How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

No one likes to hear the drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet. That sound means water—and often money—is being wasted. Just one faucet leaking 20 drips per minute will consume a gallon of water a day. And all those drips will quickly increase the water bill for those “lucky” enough to be on public water.

Those trying to avoid the extra expense of a plumber’s bill can save money by fixing the leak themselves. With the correct tools, most homeowners can remedy most faucet leaks. It’s true that most of the necessary tools can be found in a typical toolbox. They include a crescent wrench, adjustable pliers, needle nose pliers, flat head screwdriver, Phillips head screwdriver, and an Allen wrench in the correct size. This project will also require a rag, plumber’s grease, and latex gloves to wear when applying grease, if you wish.

Essential First Steps to Fixing the Leak

No matter what type of faucet is leaking, the first step is always to turn off the water supply to that faucet. There should be a water turnoff valve under the sink along the water supply line. Older homes may not have turnoff valves to each faucet. In that case, water supply to the entire house must be turned off.

Once the water supply has been turned off, turn the faucet on and let all the water drain out. Close the drain and cover it with a cloth so that no screws or small pieces fall down it while repairing the faucet.

Nearby, lay out another rag onto which any faucet screws and parts can be placed—in the order they are removed—so you do not lose any.

Identifying Faucet Types

The next step is determining which type of faucet you have that is leaking. There are four main types of valves: compression, cartridge, ball, and ceramic disc. Each is named for their water flow control mechanism, and these differences dictate different repair methods.

Compression is the oldest type of faucet and usually has two handles—one for hot and one for cold. Compression faucets use a rubber washer to control water flow. If turning the water off requires more than just a half turn of the handle, the faucet is probably compression.

Cartridge faucets control water flow using a cartridge with a rubber O-ring. These faucets can be single or double handle. If double, cartridge faucet handles will only need to be rotated about a half turn to stop water flow.

Ball faucets have a single handle that can be rocked back, forward, and side to side to adjust water flow and temperature. They use a ball, O-rings, and a few springs to control water flow.

Ceramic disc (or disk) faucets also have a single handle to adjust water temperature and flow. They use two perfectly polished ceramic discs that separate to allow water to flow and press tightly together to stop the water flow.

Compression Faucet Repair

Compression faucets have two handles, and either one could be causing the leak. To find out which is the culprit, turn off the hot water supply line first, and if the leak is still happening, then the cold handle must be faulty. If you’re unable to tell which handle is defective, you’ll need to repair both. Here’s what to do to disassemble the faucet:

  1. Use a flathead screwdriver to pry off the decorative cover on the top of the handle (if there is one).
  2. Next, use a Phillips head screwdriver to unscrew and remove the handle, revealing the inner stem.
  3. Lastly, use a wrench to twist off the packing nut that holds the stem in place—your needle nose pliers will then be employed to pull out the stem.

If the stem has hard water mineral deposits on it, soak the entire stem in a bowl of vinegar and brush it clean before proceeding.

The base of the stem has a rubber washer secured with a brass screw. You will need to remove that screw and replace the old washer with a new one. Replace the O-ring near the base of the stem, as well, and then coat both the new washer and new ring with a dab of plumber’s grease.

Reinsert the stem back into the hole, called a valve seat, from which it was extracted and replace all the nuts and covers in the reverse order of their removal. Once the handles have been reinstalled, open the water flow valve, and slowly turn on the faucet.

Cartridge Faucet Repair

Cartridge faucet handles often have set screws holding them in place. To disassemble the faucet:

  1. Use an Allen wrench to remove these tiny hollow screws and place them on the rag, making sure they don’t roll away.
  2. Lift off the handle, revealing the cartridge. Note that some cartridges are held in place with a clip.
  3. Use needle nose pliers to pull out this clip and then pull out the cartridge.

Rather than simply cleaning the cartridge and replacing its O-rings, it is recommended that the entire cartridge be replaced. Replacement cartridges can be found at any hardware store. It is best to take the old one along to ensure you’re buying the correct replacement.

Once you have the right part, insert the new cartridge, secure it with a clip if there was one, and reinstall the handles. Last, test by turning on the water supply and opening the faucet.

Ball Faucet Repair

Ball faucets have a few more parts to keep track of, making their repair a little more challenging than the others. Like with other faucets, disassembly begins by removing the handle, which will be held on to the base by either a set screw or Phillips head. Next:

  1. Beneath the handle, there will be both a cap and collar that must be unscrewed—do this using a wrench or adjustable pliers.
  2. Once the cap and collar are removed, pull out the ball unit, exposing two water inlets. Each inlet has its own seal and spring. Use needle nose pliers to remove these.

With ball faucets, you will need to replace all washers, O-rings, and seals, making sure they have been coated with a little plumber’s grease, and then replace both springs. After you’ve done this, reinsert the ball, being careful to line it up correctly with the inlets.

Finish by replacing all the other items that were removed. Once the water has been turned back on, slowly open the faucet to full force.

Ceramic Disc Faucet Repair

It’s true that ceramic disc faucets are so well-designed that they rarely develop leaks. But when they do, you will usually need to replace the entire disc cylinder with a new one. Disassemble in this way:

  1. Remove the handle using the appropriate screwdriver, which will expose a cap.
  2. Use a wrench to remove the cap and then use a screwdriver to remove the disc cylinder. Be sure to keep track of the screws that have been removed!

Assuring that you have the correct replacement disc cylinder, change out the faulty one and then put the faucet back together by reversing the steps above.

Make sure the faucet handle is in the off position before opening the water lines. Once the water lines are open, slowly turn on the faucet. Too much water pressure on a newly installed cylinder can crack ceramic discs.

When to Call a Plumber

Have you tried the DIY route to fix your faucet leak, but have had no success? This is when it’s time to call a professional residential plumber. Of course, if you’re short on time or who just don’t want to bother with shopping for replacement parts and tearing your kitchen or bathroom faucet apart, skipping the above tutorial and picking up the phone instead will be the best choice for you. Professional repair of faucet leaks is surprisingly affordable and can give you the peace of mind that comes with having your problem fixed correctly the very first time.

Although leaky faucets are a wasteful problem, they can also serve as opportunities to upgrade and change out the entire faucet fixture for something more stylish and reliable. Professional plumbers can help with that as well. At Garden Spot Mechanical, we offer a full range of plumbing services in the Northern Lancaster County and Southern Lebanon County, PA area, including a 24/7 emergency service to help with the most urgent serious problems. We offer fast, professional, and efficient services that will unclog your home in a hurry—give us a call today to get all of your plumbing problems taken care of!