The Best Ways to Break Loose Stuck or Rusted Plumbing Fixtures

Stuck or rusted plumbing fixtures and parts are a pain for any homeowner. It starts with patience. Some of these ideas may be of help if you decide to tackle the problem. Within a house, there are usually a fair number of threaded plumbing fixtures that a homeowner who is handy can work on themselves. Rusted or corroded pipe fittings need to be worked on at some point in time, but it has to be done with care and some different approaches. If one thing doesn't work, go on to the next. The key is being able to get to the fixture and secure both sides of the joint so that they are able to come apart and not damage any pipes, especially plumbing that is inside the wall.

Here are ideas on what other people have found to be successful when dealing with stuck plumbing fixtures. The concepts that are covered here have to be adapted to the individual situation. Plumbers spend a whole career learning the best way in each situation, so we can't cover everything on one page. Hope this helps give you a few pointers.


Types of Stuck Plumbing Fixtures

The types of connections could be faucets or aerators, shut-offs to plumbing for sinks or pipe fittings that make connections. These often get rusted from condensation and the passage of time. Condensation from the toilet tank rusts and corrodes the bolts that fasten it to the bowl. It can also drip down around the toilet bolts.

Other Stuck Parts

Another area of concern for the homeowner or plumber would be the nuts and couplings that secure the pipes and fixtures. Time, water, condensation and heat cycles on metal surfaces are the enemy and a big cause for the homeowner to have to replace and repair residential plumbing fixtures. We sell Pipe Break that will help with the project, but they key idea here is to be a source of some ideas on how to break loose rusted plumbing fasteners so that the fixtures are not broken or damaged in the process of getting the bolts off. No one wants to open that can of worms and create a bigger problem than what you started with! Professional plumbers know the tricks that can fix most plumbing problems and have seen all sorts of things over the years, so at the bottom we also list some ways to help find a reputable plumber near you.

  1. Plan before you start
  2. Shut off the water
  3. Confirm a local supply house for parts will be open
  4. Physically and chemically clean the area
  5. Use the right tool with good contact
  6. Secure both parts
  7. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction
  8. Apply firm, gentle pressure
  9. Do the opposite
  10. Apply penetrating oil
  11. Tap and vibrate the trouble area
  12. If not loosened, brace and increase the pressure
  13. Heat or chill the area
  14. Cut
  15. Call a professional!

1 Plan Ahead

Take a couple of minutes to take a look around the area to make a plan on how to proceed with the top consideration being a plan B if all does not go well. Plumbing just seems to have the potential for pitfalls, so it makes sense to plan for what could go wrong. Especially with older plumbing sources, the right types of connectors can be hard to find and may take something other than just the big box types of stores. it is good to know what company has the specialty supply of parts you might need. If you tend to try and fix stuff yourself, make sure you have the tools ahead of time so you do not get jammed up some Sunday night or holiday when everything is closed. Have a bucket that will fit under the fitting to catch any water once it is opened, a couple of towels or rags for any spilled water and you are ready to start.

2 Shut Off the Water

The second part of planning ahead is knowing that things happen and to be prepared for the worst. It’s a clever idea to shut off the house water supply before you start the work that may exert a pretty good amount of force on the plumbing. Test and confirm you can shut the water off where it comes into the building. It is a valve that may not have been used in many years and may be worse than the problem you are trying to work on. So, just check because not being able to use the main shut-off after you have broken a plumbing part by mistake or with too much force may compound the problem more that you ever want to think about. If there is one frozen part, there may be more in the system.

Knowing that a plumbing fixture or part is stuck means there is going to be some degree of fight on your hands, but the ideas presented here should make it easier and hopefully prevent a bigger project. A job that has anything to do with older plumbing and water involved has the potential to go wrong and if it does go wrong, be ready to deal with the unexpected. X number of gallons per minute can be a lot of water flowing where you do not want it until you can run to a shut-off someplace else in the house.  You can bet that run will be a stressful one! So, if you are working on plumbing, shut the water off at the main just in case. What do you have to lose? You may avoid a lot of sheetrock repair, wood flooring repair and hopefully not have to pump out a basement.

3 Do the Project When Supplies are Available

Knowing what your plumbing supply house has and what the big box stores have can be important to know in advance. The key thing is to know the hours they are open in case you have to get the odd specialty part that you didn't expect. You certainly don't want to start something that is unknown just before most stores close and end up being without water for a prolonged period in the whole house or even a section of the house.

4 Physically and Chemically Clean the Area

The concept is the same as the first day in shop class that teaches how to solder pipe. Mr. Corsso started with "you need the area to be physically, mechanically and chemically clean.". When taking plumbing apart, this also applies. Take a couple of minutes and get any accumulated stuff out of the way in the affected area you are trying to loosen. A wire brush is great to clean up anything loose that has accumulated like rust or lime. Then, whatever remains can be dissolved pretty well with a product like CLR - Calcium Lime and Rust Remover. It also works great to take the green spots out a tub were a faucet has leaked for a while. If the white lime is heavy, it may may take some soaking and multiple applications.

5 Use the Right Tool with Good Contact

Transferring torque on a fastener, especially a stuck fastener, NEEDS to be done with the right tool. If possible, make sure to use two tools: one to move the part that has to be removed and the other held in the opposite direction to stabilize the rest of the plumbing so it does not get too much torque and break.

The more tool-to-fastener contact there is, the better chance of success. To grab a tool that is handy and make it work compared to the right tool that makes complete tight contact between the tool and the work can be a recipe for disaster. A good example is open-end box wrenches that grip as tight as possible and prevent the flexing that can happen with an adjustable wrench. It is like using vise grips when a wrench should be used or the wrong-sized Philip's head screwdriver that strips the head. The job just gets way harder.

Another good example is locking pliers are usually NOT a satisfactory solution since the locking pliers are much more likely to slip and create damage. The damage from the quick and easy try with the wrong tool. like vise grips, can crush or mangle the pipe.  Locking wrenches that apply a lot of squeezing action to get a grip may be like "God's gift to the handyman," but can be the devil's work with plumbing fixtures and copper pipe.

6 Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Bottom line: if you grab onto a pipe and start to pull on it hard, then you are pulling on whatever holds the pipe in place in the wall or floor. If the connection is rusted, the straps that hold down the pipe may also be weak and you may be placing a lot of leverage against a pipe that could take a lot of demolition to get at if it is a random break. So, balance the effort on one side of the connection with effort on the other side.

7 Apply Firm, Gentle Pressure

There is an old saying to help you remember way to turn the part you want to remove from a connector. It is a little jingle that goes like this: "Righty tighty, lefty loosey." This can help you from fighting against yourself. Also remember the saying fits relative to the connector and where you are standing. I think that is being anthropocentric. Now that is a big word!

Your first attempt is really just an evaluation and assume it is a test. The first effort is to see if it will come apart with "normal" effort. If you are reading this, you may well already know you have a problem and are past this stage. Remember, a considered approach works way better than flooding a room. Judgment and a feel for problems only comes with experience. Even if the connection or nut you are taking apart looks bad, a lot of times it may come apart easier than you expect.

8 Do the Opposite

Sometimes, the goal is to just get a little movement. It may defy logic, but trying to tighten a connector has often worked to start the process of getting a screwed-together fastener apart, be it a plumbing connector or a nut and bolt. People argue that it cannot work that way, but as chance would have it, we do have video showing going tighter can work. So, try pulling left to tighten with the goal of just getting that first little bit of movement. What have you got to lose?

So, doing the opposite may well get the part broken free, then you can switch direction and try to loosen the part. You may get a slight bit of movement, just enough to get it going. If that gets it started, then it is down to working back and forth to help get the connection apart. Try and go opposite to tighten the fixture or plumbing nut with the right tool and the greatest amount of contact area to the rusted part that is stuck and will not budge. The hope is to break the hold that the rust has created on the two parts. These attempts also help make the next step work better, since it looks like it is now time to go to penetrating oil. The effort to remove the part is also probably creating some micro cracks in the rust. A good penetrating oil will work better if, in fact, there are micro cracks in the affected area. Rust makes metal grow thicker, making the connection tighter. The goal is to get the product down into the area, soften the molecular bonds in the rust, lubricate the area and get the part off without creating any damage. The potential development of these small cracks helps set the stage for the next step to work.

9 Apply Penetrating Oil

Apply the best penetrating oil possible. By now you know you have a problem.After following steps 1-9, it is taking some effort to get it done so a small amount of the best penetrating oil, no matter what the penetrating oil costs, is worth it! This is especially true if it save you time and avoids the prospect of the project getting way harder. Spray Pipe Break on the affected area that has been bound up by rust. A very low surface tension and the ability to take advantage of micro cracks in the rusted surface allows Pipe Break to make its way into the rust. The next step, which is also listed on our page, Operator's Manual, is to tap the area as sharply and as safely as possible.

From this point forward, with each thing you try, it makes sense to add some more penetrating oil. Each effort made can help to create a way into the cracks and crevices of the rust for the penetrating oil to work. There are a couple of other things to try and adding the oil each time and waiting is a minor matter to prevent a major plumbing repair job.

The tapping is like a vibrator being used to loosen stuck nuts. It jiggles the junk and lets the penetrating oil penetrate deeply. All this vibration helps to get the connector off. Some people have taken small electrical diodes that vibrate to help work the penetrating oil down into the affected areas when they can leave something for a period of time to help the oil work its way between the two parts. There are other ways to apply the shock waves you need to help enhance the ability of the oil to penetrate the rust and carry the lubricant and its own rust softener into the critical area.

Sharp, metallic blows will resonate in the material better than a piece of wood or rubber mallet. A ringing blow and vibration is the goal, but matching the tool to the situation and the type of finish is also important. Sometimes, another idea can work to get the part loose. The approach is to use a center punch, the fine-pointed type of punch. The punch can act as an extension of what the hammer can reach. The point of the punch may help to gain some purchase on the area and can help to reach into an area that would not be able be tapped directly. The punch can be used to help hit the side of the connector to try and both vibrate the area and push it in the direction you want it turned so that both actions are working togetherr. Place the center punch on the fixture or nut and strike it sharply with a hammer. Put a wrench on the fixture or nut and strike the handle sharply with a hammer to loosen the fixture.

Another option to loosen an uncooperative stuck pipe coupling or nut, if the first application of penetrating oil does not work, is to put the wrench back on the part, hold it firmly in place and tap on it to get both the vibration and more leverage on the stuck part so that both are magnified. If this does not work, then a decision has to be made. Wait and let the Pipe Break penetrating oil work overnight or for some longer period of time or start cutting and trying another trick.

If you want the best penetrating oil, you can get it here.   Buy Pipe Break in can or case

10 If Not Loosened, Brace and Increase the Pressure

Structurally, the idea is to brace the parts to keep them from moving by whatever means possible to prevent twisting farther back on the good that is to remain. Go with bigger tools and, if needed, use a piece of pipe over the handle to extend the handle and get more leverage. With the bigger tools comes more leverage, so make sure you are set up to counteract it or brace against it. Time to be really careful!

Apply more penetrating oil. You may be creating cracks to help get the penetrating oil into the area that needs it. Wait a little longer to let it work it. Keep the area wet with penetrating oil.

11 Heat or Cool the Area

Using the physics of expansion or contraction of a material may help. The idea is to use differential expansion or contraction of two metal parts to break loose the parts that are stuck by rust or mineral deposits by creating an opening. It always makes sense to work in stages, so before you move to heat, try a safe heat source first. Then scale up based on results. You may want to use your hair dryer on high heat as a source to heat the metal so it expands just a fraction to give you that edge in the battle. Aim it at the problem. The metal expansion is faster on the outside and may crack or loosen rust and water deposits that keep it from moving.

To get more heat and faster, focused heat in one spot, professionals use a propane torch to spot heat an area. If anything is flammable close to where the heat is going to be used, you must at least wet the surrounding area with some sort of water spray and use some sheet metal to shield the flammable materials nearby. It is very important to prevent any combustibles from igniting. Many a house has been burned down by not taking the full precautions or thinking it will just be a moment. If flammable penetrating oil has been used, make sure it is wiped off and wet down in the area.

Depending on the situation, the opposite may work and you can use cold to shrink the part. If the part is in a lot of base metal, you may be able to just cool the fastener, not the whole mass of metal. The effort is still to get two similar pieces of metal to shrink a little to create an opening for getting the penetrating oil in the little fissures created by the contraction in size of one part.

One key consideration in using heat sources is fire and fire safety. if you have used a flammable penetrating oil, as you increase the heat being applied, you must deal with increased flammability. If you do not get results the first time, go through a few heating then cooling cycles to help increase your chances of creating a weak spot that helps develop little fissures for the penetrating oil to get it.

Apply heat to the stuck fixture or plumbing nut with a hair dryer or heat gun. You may not want to drain all the water out of the fixture before applying the heat since the water will be a heat sink for the inner part and the fastener will have a bigger variation in temperature quicker. The heat will make the fixture or nut expand which may break it loose. If yours is a metal fixture, heat it with a propane torch, but shield anything flammable within 12 inches of the flame with heat-resistant fabric. Have a fire extinguisher or bucket of water on hand and wear heat-resistant gloves and eye protection. Don't use a larger flame than necessary and keep the torch upright. Play the flame across the fixture to heat it evenly. Turn the fixture or nut while it is still hot. If the fixture or plumbing nut still hasn’t loosened, time to move on to Step 12.

12 Cut

If the fixture or nut still hasn’t budged and you have followed all the steps above and nothing has worked, it looks like it is time to cut the pieces or connector to get the stuck part separated. Think about all of your options, the tools you have available, the tools you are familiar with and be safe.

Cutting should be the last resort and the focus could be in two areas.

  • Mechanically cut the piece off
  • Burn the piece off

Mechanical cutting

There are all sorts of ways to cut plumbing parts that are stuck, but the two factors that control it usually are space available to get a tool into position to work and when the cutting is done, how will it affect the repair in putting it back together.

One way is to cut the pipe or what is stuck while the other would be to cut the fastener. Slicing the sides of a nut, then prying the parts apart with a screwdriver or wedge so the fastener is removed and the rest of the parts may be reusable. Naturally, this takes some finesse in not cutting too deep. A second cut on the other side of the fasterner may make it esier to pry the parts apart.

Cutting free just the fastener would typically be done with a cold chisel, Dremel tool, handheld grinder, or hacksaw blade. One way to cut in tight places with the hacksaw blade would be to remove it from the saw, tape up a section of the blade with a couple of wraps of duct tape and then you can hold it and cut in places the saw will not fit. Sometimes using a Dremel tool will speed up the back and forth motion with a hacksaw blade.

A hacksaw, recripocating saw, propane torch and Dremel can be used in tight places and angle grinder with a metal cutting disk for bigger ones. Some people have had luck using a hammer and cold chisel or an electric chisel with softer metals to break the stuck connector apart. Try a propane torch before an acetylene cutting torch as it has higher heat

Burn with a torch

If you have no choice but to burn the parts to get them off, either an acetylene or propane torch can be used and ALL apropriate safety measures should be followed. Those safety measures are beyond the scope of this page. If you do not know them, do not do it. If you are at this point, it may well be time to call a plumber. Do not burn the house down!

Things you may need

This list of things you may need to free stuck plumbing will vary based on the actual project. Naturally, the more things that do not work means you need more of the things on the list below.

  • Bucket and rags
  • Pliers
  • Open-end wrenches
  • Wrench set
  • Pipe wrench
  • Wire brush
  • Calcium, lime & rust remover (like CLR)
  • Hammer
  • Stiff rubber mallet
  • Center punch
  • Penetrating lubricant (Pipe Break)
  • Hacksaw
  • Dremel tool
  • Grinding wheel
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Ice
  • Water and spray bottle
  • Propane torch
  • Acetylene torch
  • Fire extinguisher, if using either torch


Do not use a propane torch on stuck plastic plumbing fixtures. It can easily overheat plastic fixtures and melt them. With torches, do not set wood studs on fire.

If you are doing the project yourself and you do not have a good penetrating oil, consider getting Pipe Break penetrating oil.

Finding a Good Local Plumber

If you have not gotten the stuck or rusted plumbing fixture that is giving you a problem apart, here are a couple of sites that may help you find a good plumber near you:

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