I enjoy writing tutorials on how to fix things around the house.
Help, My Shower Head Broke!
After years and years, and sometimes even decades, all that water passing through your shower head arm slowly wears it down, erodes it, and eventually causes it to become rather brittle.
It is therefore inevitable that one day you will go to adjust its angle and snap! That head is going to break off, most likely inside the wall, and water is going to start spewing inside your wall.
You'll panic, get flustered, start fussing around with it, and then think, I can't believe I have to call a plumber. But before you tuck your tail between your legs and call the ass-cracked mechanic of the water world, you decide to see if you can do it yourself.
It turns out that the solution is extremely easy, and I'm going to tell you exactly how to do it.
Materials and Tools Needed
- No. 10 flat file (tapered); this typically means 10 inch
- Replacement shower head pipe/arm
- Teflon tape
- Eye protection
Difficulty Level: Easy
Time Required: 30 minutes
Shower Head Threads: Where to Start
Let me preface the rest of this article by saying I am not a plumber and I hate plumbing-related issues. In all senses of the term, I'm your average homeowner that likes to try to DIY first, then call help if that fails, then hire a professional.
The weakest part of the shower head pipe happens to be the threads (threaded nipple) that screw into the copper fitting inside of your wall. So when it snaps off or breaks, it will almost always leave the threads inside your copper fitting. This is the problem we need to solve.
Luckily for all of us, the chance that you broke the copper fitting is fairly slim.
There will be a small hole in the wall, tile, plastic frame, or whatever, right behind the metal ring on your shower head pipe (which is designed to hide the hole). If you can pull the whole pipe free, do so now.
Get a flashlight and peer in there (Oh yeah, if you haven't turned the water off to your shower, you really should). You'll see the copper fitting, and you may or may not be able to determine much else.
It will likely be corroded, pretty nasty looking, and the edges between the fitting's threads and the threads of the broken piece will likely be coated and sealed with white Teflon tape.
Here is where the solution gets very easy.
Step-By-Step Fix-It Guide
Follow these simple instructions, and you'll be good to go:
- Make sure you have all the supplies listed above. They can be found at any hardware store. Make sure the flat file is a No. 10. (This number typically means the file is ten inches long). The Teflon tape will be in the plumbing section. Both items are very inexpensive.
- Make sure the old shower head pipe and arm have been removed and that you can see into the hole in the wall.
- Put the flat file straight into the hole. Put on your protective eyewear (better safe than sorry). Then, with the hammer, tap it into the fitting. Don't be afraid to hit it pretty hard. The idea here is for the tiny metal grooves on the edge of the flat file to "bite" into the broken section of the threaded nipple. When done hammering, you can remove the eyewear.
- Take the pliers, about a hand's width away from the wall, grab onto the flat file and turn slowly, applying even pressure. You will feel it start to turn. Once you've turned it a little bit, grab the flashlight and watch carefully while you rotate it with one hand.
- You should be able to see the broken piece rotating (this means it's working). If the file is just grinding along inside the fitting, tap it in harder with the hammer and try again. Note: If you want to protect the file, wrap the area you're going to grab with the pliers with a small towel or shop rag.
- Rotate the flat file with pliers until the old piece comes free.
- Wrap the Teflon tape around the replacement shower head pipe/arm's threaded nipple you intend to put into the copper pipe fitting. It should probably get about 4 to 5 turns of the tape to cover the whole nipple about two strips deep.
- Carefully line up the replacement pipe with copper fitting. Screw it in. Turn until fully hand-tightened.
- Put the metal ring back on. Reattach the shower head to the other end of the pipe.
- Now you must check for leaks.
- Make sure you do not skip this step. With your face up against your shower wall, with a flashlight, turn the shower on and make sure your repair job is not leaking. Be patient. Stay there for a few minutes. Note: You'll need to temporarily slide the metal ring forward so you can see your connection into the copper fitting. That is what you're checking for leaks.
- If it is leaking remove the fitting, remove the Teflon, and start again at Step 6. If it fails again, and you are still getting a leak (even a small leak) then you may have damaged the threads in your copper fitting . . . call a plumber.
- If it is not leaking, let it run for about ten minutes and come back and make sure it is still not leaking.
What About Bolt Extractors, Inner Pipe-Wrenches, etc.?
In short? They suck and many times do not work. How do I know? I bought them, and tried them, and they did not work at all! Not even slightly. It was at this point I started to get discouraged.
My buddy and I tried all sorts of ideas. We had these failed tools, cold chisels, screwdrivers, hack saw blades . . . we tried everything.
Finally, I sent my buddy home to go enjoy his life, and I called a friend (who happens to be a seasoned master plumber). He gave me the instructions I've shared with you in this article and saved me tons of money and a big headache!
I thought to myself, "This tip is super valuable, and I'm sure people run into this all the time, I should spread the word."
And here we are! I hope this article helped you solve your problem.
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: When my house was built, the plumber used industrial strength sealant glue on the shower arm threading and the copper pipe threading. It's since broken off. I've tried removing the glue with matched strength remover, with no luck. Do you have any advice?
Answer: I'm not a plumber. The approach you've described sounds unusual, so maybe it was a DIY fix at some point. If the solution outlined in this article didn't work, unfortunately, I suggest you call a licensed plumber for assistance.
Question: What should I do if the previous homeowner installed cheap plastic piping and it gets stuck and tapping it tears at the plastic?
Answer: Since the solution I've outlined won't work, I suggest calling a licensed plumber for assistance.
© 2009 Time Spiral
Lanine on August 16, 2020:
Thank you!!! Worked perfectly
Thunderbroom on July 27, 2020:
This totally works! I tried husky brand internal pipe wrench and no luck, then I tried the 10” file and after tapping it in firmly I got the damaged nipple threads removed, thank you.
Jhn on February 07, 2020:
My friend who is a plumber came over and tried everything in his bag of tricks and no go. I told him this method you explained and although skepical he agreed to try it. Tapped the file on two occasions and the second time it turned out as easy as pie. Saved me a $500 wall rip out and he said he couldn't wait to tell his master plumberboss this new method Thanks!
the H on October 13, 2019:
Thanks! Well written and got the job in less than 5 minutes. A side benefit was I didn't have to buy another single-use tool.
Karl on August 30, 2019:
This worked just like everyone said, awesome remedy! I was ready to rip the wall out i was so mad for breaking it one morning, instead found this and was done in 10 minutes! THANK YOU SO MUCH
Jeff T on June 23, 2019:
Brilliant idea. Worked like a charm.
Kevin G on May 08, 2019:
Can somebody please share what flat file you got? A link from the hardware store would be great! Much appreciated!
Ron R on May 04, 2019:
Thank you so much. I am the biggest wuss when it comes to plumbing issues. This fix worked right away. I used the 8 inch flat file but otherwise it was perfect. Thanks again!
Rich B on February 28, 2019:
Thank you so much for this post. You saved me over $400!!! that the local plumbing company would have charged me (and they would have cut the drywall as well leaving another repair to fix).
Ben Tebbens on November 23, 2018:
Man, like the last guy said, hmm, I didn't hardly believe it but I had tried lol everything else, so, thank God I had everything I needed, wow, amazing Thanks so, so much!! I'm gonna ask my plummer at work what he would do, wonder if he know's that trick, bet he does though, soooo cool, thanks so much, Ben
JohnRiv on November 18, 2018:
Got to admit, I was a little skeptical but this worked like a charm. Got my tapered 10" file tapped it in and began turning. Not enough bite. Tapped a couple of more times and began turning and I could feel the difference. The broken pipe was coming out. Took about 3 - 5 minutes and I was done. Great DIY solution to this problem. Shower is back in business. Thanks for sharing.
ernie downey on November 12, 2018:
worked like a charm, had my doubts but after taping the file in two or three different times, got it to bite in and backed it right out
Raymond Landis on October 10, 2018:
Great solution - worked great. Thanks for your post.
LGL on September 24, 2018:
I was going to use a easy out, found out it was too long. Then I read your solution, it worked better than anything else I could think of. I will pass this info along to others that have this problem. If I could rate this from 1- 10 I would give it a 12. THANKS A LOT
Dana on September 17, 2018:
Sweet, Thank you for posting this. Feel like I should forward it to everyone i know for future reference.
Bob G. on August 28, 2018:
It worked. Thank you very much. For people trying it, be patient. Mine can out in two pieces.
Christy Westbrook on August 24, 2018:
Thank you for this advice! Worked perfectly!
Andy B on August 21, 2018:
This tip worked very well.In less than 5 minutes I had broke piece out.And believe me I am not very handy in the plumbing field.Thanks for the tip.
J Lee on August 20, 2018:
I tried two different tools specifically designed to extract the pipe threads broken off inside the fitting in the wall for my shower head. Neither one worked. They would not even grab well. I tried the #10 flat file and it did not seem like it was going to work either. I kept trying, hammered the file in before each attempt. It only took about 5-10 minutes when the broken end of the pipe finally broke loose and I backed it out!
R Tombs on July 28, 2018:
Awesome tip fixing shower pipe with file.
Thanks very much!!!
Ben Go Miami dokphins on July 02, 2018:
Right. On the mark. I tried two extractors before looking at this. They don't work. File worked like a charm. Thanks
Matt on June 08, 2018:
Worked like a charm! Thanks!
Jack on May 29, 2018:
Few times if ever I google a problem and hope for a close answer. This one was exactly spot on! Thank you so much!
U R Smart on May 14, 2018:
Great information, I tried a couple of other ideas and didn't think of a tapered chisel. Genius!
Rod on April 24, 2018:
Hey thanks tried everything from every hardware in town. The file worked perfect. Thanks
Patrick D. Essex on April 16, 2018:
Thank You for this wonderful suggestion it work perfect you are a smart man
Ace on April 15, 2018:
Man I thought I was about to be out a bunch of money but 20 bucks and a few minutes later I was back in business. Thanks for the post
Mike on April 15, 2018:
You are a ROCK STAR!
Your great and easy to follow instructions have allowed me to snatch victory from the jaws of my self-inflicted defeat.
God Bless and thanks a million!
Bill Gilliland on March 18, 2018:
Worked for me, first try! Easy-Peasy. Thanks for the tip!
JohnDwad on February 25, 2018:
Broke shower head arm behind hardy board and dry wall. did the inner wrench, extractor, hacksaw ect. About to start busting tile read about file fix- 5 min done. Thanks for the post.
Franko on February 13, 2018:
First couple of tries I did not hammer the file in hard enough, but on the third try I did and then twisted out the broken pipe threads. Thanks for the instructions as I was dreading calling the plumber!
Andrew on February 13, 2018:
Go buy an orbit sprinkler nipple extractor. It's 5$ at Lowes and is actually designed to extract broken pvc pipe. No extra tools and is a lot more effective. Just replaced my broken shower. Thank God I didn't buy all that extra stuff and waste 30 minutes when this took me 2 min to complete.
Don on February 11, 2018:
This is a great tip, and works.
Carla on January 23, 2018:
Oh my gosh . . . this is the best tip ever. It's the first repair method that made sense . . . and IT WORKED. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!
Ron on January 08, 2018:
Could not believe it worked! I tried and tried and the file kept slipping inside the pipe. After about 5-10 minutes, I was about to give up and run out to buy an extraction tool. Then the broken piece broke free. Hallelujah! Thanks for the tip. Saved me the expense of an extraction tool!
Tina on January 01, 2018:
I just tried this In less then10 minutes I was successfulIn removing the broken piece.
Frank Mullen on December 11, 2017:
After hurricane Irma on St Maarten, we had a broken shower pipe. We tried to get a plumber but no luck (everyone busy ). I tried to fix it myself no luck, went to the hardware shop they wanted to sell me expensive devised to fix my problem. I Googled and found you and I would like to thank you for your help. IT WORKED. Thank you. Frank & Deita.
Neil on December 08, 2017:
I too tried the inner pipe extractors, bolt extractors...nothing would grip the broken piece of pipe enough to remove it. Tapped the tapered flat file in, attached vise-grips, put a few drops of penetrating oil on the first thread and bingo...the broken pipe backed out easily. Life Saver.
THANKS FOR THE TIP
jennifer c on November 28, 2017:
It worked!! thanks so much! I had to break the file( cheap) to make it fit exactly in the hole. You are awesome!
Mark F on November 14, 2017:
Thank you so much for writing and posting this article. The 10" flat file method that you described worked flawlessly for me. Mine was a similar story as others have previously described. I started to replace a showerhead in my kids bathroom and the shower arm was so corroded it broke off in my hand, seconds into the job. I tried everything - extractors, internal pipe wrenches, the works. Went to the local hw store, bought a 10" file, and had the stuck ring out within a minute of getting home. You are a lifesaver.
Chris on October 29, 2017:
Thank you so much for the article.
Jk on October 14, 2017:
Pete Carroll from Albany on October 03, 2017:
I tried an HDX Pipe Nipple Extractor from Home Depot, no luck; then a Brass Craft 1/2" Internal Pipe Wrench, even less luck. I found your site through Google, searched for a flat file and found one in the bottom of an old tool box. I stuck the beveled end in and found it wasn't wide enough, wouldn't grip the broken nipple. Used my adjustable wrench to snap a couple inches off the file, still not wide enough, snapped a couple more inches off and it worked perfectly. Awesome tip, saved $100s not having to call a plumber!
FR on October 01, 2017:
Since I had no access panel, and the broken shower pipe came through the shower enclosure, plumbers wanted to tear open the wall on the opposite side to replace the fitting. They didn't even have an extraction tool of any kind. I spent $10 and saved $300+ and a huge headache. Thanks! Assuming the plumbers were being honest, one would think they would know this trick already, as broken shower pipes are pretty common. Oh well - their loss.
DWWebb on September 20, 2017:
Nice fix - great idea, but I found a 10" file to be too wide. I have an older home, and the plumbers originally used pipe dope that had hardened over the years. If you have a vice, consider putting your protective eyewear on and clamping an 8" flat file into the vice with about 1 1/2 inches exposed above the jaws (that's about the length that it takes to clear the back side of the angle fitting and allow the modified file to take a bite into the broken shower tubing). Take a large hammer and hit the end of the file - it's brittle and should break off easily (about $7 well-spent, even if you wind up throwing the file away). Follow instructions posted by original author, but more narrow file width means there's still enough there to bite into broken pipe with less likelihood of damaging the drop eared female angle fitting that the shower pipe screws into. In my case, I bought a 1/2" x 6" galvanized pipe nipple and used it with a pipe wrench to get enough of the damaged fitting threads repaired to accept the shower tube without leaking. Hope this helps you fix your problem - good luck in your efforts!
Another Happy Reader on September 19, 2017:
I stumbled onto this page from an Internet search of what to do about my broken shower head pipe. Mine broke in a bizarre way: The threaded end to the shower arm literally came unwound, and the arm and shower head were hanging by a metal "thread" -- which was actually literally the pipe thread! After cutting off what was hanging, I used your trick with the file to unscrew what was left of the shower arm in the elbow fitting! Voila! Worked like a charm.
NotAPlumber on August 17, 2017:
I tried the nipple extractor tools. Nope.
Got a file as recommended here, broken part was out in seconds.
Bob on August 05, 2017:
The shower head/arm screwed into a brass elbow. Not much depth. Couldn't pound the file in as much as I would have liked, but I got the broken piece out.
Thank you very much.
Mike on July 29, 2017:
Worked like a dream! Harbor Freight 8" file.... Hammer a couple of taps. Twist of the crescent wrench... Alls good in the world....
Thanks a million!
Adam on July 15, 2017:
I must reiterate "don't be afraid to hit it hard". Don't hold back, also don't miss! Excellent tip and I felt awesome about handling this without hiring a professional. Thanks!
Janet on July 10, 2017:
This worked perfectly and saved me bundles of money! Thanks for the information.
Peter on July 03, 2017:
I was ready to call the drywaller and the plumber (and the bank). Thanks!!!!
Just tried this trick and it worked great! Thanks on July 02, 2017:
Just tried this trick and it worked great.i did sprayed some pb blaster into hold last night an then tried this and it came right out this morning .thanks for the tip
J on July 01, 2017:
Randy Burgener on June 29, 2017:
I had this 'classic' problem and 'Googled'..."How to remove broken shower head pipe." This page came up at the top! Looking into the brass fitting; I could see that the broken piece was very 'nasty'! I had my doubts it would ever come up. I bought a no. 10 mill file, and followed your 'instructions'. The broken end came out on the first try! Our house was built in 1995 and we have been here for 12 years; so I'm certain the shower arm was 22 years old. THANK YOU for your post! Best, Randy Burgener
Bill on June 24, 2017:
I followed your instructions and it worked. Thank you very much!
Krish on June 19, 2017:
This is brilliant! Thanks for the excellent solution. I was able to remove the broken shower head pipe in less than 5 mins following your method. I bought a set of Husky files for $10 from Home Depot and the number 10 that came with package was too wide. I used the Husky Number 8 tapering file instead of 10.
Randy on June 17, 2017:
Yep, I started to panic and then found this article. Worked like a charm. Thank you, much appreciated
Tracy on June 07, 2017:
Thank you so much it worked like a charm saved me so much time. I couldn't believe it worked so well. Saved me alot of stress.
AWESOME! on June 02, 2017:
This worked so damn well! I am so thankful man, here I was mentally preparing to completely re-do the entire plumbing on the upper half of the shower and then I found your article! Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)
Tony on April 22, 2017:
Thanks for the tip, worked like a charm. Was really corroded so had to hit it with a little heat and some really hard hits with the BFH.
Craig on March 18, 2017:
Thank you VERY MUCH!!! It worked and saved me a lot of money.
Dirk van Rensburg on March 07, 2017:
Thanks very much for this tip. It saved me a lot of money. In no time the job was done.
Best post ever!! on March 02, 2017:
My hubby did the exact thing; adjust and SNAP!! I got the file and other supplies this morning and here I sit with a fixed shower (new pretty shower head too!!) and it's not even noon!! Thank you so much for the tutorial!
Natalie on February 27, 2017:
Thank you so much!! This worked perfectly! So glad I didn't need to call a plumber
Michael on February 25, 2017:
It worked exactly as advertised ... first time for this klutz and it worked ... thank you very much.
Double D in Yorba Linda CA on February 06, 2017:
OMG Deja Vu, my experience is exactly like Jon's. My kid broke it off, went to Depot and bought their stupid extractors. No, returned them and got a#10 file - Voila, it came right out. Damn I love the Internet. And many thanks to Time Spiral! I'd buy him a case of beer if I knew who he is.
Bodega Bay Grinder on January 21, 2017:
Awesome, great advice. Worked like a charm, I was ready to cut the copper piece off and have a go at that, thank the plumbing gods I read this. Thank you, thank you!!!!!
Dave on December 31, 2016:
It Worked! I did have to break a piece off the end of the file so it would not hit the back of the elbow. Thanks!!
Ed on December 26, 2016:
Water followed studs in kitchen ceiling calling a plumber,how much will they charge
Matt on December 22, 2016:
Jon on December 16, 2016:
Sweet!!! After also having no success with the internal pipe wrenches, extractors, chisels (same list of failed tools as the author's), the tapered file worked.
Helpful tip: My file was too narrow at the tip to make solid contact with the inside of the broken pipe (the tip was hitting the back of the 90-deg fitting that the shower neck threads into). I scored the file with a reciprocating saw with the file held in a vice. With the score line right at the edge of the vice, I broke the tip of the file off with a hammer, making the new tip of the file a better size for wedging into the broken pipe.
If this author was here I'd buy him a round with the money saved (or at least with the refund from Home Depot for the tools that didn't work!)
mary on December 11, 2016:
THANKS so much! This worked great! Appreciate the post!We are not DIYers but were able to fix this with your suggestions!
cmdviola on December 10, 2016:
I'd like photos or diagrams.. I think I am ready to try it, but the bathroom shower is in another town and i'd like to see some pictures of this fix so i can look in my memory and "see" if this seems like the correct solution.
Bill on November 29, 2016:
SCORE! Worked like a champ. Thanks for the tip. My wife was picking out new tile already, whew.
Matt on November 15, 2016:
Add me to the W column for "Worked for me!" Thank you so much!
Let's be honest, it's this kind of stuff that the internet was made for.
Eric on November 12, 2016:
Had to scrummage for the perfectly sized file and when I did find it, it worked like a charm.
Chuck on November 11, 2016:
Didn't work and got worse, broke the file and a broken file piece is in shower arm.
M kern on October 16, 2016:
Thank you saved me a ton of time locking for an extractor.
Gary on August 30, 2016:
Elderly neighbor's grandson ran into this problem while helping his Grandpa by installing s new shower head.
Used the Internet and found this fantastic solution. Ground down a file to get a good fit. A few minutes later I presented him with the copper thread ring as a 'reward' for stepping up to help his 90 year old grandpa.
Brian on August 25, 2016:
Awesome article. You just saved me a ton of time. I was ready to cut the wall open to replace the elbow. Thank you!!!
John R on August 18, 2016:
Thank you for this article. It worked just as you and your reviewers said. Definitely worth the effort and small expense before calling a plumber or other contractor. Thanks again.
Cletus on August 09, 2016:
After purchasing two tools that didn't work...the old trusty file at the bottom of my toolbox worked! THANK YOU!!!
David on August 08, 2016:
Worked for me Thanks. Saved a plumber service call.
BJ Black on August 01, 2016:
Ended up doing something similar with a kitchen sink water spray that broke at the handle (leaving plastic threading in the hose). I scored the plastic with a box cutter (carefully!) and shoved a 1/2" wood-boring drill bit in there. The flutes wedged in there nicely and turned easily.
jeffepops on July 14, 2016:
This procedure appealed to me, but after having no success with the cam-based ez pull, I visited my local pro plumbing supply. They sold me a "stubby" reverse screw-type extractor for $14. It did the trick. Since I didn't have a #10 file with teeth on the sides, I didn;t get a change to test your method.
But the stubby extractor seems to be a good alternative, as well.
Janet on July 10, 2016:
Thank you SO much for writing this article. We were ready to call our very expensive plumber, but with less than $10 worth of parts plus five minutes, we were done. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!
pj on June 27, 2016:
worked like a charm! thanks
Greg Hopper on June 23, 2016:
Perfect - fantastic tip! Less than five minutes to work up the nerve to tap it in hard enough. Unscrewed right out. The elbow was about two inches behind the surface of the tile, and the file was the ideal tool for this job.
Jerry on May 27, 2016:
Worked great! Used an 8 inch file. Thought I was going to have to call a plumber. Thanks for sharing such an easy solution!
Greg on May 26, 2016:
Tried everything else too, hack saw, 2-kinds of pipe extractors, among other things, even though I had it buggered up pretty good the File Worked just fine.
Tm on May 01, 2016:
Thank you for the article. Awesome!!!!!
txbowhunter on April 28, 2016:
The 10" file may work perfectly fine on a metal shower arm, BUT not on the plastic arm. I used an 8" tapered file on it and it worked PERFECTLY!!! I've been in the property maintenance field for over 25yrs and NEVER had this problem before now. Yes I have ALL the normal tools to remove broken pipes/nipples and such, NOTHING worked and I had NO intention of tearing up the wall. I searched for a easier solution and found MANY ways to fix it and they basically all said to use the file... THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS EASY TIP!!!
andy on April 27, 2016:
thank you....I work in a building with over 100 units and encountered this problem for the 1st time. I read your suggestion and it worked perfectly! Saved me lots of time and effort! Thank you!
novice on April 23, 2016:
Thank you so much for sharing expert's knowledge!!! I was getting ready to remove tiles, but I am so glad I ran into your instructions. Thank you!!
stevo on March 27, 2016:
This is genius. I spent over an hour trying to use a pipe nipple extractor and this worked in 15 seconds. Awesome!
Fred on January 07, 2016:
Your guide saved me a lot of hassle! I was prepared to start ripping drywall apart. I'm glad I searched Google a little harder for a solution and stumbled across your write up. THANK YOU!!!
Time Spiral (author) from Florida on July 27, 2015:
Glad to hear you had success with your method!
Brett on July 26, 2015:
Was going to try this method, but picked up an Irwin EX-7 extractor at the local hardware store (under $15). Used my dremel to cut-off about 1.5" off the tip of the extractor. One needs to cut off the tip of the extractor otherwise the tip of the bit will hit the pipe behind the nipple and not be able to grab the threads. Was able to remove the broken thread in about 30 seconds.
ed on May 25, 2015:
Worked great!!? Took 5 minutes. Thank you!!