How to Fix a Leaky Faucet
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Follow these steps to defeat the drip of a leaky faucet
Drip, drip, drip—those might as well be the “cha-chings” of your water bill slowly going up. A leaky bathroom or kitchen faucet is frustrating enough, but the extra expense adds insult to injury. Fret not, though, and don’t dial the plumber’s number just yet. With a few supplies and basic tools, you can likely tackle this on your own.
Difficulty: 1/5 You've got this!
Time: Approximately 1 hour
Tools and Materials Needed:
Replacement O-ring (if the handles are leaking)
Replacement seat washer (if the faucet is dripping)
Plumber’s grease (if replacing the seat washer)
Soft jaw or wrapped slip-joint pliers
Ball faucet repair kit that matches the sink brand if possible (includes O-rings, springs, and valve seats)
Allen wrench (if not included in the repair kit)
Heatproof plumber’s grease
Replacement faucet ball (if needed)
Cartridge faucet repair kit with replacement seats and seat springs (match the sink brand if possible)
Ceramic Disk Faucets:
White vinegar or calcium remover
Replacement seals (if needed)
Before you begin, it’s essential to identify what kind of faucet you’re working with. There are four types of faucets that fall into two basic categories: washer and washerless. Compression faucets are the only washer type, while the other three (cartridge, ceramic disk, and ball) are washerless. Here’s what to look for to determine which type you have.
This is a double-handled faucet that allows you to control water flow by turning the handles clockwise or counterclockwise. This “compresses” a neoprene or rubber washer, creating (or releasing) a watertight seal. Activating these requires a little bit of elbow grease, as the compression mechanism needs pressure to work. Due to the inevitable breakdown of its flexible material, the washer is often to blame when these types of faucets leak.
A popular option for kitchen sinks, ball faucets are single-handled with a “ball” joint that rotates in all directions and controls water temperature and pressure. The internal ball has slots, which control the mixing of cold and hot water. Although these aren’t as prone to leaks as compression faucets, their moving parts tend to give way over time.
Cartridge faucets can be single- or double-handled, with a cylindrical metal “cartridge” that moves to open or cover holes, starting and stopping the water flow respectively. This cartridge also rotates to control how hot or cold the water is. Two-handled cartridge faucets can look like a compression faucet, but they are much easier and smoother to turn since there is no “compression” mechanism to activate. These are a common choice for a bathroom faucet.
This is a single-handled faucet with the most modern, reliable design—the latest and greatest in faucet technology. It features a cylindrical body topped with a single lever that controls water flow and temperature. An inner chamber houses both cold and hot water, and two ceramic disks control the proportion of each. These disks have corresponding holes that match up as you turn the water from hot to cold, determining how the temperatures will mix.
The great thing about ceramic disk faucets is that they rarely, if ever, need repairs. Soaking the faucet parts in vinegar or calcium remover to remove buildup will usually solve any leaking issues. However, if anything goes wrong with the moving parts, you’ll need a local plumber to fix them.
Now that you’ve identified your faucet, the next crucial step is to hit the hot and cold water shut-off valves. Always do this before you start tinkering around the sink since the last thing you need is an accidental flood. Locate the valves—check right below the sink basin and near the back wall—and turn them clockwise until fully tightened. If this isn’t an option, you can also shut off the water main. It’s a good idea to put a bucket under the sink to catch any water that might leak out.
When a pipe bursts, you've got to act fast
Once you’ve turned off the water, turn on the faucet. This will release any leftover water before you start the repair process.
There’s nothing worse than dropping a vital piece of hardware and uttering a soft “noooooooooo” as you watch it go down the drain. Prevent potential tragedy—or at least an extra trip to the hardware store—by plugging the drain with either a stopper or a rag.
Most faucets have a cap that you'll need to pop off to access the screw that secures the handle to the valve stem. Use a corresponding screwdriver to loosen the screws and remove the handle(s) from the faucet.
For ball faucets, find the set screw on the underside of the handle and loosen it with an Allen wrench until you can lift off the handle.
Once you’ve removed the handles, you’ll need to disassemble and examine the faucet parts. Some components will often require replacement, especially those made of rubber or other flexible materials. If there is calcium buildup, soaking them in vinegar or calcium remover should do the trick. Here’s how to disassemble each type of faucet.
Use a wrench to remove the nut and expose the stem, which sits atop the seat washer.
Pull out the stem to expose the O-ring, which will be thinner than the seat washer.
If the leak was coming from the faucet’s handles, examine the O-ring and find a replacement at the hardware store if needed.
Remove the washer, which is typically held in place by an upside-down screw.
Take the old washer to the hardware store to find an exact replacement.
Coat the new washer in plumber’s grease before placing it where the old one was.
Reassemble the parts.
For ball faucets, the repair method depends on where the leak is coming from. If the base of your faucet leaks, try this:
Use a spanner wrench to tighten the collar, working clockwise.
Replace the handle and turn the water back on to test for leaks.
If that doesn’t work, shut off the water again and remove the handle.
Remove the spout to examine the O-rings.
Pry out any worn O-rings with the hook of the spanner wrench.
Find replacement O-rings in the repair kit and coat these in heatproof plumber’s grease.
Put the new O-rings in place using the spanner wrench.
Replace the spout and handle.
Turn on the water and test for leaks.
If your faucet has a dripping spout, do this:
Use soft jaw or wrapped slip-joint pliers to unscrew and remove the dome-shaped cap without maiming the chrome finish.
Remove the cam and the cam washer (these may be in a single piece).
Lift the ball out.
Inspect each part for damage and replace it with parts from the replacement kit if necessary.
Use the tip of a flathead screwdriver to carefully lift and remove the two rubber valve seats (take care not to damage the springs behind each valve seat).
If the valve seats seem worn, replace them with the new ones in your kit—it helps to line up the new springs and seats on your screwdriver before dropping them into place.
Press in the new valve seats firmly.
Reassemble your faucet—first the spout, then the ball, then the plastic cam and cam washer, and finally the cap.
Tighten the collar ring with your spanner wrench.
Replace the handle and screw it back in.
Remove the retaining clip with pliers if needed (this is the small, circular, threaded piece that holds the cartridge in place).
Pull the cartridge up to remove it. (Note its position and orientation for when it’s time to put it back.)
Use a small flathead screwdriver to remove the seat and seat spring.
Drop in the new seat spring.
Use your finger to push the new seat into place.
Spread plumber’s grease around the base of the cartridge.
Align the notches and push the cartridge back into the faucet.
Use a wrench to tighten the large retaining nut.
Replace the faucet handle(s).
Turn the water supply line on and test the faucet.
Remove the dome-shaped escutcheon cap, which is right beneath the handle and typically made of metal.
Unscrew the disk cylinder and remove it.
Remove the round neoprene seals on the underside of the cylinder, using the tip of a flathead screwdriver if needed.
Soak the disk cylinder in calcium remover or white vinegar for several hours.
Replace the seals if they appear worn. (Bring the old seals to the hardware store for an exact match.)
Rinse the disk cylinder and put the seals back into place.
Replace the cylinder and the faucet handle.
Turn the water supply line back on and gradually test the faucet—don’t go full force, as this may crack the disk.
If these repairs don’t work, you may need to replace the faucet altogether. Luckily, DIY faucet replacement is a relatively straightforward process, especially since you’re basically a faucet expert at this point.
If you invested a lot of cash in your faucet, or if you believe the leak is coming from a larger plumbing problem, contact a local plumbing repair technician. As with any DIY vs. hiring a pro dilemma, springing for a licensed professional will save you time and effort, as well as prevent any potential damage.
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