How to Fix a Leaky Faucet
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The Spruce / Kevin Norris
A leaky, dripping faucet can be annoying enough to keep you awake at night. And it's not just that: A dripping faucet can waste an incredible amount of water. One drip each second can waste up to 3,000 gallons per year. That's enough to fill close to 40 bathtubs.
Leaks can stain sink surfaces, corrode drains, tax plumbing lines, waste energy (when the leak is hot water), and generally do nothing good for you or your home.
Fortunately, most leaky faucets can be repaired by a do-it-yourselfer—with no need to call in a plumber.
Faucets either have sink cartridges or compression valves that open and close to control the flow of water. Most faucet leaks are the result of worn cartridges or worn stem assembly washers. Replacing these parts cures most faucet leaks.
Single- and double-faucet handle faucets often contain sink cartridges hidden under the faucet handles that control the flow of water. Made of plastic and metal, sink cartridges are self-contained and cannot be repaired—but they can be removed and replaced on a one-for-one basis.
Since sink cartridges are specific to the brand and model of faucet, you'll need to purchase the exact type of cartridge for your bathroom or kitchen faucet.
Another style of faucet is the compression valve faucet. Common in older homes, compression faucets shut off the water when the faucet handle is turned, thus compressing a stem washer located within the assembly.
This soft rubber or silicone washer will slowly wear down. No matter how hard you tighten the faucet, the water never quite shuts off all the way.
Replacing the stem washer is usually the cure for this type of leak. This is a simple, inexpensive fix that takes care of most compression faucet leaks.
Compression valve stem washers are usually sold in inexpensive kits that have an assortment of 10 to 15 washers and screws of various sizes. This allows you to use the washer and screw that fits your faucet.
Turn off the water to the faucet at its closest point: directly below the sink. Open the cabinet door to locate the two braided water supply lines and two shut-off valves. Shut off each line individually by turning the knob or lever clockwise until it is tight.
If the water does not shut off completely, turn off the main water shut-off valve to the entire house. This valve is often located on the inside perimeter of the home on the side facing the street.
After shutting off the water and plugging the sink drain, remove the faucet handle. Often, there is an Allen (or hex) screw located on the side or back of the handle. Insert the end of the Allen key into the screw and turn counter-clockwise. Remove the screw and set it safely aside.
Lift the handle straight up to remove it.
A thin retaining nut holds the sink cartridge in place. Clamp the adjustable pliers around the retaining nut. Turn counter-clockwise to loosen the nut. Turn out the nut the rest of the way by hand.
Grab the top of the sink cartridge and pull it up to remove it. You may need to gently wiggle the cartridge to first loosen it before removing it.
With your finger, apply a small amount of silicone faucet grease to the body of the replacement faucet cartridge.
Align the tabs of the replacement cartridge with the slots on the faucet. Slide the cartridge straight down until it fully seats. With the wrench, apply the retaining nut.
Install the faucet handle again with the Allen key and the Allen screw.
Turn on the water supply valves. Let the faucet run for about a minute, then turn it off again. Check for leaks.
After shutting off the water and stopping up the drain, remove the faucet handle either with the Allen key or with a Phillips-head screwdriver. Some faucets may have a decorative cap over the screw. Remove this cap with a flat-head screwdriver or the edge of a utility knife. Unscrew the handle and set it and its screw aside.
The valve stem assembly may have a cover over it, which you remove by unscrewing the knob with pliers.
Once the cover is removed (or if it was never there), with pliers, grip the hex head of the valve stem assembly. Screw counter-clockwise to remove it.
Note that the hex screw head is integrated into the valve stem assembly. It is not a separate retaining nut.
Use the Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the screw holding the stem washer in place.
With your fingernail or the edge of the utility knife, pick the stem washer out of the valve stem assembly.
Firmly place the new stem washer on the valve stem assembly. Screw the washer screw over the top.
Replace the valve cover (if applicable). Attach the handle. Add any decorative caps over the top.
Turn on the water again below the sink and let it run for about a minute. Turn off the faucet and check for leaks.
Faucets that are more than 10 to 20 years old may have other issues. Much like an old car, the faucet will work for a while until yet another section of it breaks down. Eventually, it's easier and less expensive to buy a new one.
Leaky faucet repairs should take a half-hour or up to an hour. You shouldn't be spending hours working on your bathroom or kitchen faucet. If it's over an hour and you're still working on your faucet, you may want to consider replacing it instead.
Balance the cost of the repairs against the cost of replacement. An inexpensive faucet may not be worth repairing unless you only need to replace a few washers. Expensive faucets usually are worth repairing.
The cost of the faucet cartridge is usually the determining factor, since this is the most expensive part. Most faucet cartridges cost from $10 to $50, with a few cartridges in the $50 to $100 range.
Faucets are mechanical devices that see constant use, so they don't last forever. If you cannot repair the dripping faucet on your own, it's usually time to pull it out and replace it with a new faucet.
Plumbers can repair most leaky faucets, plus they can replace faucets if necessary. While bathroom and kitchen faucets can generally be repaired or replaced by most homeowners, plumbers can step in and do the job instead if it is cumbersome or complicated.
Plumbers—especially emergency plumbers—can be expensive, even for the short amount of time needed to repair a faucet. Before making a call, weigh the cost of the plumber against the cost of purchasing a new faucet.
"Fix a Leak Week." United States Environmental Protection Agency.
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