Faucet Cartridge and Stem Quick Guide

A faucet cartridge or stem is the part in a faucet or shower assembly that controls the amount and flow of water that comes out of the faucet. In some shower applications, stems also divert water from the spout to the shower head. Although cartridges and stems are two different parts, they both do the same thing, just in different ways. In this article, you will learn how to identify which stem or cartridge you need, what signs indicate you need to replace it, the different types of faucet stems and cartridges, the different types of shower cartridges, and how to find and order replacement stems and cartridges.


Faucet Stem and Cartridge Options

There are thousands of different faucet cartridges and stems, which makes it difficult to find and buy the right replacement part when your cartridge stops working. We carry all of the following manufacturers: 

Acorn, Altman, American Standard, Artistic Brass, Auburn, Barrels, Belvedere, Bradley, Briggs, Broadway, Central Brass, CHG, Chicago, Crane, Delta-Delex, Donner, Dornbracht, Eljer, Elkay, Fisher, Frankie, Gerber, Grohe, Harden, Indiana Brass, Jado, Kalista, Kohler, KWC, Milwaukee, Moen, Newport, Nibco, Perlick, Phylrich, Phoenix, Powers, Price Pfister, Royal Brass, Sayco, Sepco, Speakman, Sterling, Streamway, Symmons, T&S, Union Brass, Universal Rundle, Valley, Washers, Wolverine, Zurn, and more. 

This list of manufacturers represents only a fraction of the thousands of stems and cartridge manufacturers we carry. If the stem or cartridge manufacturer you need is not listed, just provide us with a sample and/or manufacturer model number. We can still research, identify, and order it for you.


When to Replace Faucet Stems and Cartridges

This part is really straight forward. Typically, you only replace stems or cartridges when the existing stems or cartridges are no longer working properly. 

How to know if you need to replace your stem or cartridge:

  1. 1. The faucet is dripping.
  2. 2. The faucet won’t shut off.
  3. 3. You are getting either all hot or all cold water. 

Identifying Stems/Cartridges

Stem versus Cartridge: What’s the difference

Stems and cartridges are terms that are used interchangeably by many, although they aren’t the same thing. In most instances, a stem is used in two-handle faucets, one for the cold water and one for the hot water. A cartridge is used in faucets that control both the hot and cold water through one handle. However, it’s worth noting that in some instances, for example in metering faucets, faucets can have two cartridges (one for hot and one for cold water). Some faucets also use two of the same cartridge, one on each side, and they are installed differently for the hot and cold (one side is rotated).

Stem or Cartridge Examples

Stem and Cartridge Material Options

Both stems and cartridges can be made of plastic, brass or ceramic. The most popular material now is ceramic. According to our plumbing parts specialist, everyone is switching to ceramic because they last longer. Hard water is hard on ceramic, but in most places in the US where hard water isn’t an issue, ceramic cartridges can last forever.


Left and Right / Hot and Cold

Most often, when you view our selection of stems, they are listed as Left-Handed (LH) or Right-Handed (RH), instead of hot or cold. This is because LH or RH is not synonymous with hot or cold. The handle type and installation of the stems or cartridge(s) changes if it will dispense hot or cold water (or both for single lever faucets). 

For traditional lever handle faucets, which way the thread rises in the stem determines how it should be installed.  The thread on Left-Handed stems rise to the left. They are turned counterclockwise to turn on. The thread on Right-Handed stems rise to the right. They are turned clockwise to turn on.

However, showers will have different applications for cartridges depending on if it’s a round or cross handle instead of a lever. This is why left and right don’t necessarily equate to being used for hot or cold. 

Another note about lever handle installation:

“When lever handles are used on a deck, they should be rotated in towards the user to turn the water on and pushed away from the user to turn the water off. Thus, the hot side (on the left) should turn off clockwise, and the cold side (on the right) should turn off counter-clockwise.” 

Barry Walters, one of our providers of faucet stems and cartridges.


Faucet Stem/Cartridge Types

Compression Stem – Compression stems are used on standard faucets with bibb washers and bib screws on the bottom. These stems move up and down. When up, they open, when down, the stem compresses against the faucet seat to shut the water off. 

Non-Rising Stem –  Non-Rising stems are similar to compression stems, but work differently – instead of moving up and down on top, they move down and up on the bottom. They exist for cosmetic reasons. Since the top of the stem does not move up and down, the user never sees the stem. This style is mainly available from European stem manufacturers like Grohe and Dornbracht.

Metering Cartridge – Metering cartridges are only used in commercial applications. When pressed, metering faucets function by gradually shutting off over a short time period. This stops faucets from accidentally being left on in places like schools, hospitals, and other facilities where users might be more likely to forget to turn the faucet off. 

Single Handle Cartridge – Single handle cartridges include pressure balancing (newer models are all pressure balancing). Pressure balancing cartridges maintain the proper balance of hot and cold water in order to prevent a user from getting scalded as a result of pressure changes (like if someone flushes a toilet or turns on another faucet while you are in the shower.) They do not change the temperature of the water from the faucet, only the balance of pressure between the hot and cold water. There are also thermostatic cartridge options.


Shower Cartridge Types

Showers don’t use stems, only cartridges. There are older style, newer style, and thermostatic shower valve cartridges. Newer buildings will almost always have single handle shower cartridges. For residential applications, this is a requirement so each faucet is anti-scald. For commercial facilities, this is simply what is most often specified. Commercial facilities usually don’t have to worry about anti-scald at the point of the faucet because the water is already tempered. 

Old Style – Old style shower cartridges had a balancing spool that was separate. 

New Style – New style shower cartridges all have pressure balancing built in.

Thermostatic Shower Valve – Thermostatic shower valves have a built in thermostatic mixing valve.


Finding Faucet Cartridges, Stems, and Related Parts

We have been identifying faucet stems and cartridges for over 50 years. Give us a call today to get help from a knowledgeable plumbing supply specialist. We will help you find the stem or cartridge you need quickly. 

Stem/Cartridge Identification

Providing the following information will make identifying your stem/cartridge easier:

  • Faucet Manufacturer 
  • Faucet Model Number (This will be found in the paperwork that came with the faucet, not on the faucet itself.)
  • Faucet Type (Is it single, 2, or 3 handle?)
  • Images of the cartridge or stem 

We keep thousands of cartridges and stems in stock and ready to ship. We also carry all of the related faucet parts like mixing valves, thermostatic valves, handles, washers, seats, o-rings, spouts, aerators, bonnets, base plates, as well as complete faucets. Anything and everything related to commercial faucets can be ordered through us.

Submit our contact form or give us a call at 800-442-6622 to get started. 


Here’s what some of our customers have to say about working with us:

They always have the part you need. Super knowledgeable!

– John W.

Mike is the man! Looked for a part for my shower that I would guess 40-50 years old. Called Equiparts at a local plumbing supply suggestion after they were suggested to me by Lowes. Literally three minutes on the phone with Mike and he asked for a few pics of the part and said he would see what he could do. 5 minutes later he calls me and asked how many do I need. Impressive! Thanks Mike! I’ll tell everyone I know about the service you provided. Keep up the good work!

– Chuck S.

Exceptionally knowledgeable, very helpful.

– Jon K.

We look forward to helping you find the right faucet stems and cartridges to keep your faucets functional.

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