The first step in fixing a leaking or sluggish faucet is identifying which of the two basic types of faucets you're dealing with.
- Compression Faucet - Older design with two handles and one.
- Washerless Faucet - More recent design, usually with a single lever or knob that controls the flow and mix of hot and cold water by aligning interior openings with the water inlets. These faucets may be one of several type: disc, valve, ball, or cartridge. Because models vary with the manufacturer, it's important to get identical replacement parts.
Professional Faucet Tips
- When you're taking the faucet apart, douse stubborn connections with penetrating oil before trying to loosen them with a wrench. Tape-wrap the wrench's jaws to prevent marring visible parts of the fixture.
- Before starting any faucet repair, plug the sink so small parts can't fall down the drain.
- Line the sink with a towel to prevent damage from tools or parts accidentally dropped.
- As you disassemble the faucet, line up the pieces in the order that you remove them so you can put them back together properly.
- CAUTION: Before you work on a faucet, turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valves or the main shutoff valve and open the faucet to drain the pipes.
Leaking Compression Faucets
If your faucet has separate hot and cold water handles, it's probably a compression faucet (also called a stem or washer faucet). In this faucet, a rubber seat washer is secured to the stem, which has very coarse threads on the outside. When you turn the handle to shut off the faucet, the stem is screwed down, compressing the washer against the valve seat in the faucet body. The stem is secured by a packing nut, which compresses the packing (twine, a washer, or an O-ring) and prevents water from leaking around the stem.
- If water leaks around the handle, tighten the packing nut. If that fails, replace the packing.
- If the faucet leaks from the spout, either a washer is defective or a valve seat is badly corroded.
- To find out which side needs work, turn off the shutoff valves one at a time; the leak will stop when one or the other is turned off.
- Take off the handle, remove the stem, and either replace the washer or replace or recondition the valve seat.
Taking the Faucet Apart
- With the handle removed, lift off the stem and packing nuts by turning the nuts counterclockwise with an adjustable-end wrench or a pair of rib-joint pliers. (Be careful not to strip the nuts).
- Unscrew the stem, lifting it straight out of the faucet body.
- Examine the threads.
- If they're damaged or worn, replace the stem; if not, check the packing for wear.
Replacing the Packing and Washer
- To replace the worn packing either remove the O-ring o packing washer and slide on an exact duplicate, or scrape off the twine and wrap new twine clockwise around the stem.
- To replace a cracked or worn seat washer, remove the screw and washer; install a duplicate washer. If the threads are too worn to hold a screw, snap in a swivel washer.
Working On the Valve Seat
- To replace a removable valve seat that's pitted or corroded, insert a seat wrench into the valve seat and turn it counterclockwise until the seat lifts out. The new valve seat should be an exact duplicate. Coat the threads of the new seat with pipe joint compound before installing it.
- To recondition a non-removable valve seat, grind down its burrs with a seat dresser, an inexpensive tool you can buy from a plumbing supply dealer. Insert and turn clockwise once or twice until the seat is smooth; remove metal filings with a damp cloth.
Cleaning Your Faucet Aerator
If the flow from your faucet is sluggish, the trouble may be in the faucet aerator. This device, at the tip of most faucet spouts, mixes air and water for a smooth flow. But minerals or dirt particles in the water often build up on the screen and disc, blocking the flow. If mineral deposits are to blame or if aerator parts are damaged, it's best to replace the aerator. If dirt is the problem, follow these steps:
- Unscrew the aerator from the end of the spout.
- To loosen stubborn connections, douse them with penetrating oil.
- Disassemble and set the parts aside in order.
- Clean the screen and disc with a brush and soapy water.
- Use a pin or toothpick to open any clogged holes in the disc.
- Flush all the parts with water before putting them back together.
Leaking Valve Faucets
A valve faucet has a valve assembly on each side (one for hot water, one for cold) through which water flows up and out the spout. Moving the handle from side to side controls the mix, moving forward and backward controls the flow.
- The main problems you may encounter with a valve faucet are spout leaks, loose handle assemblies, and sluggish flow.
- A leak at the base of the spout may be due to a faulty spout O-Ring.
- If the spout drips, you may need to replace one or more of the valve assembly parts.
- If the handle is loose, a simple adjustment to the handle screw or carn assembly at the back of the faucet can remedy it.
- If sluggish flow is the problem, the strainers or aerator may be clogged with sediment and need cleaning.
Leaking Ball Faucets
In a ball faucet, water flows when openings in the rotating all align with hot and cold water inlets in the faucet body.
- If water leaks from under the handle, leave the water on and tighten the adjusting ring.
- If the leak persists, turn off the water and replace the carn.
- For a dripping spout, replace the inlet seals and springs or the all.
- Cure any leaks around the spout sleeve by replacing the O-Rings on the faucet body.
Leaking Cartridge Faucets
A cartridge faucet has a series of holes in the stem-and-cartridge assembly that align to control the mix and flow of water. Usually, leaks occur because of worn O-Rings or a faulty cartridge.
- Look at the O-Rings on the faucet body. If they're in good shape, remove the cartridge (look under the spout sleeve on the outside of the faucet for the retainer clip that holds the cartridge in place).
- If the cartridge is worn, replace it with a duplicate.
- Cartridges vary, so read the manufacturer's instructions before installing a new one. The most common type has a flat side that must face front. Otherwise, the hot and cold water supply will be reversed.
- Be sure to fit the retainer clip snugly into its slot.
Like sink faucets, tub faucets can be compression style or washerless. To take apart any style tub faucet, pry off the cap, unscrew the handle, and remove the escutcheon. In a compression faucet, you'll see the stem and packing nut. You may need to use a deep-socket wrench to grip and loosen a recessed packing nut. To repair a washerless tub faucet, remove the stop tube and draw out the retainer clip to get at the cartridge.