It can be incredibly frustrating when you go to take a shower and the water won’t turn on when you pull up the handle. A shower that won’t start running is a common plumbing issue that likely signals it’s time for repairs. There are a few usual culprits for why your shower isn’t turning on including a loose knob, stripped knob, or faulty shower valve. Thankfully, with the right troubleshooting and DIY repair techniques, you can often get your shower working again without calling a plumber.
With some basic tools and plumbing know-how, you can troubleshoot and resolve shower problems on your own. We’ll also provide tips on preventative maintenance so your shower works consistently moving forward.
Loose Shower Knob
One of the most common and quickest fixes when a shower won’t start flowing is tightening a loose knob. Over time, the constant turning and vibration can cause shower knobs to become loose. The result is that turning the knob does not properly engage the valve to start the water flowing. Before attempting any complex repairs, it’s wise to check if simply tightening the knob does the trick.
Symptoms of a Loose Knob
How can you tell if you just have a basic loose shower knob? There are a couple key signs to look for:
- The knob noticeably wiggles or jiggles when you try to turn it
- Turning the knob doesn’t initiate any water flowing out the showerhead
- You may hear the knob clicking as you turn it, but no water comes out
If you notice these symptoms, there is likely some looseness preventing the knob from engaging the valve correctly. Tightening the knob is typically an easy 5-minute fix.
How to Tighten a Loose Shower Knob
Before doing any repairs, turn off the water supply to avoid leaks while working. To access the supply valves, check under the sink or locate the main shutoff valve for the house.
Then, take the following steps to securely tighten a loose shower knob:
- Insert a flat head screwdriver into the notch or groove on the knob and use it as leverage to loosen any existing tightness.
- Once loosened, you can hand tighten the knob clockwise while applying moderate inward pressure.
- Use a pair of pliers or channel lock pliers to add additional torque tightening the knob.
- Turn the water supply back on and test the shower handle to ensure it activates the flow.
In most cases, this DIY tightening does the trick to get a loose shower knob working again. Make sure to fully tighten so the knob does not continue coming loose over time.
When to Replace a Loose Knob
While tightening certainly helps in many cases, a loose shower knob may sometimes need to be fully replaced if:
- No amount of tightening stops the wiggle and spin
- The knob has become so loose it is heavily damaged
- You have to constantly re-tighten every few months
A loose knob that won’t stay tight indicates the knob assembly is likely worn out. Replacement shower knobs matching your existing hardware finish and style are inexpensive and easy to install.
Stripped Shower Knob
Another common shower issue is when the knob becomes stripped over time. As the knob ages from use, minerals from water, and corrosion, the metal teeth can become rounded and smooth. This prevents the knob from engaging the valve correctly. You’ll notice the stripped knob freely spins and won’t trigger water flow when pulled up.
Signs You Have a Stripped Knob
How do you know if shower knob problems are caused by stripping versus other issues? Look for these clear signals of a stripped knob:
- Visible wear, smoothing, or damage around the base of the knob
- The knob rotates easily without stopping
- No water comes out when you pull up the knob
Attempting to tighten a stripped knob won’t work since the internal components are simply worn down. But before fully replacing the knob, there are some temporary fixes you can try.
Temporary Fixes for a Stripped Knob
While ultimately a stripped knob will need replacement, you may be able to get it working temporarily with these shortcuts:
- Plumber’s tape – Wrap layers of plumber’s tape around the stripped section to add grip and friction so the knob catches when turned.
- Super glue – Apply super glue around the base and handle to adhere it better to the valve.
These solutions can potentially buy you some extra time before a full knob replacement. But they are not guaranteed to work long-term.
Replacing a Stripped Shower Knob
When quick fixes no longer do the job, follow these steps to safely replace a stripped shower knob:
- Turn off water supply and remove the old knob assembly completely.
- Inspect the valve and stem and replace any components that are damaged.
- Purchase a new knob designed specifically for your type of shower valve.
- Carefully follow the directions to install the replacement knob correctly.
- Turn water back on and test shower handle function.
Replacing with a higher quality metal knob rather than plastic can help prevent stripping in the future. Be sure to get the correct sizing and spline type.
Faulty Shower Valve
If you’ve ruled out looseness or stripping as the culprit, chances are there is an underlying issue with the shower valve itself. The shower valve controls the on/off flow and diverts water from the tub faucet up to the showerhead. Over time, these valves can fail or malfunction in ways that prevent the shower from starting when you pull the handle up.
Symptoms of a Faulty Shower Valve
Some clear signs your shower problems stem from a faulty valve:
- Water sputters out the tub spout when the shower is on
- The water temperature fluctuates randomly
- You notice lower water pressure from the showerhead
Any of these symptoms indicate it’s time to troubleshoot the shower valve.
Troubleshooting a Faulty Shower Valve
Start by taking the valve trim plate off the wall to expose the valve components. Turn off water first! Then, look for these issues:
- Damage, wear or corrosion on valve components
- Sediment buildup preventing the valve from sealing
- Broken parts of the cartridge or valve stem
First try cleaning the valve body and components with vinegar or scrubbing to remove gunk. Also consider soaking or replacing the cartridge. Lubricating the O-rings with non-petroleum grease can also help the valve move smoothly.
Replacing a Faulty Shower Valve
If troubleshooting doesn’t pinpoint an easy fix, it’s generally best to replace the entire shower valve. Follow these key steps:
- Select a replacement valve designed for your type of shower/tub plumbing.
- Turn off water supply and remove old valve taking photos if needed.
- Clean tub/shower plumbing connections with sandpaper.
- Apply plumber’s putty or tape and install new valve based on instructions.
- Reattach trim kit and showerhead/tub spout.
- Turn water on and check for leaks around the new valve.
Be sure to read the manufacturer instructions closely. Upgrading to a durable brass or ceramic valve can provide lasting performance.
Preventing Future Shower Issues
Once you get your shower turning on again, there are some maintenance tips to prevent recurring problems in the future:
Proper Ongoing Maintenance
- Periodically check knobs are tight and lubricate with non-petroleum grease.
- Use a filter showerhead and flush shower valves yearly.
- Replace worn washers, O-rings, and seals to prevent leaks.
- Clean showerhead and hose regularly remove mineral buildup.
Upgrade Shower Components
- Install metal handles rather than plastic to prevent stripping.
- Upgrade to a new thermostatic shower valve for reliable performance.
- Replace old tub/shower faucets with durable, drip-free models.
Investing in high-quality shower components goes a long way in preventing headaches down the road. Additionally, getting issues addressed quickly at the first sign of trouble reduces chances of water damage or costlier repairs.
A shower that fails to turn on when you pull the handle can happen occasionally over time. In many cases, the problem stems from a basic loose knob just needing tightened or an old stripped knob requiring replacement. For more complex troubleshooting, issues like mineral buildup, low water pressure, or faulty shower valve cartridges may need to be addressed.
Knowing how to diagnose the root cause and safely DIY repair shower handles and valves can save the hassle and expense of multiple plumber visits. We hope these troubleshooting tips give you the knowledge and confidence to get your shower working again and flowing consistently.