How to Fix a Leaking Faucet

A leaking faucet isn’t just inconvenient; it can add up to big water bills. Fixing it may seem daunting, but with the right tools and a little know-how, it’s not difficult at all.faucet repair

Shut off the water to the faucet by turning the shutoff valve under the sink or at the main supply line. Remove the faucet handle and a decorative cap, if needed, to expose a hex screw that holds the handle set. Visit for more tips.

If your faucet handles are leaking, you can save both water and money by fixing the problem. Even a small leak can waste more than 300 gallons of water per year. To start, shut off the water supply valves under the sinkā€”one for hot and one for cold. You may also want to shut off the master water supply valve, which controls the entire house.

Examine the handle(s) to find out how they’re attached to the rest of the faucet. Some have decorative caps that hide a screw that secures the handle. In that case, use a flathead screwdriver to remove the cap and expose the screw. If the screw seems seized, try using penetrating oil to break down any corrosion. When you remove the handle, note the order of the parts so that when it’s time to reassemble, you’ll know which part goes where.

To get to the faucet stem, you must first remove the handles and cover plates. The screws securing the plates are usually standard flathead screws, but you might need a Phillips-head screwdriver or an allen wrench to loosen them. Once the screws are removed, the handles and covers should pop off easily. If you’re working with a two-handle faucet, determine which side is leaking by feeling the water. It’s possible that both sides are leaking, in which case you must replace the cartridge on both sides. To do so, you must remove the handle from the other side of the faucet to access the cartridge and its packing nut. Removing the handle also reveals the O-ring, which is frequently the source of the leaky faucet handle. Whether the O-ring needs to be replaced or cleaned, you can use nontoxic plumber’s grease to clean and lubricate it.

Repairing faucet stems

Dripping faucets waste water, but fixing the problem is usually a simple matter of replacing the worn-out or damaged stem or cartridge. Unlike faucet handles, which are secured with standard screwdrivers, faucet stems and cartridges are normally attached with a special type of screw or packing nut that can be loosened with a large pair of slip-joint pliers. Once you have loosened this screw or packing nut, the stem or cartridge should pull right out of the faucet body. After the cartridge or stem is removed, replace the washer on the bottom of the stem; these tend to wear out after a while.

Before you attempt to repair your faucet, shut off the water supply valve under the sink. This is a standard step for any home plumbing project and one that every householder should know how to do. It’s the best way to prevent serious water damage if a pipe bursts.

Begin by removing the decorative cap on top of each handle, which often bears an “H” or “C” for hot or cold. Most of these caps can be removed with a standard screwdriver, though some are threaded and may require a wrench or hex screwdriver. After removing the caps, unscrew the handle screws and set them aside. You should also remove the small screw at the back of the handle, which is usually held in place by a metal or plastic button that snaps out or is threaded. If the screw is seized, use penetrating oil to loosen it.

Once the handles are off, loosen the packing nut beneath them with a large pair of slip-joint or adjustable pliers. If the faucet uses a ceramic disk cylinder, remove the escutcheon cap and unscrew the mounting screws for the cylinder. Then lift out the cylinder, clean the neoprene seals with distilled white vinegar and a cloth or rag, and reinstall the neoprene seals on the new ceramic disk cylinder.

Repairing faucet cartridges

Cartridge faucets have a ceramic disk or a brass cylinder that creates a seal over the opening in the faucet. Often, this cylinder is leaking, and it can be fixed by replacing it. The cartridge is usually held in place by a screw that sits on top of the stem. A screw like this can wear out after years of use, and the O-ring that goes around it can crack or break. A replacement kit includes all of the parts needed for a quick and inexpensive fix.

Before beginning any work, turn off the water supply to your faucet. Remove the handle and unscrew any screws that hold it in place. Push the handle back to remove the decorative collar and expose a set screw underneath that holds the cartridge in place. Loosen the retaining screw with a wrench or channel-type pliers and lift the cartridge straight up.

Examine the cartridge for any signs of damage or wear. Depending on the model of the faucet, it may have a retainer nut that secures it to the base of the body. If the retaining nut is missing, a new one must be purchased and installed. There might also be a rubber O-ring and a spring that need to be replaced. These are easy to find and simple to replace.

If you have a ceramic disk cartridge, remove the escutcheon cap and unscrew the disk cylinder mounting screw. Pry out the neoprene seals on the underside of the cylinder and inspect them for wear. A neoprene seal can be cleaned with distilled white vinegar and a scouring pad. If the seals are damaged or worn, they need to be replaced. Before inserting a new cartridge, twist it with a spanner cap or pliers to line up the retaining clip (if the faucet has one).

Repairing faucet balls

The faucet’s ball controls the flow of hot and cold water to the spout. If it’s leaking, you can replace the valve seat and springs to stop the drip. A dripping faucet can waste both water and energy, so take steps to repair it as soon as you notice the problem.

Things might get a little messy as you disassemble the faucet, so prepare for some cleanup. Set out a bin and a clean towel to collect the parts you remove. It may also help to place an empty Styrofoam egg carton nearby so you can put the removed pieces in it as you go. The carton will also prevent the parts from getting wet.

Use a screwdriver to loosen the cap and collar on the cam that rotates the faucet lever. Then, use a special tool included in a faucet-repair kit to lift the cam out. Once you’ve removed the cam, you can access the rubber seats and springs in the faucet body. Using the tip of a screwdriver, insert it into one of the rubber seals and pull it out. Repeat with the other seal and spring.

Place the new control ball in its port, aligning the notch with a peg inside the faucet body, and then install the gasket cam and plastic cam washer over it. Using the same tool, loosen the plastic cam and then rotate it to fit into a slot on the faucet lever. Install the new metal cam nut over the plastic cam and tighten it with the tool.

The cartridge-type faucets used by Delta, Moen, and other manufacturers are sealed to the faucet balls with valve seats, which are pressed down against the cartridges with springs. You can buy a complete replacement cartridge assembly (which includes the valve seat, springs, and O-rings) in a repair kit at home centers for $15 or less. When you’re ready to buy a kit, note the brand of your faucet and bring the old cartridge with you so that you can compare it to the photos in the kit parts catalog.

Repairing Faucet Ceramic-Disk Cylinders

Faucets that have an arm that swings to change water temperature and a ceramic cylinder can be repaired by replacing the cartridge or by replacing a disk seal, a thin O-ring, or a neoprene washer. First, find out what kind of faucet you have. A compression faucet uses rubber washers to tighten a valve seat. These can wear out or break. Other types of faucets, known as washerless faucets, include cartridge, ceramic-disk, and ball-type models. These do not have rubber washers, but they can still develop leaks.

A ceramic-disk faucet typically has two highly polished discs that close together to block water flow until you open the handle. The ceramic disks can crack or break, and the neoprene seals that keep them in place can wear out. If you are able to clean the seals and reinstall them, the faucet should function normally again. Alternatively, you can buy a replacement cartridge from your local home or hardware store and install it.

To repair a ceramic-disk faucet, start by removing the handle and escutcheon cap (the metal plate that sits under the handle). Loosen and remove the set screw or retainer nut holding the handle in place, and remove the handle. Remove the aerator, too, and clean it with a plastic scouring pad to remove any buildup that could be blocking the ceramic discs.

With the handles and aerator removed, turn off the water supply lines under the sink. Block the drain with a rag to protect the sink from scratches and keep any parts you remove from falling down the drain. Tidy up the area and lay out a spot for each part as you take it apart so that you can put them back in the correct order when you reassemble.