How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

A leaky faucet is surely an irritating, wasteful problem but is often simple to correct. Every drop or dribble means another cent down the drain, and you can solve it all using common tools and some basic parts. Follow along in this comprehensive guide to learn how to identify the type of faucet, diagnose the problem, and fix the leak. Armed with the knowledge of what type of faucet you have and the proper tools you’ll need for the job, and carefully considering step-by-step instructions, you’ll save money, avoid wasting water, and rid yourself of the annoyance of a dripping faucet.

Understanding Faucet Types

Before fixing a leaky faucet, you must identify the type of faucet to determine what you have.

Compression Faucets

In comparison, compression faucets are the oldest and thus operate with hot and cold handles that are separate. They have a compression stem that rises and drops to open and close the valve. This type of faucet is found in older homes and can be identified by its two handles and the need to turn the handles several times to open or close the water flow completely. Leaks usually are from the rubber washers or seals in the faucet wearing out over time, making such a repair familiar.

Ball Faucets

Similar to disc faucets, these have a single handle and are used, especially in kitchens. The cap of these faucets looks like a ball, and it moves within a housing to control the flow and temperature of the water. This sort of faucet has so many small parts, such as springs, O-rings, and seals, that wear out after a long time and may start leaking. These faucets are versatile and can manage both the temperature and the flow with one hand, but their complexity can make repairs more challenging.

Cartridge Faucets

Cartridge faucets can be either single-handle or double-handle. They use a cartridge that moves up and down or in and out to regulate flow and temperature. The cartridge is a cylindrical piece that can be easily replaced if damaged. As mentioned, cartridge faucets are simple and sturdy in nature. Symptoms of a malfunctioning cartridge include difficulty adjusting the water temperature and drip from the spout.

Ceramic Disk Faucets

Ceramic disk faucets are designed for durability and extended run usage. They have a vast cylindrical body operated by a single lever over a vast cylindrical body. Inside are a pair of ceramic disks that control the flow of water. These faucets are durable because of the ceramic disks; these are the most minor worn-out parts. If the seals or disks get damaged, they will cause a leak. Most times, these are more expensive, but over time, they require a minimal amount of maintenance.

How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

Scroll down to get your hands on the detailed instructions on how to fix a leaky faucet, along with different repair techniques for different types of faucet installations.

Tools and Materials Needed

Before you start, gather the following tools and materials:

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Screwdrivers (flathead and Phillips)
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Utility knife
  • Replacement parts (O-rings, cartridges, washers)
  • Plumber’s grease
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Soft scouring pad
  • Duct tape

These tools and materials will make repairs easier and faster. Most faucets take different parts, and it is, hence, appropriate to establish the kind of faucet before purchasing the replacement parts.

General Preparation Steps

Regardless of the type of faucet, some preparation steps are universal:

Shut off the Water Supply

Locate the water shut-off valves under the sink, and close them. If there is no individual shut-off valve, one might need to close the house’s main water supply. This is done to ensure that no water is spilled while disconnecting the faucet.

Block the Drain

Use a rag or sink stopper to block the sink drain. This is done for small parts not to slip into the drain and get lost. This also allows easier clean-up upon completion of the repair.

Lay Out Parts in Order

As you remove parts of the faucet, lay them out in the order they came out. This technique will prevent you from forgetting how to put the faucet together and eliminate the chance of missing a part.

Protect the Finish on the Faucet

Wrap the jaws of your wrench with duct tape to keep from scratching the finish on the faucet. This is particularly important for you if you have a shiny or coated faucet that can quickly reveal scratch marks.

Fixing a Compression Faucet

Compression faucets work on rubber washers that wear with time, thereby causing leaks. This is how to fix them:

Remove the Decorative Cap

Use a small screwdriver or utility knife and use them to pry the capping on the handle, revealing the attachment screw. The decorative cap is typically a small plastic or metal cover on the handle that hides the screw.

Remove the Handle

When the screw is removed, unscrew the handle and pull it off. You’ll need either a Phillips or flathead screwdriver, depending on your design. With the handle removed, you’ll see the packing nut.

Remove the Packing Nut

unscrew the packing nut with a crescent wrench and pull out the stem from the wall. The packing nut holds the stem in position and can be wedged in relatively snugly.

Replace the Seat Washer

Unscrew the rubber washer from the bottom end of the stem. Replace it with a new washer coated with plumber’s grease. The washer creates a seal that stops water from leaking when the faucet is turned off.

Replace the O-Ring

If the leak is coming out intermittently from around the handle, it’s good to replace the O-ring with a new O-ring greased with the plumber’s grease. The O-ring seems of utmost importance as it works by sealing the handle to the faucet body, preventing the water from leaking out around the handle.

Reassemble the Faucet

This is done by reassembling the faucet in the reverse order of how it was disassembled. Tighten all parts, albeit not so much that the new washers and O-rings could be damaged. Turn on the water supply to the faucet before turning the faucet on to test for leaks.

Fixing a Ball Faucet

Ball faucets contain many small parts, so it’s no surprise that they are more prone to leaking than other type of faucets. The good thing is that fixing a ball faucet is usually an easy thing to do. You can often purchase a replacement kit, which comes with all the necessary parts.

Remove the Handle

Use a small knife to pry off the small index cover from the faucet handle. On this faucet, the screw is located inside the handle. Use a hex-key wrench to loosen the setscrew, then pull the handle off the faucet assembly. An index cover is a small, plastic disk.

Remove the Cap and Collar

Tighten an adjustable plier onto the cap and collar attached at the base of the faucet. These are protective covers for the internal workings and will likely be a little stubborn.

Remove the Cam and Ball

Remove the unique tool in the repair kit and loosen the cam; lift out the cam, washer, and rotating ball. The cam and ball control the flow of hot and cold water, but wearing those parts may mean leaks.

Replace the Seats and Springs

Use needle-nose pliers to remove the rubber seats and springs. Install new seats and springs from the repair kit. The seats and springs control the water flow and provide a seal to prevent leaks.

Reassemble the Faucet

Place the new ball back in the faucet, keyway up, and re-assemble the cam, washer, and cap. Hand tighten and then tighten with the cap a spanner wrench. Turn on the water supply to check the faucet for leaks.

Fixing a Cartridge Faucet

Cartridge faucets are relatively easy to repair. Leaks are often due to worn O-rings or a faulty cartridge.

Remove the Handle

Pry off the decorative cap, remove the handle screw, and tilt the handle back to remove it. The decorative cap is usually a small plastic or metal piece that covers the screw.

Remove the Retaining Clip

If there’s a threaded retaining clip holding the cartridge in place, use needle-nose pliers to remove it. The retaining clip holds the cartridge down and needs to be pulled off to remove the cartridge.

Remove the Cartridge

Grab the top of the cartridge and lift it straight up to remove it. You may need to twist the cartridge slightly in one direction or the other to help it pull away from the faucet body, depending on the model.

Replace the O-Rings

O-rings seal between the cartridge and the housing to prevent water from leaking around the cartridge. Carefully cut away the old O-rings with a razor knife and replace them with new ones that have been coated with the plumber’s grease.

Install the New Cartridge

If fitting the whole new cartridge, new ones can be matched in length and stem end to the old. Insert the new cartridge and lock it with a retaining clip. Ensure that the cartridge is well bottomed out to prevent leaks.

Reassemble the Faucet

Fit the handle and lock it with the screw and cap. Turn on the water supply to check for leaks at the faucet.

Fixing a Ceramic Disk Faucet

Ceramic disk faucets are among the longest-lived modern fixtures. It is very tough, but over time, the seals, the inlet and outlet seals, on them do wear out, and then you’ll start getting a little waterfall under your sink.

Remove the Handle

Push the handle back to expose the set screw. Unscrew and lift off the handle. Most set screws are located under a small cover or cap on the handle.

Remove the Escutcheon Cap

Loosen the mounting screws for the disk cylinder, and extract the cylinder from the housing. The escutcheon cap encases the faucet’s guts and must be removed to access the ceramic disks.

Replace the Seals

Extract the neoprene seals from the cylinder using a blunt screwdriver. Replace any broken seals. The seals provide a watertight barrier and eventually wear out.

Clean the Openings

De-scale the cylinder holes using distilled white vinegar and a soft scouring pad, then rinse thoroughly. This process removes mineral deposits that can cause leaks.

Reassemble the Faucet

Install the seals back on, reassemble the faucet, and turn the water on slowly to prevent any water damage on the ceramic disk. Test the faucet by turning on the water supply until it drips and check for leaks.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Here are some common problems associated with a leaky faucet, and the simple ways to troubleshoot the same.

Persistent Leaks

When dealing with constant dripping from your faucet, it is important to look beyond the simple fixes involving worn washers, O-rings, or cartridges. At times, the culprit is a damaged valve seat, which is a part that actually can wear out eventually, leading to constant dripping. In such situations, replacing the faucet parts won’t do any good but rather leaves you with the option of changing the whole faucet to fix the faucet. You also have to be very specific in changing their parts according to the model of your faucet. Incorrect or non-matching ones may further damage the whole case and thus bring the need for more repair, which is quite costly.

Low Water Pressure

One of the most common problems with weak water pressures is a plugged aerator. An aerator sits at the far end of the faucet spout. Removing this aerator and cleaning it can adequately resolve issues with water flow. Another common issue is a deposit of minerals in different parts of the faucet. The faucet parts can be soaked in distilled white vinegar to clear these deposits. If the clog is worse than superficial, you may need to take the faucet apart to get in and clean or replace some parts.

Water Stains and Mineral Buildup

Wipe the faucet dry using a soft cloth and mild soap, and avoid abrasive cleaners that can wear down the finish. You may need to take a stricter approach to existing mineral deposits. This can work wonders: Soaking the affected parts in vinegar can be highly effective. Wrap the parts in a cloth soaked in vinegar or a bag soaked in vinegar as an overnight solution to dissolve the buildup so it can be removed more efficiently, while also leaving your faucet free from unsightly stains and deposits.

Preventive Maintenance

Check any possible wear and tear in your faucet, such as leaks, corrosion, or any visible sign of deterioration. Replacing parts worn as soon as the problem is discovered, rather than waiting for the faucet to begin leaking, will prevent more severe issues and prolong your faucet’s life. Before reassembling, the plumber’s grease must be applied to the O-rings and other movable parts to allow smooth operation and prevent leaks.

When to Call a Professional

Complex leaks, where the source of the problem is difficult to identify or fix may require expert attention. On top of that, if you have an expensive faucet or something elaborate that needs particular parts or tools to fix, you should have it done professionally to prevent damaging the faucet part. Ultimately, if a repair involves closing the main water supply and you’re uncomfortable doing it, it is best to bring in a professional.

Practicing regular maintenance and on-time repair will keep your faucets in working condition for years on end. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific faucet model, and do not hesitate to seek professional help.