How to Fix a Shower Arm or Head Pipe That's Broken Off at or in the Wall
My shower head pipe broke off inside the wall and I wanted to fix it.
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) . . . typically means "ten inch"
- Replacement shower head pipe / arm
- Teflon tape
- Eye protection
Difficulty Level: Easy
Time Required: 30 Minutes
After years, and years, and sometimes even decades, all that water passing through your shower head arm slowly wears it down, erodes it, and will eventually cause 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 break off, most likely inside the wall, and water is going to start spewing itself all 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.
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, lol.) 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.
Fixing It Step-By-Step
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 is removed and that you can see into the hole in the wall.
- Put the flat file straight into the hole. Put on your protective eye wear (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 threaded nipple. When done hammering, you can remove the eye wear.
- 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. Re-attach 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. NOTICE: 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.
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What About Bolt Extractors, or Inner Pipe-Wrenches, or Any of That Other Stuff
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 ...
Me and my buddy 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.
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