How to fix a leaky faucet
Faucets are some of the most frequently used items in our homes. And like anything that is used so frequently, it’s normal for kitchen faucets and bathroom faucets to wear out over time and develop a leak. But a leak is no simple matter. Even a small leak can result in gallons of wasted water each day, which not only impacts the environment but can also lead to a big surprise when your next water bill arrives.
Depending on where the leak is coming from, it can also lead to water damage and other problems in your home if not addressed quickly. If you have a leaking faucet in your home, then keep reading. This article explains how to fix most faucet leaks.
Possible causes of a leaky faucet
The first step in tackling a leak is figuring out where it’s coming from. There are many possible causes of a dripping faucet, including the following:
- Corrosion in valve seat: If the leak is coming from the spout, it could be because the valve seat is corroded. The valve seat connects the faucet to the spout and is a place where sediments and mineral deposits can build up, resulting in corrosion.
- Worn-out washer: Another source of a spout leak is the washer that rests against the valve seat. Friction from repeated use can cause the washer to erode or break, allowing water through.
- Loose O-ring: If the leak occurs near the faucet handle, a loose or damaged O-ring might be the cause. The O-ring is a rubber ring that creates a seal where the handle meets the sink.
- Water pressure changes: If the leak is intermittent, it might be the result of changes in the water pressure.
- Corroded pipes: If the leak is happening under the sink, it might be that the pipes have corroded or cracked, letting water out.
- Loose parts: Sometimes, a leak results from a simple matter of loose parts. Over time, some fittings or nuts might become loosened enough to let water through.
When determining the cause of your leaky faucet, it’s best to be systematic in your troubleshooting by following the steps described later in the article.
Tools needed to fix a leaky faucet
As you prepare to diagnose and fix your faucet leak, it’s a good idea to make sure you have all the tools and materials on hand that you might need. Common tools needed to fix a leaky faucet can be found at your local hardware store, including the following:
- Plumbing wrenches - Used for pipes
- Phillips and flathead screwdrivers - Some faucets use philips/flathead screws
- An Allen wrench set - Some faucets use allen screws
- Needle-nose pliers - Helpful for small parts/debris
- A microfiber cloth for wiping down sink parts while you work
- Towels for mopping up messes
- Other replacement parts and materials, as needed (e.g., replacement fittings)
How to fix a leaky faucet
Once you have everything you need, you can get down to the business of repairing the leak. For the sake of simplicity, this article will describe how to repair a standard compression faucet. Repair steps will differ slightly depending on your type of faucet (such as a ball faucet or a ceramic disk faucet).
You should be able to identify the source of the leak from direct observation. The water will either be dripping from the faucet spout, leaking out from the handle or dripping under the sink. Whatever the source, this is where you will target your troubleshooting and repair efforts.
Shut off the water supply
The first and most important step when fixing a leak is to shut off the water supply. Otherwise, you’re likely to get an unpleasant surprise as soon as you start loosening parts. Even though the faucet might only have a slight leak, as soon as you start taking it apart, the flow of water will spray everywhere without the faucet parts in place to control the flow.
The water shut-off valves can usually be found beneath the sink, where you will likely find two knobs: one for hot water and one for cold water. When turned, these knobs will stop the water flow for the duration of your work. After you shut off the water, you might want to turn the faucet on so that any remaining water in the system can drain out before you begin.
It’s also a good idea to place something in the sink to block the drain so that you don’t lose any small faucet parts during the process. The following sections describe in more detail how to replace different parts of the faucet as needed.
Check for loose parts
Sometimes, parts of the faucet simply become loose over time and tightening is all that is needed. After you have shut off the water supply, you can systematically inspect for loose parts in the valve, the handle and the pipes underneath the sink.
If you find loose parts, be sure to tighten them carefully so you don’t damage the sink. Turn the water back on to verify that the problem is fixed. If there is still a leak, you may need to make some replacements, as described below.
How to replace the faucet cartridge
If you have a cartridge faucet, you will find the cartridge (sometimes called the faucet stem) located beneath the handle. How you remove the handle depends on the type of sink you have, so it’s a good idea to refer to the manual if you have it on hand (you may also be able to find the manual on the manufacturer’s website).
Removing the handle may involve loosening a set screw behind the handle or underneath a decorative cap on the handle’s top. Underneath the handle, you should find the packing nut, stem or cartridge, O-ring and seat washer. These can each be removed, inspected, cleaned and replaced if needed.
To remove the cartridge, you will first need to use a wrench to unscrew the packing nut. An adjustable wrench can be used to remove the old cartridge and install the new cartridge.
How to replace the faucet seat washer
The seat washer is part of the handle located under the cartridge. After removing the handle, packing nut and cartridge, as described in the previous section, you will find the O-ring and the seat washer.
The seat washer will be underneath the O-ring, resting in a recessed disk. Make sure that if you replace the washer, you use a washer of the same size. You may also find that the place in which the washer rests is corroded or damaged. If this is the case, you may need to grind it flush and replace this section, as well.
How to replace the faucet O-ring
As described in the previous sections, the O-ring is between the washer and the cartridge. It is vital that you replace the O-ring with an O-ring of the exact same size so that you get a proper seal. Be sure to coat the new O-ring with plumber’s grease when you make this replacement.
How to replace the valve seat
Replacing the valve seat may require specialized tools, depending on your faucet’s configuration, although a plumber’s wrench is likely to do the trick. Insert the wrench into the seat on the faucet body to unscrew it. If it is stuck, you may need to apply lubricant. Once removed, you can install the new valve seat, being sure to tighten all connections as needed.
Call a service professional
Finally, if you’re unable to identify the source of the leak or are uncomfortable taking on a faucet repair by yourself, you should contact a plumber or another service professional for help. Note that situations like this are where home warranties like those offered by Cinch Home Services come in handy. You simply need to request service online or over the phone and we’ll find a qualified service professional to repair your faucet in short order.
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