How To Fix a Leaky Faucet

Nobody likes a leaky faucet. The constant dripping can slowly drive a person insane, not to mention the hundreds (if not thousands) of gallons of water you're paying for - all of it just lost down the drain each year. Save your sanity and your hard-earned money by fixing that leaky faucet today.

First things first, you need to figure out where the leak in your faucet is coming from.

Go to your faucet and check it out while you answer the following questions. Dry the area around the faucet before you begin so you can easily identify any new drips, and be sure to check underneath the sink for leakage as well.

  • If your faucet is turned off, does water still drip out of the spout?

    If the answer is yes, then some or all of the internal parts of the faucet may need to be replaced, depending on your water condition.

  • If you turn your faucet on, is water leaking around the base of the faucet as water is running out through the spout?

    If the answer is yes to this question, then usually the o-rings surrounding the spout just need to be replaced.

  • If you turn your faucet on, does water leak or spray out through the top of the handle?

    Replacing the cartridge or stem will fix this. But it could just be an o-ring needs to be replaced.

  • If your faucet is turned off, does water leak around the base of the faucet, but not out of the spout?

    The faucet housing itself may have developed a pin hole leak. This happens very rarely, but it can still happen. If this is the case you could have water under the sink, inside the cabinet. Check all of the water supply flex line connections for possible leaks and if the only leak is from the base of the faucet you will most likely need to replace your faucet.

If your faucet isn't exhibiting any of the above behaviors, but it's still leaking...well, we recommend calling a plumber or simply replacing the faucet. But if you were able to discover the source of your leak - yay! Let's move on to the next step.

Now that you've discovered where the leak is coming from, it's time to repair it.

Before doing anything, though, you need to find a plumbing supplier you can work with.® is proud to offer a good selection of faucet repair parts for a variety of brands, including hard-to-find Valley parts. However, there are a LOT of faucet manufacturers and we simply cannot offer everything every customer might need to fix their faucet.

When you're looking for a local plumbing supplier, make a couple of visits or calls to the store before you start your faucet repair. A good store will have a helpful (rather than condescending) staff, and will do their best to help you find the parts you need. Don't assume, though, that a store will necessarily have all the parts you need. Describe the repair and ask if the parts are in stock before you get started. Also, try to get to the store early. On weekends, even a good store may be overwhelmed with do-it-yourselfers needing help.

One other thing to keep in mind - don't bring any notions to the job that it's necessarily a snap and you'll be done in 15 minutes. That's the surest way to set yourself up for disappointment, since even seemingly simple plumbing jobs require patience and care to complete properly. Make sure you have a backup plan if for some reason the repair doesn't go smoothly or the problem is bigger than you suspected. For example, if your kitchen faucet is the one leaking, do you have another means of getting water if your faucet is out of commission for a few days? Plan ahead, just in case!

Tools you will need:
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Hex (allen) wrench
  • Box end or crescent wrench
  • Drain stopper or rag

Step One: Turn off the water to the faucet. There are usually shut off valves, also known as stop valves (one for hot and one for cold), under the sink for such an occasion as this. If you do not have an angle or straight stop valve under the sink, you will need to turn off the water to the whole house.

Once you have turned the water to the faucet off, turn or move the faucet handle(s) to the open position to check and make sure the water is off. At this point we suggest you put a stopper or rag in the drain to remove any possibility of parts accidentally disappearing down the drain. Trust us, this happens. And it isn't fun.

Step Two: Remove the faucet handle(s). Most acrylic style handles use a cosmetic cover button to hide a flat head screw underneath. Single lever handles usually have a recessed allen screw discreetly and strategically hidden in a location not easily seen when the faucet is in the off position, so you may need to grab a flashlight and do some hard looking.

Once you have discovered how to remove your handle, use a screwdriver or hex (allen) wrench, whichever is needed, and remove your handle. You do not normally have to remove the allen screw completely from the handle to remove the handle. Often times when the allen screw is completely removed it is accidentally lost or easily misplaced.

Step Three: Remove the retaining nut(s). Once the handle is removed you will find there is always some kind of retaining nut that holds the internal parts in place. Retaining nuts can have exterior threads that tighten onto the main body of the faucet, or have interior threads that will tighten into the body of the faucet depending on the design of the faucet. We recommend you use a box end wrench or crescent wrench to remove retaining nuts. Some retaining nuts are also a cosmetic part of the faucet and the use of pliers or channel locks can mar the finish.

Step Four: Determine what kind of mechanism your faucet uses. There are basically three types of internal movement mechanisms used in faucets - cartridges, compression stems, or ball assemblies. Most single control faucets use either a cartridge or a ball assembly. Usually, you can easily distinguish between these two styles once you remove the handle on a single control faucet, as ball faucets literally have a ball inside (with a short handle sticking out of the ball). If you have a 2-handled faucet you can usually determine what style your faucet is simply by turning the handle. If your faucet has a cartridge, the handle will turn left or right either a quarter or half a turn and stop in the same place each time. If the handle rotates more than half a turn, and continues to rotate 360 degrees until it reaches its limit, then you have a compression style faucet.

Faucet Cartridges vs. Stems

Faucet cartridges are made in many different styles and are usually referred to as washer-less. They still have rubber seals of some kind, but are considered washer-less because they do not have conventional washers like those used in compression style faucets of the past. Cartridges control the on, off, and volume flow of the water in two-handled faucets. When used in single handle faucets, they not only control the volume flow but also simultaneously manage the temperature by mixing the hot and cold water as the cartridge is turned or rotated by the handle. The movement can be up or down, right or left, or both, depending on the style of faucet.

Many manufacturers now use ceramic discs inside their cartridges, which are widely thought to be superior to other styles of cartridges because water flows between two ceramic discs which shear the water off as they are moved together to close and stop the water. This is a very effective way to stop water flow, and tends to leak less.

Compression-style faucets use cylindrical coarsely threaded stems with a rubber washer attached with a screw at the bottom of the stem. The stem threads through a retaining nut that keeps the stem in place. By turning the handle of the stem, the washer at the bottom of the stem compresses against a metal (brass or stainless steel) seat. The seat is located directly below the stem at the inlet of the valve. When the rubber washer completely and tightly covers the seat the water flow is sealed off.

Compression-style faucets are now mostly considered "old school" and many manufacturers of residential faucets have phased them out of production. There is often more wear and tear on the stems and the washers usually need to be replaced within two or three years. Quarter or half turn cartridges provide a quality product that will last the consumer much longer before needing to be serviced. However, since compression-style faucets were sold for such a long period of time, your faucet could be one.

Additionally, many commercial faucet companies still use compression-style faucets because compression-style faucets allow a fuller flow of water through the valve as they are less restrictive than quarter or half turn cartridges. Some commercial faucets are capable of flowing water at 37 gallons per minute at 80 psi.

Step Five: Remove the internal working parts. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE ORDER IN WHICH YOU REMOVE THE INTERNAL FAUCET PARTS. We cannot stress this enough. Many faucet repair kits don't come with instructions specific to your individual faucet model, and if you don't put the components back in the same order, you may have bigger problems later on. We suggest taking notes, or maybe even taking a quick photo of your faucet with the handles off or a series of photos as you remove the components.

If you have a cartridge, then you will just pull the cartridge straight out. Ceramic disc cartridges can usually be cleaned and the rubber seals at the bottom replaced and the cartridge reinserted for prolonged service. However, if you replace the rubber seals and reinsert the cartridge and find your faucet is still leaking then you will usually need to purchase an entire new replacement cartridge. Sometimes the ceramic discs can be scratched by fine sand or grit in the water causing them to leak.

If you are removing the retaining nut and the stem is threaded through and attached to the retaining nut, then you have a compression-style faucet and the stem will have a washer screwed to the bottom of it. Once you have removed the stem, examine the threads, any o-rings or packing washers, and the rubber washer at the bottom of the stem. As long as the metal retaining ring for the washer is in good condition, then just the washer can be replaced. If the metal retaining ring is not in good condition, then the entire stem will need to be replaced.

With ball assembly faucets, once the top cap is removed, the cam will be exposed. The cam is the plastic piece with the lever poking through it. Remove the cam, cam washer, and control lever ball assembly. Examine the control ball - if it is damaged or scratched, you will need to replace it. If not, you'll just need to replace the rubber valve seats and springs, and maybe the o-rings.

Step Six: Find your replacement parts. It's best if you remove the parts and bring them to a plumbing supply store, rather than buy replacement parts before you take the faucet apart and risk having to return them if they're the wrong ones. You can look for the parts yourself if repair kits are on a wall display, or you can ask a sales person for help. In either case, don't leave the store until you are sure the parts in your hand match those that you brought in. It also helps to know the make of the faucet you're trying to repair, or show the sales person your photos.

Step Seven: Reassemble the faucet using the replacement parts. Here's where your pictures or notes come in handy - all you really need to do is put everything on in the same order you took it off. Remember to coat your o-rings with plumber's grease (usually included in most repair kits), and just take your time getting everything put back together. Make sure each piece fits properly before you continue.

Step Eight: Turn the water supply back on and check for leaks. If your faucet isn't leaking anymore, move on to the next step. If you're still experiencing a problem and you didn't replace ALL of the components, you might want to consider going back and replacing the ones you didn't replace before. If you DID replace all of the components, you may need to call in a plumber or replace the entire faucet.

Step Nine: Congratulate yourself! You did it. Your faucet no longer leaks. You just saved yourself some money on your water bill, and helped to conserve our most precious natural resource - fresh drinking water. You're awesome.

Faucet Repair Related Items:

Please Note: The information provided here is intended to offer a basic knowledge of plumbing related repairs. This information is general and may not suit all applications. If you are at all unsure of your abilities to complete one of these projects, please consult a licensed professional plumber or contractor. Always remember to check with local code authorities before beginning any project.

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