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Possibly this question depends on location. I'm most interested in the US convention.

I have read here a convincing claim about sink faucet handles: when there are separate hot and cold handles, cross handles (knobs) should always turn on counter-clockwise, but lever handles which are off pointing outward should turn on by pulling them toward you: that's counter-clockwise on for the left, hot handle, but clockwise on for the right, cold handle.

image of sink faucet with double lever handles

What about a double lever handle for a shower, where the two handles, which are wall-mounted, are pointing outward and might turn either up or down?

image of shower faucet with double lever handle

Here, you are generally standing looking down at the handles. Is down on, which would be counter-clockwise for the left/hot handle and clockwise for the right/cold handle, matching the sink configuration? Or is up on, which has the same feeling of "pull toward you" but is actually opposite in terms of the direction of rotation?

  • Sounds almost like the toilet paper debate – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Sep 13 '19 at 14:52
  • Sadly, the answers collectively seem to suggest a lack of convention. There are out-off-down-on, down-off-out-on, out-off-up-on, and perhaps even others. Probably, the only sane thing to do is to abandon lever handles, get cross knobs and make everything righty-tighty-lefty-loosy. – Robert Tupelo-Schneck Sep 16 '19 at 15:21
  • The catch is that levers are MUCH easier to turn, which is arguably more important in the shower than at a sink. – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Sep 16 '19 at 15:23
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It seems to vary by manufacturer/model/style and perhaps personal preference.

The shower knobs in one of my bathrooms were installed 2-3 years ago and are, by default, "off" when horizontal and "on" when vertical. Cold turns on CW and Hot turns on CCW.

Below is an excerpt from the installation instructions for the faucet set that shows this as the way the handles were designed. This does not strike me as being unusual thinking back to some of the other places I've lived and so forth.

image showing on/off direction for shower faucet handles

Interestingly, the faucet set is prominently described by the manufacturer as being "ADA Compliant" (compliant with the American Disabilities Act) so it would seem that the on/off direction isn't critical for that designation. Incidentally, ADA compliance isn't required for private residences.

It makes good sense that vertical be "off" and horizontal be "on" for the reasons mentioned in other answers, as well as not having your shower/bathtub water come on if something is dropped on the handles. (I've done it. Rather eye-opening surprise...)

Here's a link to the whole installation manual in case someone wants it.

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  • Is that "on when vertical pointing up" or "on when vertical pointing down"? The note about dropping something on the handles not turning the water on suggests up, but it's not clear. – Robert Tupelo-Schneck Sep 15 '19 at 18:32
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    On when pointing down. The note mentioned the water coming on by surprise when an object was dropped onto the handle. – Greg Nickoloff Sep 16 '19 at 2:54
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Up (which typically stops at 90 degrees horizontal) is on. Down (vertical) is off.

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"on" should be handle-up. That is for ADA reasons. A motion-impaired person needs to be able to turn off the hot in a big hurry with a motion that will, by circumstance, be both frantic and awkward.

However, that shouldn't exist.

The reason is the whole legionella fiasco and water heater temperatures. You have to keep water heater temperatures below 115F to prevent scalding, but you have to keep water heater temperatures above 140F to prevent legionella bacteria from using it as a breeding ground. This creates a safety deadlock that can only br resolved by either anti-scald faucets (which must by nature be single handle), or on-demand water heating which doesn't store hot water.

Obviously some people choose to simply ignore one safety factor or the other, and legionella is an easy target since our understanding of the threat is quite new. Grandpa goes "in my day, nobody ever got legionalla" (they didn't get HIV either, or to be more precise, legionella was there all along but we lacked the diagnostic ability to identify it, so it was misdiagnosed).

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In one of our bathrooms the tub/shower has the old Price-Pfister double valve with levers. When off the valve levers are oriented down; to open they are both swung outward: to open it's CCW for the cold and CW for the hot.

The other bathroom has a shower with "old style" Price-Pfister two valves with cross handles handles (not levers). These valves work in the same sense as those in the shower/tub: cold is CCW to open and hot is CW to open.

(The lavatory faucet in the same bathroom has a Price-Pfister double handle with levers, but they work opposite to the shower. To open it's CW for the cold and CCW for the hot.)

EDIT

My wife tells me that she special ordered the cross handles for the shower valves. The original handles were something else, probably levers.

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