How to Remove a Stubborn Bathtub Faucet Handle

After you remove the set screw holding the bathtub or shower handle to the faucet, the handle should slide right off. That's in a perfect world, but this world is anything but perfect, so sometimes the handle just won't budge. It's usually scale that's binding it, and scale can be stubborn stuff.

Stainless faucet for hot water in the bathroom
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How to Remove a Stubborn Bathtub Faucet Handle

Sometimes, all you need to do is wiggle the handle a little to break the bond, but you probably already thought of that and tried it. When your shower knob is stuck – really stuck – a few household remedies may help, but in the end, you may need a special tool to remove a shower handle or a tub handle. It's called a handle puller, but before you buy or borrow one, try a couple simple strategies that may solve your problem.

Vinegar Can Help Remove a Tap Handle Stuck on the Spindle

It takes a while for scale to build up under a faucet handle, so chances are the handle you're trying to remove is old. Even so, it's reusable, and you don't want to damage it, so you need something that can dissolve the scale. Vinegar can do that.

Put a little distilled white vinegar from your cupboard into a spray bottle and spray it under the handle. If you can't get the sprayer behind the handle, attach a piece of 1/4-inch rubber tubing to the sprayer nozzle and point that in the gap between the handle and the valve stem.

Apply the vinegar liberally. It's OK if it drips because it won't hurt anything. Wait for 20 or 30 minutes and then try wiggling and pulling the handle. If you don't have any luck, spray some more and wait and then try again. This method usually works, but if it doesn't, try using some commercial scale dissolver instead of vinegar.

Get Out the Flat Bar When Your Tub or Shower Knob Is Stuck

When vinegar or scale dissolver doesn't do the trick, you may have to resort to brute force. Get your flat bar and a small piece of scrap wood from the garage. Place the wood against the side of the tub or shower, set the flat bar on that and hook the bar against the back of the handle. Give the bar a few sudden jerks to dislodge the scale and break the bond.

Use a Handle Puller

A handle puller is a bit like a corkscrew. It has jaws that hook onto the back of the handle and a threaded rod that fits through the hole for the set screw and pushes against the valve stem. This tool is useful for Moen shower handle removal as well as for most other brands.

  1. Unscrew the handle to open the jaws.

  2. Hook the jaws behind the faucet handle, insert the threaded rod through the hole for the set screw and tighten the handle by turning it clockwise. This will lock the jaws onto the handle.

  3. Keep turning the handle clockwise. As the rod presses against the valve stem, the jaws will force the handle off.

A handle puller won't work for faucet handles with a set screw on the side. However, because most of these are lever-style handles, you probably won't get to the point at which you need the faucet puller. You can usually break up the scale by wrapping the lever with a rag and tapping the very end of it several times with a hammer. If this doesn't work, you can always use vinegar, a flat bar or both together to loosen the scale and use the lever to wiggle off the handle.


Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.