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How to Fix a Shower Arm or Head Pipe That's Broken Off at or in the Wall

I enjoy writing tutorials on how to fix things around the house.

The infamous shower head

The infamous shower head

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
  • Flashlight
  • Hammer
  • Pliers
  • Replacement shower head pipe/arm
  • Teflon tape
  • Eye protection

Difficulty Level: Easy
Time Required: 30 minutes

This is what a flat file looks like. Go to a hardware store and buy one. Make sure it is a number ten (No. 10), and make sure it is tapered!

This is what a flat file looks like. Go to a hardware store and buy one. Make sure it is a number ten (No. 10), and make sure it is tapered!

Teflon Tape is used to create a water-tight seal between threaded fitting in plumbing related matters.

Teflon Tape is used to create a water-tight seal between threaded fitting in plumbing related matters.

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. Make sure the old shower head pipe and arm have been removed and that you can see into the hole in the wall.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Rotate the flat file with pliers until the old piece comes free.
  7. 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.
  8. Carefully line up the replacement pipe with copper fitting. Screw it in. Turn until fully hand-tightened.
  9. Put the metal ring back on. Reattach the shower head to the other end of the pipe.
  10. Now you must check for leaks.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. If it is not leaking, let it run for about ten minutes and come back and make sure it is still not leaking.
  14. Done!

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

Comments

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