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How to Turn a Bathtub Into a Shower

Chris Deziel
Table of Contents

Turn your conventional bathtub into a shower by installing a handheld shower diverter. For freestanding tubs, replace the entire faucet assembly.

Installing a shower in your bathtub alcove is a big project that involves cutting into the wall behind the tub to install plumbing pipes and a shower valve. If you don't want to go to all that trouble, there's a much easier way to turn your bathtub into a shower: Install a diverter spout that sends water to a handheld shower. This solution won't work for a freestanding tub, but fortunately, converting your freestanding bathtub to a shower isn't difficult because all the pipes are exposed.

The Handheld Shower Option

Spout Diverter Installation

  1. Unscrew the old spout with adjustable pliers. Clamp the pliers around the spout and turn it counterclockwise. It may take some effort, but it will eventually turn. Some spouts are connected by means of a set screw. If so, the screw is on the underside of the spout, and you'll need a hex wrench or a Phillips screwdriver to turn it.

  2. Examine the connection for your new spout; it may have recessed threads or threads that are flush with the back of the spout. If the spout doesn't fit on the nipple you have, you need to remove the nipple and replace it.

  3. Unscrew the nipple with a pipe wrench. If the nipple is recessed in the wall, and you can't grip it with a pipe wrench, you may need an internal pipe wrench that fits inside it to unscrew it.

  4. Check the specifications on the spout package for the size of nipple you need. The nipple may even come with it. Wrap plumbing tape around the threads of one end of the nipple and screw it into the threaded tee from which you removed the other nipple. Tighten it with a pipe or internal wrench.

  5. Screw the spout onto the new nipple and tighten it hand tight. Wrap a rag around it and use a pipe wrench or adjustable pliers to tighten it the rest of the way. The base of the spout should sit flush against the wall of the bathtub. Seal the base of the spout with silicone caulk.

  6. Install a holder for the handheld shower on the wall over the spout. Center it on the wall at a height that is comfortable for you and everyone else who will be using it. You usually install these with screws, but you can also glue it with construction adhesive.

  7. Screw one end of the flexible hose that came with the shower head into the threaded outlet on the spout, and screw the other end into the shower head. You should be able to tighten these connections by hand, but if not, use adjustable pliers.

  8. Turn on the water and test the shower by lifting the diverter handle.

If your bathtub is installed in an alcove, it probably has a conventional spout that screws onto a nipple extending from the water pipes behind the wall. It's easy to remove this spout, but to install a new one that has an outlet for a handheld shower, you may have to change the nipple. You can do all this without shutting off the water -- just keep the faucet off.

Adding a Shower to a Freestanding Tub

Replacement Procedure

  1. Select a tub/shower combo that goes well with your decor and assemble it according to the instructions that come with it.

  2. Turn off the water to the bathtub. You should find shutoff valves at the base of the tub, but if not, turn off the water to the bathroom or the entire house, if necessary.

  3. Unscrew the connectors joining the old faucet to the water pipes, using a wrench. Once the faucet is disconnected, unscrew the nuts holding it to the tub and remove it.

  4. Set the new tub/shower in place -- it should fit into the holes from which you removed the old faucet. Get a helper to hold the shower pipe steady while you secure the unit to the tub and tighten the retaining nuts with a wrench.

  5. Wrap plumbing tape around the faucet connections and screw on the water pipe connections. Secure them with a wrench.

  6. Hang a shower curtain on the circular holder that comes with the tub/faucet combo that you pre-assembled. If your unit didn't come with a shower curtain rod, don't forget to install one.

  7. Turn on the water to the tub and check for leaks while testing the shower.

Faucets for freestanding tubs aren't the same as the ones for conventional bathtubs; they are usually connected to the faucet handles to form a single unit that you screw onto the tub and connect to the water pipes. It's easy to remove the whole unit and replace it with one that includes a vertical pipe that leads to a shower head.


Don't forget to install a shower curtain before you turn on the water to your new shower.


Put a generous amount of plumber's putty behind the escutcheons that go inside the tub before securing the unit to the tub. This prevents water from seeping past the escutcheons and onto the floor.