What Can Go Wrong with a Shower Diverter (5 Common Problems)

Shower diverters are hidden and useful devices that tell the water to head upwards to your shower head or downwards straight into the tub! These diverters are very convenient but can get rusted and cracked over time. Which can lead to leaks everywhere and rusted water in your shower.

The first sign of a malfunctioning shower diverter is when water leaks from multiple places when the water is turned on. This comes from cracks within the shower diverter. The best way to fix this problem is to clean the diverter with vinegar or replace the part with a new one.

This nifty device is not one you can easily spot in your shower or tub. It takes a bit of know-how to identify the problem with the diverter and the best way to fix it. Follow along with the article to learn about how this piece functions, what it is, and the different ways you can resolve it!

What is a Shower Diverter? 

Unless your shower is broken, you have likely never heard of a shower diverter before! But that is okay because it is a simple piece of your shower that is quite easy to fix. Essentially, a shower diverter is just a valve that allows you to direct the water flow toward the shower head or the tub spout.

Shower Diverter

This device is located in the tub spout in most shower/tub combos, but can also be in the shower valve if the faucet is an older model. It is roughly shaped like a T, as the top of the letter is where the water flow is pushed in one direction or another. There are a few types of diverters, but this is the general appearance.

What Does A Shower Diverter Do?

The most simple version of a shower diverter allows the water to be directed in two different directions. Shower/tub combos always have this piece, and it allows you to choose if you want to fill up the tub to use the shower head. There are 4 different types of diverters, with some allowing you to allow water flow from two different spouts!

This simple device makes using your shower very easy. Making the effort of directing the water flow seamlessly while also assisting in temperature control. Allowing you to test the temperature from the tub spout before jumping into a freezing shower!

How Many Types of Shower Diverters Are There?

There are approximately four types of shower diverters available to you. Most of them depend on the complexity of your shower system. Understanding which diverter you have will make it easier to fix it if it becomes cracked. Here are the divert types from most to least common!

Tee Diverter 

First up is the tee diverter, which comes from its T-like shape! It is also known as a single-valve diverter. This is because it only allows water to flow in two different directions at a single time. Up to the shower head or down to the tub spout!

Tee Diverter 
Tee Diverter 

These are usually located inside the tub’s faucet. The single valve will close one direction of the diverter to force the water up or down. If your shower has a little switch just below the shower faucet that changes this direction, you have a tee diverter! This is the most common diverter you will find, so if you have a simple shower this is likely the mechanism you have.

Two-Valve Diverter 

Next is the two-valve diverter, which will have three branches coming off of the main water pipe. It gets its name by having two valves controlling the direction of water, meaning you can open two different water pathways at the same time! This version is still pretty simple, so it is the second most common diverter.

Two-Valve Diverter 
Two-Valve Diverter 

This type of diverter is usually found on shower/tub combos that have an additional single-handle faucet. With this faucet being mounted on the wall. If you have an extra showerhead but it is mounted to the main showerhead, then you probably do not have this diverter. Since the extra showerhead is not connected to the water pipes, the original showerhead is instead.

Three-Valve Diverter 

Then there is the three-valve diverter, which has a more complicated installation process than the previous two diverters. This type allows water to be diverted between three different outputs. It is commonly found in shower setups that have a tub faucet, showerhead, and a handheld showerhead or spout.

Three-Valve Diverter 

The main identifier of this diverter is that you can direct the water flow from a single outlet, or two of them! For example, if you want to take a bath but love the massage of a gentle showerhead you can use both faucets at once! These will sometimes have a level, knob, or button to control the water flow between the outlets.

Four-Valve Diverter 

Finally, there is the four-valve diverter. This is the most complicated of all the diverters and can control four different water outputs. Four-valve diverters are more technical than their cousins. So if you are considering installing this version you may want help from a plumber friend.

Four-Valve Diverter 
Four-Valve Diverter 

This is because these diverters will not work unless they are lined up with the water outputs just right. If the alignment is off, water could leak into your wall or not be diverted correctly. So if you were wanting to install or repair this type of diverter, you need to be precise! Asking a plumber friend to guide you would make sure this process is done correctly.

What Can Go Wrong With A Shower Diverter?

Since shower diverters are located inside the shower wall, it may not be easy to determine if that is the source of your shower issues. However, there are a handful of signs to look out for that can tell you your diverter has an issue. So here are the five most common effects of a malfunctioning diverter.

Water Everywhere! 

One of the first and clearest signs of a broken shower diverter is water spraying everywhere. The water can leak out of your tub when you are taking a shower, or vice versa. If water is coming from the wall behind the tub faucet, that is an extra bad sign. 

Bowl Flush

This leaking is coming from either poor alignment, a cracked diverter, or an eroded rubber valve. The break in the water seal at any of these locations will cause the water to divert all over the place! When you notice this, you should look for the diverter to examine its rubber seal as it is likely eroded from the water over time.

Valve Won’t Engage 

Another easy-to-spot issue with a shower diverter is when the valve will not engage. In other words, the water will not go where it is told. Sometimes the divert switch will not budge, or it does move but the water does not follow. This means the diverter is deeply broken and must be replaced.

An easy way to avoid this is to leave the diverter disengaged when you are not using it. If the diverter is always sealed in one position, the rubber valve will become indented and stuck. When this happens, there is no fixing the diverter and it needs to be replaced.

Rusty Water In The Tub 

One of the more unfortunate ways to discover a broken diverter is rusty water coming from the showerhead or tub faucet. The majority of the diverters’ pieces are made from metal, and over time this metal will rust. Soon the water will carry the flakes of rust through the shower pipes as it exits into the tub.

Rust in shower

Although the rust does not necessarily mean the diverter is cracked or misaligned, it does mean you should replace it. Rusty water is not healthy to bathe in, and the rust will only get worse the longer you let it sit. So you should try and replace the diverter as soon as possible to keep your shower clean and well-managed!

Low Shower Pressure

Low shower pressure can come from several plumbing issues. But if you have been investigating this problem for a while and found nothing, it could be the diverter! The low water pressure can mean the diverter is broken and not properly sealed. Making the pressure inside the pipes depleted and the water flow will follow suit.

Low Shower Pressure on shower head

Usually, if the water pressure is low, you would also see water leaking from the other water outlets. But they do not necessarily appear side by side. It is not seen commonly on its own as a sign of a bad diverter, but it is possible.

How Can I Repair A Shower Diverter?

Even if all these issues caused by a faulty shower diverter seem dire, there are several easy ways to fix them! As long as you have some wrenches and pliers on hand, you can easily disassemble your tub faucet and fix or replace the diverter. Plus it is very cheap to fix!

Clean The Tub Spout 

One of the first steps to repairing a shower diverter is to clean the tub spout. There is a large possibility that the diverter is simply gunked up with minerals. And that can explain why the water pressure is low or the valve is stuck. So here is an easy way to clean this area without taking the spout apart.

First, pour some white wine vinegar into a plastic bag. You can dilute it a bit with some water if you would like. Then you will submerge the spout completely in the bag with vinegar and secure it with a rubber band. Make sure it is on there tight, then just let it sit for three to four days! Afterward, clean off the spout and check if the diverter is working.

Replace the Washer Inside Your Diverter 

If the vinegar cleanout did not work, it is time to get comfortable with your tub spout and find the diverter! A simple way to fix a diverter without buying a whole new part is to replace the washer inside. This can help resecure the connection to the pipes and make it functional again!

The first step is to disassemble the spout. This is different depending on the type of spout you have, but a screwdriver, wrench, and pliers are the most tools you may need. After disassembling the spout and finding the diverter, you can pull it apart and take a look at the washer.

If it simply seems rusted or dirty, you can use soap and water to clean it off. It is important to not use any cleaning chemicals on the washer! This can make it erode over time. After cleaning the washer, you will need to put silicone grease on it before placing it back in the diverter.

Loosen the Diverter 

Another method to try is loosening the diverter. There is a chance it is too tight and causes unnecessary pressure on certain elements of the diverter. It is very easy to do this, all you need is to get into your tub spout and have some WD-40 or cooking spray on hand.

You will want to wiggle the diverter by hand so that it loosens a bit. Then you will lubricate the tab with the lubricant you have. Then wiggle it a bit more to see if it moves more smoothly, and add some more lubricant if it is still a bit ridged. Now simply wipe off the residue and check if the system is working!

Replace the Old Diverter With a New One 

Finally, if none of these fixes seem to help it is time to replace the diverter. Generally, shower diverters need to be replaced every four to five years. So if you are way best this expiration date, you may as well skip the other step and simply find a replacement part.

If you investigate your spout and diverter and the diverter seems fine, you may need to replace the spout instead. It is best to look into your tub spout first to determine which piece needs replacing. But once you buy either piece, the package should come with installation instructions.

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