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6 Different Types of Shower Handles

A collage of various shower handles.

When you are remodeling your bathroom or making some tweaks and changes, the fixtures may be one of the first things you begin to think about. For many homeowners, changing the fixtures in the bath is all that you need to update and renovate the entire look of your bathroom.

For others, the shower handles are just one piece of the puzzle for a total renovation. Still, you can’t just walk into a hardware store and grab a shower handle off the shelf. A little bit of research goes a long way.

Learn more about the different types of shower handles here.

The History of the Shower Handle

A retro hand water pump

The history of the shower handle goes back to the mid-1700s when William Feetham invented the hand pump that could move water from a tub or piping system onto a person. But the shower handle was not yet invented.

In this contraption, the water was released by the pulling of a chain where the water fell onto the human. This was not a perfect system as dirty water was often recycled.

The shower handle would come by the beginning of the nineteenth century in the early 1800s. In the 1830s, the American Virginia Stool Shower was a seat placed in a tub-like apparatus.

Here, the water would fall on the bather with the pulling of a lever. Standing units became more popular by the mid-1800s, where levers and pulleys functioned as shower handles.

These were upgrades from the Roman and Greeks, who used waterfalls as their means of showers, without having shower handles until much later in the nineteenth century like the rest of the world. Today, the range of shower handles is wide to accommodate every aesthetic, bathroom configuration, and budget.

The Shower Handle Defined

Plumber replacing old shower valve switch.

There are two integral components to the shower handle part of your bathroom. One is the component that is called the shower valve, and the other is the component that is called the shower faucet or shower handle.

The shower handle is the component that is on the exterior of the shower surface, while the shower valve is often a behind-the-scenes component, often built into the wall. In some cases, the shower valve is a part of the bathroom décor.

The difference between the two is that the shower faucet or shower handle controls the shower valve, while the shower valve controls elements such as pressure, heat, and so on. The shower valve also controls the amount of water flow from the shower faucet or shower handle.

When you are shopping for shower handles, you will often find them in kits called shower trim kits. This is a kit that includes the handles and other pieces of the trim that are necessary for the handle installation, like the pieces against the wall of the shower that holds the entire unit together.

Delta Faucet Ashlyn 17 Series Dual-Function Tub and Shower Trim Kit with 2-Spray Touch-Clean In2ition 2-in-1 Hand Held Shower Head with Hose, Stainless T17464-SS-I (Valve Not Included)

The shower valve is not typically sold as part of the shower handle kit. That is usually purchased separately. You will need to purchase the same brand of shower valve as the shower handle because these are two components that need to be compatible in order for the shower handle to work.

There are different kinds of valves for the different kinds of shower handles, and the shower valves have components called diverters that enable the valves to perform their functions of controlling flow, pressure, and temperature.

If you have separate handles for both hot and cold, you are going to have a diverter with three valves. One will be for hot, the other will be for cold, and the third will be for the clockwise/counter-clockwise turns made when changing from bath to shower water.

There are also two-valve diverters for shower handles when there are two handles in the shower, where one runs the bath, the other runs the shower, and they both have hot and cold temperatures.

The other kind of shower handle and diverter is the single valve diverter, among the most common kind. When you pull a knob up from the bath faucet you will have a single valve diverter that diverts everything from bath to shower to bath.

Types of Shower Handles by the Number

Two handle shower with knobs and showerhead.

In addition to having a certain number of shower valves, there are different types of shower handles by the number. In other words, you might have one handle shower handles, two handle shower handles, or even three handle shower handles. The more handles you have with your shower, the more valves you are going to have.

The one that you select will depend on a number of factors, like the space you have to work with and your budget. Generally speaking, the more fixtures that you have, the higher your budget is going to be.

The one-handle shower handle is going to operate the water flow and temperature of the shower and bath water. You might see a diverter to manage on your own in the shower or bath, such as a knob or pull-up, to control the change of water flow between the shower and the bathtub.

That is typically found on the control plate of the shower kit if there is no tub in the bathroom but can also often be found on the spout of the bathtub.  

A single shower handle mixer with contemporary design.

The pros to having a shower handle that is one handle would be space-saving, and it also offers a sleeker, more contemporary design to the bathroom. You’re also going to save money on your budget as well. On the flip side, the one-handle shower handle can be fussy to work with, and you may not get the best control of water temperature when you only have one shower handle.

Another common type of shower handle is the two-faucet shower handle, where one faucet controls hot water and the other faucet controls cold water. In these shower handles, you have the water pressure diverter on one side of the shower faucet and the water temperature control on the other shower handle.

In a three-handle shower handle, there is a hot water faucet, a cold water faucet, and a handle to function as the diverter. Here, you are going to have additional components as there will be valves for every handle.

This will mean more hardware, but the result is a very beautiful aesthetic. The end user will enjoy being able to control every element of their shower, from water pressure to temperature, using a variety of handles.

Three brass shower valve handles mounted on the tiled wall.

There are more diverters in the three-handle shower handle system. These will contain both thermostatic valves and pressure balancing valves that control water pressure and temperature in different components.

In every shower, you can control the temperature, but in the three-handle system, you control the temperature from the faceplate of the shower kit before you even have running water.

Many of these three handle kits include technology that prevents the water from getting too hot to scald you, and these are also more energy-efficient shower handles. You will have a beautiful shower every time, as the pro of this system.

You don’t even need to think about the water temperature or pressure because it will never get too hot to harm you or anyone in your family in the shower. On the other hand, these are typically the most expensive kinds of shower handles as they require more hardware and more labor costs for installation.

The three-handle system with additional valves and diverters also helps you to control the flow of water, another energy-efficient pro to this system. If you want to conserve water from each handle, there are built-in controls here. The drawback to this is the upfront expense, but you will save on water costs, and this system could pay for itself in time.

Many newer homes will have thermostatic, and pressure balancing valves that prevent water from flowing from between pipes as the pipes will have stoppers to control water flow. These valves include spools that control water output in each of the cold and hot water lines.

There are connections between the pipes and valves that allow you to mix the water by turning the shower handle to your preference. There is a cartridge connected to the shower valve that balances the temperature and water pressure. All of this adds up to costs for both time and labor when you are renovating your bathroom.

This is a more extensive and expensive shower handle type, but you will still need labor costs for any shower handle. When you are choosing shower handles, the more handles you have, the more expensive the project will be. Selecting energy-efficient shower handles ensures that your project will pay for itself in time.

Shower Handles Based On Bathroom Configuration

A plumber fixing the shower handle.

When you are renovating your bathroom, there are so many choices to make, and most of them will determine what type of shower handles you will get. There is a real estate adage that says that bathrooms and kitchens are the rooms that sell the home. You may be thinking of staying in your home forever, or you may be renovating to sell it.

The configuration of your bathroom, from start to finish, will influence every decision. Do you have a tub and shower now, or just a shower? This is the configuration that will influence your shower handle decisions.

In any event, choosing whether to completely rehaul your bathroom configuration or simply change the fixtures to update the look, you want the finished project to sell the room to anyone, including you.

At the same time, the reason bathrooms sell homes is because potential buyers see this room as an escape from the everyday. Your shower handles can create that escape, even if that is the only change you make in a room.

The Tub and Shower Configuration

Tub and shower combo accentuated with blue linear mosaic tiles.

The tub and shower configuration in your bathroom will mean your shower handles control both your bath and shower water. You will typically have a two-handle system here, but a one-handle system is becoming more common.

As mentioned, in the one-handle system, the diverter is connected to the shower handle, and you use a lever or a knob to turn the water temperature to your choice or switch the water between the bath and shower. Here you don’t have the option to control water pressure as much.

Many older tub and shower configurations will have a two or three-handle system. All are connected to their own valves, but there will still be the main diverter.

The Shower Only Configuration

Handheld shower with chrome bar.

If you have just a shower, the trim kit will have valves for the shower handle and the shower head. You’ll be able to control the temperature from the thermostatic valve. Here you will have a fixed shower head or a handheld shower head.

The handheld shower head is a nice look if you are going for the antique or vintage style in your bathroom, as this style has been around since the start of the 1900s. You have the added flexibility here of using the shower head with your hand.

The fixed shower handle is one that is mounted on the wall or ceiling. They will swivel so that you can adjust the temperature and water flow.

Shower Handle Mounts

Water coming out of the wall mount shower head.

When you are determining which kind of shower handle to get based on your bathroom configuration, you will need to consider which kind of mounting to use. There are different kinds of shower handle mounts. Those include deck mounts, floor mounts, and wall mounts.

A deck mount is one that is connected to a bathtub and shower configuration. This will be mounted on the edge or rim of the bathtub itself. You won’t see the pipes of the deck mount here, and this look can be very elegant.

Floor mounts are another popular mount for shower handles where you might have a tub that has holes in it already, such as a large soaker tub or a clawfoot tub. The water system is installed through the flooring of the bathroom. This is a free-standing style that works beautifully.

The wall mount puts the water supply through the wall so that the handles can be turned from the wall of the shower stall or bathtub configuration.

The next choice you will have to make is the type of shower handle based on aesthetic. Do you want vintage? Do you want a lever or a knob? There are different kinds of shower handles here too.

Vintage shower knob in brass finish.

Lever handles are shower handles that are lever in nature, where a long handle comes from the water output trim. You will pull or push the lever in the direction of your choice to get hot or cold water for the shower.

Knob handles are handles that look like door knobs but are connected to the water supply of the bathroom. Here you will turn the knob like you would a doorknob but in the direction you want for the bathroom.

Cross handles are shower handles that are cross-shaped and turn like knobs but are slightly more elegant. These can take on a vintage or antique look to add a sense of ambiance to the bathroom more than the other types of shower handles.