Please help me solve a VERY DUMB plumbing emergency.
September 4, 2021 3:56 PM   Subscribe

I’m trying to replace my bathroom vanity. It should be easy, but I need to replace the water shutoff valves and they’re so totally rusted on that I can’t unscrew them. One of them is leaking. Emergency plumbers can’t come til Tuesday, so I’m going to need to shut off all the water to my house until this is fixed. Please help me get this fucker off and replace it?

I have tried picking away the rust with a toothpick, scrubbing it away with a toothbrush, spraying it with WD40, scrubbing it with a toothbrush sprayed with WD 40, and applying all the unscrewing pressure I can (I’m pretty strong so that’s not nothing) with my hands, a hex wrench, pliers, and using one of those rubber things for opening jars. NOTHING. What else can I do to finish this project and move on with my life? Please help!
posted by centrifugal to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
Does it have a reversed thread? Try turning in the other direction and see if it has any give.
posted by Thella at 4:02 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

If nothing else you should be able to buy a cap at the hardware store that you can use to close off the valve so you can turn the house water back on.

What kind of pipe is the valve connected to? It may not be screwed on in the first place.
posted by rockindata at 4:09 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

When you say water shutoff valves are you referring to the valves that sit above the hot/cold supply line and before the (usually braided) flexible pipe that leads to the sink? If so, what kind of pipes are they attached to. If it's copper they're usually sweated on with solder.
posted by Ferreous at 4:10 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

What type of pipe is the valve connected to? If it's copper or plastic, you could just use a hacksaw to cut off the valve and use a Sharkbite push-to-connect valve.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:12 PM on September 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

Might be able to get a Sharkbite connector in to seal off the output of the valve for now.
posted by doomsey at 4:13 PM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

If it is soldered onto copper you have at least two options, you can get a pipe cutter and cut below the valve and put on a new one provided you have space or you can try and heat it with a plumbers torch to reactivate the solder and pull off the old valve.
posted by Ferreous at 4:13 PM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi, not to threadsit but answering questions -

1. I’m referring to the valves between the hot and cold water and the bathroom sink.

2. They’re definitely screwed on to water pipes coming from the wall.

3. They’re galvanized pipes, not copper - yes, they need to be updated but not yet.

4. They don’t seem to be soldered on - that was what I thought at first but at a closer look it doesn’t seem to be that unless it’s completely hidden somehow.
posted by centrifugal at 4:14 PM on September 4, 2021

If they’re threaded onto galvanized nipples then there’s a significant chance that removing the valve bodies will damage the pipes or cause a leak inside the wall. Pics could help us suggest ways to avoid that.
posted by jon1270 at 4:45 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Depending on the age of the pipes and their level of degradation, you may get to upgrade your pipes today! I have had galvanized pipe basically crumble in my hands.

However, most of the time, you just need more leverage. Get yourself a pipe wrench and possibly a pipe to go on the end of it to extend the handle- and then just crank on it. You may want a second wrench on the pipe itself behind the valve to keep it from unscrewing somewhere in the wall.
posted by rockindata at 4:50 PM on September 4, 2021 [8 favorites]

You can heat the valves using a propane (or better yet MAPP) gas torch. (May not work unless you can shut off the mains and drain the water out of the pipes and valves as the water will act like a very effective heatsink.) Also, you have to be very careful to not burn the place down. The heat causes the metal in the valves to expand and will help break the corroded bond between the pipes and the valves.

You can take a dremel tool with a heavy duty cutoff wheel and grind /cut away at the body of the valve. There's a knack to doing this w/o screwing up the threads of the pipe.

Both of these options are "commit fully" options that will make the problem worse if you can't see the repair through to the end, so consider your options carefully.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:53 PM on September 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

But yes, pictures would help suggest strategies to reduce the risk of having to chase failing galvanized pipes all the way back to the meter.
posted by rockindata at 4:54 PM on September 4, 2021

Response by poster: Rockindata was right, I just needed more leverage! I turned off the water and my lovely and amazing neighbor let me use her vise grips. It took those plus all my strength, but the valves are off!!!! Thank you all!
posted by centrifugal at 5:26 PM on September 4, 2021 [21 favorites]

Needed more force. Centrifugal force did it!

(Sorry, it's late.)
posted by AugustWest at 10:32 PM on September 4, 2021 [8 favorites]

Late, but yeah. You really want two monkey-wrenches, one to hold onto the pipe and the other to turn the valve. You don't want to accidentally unscrew the pipe from whatever it's screwed into behind the wall.... that's another horror story. But YAY!
posted by zengargoyle at 7:00 AM on September 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

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