Shower faucets can last for a really long time but eventually they will need to be replaced. While replacing a shower faucet is not that hard, it could turn out to be a tedious and expensive task if you do not know the type of faucet you have.
So, what is the quickest way of identifying the type of shower faucet in your house? There are actually several ways but I find most of them unhelpful especially for people with no plumbing experience.
To identify a shower faucet, look for the manufacturer’s brand name, logo or initials on the faucet face, on the handle or on the escutcheon. If you don’t find anything, remove the faucet stem/cartridge and use a faucet identification chart or take it with you to the nearest home improvement store.
By removing the faucet stem/cartridge, you can identify it by counting the number of teeth on the broach, measuring the stem/cartridge length as well as using its shape. This method is however not conclusive as different faucet brands could have similar specifications.
There are more than a 100 shower faucet brands. The most common brands are Moen, Delta, Kohler, American Standard, Pfister, Glacier Bay, Peerless, Kraus, Grohe and Danco. Finding replacement parts for the less common brands is sometimes difficult.
The problem with relying on handles or escutcheons for faucet identification is that they could be aftermarket or universal parts which happen to be compatible with the stem/cartridge. Granted, handles and escutcheons will fade off and break more often than stems meaning they need to be replaced without necessarily replacing the stem.
Shower faucets are not universal. They come in different styles (single, double and triple-handle) and also vary in size and functionality. Manufacturers have different faucet designs and specifications which is why it is important to correctly identify your shower faucet before replacing it.
Types of Shower Faucet Stems
A shower faucet stem is the part connected to the handle that turns left or right inside the shower valve to turn the water on or off. Also, depending on the type of shower valve you have, the stem/cartridge is also used to select water temperature (cold or hot).
In order to properly identify your shower faucet, knowing what type of stem/cartridge you have is a big part of it. This is because one faucet manufacturer will have different shower faucets depending on the type of valve you have.
For example, modern Moen thermostatic shower faucets cartridges are very different from old Moen faucets in shower mixing valves. The two types of cartridges cannot be interchanged.
The good thing is that all the stem/cartridges have distinctive model numbers. As long as you know the brand name, you can get on the phone with the manufacturer customer support and ask for replacement parts. Most companies give lifetime warranties so the parts will be shipped to you free of charge.
There are 4 main types of shower faucet stems/cartridges. These are:
1. Compression Shower Stem
If you have an old double-handle faucet that has not been replaced for a long time, you most likely have a compression faucet.
Usually, the right handle is used to turn on and off the cold water while the handle on the left controls the cold water. Sometimes there could be another handle in the middle for diverting water to the shower head and bathtub.
The stem has a washer at the front secured by a screw. When compressed against a seat inside the valve (by turning the handle clockwise), it turns off the water. Turning the handle counterclockwise pulls the washer away from the seat allowing water to flow out.
The washer wears off with time due to friction which is the number one reason for a leaking shower faucet.
2. Ceramic Cartridge Stem
This type of stems are also known as quarter-turn stems. They derive their name from how far you need to turn them to turn the water on or off.
If you need to turn your shower faucet handle 90 degrees or ¼ of a circle to turn on the water, this is the stem you have. They are made with 2 ceramic discs each with 2 holes on it.
Just like compression faucets, faucets with ceramic cartridge stems have 2 handles as well. The only difference is that you do not need significant force to turn them off completely.
3. Washerless Shower Stem
These are another type of ¼ turn stems only that they don’t use ceramic discs. Depending on the manufacturer, these types of stems could have discs, valves or balls. They all however have a combination of soft or hard rubber rings.
4. Single Lever Shower Cartridge
If you have a single handle (knob or lever) faucet then this is the type of cartridge you have. The single valve allows you to turn and adjust the water temperature as well as the water pressure.
It is also to find these types of cartridges in double-handle shower faucets. This are usually replaced not so long ago.
You can replace old 2 or 3-handle faucets with a single-lever faucet. That will however involve cutting off a section of the bathroom wall and replacing the shower valve as well. The good thing is that there are big escutcheons enough to cover the opening on the wall.
How to Identify Your Shower Cartridge/Stem
If there is nothing on the faucet handle or escutcheon to indicate what type of faucet you have, you will need to remove the stem/cartridge. This is also what you should do if you suspect that the faucet handle is an aftermarket part that you can’t trust.
These are the steps to follow when removing a shower faucet cartridge/stem:
1. Turn off Water to Your House
You will need to turn off water to your house before removing the stem/cartridge otherwise water will gash out as soon as you pull it out. Locate where your shut off valve is and turn the valve all the clockwise. If you have a lever handle, move it at 90 degrees to the pipe.
After turning off the shut off valve, open the shower faucet to drain out the water already in the pipes. Once that is done, plug off the tub/shower drain opening to avoid dropping screws down the drain.
2. Remove the Faucet Handle
- If you have a single-lever shower faucet, the lever will be attached to the stem using an Allen screw on its underside. Use an Allen wrench to remove the screw and slide out the handle.
- For knob-type or other type of handles, there will be a screw at the front of the handle which connects it to the stem. The screw is usually hidden using a small cap. Pry off the cap with a sharp knife.
- Hold the handle with your left hand and remove screw with a Philips screwdriver using the other hand.
3. Remove the Escutcheon
An escutcheon is the decorative plate which is used to cover the opening on the wall. Escutcheons will either be secured using screws but sometimes they could also be threaded on the stem.
Check the type of escutcheon you have and remove it accordingly. Some escutcheons are also caulked to the bathroom wall. If that is the case cut through the caulk with a knife.
Note: In some cases, you can remove the faucet stem without removing the escutcheon. Check if this applies to yours.
4. Remove the Faucet Stem/Cartridge
At this point, you already know if you have a compression stem or a cartridge. A compression stem has teeth which look like a gear at the tip where the handle has connected.
On the other hand, a cartridge has 2 flat edges. Removing a shower stem and cartridge is quite different as we are going to see below.
Removing a Shower Compression Stem
- Check how deep in the wall the stem nut is. The stem is connected to the shower valve using a nut. Sometimes the nut is inside the wall and hard to loosen with a wrench but if you are lucky yours will be exposed.
- If the nut is too deep inside the wall, you will need a shower faucet wrench to loosen it. Insert the faucet inside the stem and grab it with a wrench/pliers. Turn it counterclockwise till the stem is free.
- Check the condition of the seat washer. sometimes you may need to replace the faucet seat as well.
Removing a Shower Cartridge
- Pull out the cartridge clip. The cartridge is held inside the shower valve using a clip. Pull it out being careful not to drop it inside the wall.
- If the cartridge has not been replaced for a long time, pulling it straight will most likely break it. You need a cartridge removal tool. The cartridge removal tool allows you to twist the cartridge right and left thereby freeing it.
- When the cartridge feels completely free, pull it out with a pair of pliers.
Now that you have your shower faucet stem/cartridge with you, there are 2 things you can do to identify the original manufacturer. You can either take it with you to the nearest home improvement store and ask there or you can use a faucet identification chart.
Home improvement stores have a lot of experienced professionals who will tell you exact what type of a faucet you have by just looking at the stem/cartridge. They also have plumbing bibles to refer to in case you have an uncommon stem.
The benefit of following that path is that they will also sell you the best replacement kit which you can install on your own. That will save you the money you would have used to pay a plumber.
A shower identification chart is another way of identifying the type of shower faucet you have. This however involves measuring the length of the stem, identifying broach patterns, matching the broach patterns and other activities.
I find all these to be quite tedious especially for folks without plumbing experience.
If you are lucky to identify your shower faucet manufacturer, look for their customer care number on their website and give them a call. They will send you a brand new replacement kit free of charge.
Have a look at the video below for more information.