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How Does A Shower Faucet Cartridge Work And How Long Should It Last? [Basics For Beginners]

A shower cartridge is one of the latest technology that gives a better showering experience, and you might wonder how your shower faucet cartridge works and how long it should last. Does it work magically? We've conducted thorough research to find you the answer.

Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

A faucet cartridge is a part of the faucet or shower connected to valves, providing structural supports from within and making the cartridge perform water regulation functions.

When you turn the handle, the cartridge controls the water flow from the faucet's spout and regulates water temperature from its holes.

A typical shower cartridge can last 2 to 5 years only, but a good-quality shower faucet cartridge like the Moen and Delta models can last 20 to 30 years.

Now that you know how a shower cartridge works and how long it lasts, you might want to learn more about the device. Keep reading as we will cover more details about shower cartridges and share more insight and cleaning tips in this post.

Plumber installs diverter on shower faucet valve in shower room, How Does A Shower Faucet Cartridge Work And How Long Should It Last? [Basics For Beginners]

Everything You Need To Know About A Shower Faucet Cartridge

Let's dig deeper into shower cartridge fundamentals to help you understand further:

What Is A Shower Faucet Cartridge?

Brand new and used ceramic disc cartridges

It is a device controlling the water flow from the shower faucet. It has three holes behind it, two of which input hot and cold water, which brings water guides from household water pipes.

The cartridge controls the quantity of water flowing from the faucet and the water temperature while the handle gets turned.

How Does A Shower Faucet Cartridge Work?

Turning the faucet handle enables the cartridge to control the water flow from the shower faucet spout and regulate the water temperature. Flipping the faucet handle releases water down the showerhead.

The cartridge lets the holes gush out hot and cold water before flowing down the showerhead. If you twist the hot water, the cold water hole closes, the hot water hole opens up, and so on.

The faucet cartridge is an essential part of the shower as it helps in controlling water flow.

Types Of Shower Faucet Cartridges

Shower faucet cartridges may either be old, new or a thermostatic shower valve.

Old Style

This type of shower cartridge is designed with a separate balancing spool.

See this pressure balance spool on Amazon.

New Style

A new style of shower cartridge has built-in pressure-balancing temperature control.

See this pressure-balance temperature control cartridge on Amazon.

Thermostatic  Shower Valve

The hot and cold water mixing cartridge is part of a mixing valve. It mixes the hot and cold water to attain your water temperature preference and prevent hot water from scalding your skin.

See this thermostatic cartridge on Amazon.

How Long Should A Shower Faucet Cartridge Last?

Expensive and high-quality shower faucet cartridges such as the Moen and Delta models can last around 20 to 30 years with proper maintenance. Less expensive brands will only last 2 to 5 years, depending on how you care for them.

A cartridge acts like a car engine spark plug; it can last for years but needs replacement over time.

A faucet cartridge will experience weathering and corrosion in the long run, causing a coating of minerals on it. It will result in malfunctions like water leakage and difficulty turning the handle.

Some manufacturers suggest changing shower cartridges every six months. But for proper maintenance of your shower cartridge, it is best to change it at least once every 12 months.

What Causes A Shower Cartridge To Fail?

Replacing defective ceramic disc cartridge covered with limescale in shower mixer using wrench

Lack of balance in your water temperature may be the culprit. Having extremely cold water in your home triggers the boiler to produce too hot water that can damage the valve.

Hard water and mineral accumulation can also block the water supply in the cartridge, eventually causing it to fail. You can turn the faucet slowly when mixing hot and cold water if you want to minimize the damage to valves.

How To Clean A Shower Cartridge

You can clean a shower cartridge, that's for sure. It also helps maintain its longevity as you remove those accumulated minerals that can ruin its function over time.

Here's how you can clean your shower cartridges:

  1. Secure a drop cloth to cover the shower drain, thus avoiding any parts accidentally dropping down into the drain.
  2. Use an Allen wrench to remove the handles, cover plate, and escutcheon from the shower valve. The process may not be the same for all cartridge models. But you can usually locate screws that may be hidden in small circles. Unscrew them, and voila! You have disassembled the handles.
  3. Use a screwdriver to turn off the hot and cold water lines near the valve to avoid water bursts.
  4. Use an open-end adjustable wrench to loosen the nut on the shower cartridge, so you can now pull out the cartridge carefully from the valve.
  5. Clean the cartridge using a soft-bristled brush with water, and soak it in a mixture of vinegar and water for 1-2 hours.
  6. After soaking, put the cartridge back in the valve, tighten it with a nut, and then turn on the hot and cold water lines.
  7. Attach the cover plate, escutcheon and shower handles, and test for leakage.

Signs Of A Broken Shower Cartridge

Broken shower faucet

As a shower cartridge regulates the water flow and water temperature from the faucet, you'll know it is broken or damaged when you see these unusual signs:

  • Water keeps on dripping or running even after turning off the shower.
  • Hot and cold water from the showerhead gets reversed.
  • You are not getting your desired water temperature.
  • It's hard to turn the handle, or it doesn't turn on the water.

How To Identify Your Shower Faucet Cartridge

Identifying the shower faucet and cartridge brand is essential if you want to replace it after it malfunctions. A cartridge replacement must be accurate according to the manufacturer's design for a better fit.

It's easy to identify some known brands of shower cartridges, but in case you're not sure which brand you have, here's how to check it:

  • Look for the brand name at the bottom of the faucet, handle, or the round plates behind the handles. If found, you can contact the manufacturer for assistance.
  • If not found, remove the cartridge from the valve. Usually, the cartridge identification is held either in a bonnet cap or a cartridge clip.
  • Bring the cartridge to a hardware store for assistance in finding the specifications.

Watch this video for a visual guide to finding out who made your shower faucet cartridge:

Can A Shower Cartridge Be Repaired?

Fixing clogged cartridge

If the cartridge gets broken, the shower valve will not function well, indicating water leaks. Changing the cartridge can solve this problem. If you still have the warranty during the purchase, you can claim it if it's still valid.

A shower cartridge that shows some signs of damage may be repaired, but the best thing to do with it is to replace rather than repair it, as the problems will be reoccurring if you don't choose the best remedy.

Replacement of a shower cartridge is a quick and easy plumbing solution; you can call a professional plumber to do it. Or you can replace it as long as you figure out the type of shower cartridge you have.

To Wrap Things Up

Knowing how your shower cartridges work and how long they last will give you an idea of how to take care of them properly. You may also apply our suggested ways of cleaning the cartridge and avoid those things that can cause damage for a better showering experience on your end.

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Sunday 27th of November 2022

lmao at "A typical shower cartridge can last 2 to 5 years only, but a good-quality shower faucet cartridge like the Moen and Delta models can last 20 to 30 years."

Anyone who uses the words "Moen" and "Quality" can't be trusted for an honest opinion. There is nothing "good-quality" about Moen. I sell bathroom fixtures all day, every day. I REPLACE plastic Moen cartridges at a rate of 100+ to 1 over any quality faucet brand ceramic cartridges (including the Delta you mentioned.)

At their entry level products, Moen is just one step above the no-name house brand products like Uberhaus (Lowes/Rona), Glacier Bay (Home Depot), Danze (Cdn. Tire). Moen sells well because they've done an extraordinarily good job at MARKETING over the years. Good marketing doesn't equate to good product.