Using her master's in sustainable development, Susette helps Southern California water agencies carry out their water conservation projects.
Handheld vs. Fixed Showerheads
I was never quite sure whether I liked handheld showerheads or not. It always annoyed me that they moved around in their holders and that you had to pick them up and unwind the hose in order to use them. But it wasn't until I got really frustrated with the one in my current granny-house that I began to wonder seriously what good they were.
This article is about the benefits of handheld and fixed showerheads, and how to switch one out for the other.
Converting From Wall-Mount to Handheld Showerhead
Normally I would never consider switching from a wall-mount "fixed" shower head to a handheld one, but for new parents or pet owners, the switch can be helpful.
Benefits of a Handheld Showerhead:
- Washing your dog (or cat) in the tub is easy.
- You can play "spray the kid" if your child is whining about having to take a bath.
- You can rinse your face and hair when you're still in the tub if you don't want to flush warm bubble-bath water out yet.
- You can easily rinse the cleanser off the inside walls and sides of the tub after you've scrubbed them.
How to Replace a Fixed Showerhead With a Handheld One
First, purchase a drop-in shower arm mount (see product below), a handheld showerhead or kit, and some plumber's tape. Then:
- Gather materials: Crescent wrench, soft cloth, old toothbrush, baking soda.
- Remove the current showerhead: Using the wrench and soft cloth to protect the chrome, turn the showerhead to the left (counterclockwise) until it comes off.
- Clean the threads: Using the toothbrush and some baking soda, scrub any rust and dirt off the shower arm threads.
- Install the mount: Wrap plumber's tape around the threads a few times, then screw on the mount, turning to the right. Tighten with the wrench and soft cloth, making sure the outlet ends up facing down.
- Insert the handheld showerhead: Wrap plumber's tape around the threads on the mount, itself. Screw on the handheld shower head hose. Turn the water on and test for leaks. Hang the showerhead in its new bracket.
Replacing a Handheld With a Wall-Mounted Showerhead
In the reverse case, you might have kids who've grown up or pets who've gone on to puppy heaven.
Benefits of a Wall-Mounted Showerhead:
- You can shower without a hose getting in the way.
- You can actually raise or lower the shower head without having to spend ten minutes tapping it into just the right position and hoping it stays.
- Your showerhead will be in the same place next time you use it. You can't bump it out of place.
- You can upgrade to a low-flow showerhead with colored lights, or even add a chlorine filter to it.
How to Replace a Handheld With a Wall-Mounted Shower Head
Here are the steps for switching from a wall-mounted, handheld showerhead (as above) to a fixed, low-flow showerhead. First, purchase your brand new showerhead and some plumber's tape. Then:
- Gather supplies: Crescent wrench, soft cloth, old toothbrush, baking soda.
- Take off the handheld showerhead: Unscrew the handheld hose and take the showerhead out of the bracket. Set aside.
- Take off the shower arm mount: Unscrew the mount by turning to the left (counterclockwise) until it comes off.
- Clean and prepare the threads: Using the toothbrush and baking soda, scrub off any dirt or old tape from the shower arm threads. Wrap plumber's tape around the threads a few times.
- Install the new, low-flow showerhead: Screw on the showerhead, turning to the right. Tighten with the wrench and soft cloth.
Keeping Both Showerheads
Instead of replacing one with the other, you can keep both and set them up side by side. Here are the benefits of keeping both showerheads:
- Since you've got it, why not keep it? You might be able to use it again someday.
- Sometimes if kids are scared, hurt, or just want to be with you, it can be fun to shower with them. They can use the lower handheld one and you can each have your own shower head next to each other, although you won't be able to run them at the same time.
- You can use the regular showerhead to shower with and the handheld one to rinse off the walls and tub.
How to Install Dual Showerheads
Here are the steps you take to set up a regular showerhead next to a handheld one. Note that if you want a low-flow showerhead and don't have one, you can purchase one at your local hardware store, along with a diverter valve and handheld wall mount.
The diverter valve will allow you to mount your regular shower head and handheld near each other. If your handheld is fed from the faucet, you may have to attach a longer hose (see last section).
- Gather your tools and supplies: Wrench, soft cloth, plumber's tape, old toothbrush, baking soda, new shower head, diverter valve, and/or wall mount.
- Take off the old showerhead: Use the wrench to twist the nut behind the showerhead counterclockwise.
- Clean the threads: Using the old toothbrush and baking soda, scrub the threads clean on the shower arm.
- Install the diverter valve: Wrap plumber's tape a few times around the clean threads of the shower arm. Screw the diverter valve onto the shower arm clockwise. Make sure one of the outlets ends up pointing down.
- Install the new shower head: Wrap plumber's tape around the threads of both of the diverter valve outlets. Screw the new showerhead onto the front outlet. Use the wrench (and soft cloth) to tighten it on.
- Install a wall mount, if the diverter valve does not have a built-in bracket for the hand-held: Screw or tape the wall mount onto the same or a different wall at the height you prefer.
- Attach your handheld shower head: Wrap the threads of the rear diverter outlet with plumber's tape. Screw on your handheld shower head hose and tighten. Hang the showerhead in its new bracket.
Now your hand-held shower head is out of the way of the tub faucet and too high for a little kid to reach. Now you can also shower with a little one (or a pet) and spray them from a standing position. What fun!
From Both to Only One Showerhead
You may have inherited a shower setup with both types of heads and now are wanting to simplify. Here are the benefits of doing that:
- You get rid of the hose that always seems to be in the way.
- It's easier to clean just one regular shower head than it is to clean two shower heads and a hose, much less the wall behind it.
- You can let go of the frustration of always knocking the hand-held askew or completely off its bracket.
- You don't need it to rinse anything anymore, if you have a big sponge or a bucket you can keep handy.
The way you switch from a double showerhead setup to a single one is the reverse of the process above. Basically:
- Screw off the regular showerhead. Clean the threads.
- Screw off the handheld hose. Clean the threads.
- Screw off the diverter valve. Clean the shower arm threads.
- Wrap plumber's tape around the shower arm threads.
- Screw the regular showerhead directly onto the shower arm.
- Store the diverter valve and handheld showerhead for future use or donate them to a secondhand store.
From a Faucet-Based Handheld to a Fixed Showerhead
When water for a handheld showerhead is supplied from the bath faucet, it usually means there is no outlet in the wall above where a regular shower head would be.
It could be that a pipe has been installed in the wall, but then capped off and covered over by wallboard. Or it could be that there is no pipe in the wall at all. In either case, a plumber would have to break open the wall and either install a new pipe, or uncap an existing pipe and insert a shower arm.
Note: This process is nearly impossible for an amateur, hence it is best left to a professional plumber.
Raising a Faucet-Fed Handheld to Hang on the Wall
If you have previously used a handheld showerhead primarily for washing pets or the tub but now want to use it for an adult standing up, here is how to raise it higher.
- Purchase a longer hose. Measure the one you have (both length and width). Then measure from the faucet up to the height where you'll want the showerhead. You can purchase a new hose on Amazon.com or in any standard hardware store.
- Purchase a wall mount. You can choose one that's fixed in one place, or choose a wall-mounted bar that allows for raising or lowering the showerhead to your preferred height. Be careful to purchase one that doesn't slip.
- Attach the wall mount at the height you want it.
- Unscrew the old handheld showerhead from its hose. Clean the threads.
- Unscrew the old handheld hose from the bath faucet. Clean the threads. If you need a longer one, you can buy hoses of different lengths at your local hardware store (or on Amazon).
- Install the new hose onto the faucet. Wrap the threads with plumber's tape first.
- Screw the old showerhead onto the new hose. Wrap the threads first.
- Test to make sure there are no leaks.
- Hang the showerhead up on the wall mount and adjust the height (if applicable).
- Be sure to clean up the old hose and find a way to recycle it, or at least tuck it away in a cupboard somewhere, in case you need it again.
Enjoy your new stand-up shower!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What if I want to replace a shower head with a hand held, but I want to mount the hand held on a wall bar? Do they make shower arm adapters that don’t include brackets for storing the hand shower? I’ve been struggling to find one.
Answer: They make brackets that you fix directly onto wall bars. Home Depot sells them. I'll add a photo to my article, so you can see what it looks like.
Question: Like you, I've noticed that wall-mounted showerheads are available with more options (and at a much lower cost) than handheld heads. Specifically, I like a "pulsating head." Unlike you, I strongly prefer handheld showers. The heads wear out faster than the rest, so would be easier to replace if they were handheld. Why can't I buy an adapter that converts a wall-mounted showerhead into a handheld?
Answer: You can. As I mentioned in the first section of this article, you can take the wall-mounted shower head off and install a bracket for a drop-in shower arm mount. Although you couldn't attach your same shower head to the end of the hose, you can buy a pulsating hand-held shower head for less than $30. Here's a link to one on Amazon.com:
© 2014 Susette Horspool
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on September 02, 2017:
That's a combo. Sweet, huh?
DebMartin on April 03, 2015:
Thanks! Combo it is.
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on April 02, 2015:
@Deb - If you buy the shower head combo, the hand held part would be less likely to turn around in its holder, seeing as how they're made to go together. Good luck and have fun with your new shower heads!
DebMartin on April 02, 2015:
Redoing my shower fixtures by the end of this month. Thought I'd do a little research as my old fixtures are... well.... old. Wanted to know what's available these day. Thanks for the tips. I think I'd like to try a handheld but I'm going to see if I can get two, one fixed and one handheld. The frustrations of staying in place and twisting never occurred to me.
Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on August 08, 2014:
@Nadine - You can see in the first photograph how my hand-held was set up. It looks like they took off the faucet, extended the wall pipe out over the bathtub, then put a different faucet on that had an outlet for a hand-held. But the faucet was too short, so I've 4 inches of piping sticking out over the tub. I've wrapped the hand-held hose around it, so it's not obvious, but still . . .
@Eric - What brand did you use? I'm curious, because our water supplier was giving out Niagara's for awhile (which is how I first discovered them) and I quite liked it, but I haven't liked others I've used.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 08, 2014:
Excellent piece, I just switched mine out with water saving ones. They are just ok but we all need to save water out here in the desert.
Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on August 08, 2014:
That is a handy post for people to read who ave the same setup. We have a separate shower, and in our bath we do not have a hand shower, but it would be nice to have one.