Repair a Leaky Faucet

Water drips from a leaking faucet.
What You'll Need
Screwdrivers, standard and Phillips
Electrical tape
Seat dressing tool
Manufacturer's instruction sheet
Packing nut
Seat wrench
Silicone grease or petroleum jelly
Silicone rubber sealant or pipe compound
Faucet washers
Brass screws
Repair kit
Disc assembly

Faucets are sold in many different makes and models, but the common ones fall into only two basic kinds of types: washer-type (or compression) faucets and washerless faucets. As a result, repairs for most different faucets can be approached using the same steps.

Repair a Leaky Washer Faucet

Turn off the water at the shutoff valve or at the main house shutoff valve, and turn off the hot water supply at the water heater. Then, disassemble the faucet by removing the handle and loosening the Phillips-head screw beneath the decorative cap in the center of the handle. The cap either unscrews or snaps off.

Pad the pliers with electrical tape to protect the finish of your faucet, and lift or pry the handle from its broached stem. Unscrew the packing nut beneath the handle next to expose the rest of the stem. Remove the stem by rotating it until it threads out; however, you can reinstall the handle if you have difficulty turning it. Clean the faucet cavity, but do not use harsh abrasives or a file.

Examine the stem. If the threads are damaged, replace them with identical parts. You can find a match by taking the old parts to the store with you. An employee should be able to help you even if you cannot find it on your own. If the washer is worn, simply replacing it should stop the drip. Replace both the washer and the brass screw in this case.

The washer seat is located inside the faucet body. Faucets that require frequent washer replacement usually have a damaged seat, so if the washer is wearing down too quickly, either reface the washer seat with a seat-dressing tool or replace it. Fortunately, seat-dressing tools are inexpensive because every washer-type faucet needs one. Use the tool according to the manufacturer's directions, placing it in the faucet along with the packing nut. Then rotate it until the seat is smooth, and clean the chips after. Look closely to see whether the faucet you are working on has been designed with either a four-sided or six-sided hole. If so, it is replaceable. If the seat simply has a round hole through its center and no slots, it is not replaceable. In that case, you must dress it.

You will use a faucet seat wrench to replace the washer seat. These wrenches come with a combination of square and hex heads to fit most seats. Turn the washer seat counterclockwise to loosen it and turn it clockwise to tighten it. Add silicone rubber sealant (RTV) or pipe joint compound around the threads of the seat before you install it to make it easier to remove during future repairs.

You must install the correct faucet washer as well. A swiveling washer is preferable. To install the washer, file the shoulder off the end of the stem and drill out the threads of the screw hole. Instead of rubbing against the seat as it closes, a swiveling washer closes with a frictionless action.

Reassemble the parts in reverse order of the disassembly. Apply petroleum jelly or silicone grease on the threads of the stem to lubricate the faucet.

If the faucet leaks around the stem, install new packing. Wrap a single turn of packing around the stem beneath the packing nut. Use three complete wraps for string-type packing. For O-ring stems, replace the O-ring with a matching one to stop leaks. Hand tighten the packing nut, then tighten it by another half-turn.

Repair Noisy Faucets

A noisy washer faucet is usually caused by a loose seat washer. If the washer is loose, tighten it or replace it to stop the noise.

Once the stem has been threaded into the faucet, wiggle it up and down. If it moves, then you know that the stem is worn. The faucet must be replaced. Likewise, faucets are sometime noisy because of poor design and construction. In that case, you must replace the entire faucet.

Washer Faucets for Baths and Showers

To disassemble a bath/shower faucet, first turn off the water. Then take the faucet apart by removing not only its handle, but also the escutcheon and packing nut. Renewable seat that can be smoothed with a seat-dressing tool or removed and replaced with a seat wrench are sometimes part of bath and shower faucets.

Washerless Faucets

Washerless faucets on tubs and showers are repaired the same way as those on sinks and washbasins. A leak in a washerless faucet usually indicates that the working parts need to be replaced. Repair kits usually have the necessary parts. Follow the instructions on the repair kit's label for an easy time.

Diaphragm Faucets

Diaphragm faucets are washerless; however, they are similar to washer-type faucets. A rubber diaphragm between the stem and seat creates a straight-down, frictionless close. Diaphragm faucets have two handles.

Follow the steps outlined for washer-type faucets to remove the stems. Instead of a washer, you'll find a swiveling disc at the end of the stem. If the rubber diaphragm doesn't slide out with the stem, then it’s been left in the faucet and you will need to use pliers to peel the diaphragm from inside. Install a new diaphragm around the swiveling disc, then replace the stem in the faucet. If the faucet is leaking around the stem, replace the O-ring before reinstalling the stem.

Disc Faucets

Disc faucets have up to two handles which are controlled by openings in the discs. When the discs are rotated to align, the water flows; when the discs are misaligned, the water stops. If the discs wear, a leak will spring, and turning the handles harder will not stop it.

For leaks in two-handle disc faucets, turn off the water and remove the handle on the side that's leaking. Use pliers to pull the disc assembly from the faucet. Beneath the disc unit is the seat assembly, or seal. Replacing this special O-ring may repair the leak.

Install a new disc assembly for faucets which have been used over a long period of time. In this case, all moving parts of the faucet are going to be replaced. They should last as long as the original discs did, if not longer.

To repair a leaking single-handle disc, turn off both the hot and cold water. Then, remove the handle to expose the disc assembly. Remove the screws and lift the assembly from the faucet. Water could be leaking between the unit and one of the O-ring seals. In that case, you may be able to stop the leak by cleaning the disc assembly and faucet body before installing a new set of seals. If that doesn't work, the entire disc unit must be replaced.

To replace the unit, apply three O-rings into their recesses at the bottom of the disc unit. Then install the unit and tighten the screws. Finally, replace the handle.

Single Level Ball Faucets

Single-handle faucets with a ball to control the hot and cold water flow can leak at the spigot and at the handle. Handle leaks are usually caused by improper adjusting-ring tension, so you'll just need to adjust the tension to stop the leak. Leaks at the handle can also result from a worn cam gasket while drips are usually caused by worn assemblies.

Ball faucet parts are available in kits. Use the complete kit to replace all working parts of the faucet at the same time. The kit must at least have a spanner/hex wrench.

Without turning the water off, loosen the handle set screw and slide the handle from its stem. To repair a handle leak, use the spanner wrench to tighten the adjusting collar. Turn the wrench clockwise until the faucet doesn't leak.

If the adjustment is too loose, the faucet will continue to leak, but if you turn it too tight, the handle will be difficult to operate. In the event that the adjusting ring cannot be turned with the wrench, then you know it is corroded, and you must remove the cap to free the adjusting ring. Turn the water off before removing the cap, apply oil to the threads, and remove ring. Clean all parts before reassembling the unit.

For leaking spigots, you will need to install new rubber seats and springs. Unscrew the chrome cap by turning it counterclockwise. If it turns with difficulty, wrap electrical tape around the cap and turn it with pliers again to avoid scratching the finish. The adjusting ring, which is threaded into the cap's center, will come off with it.

For a seats/springs replacement, pull the ball from its stem. Locate the rubber seats and springs inside the faucet body, remove them with pliers or your fingers, and install the new ones. The springs go into the holes first and then the cupped sides of the seats fit over the springs.

Either clean the ball or replace it with a new one. Both plastic and brass balls are available, but plastic balls are best for homes with hard water. Replace the ball and cam with the slot in the side.

Ensure that the tab slips down the notch. Misaligning the tab and notch is the primary cause of future leaks. Attach the cap and adjust the ring as described in step two. If a properly adjusted ball faucet still leaks at the cap, then you must replace the cam and gasket.

Water leaking from the base of this type of faucet means that you need to install new O-rings. Take apart the spout, and remove the nut with a wrench or pliers. Pull the spout up and side-to-side to remove it. The O-rings should now be visible. Clean scales that appear on the spout base, faucet body, and inside the swinging spout. Afterward, simply install the new O-rings.

Cartridge Faucets

A type of faucet that is manufactured with only one part that moves is called a cartridge faucet. The water is controlled by a sliding stem which rotates to regulate the flow of water. To repair a leak, you'll need to replace the cartridge.

Turn off the water and remove the cartridge. Next, look for a retainer clip at the rear of the faucet. It should be noted that on some faucets, the swing spout must come off first. The retainer clip may also be hiding beneath the handle inside a lift-out tube, and some cartridge faucets use two retainer clips; the first will be located near the handle and the second at the cartridge. Use a screwdriver to pry the retainer clips. Once the retainer clip is removed, the cartridge simply pulls out. Install the new cartridge by pushing it into place. If you use a lubricant on the cartridge, make sure it's silicone grease.

Information in this article has been furnished by the National Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors.