the solution into the valve. This will break down the minerals and may restore normal operation. If this doesn't work you will likely need to buy a replacement cartridge and install it in place of the old one. There are numerous step-by-step how-to videos on YouTube to reference. Replacement cartridges usually range from $30-$50, with a little DIY attitude a $200-$300 plumber bill can be avoided. This is a great project for homeowners to attempt, you are not dealing with the actual plumbing pipes and not much can go wrong. Just make sure you shut off the water or you will get a face full of water when pulling the cartridge.

If you have any topics or ideas you would like to see in a future edition of Homeowner Tidbits feel free to drop me an email at and as always "Get the best of US before your new home gets the best of YOU!

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We are now offering light handyman services. Check out our website for more information on this service.

(Due to conflict of interest and ethics requirements, we do not perform repair work on homes

we have inspected in the prior 12 months.)

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