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Repairing a Leaky Faucet

    Tired of seeing your money go down the drain? A leaky faucet can cost you a significant amount of money if it is not taken care of right away. One leaky faucet can waste hundreds of gallons of water each month and if it is hot water, you also pay the utility bill to heat the wasted water! The first thing you must do is figure out what kind of faucet you have so you can get replacement parts. If this project seems like it might be too much for you or you would rather not mess with it, remember, you can always get a free no obligation quote from a plumber right here.

New faucets may have the hot & cold water flow controlled by a single handle or lever. Repairs for four types of single-handle faucets are described here.

Before you start

  1. Turn off the water supply. Look for a shutoff valve under the sink. If there is not one for the fixture, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve. It may be located near the water meter, in the basement or crawl space.

  2. Have on hand an assortment of replacement parts, like washers & o-rings.

  3. Close or block off the sink drain, so that small parts aren't lost if dropped.

  4. Protect the sink basin against chipping from tools by lining it with a towel.

  5. When working on the faucet, don't try to force parts that are corroded or won't move. Apply a few drops of penetrating oil to the parts, wait a while & try again.

  6. As you work, remember to line up the parts in order as you take the faucet apart. This will help you reassemble it correctly. Tools & materials you will need include: adjustable wrench, channel lock smooth-jawed pliers, screwdrivers, washer assortment, penetrating oil, & packing.

disc faucet
A disc faucet has two discs to mix the hot & cold water & control the amount of flow. The disc assembly itself will rarely need replacing. Leaking usually means that the inlet seals are worn & should be replaced. Replacement kits are available at plumbing supply firms. To get the right kit, write down the brand of faucet you have, or take the disc along with you.

  1. First, turn off the water supply & drain the water by lifting the lever to its highest position.
  2. Under the lever is a set screw that holds the lever to the lever post. Use a screwdriver to turn the set screw counterclockwise until you can lift off the lever.
  3. Lift off or unscrew the cap that covers the cartridge. Loosen the screws on top of the cartridge & lift it out of the faucet.
  4. At the bottom of the cartridge is the set of seals. Pull out the worn seals & replace with new ones from the kit. Remove any mineral sediment that has built up in this area.
  5. When reinserting the cartridge, align the holes with those in the base of the faucet body. Reassemble the faucet reversing the order it was taken apart.

sleeve cartridge faucet
When you raise the handle of this faucet, the stem also raises, controlling the flow of water. Rotating the handle to the right or left controls the water temperature. Leaks usually mean replacing the o-rings or the entire cartridge. Take the old cartridge with you to a plumbing supply store to ensure that you get the correct replacement part.

  1. First, turn off the water supply & lift the handle to drain the water.
  2. Carefully pry off the decorative handle cover or housing & remove the handle screw.
  3. Lift off the handle assembly. On some faucets you may see a "keeper" or retainer clip at the base of the handle assembly. With others, like a swivel-spout faucet, you must first remove the handle & then the spout. If this is the case, unscrew the retainer nut, then lift off the spout.
  4. Under the handle, you may find a tube or cylindrical sleeve that slides off to expose the "keeper" or retainer clip. This clip is what holds the cartridge in place. Use long-nose pliers or a screwdriver to remove the clip from its slot.
  5. Lift the cartridge out of the faucet body with a pliers. If the 0-rings are worn, install new ones.
  6. If the cartridge is to be replaced, note the position of the cartridge ears, or a flat spot, arrow, or marking on the cartridge stem. When the cartridge is replaced, they should be in exactly the same position as when removed.
  7. Replace the cartridge & the retainer clip. On swivel-spout faucets, lubricate the 0 rings around the outside of the body & then push the spout down over the rings, into position.
  8. Tighten the retaining nut with a taped or cloth-covered pliers & reinstall the handle.

rotating ball faucet
The single handle sits on a ball assembly. When the faucet is raised, this ball rotates to control the flow of water. Moving the handle to the left or right allows hot or cold water into the mixing chamber. Leaks from the spout can occur when the seals & springs give out.

Leaks at the handle may mean that the adjusting ring is loose or that the seal above the ball is worn.

Leaks under the spout may require replacing the o-rings. While the faucet is apart, check for a worn or corroded ball & replace if necessary. Repair kits are available at plumbing supply stores. You'll need the make & model number or the old parts to get the correct replacement kit.

  1. First, turn off the water supply & lift straight up on the handle to drain the water.
  2. Loosen, but don't remove, the handle's set screw with an allen wrench & remove the handle.
  3. Loosen the adjusting ring. A special wrench for this comes with most repair kits. Unscrew the cap, using cloth or tape- covered adjustable pliers if needed.
  4. Lift out the cam assembly & ball. If you have a swivel-spout faucet, lift off the spout as well. You may have to carefully pry the spout loose at the base or exert some pressure to lift it off, since it is friction-fitted around the body.
  5. Remove worn seals & springs from the body with a long-nose pliers or a pencil inserted into each seat. Scrape away any mineral deposits & replace the new springs & seals.
  6. If yours is a swivel-spout faucet, pry away the o-rings from the body, & roll the new ones down until they're in the appropriate grooves. If the faucet has a spray diverter, replace the diverter o-ring in the same way.
  7. Reassemble the parts in reverse order from which they were taken out. When you replace the ball, align the slot in its side with the pin inside the faucet body. The key on the cam assembly also fits into a matching notch on the faucet body.
  8. With a swivel-spout faucet, push the spout straight down until it clicks against a slip ring at the base of the body. The tension from the o-rings may mean that you'll have to push hard.
  9. Hand-tighten the cap & tighten the adjusting ring to get a good seal between the cam & the ball. If you notice a leak around the handle after testing the faucet, tighten the adjusting ring a bit more.

repairing a stem or two-control faucet
Stem faucets can be identified by their separate controls for hot & cold water. Leaks in these faucets can occur in the spout, the stem or at the base. Although these leaks are annoying & waste water, they are one type of plumbing problem that's usually easy to repair.

  1. First, turn off the water supply. Look for a shutoff valve under the sink. If there is not one for the fixture, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve. It may be located near the water meter, or in the basement or crawl space.
  2. Have on hand an assortment of replacement parts, like washers, washer screws, o-rings & packing.
  3. Close or block off the sink drain, so that small parts aren't lost if dropped.
  4. Protect the sink basin against chipping from tools by lining it with a towel.
  5. When working on the faucet, don't try to force parts that are corroded or won't move. Apply a few drops of penetrating oil to the parts, wait a while & try again.
  6. When you start, remember to line up the parts in order as you take the faucet apart. This will help you reassemble it correctly. Tools & materials you will need include: adjustable wrench, channel lock smooth-jawed pliers, screwdrivers, washer assortment, penetrating oil, & packing.
  7. A stem faucet can either be a compression (threaded stem) or washerless type. The washerless type uses a cartridge or diaphragm & discs instead of the washers & valve seats found in the compression faucet.
  8. The faucet must be taken apart to determine its type. Follow steps below. Then examine the bottom of the piece removed from the faucet. If there is a washer, held in place by a washer screw, jump ahead 4 steps.
  9. If there is no washer, it is either a Cartridge or diaphragm faucet. Take the entire cartridge or diaphragm stem assembly to a plumbing supply dealer & get the correct repair kit. Follow the manufacturer's directions for replacement & repair.

compression faucet
If the faucet spout leaks or drips, either the seat washer or the seat itself needs attention.

  1. Turn off the water supply & turn faucet handles on to drain water from the faucet.
  2. Remove the handle screws (which may be under a decorative button) using a Phillips head or standard blade screwdriver. The handle lifts straight up or out & off.
  3. Use adhesive or friction tape around the packing nut to protect it. Remove the packing nut with a crescent wrench or pliers.
  4. Slip the handle back on the stem & turn the handle to loosen the stem. If the stem doesn't back out when you turn the handle, use your fingers, pliers or adjustable wrench.
  5. Remove the screw at the bottom of the stem. Use penetrating oil, if needed. Remove the old washer & replace with a new one of the same size & shape. While the faucet stem is out, you may wish to check the packing, o-ring or packing washer for replacement. Leaks around faucets handles or at the base of the faucet may occur when these parts are worn.
  6. Older faucets may use packing, usually a string like material that serves as a washer between the stem & the cap. Remove the old packing & wind new packing string clockwise around the stem to form the seal. If the older faucet uses self-forming packing, a ready-made packing washer that fits may be used as a replacement. Push the packing washer onto the stem as far as it will go & screw the nut over it, clockwise.
  7. If the faucet is a newer model, replace the packing washer or o-ring.
  8. If the stem or screw is corroded, buff lightly with a fine steel wool. Clean off all dirt & steel wool residue.
  9. Reassemble the faucet. When you tighten the assembly with a wrench or pliers, don't use too much pressure. That can strip the threads & cause the faucet to leak.
  10. If replacing the washer and/or packing doesn't stop the leak, the valve seat at the base of the faucet body may need replacing or grinding smooth. Take the faucet apart.
  11. Remove the worn valve seat with an allen wrench or seat wrench, and take it with you to a plumbing supply store to get an exact replacement.
  12. If you can't remove the valve seat, purchase an inexpensive seat cutter or grinding tool. Insert the grinding tool and adjust the guide nut to the depth of the opening of the faucet housing. Now turn the grinding tool clockwise a few time with it's handle or pliers. Use light to moderate pressure, since it doesn't take much grinding to smooth the valve seat. Clean out residue and reassemble the faucet.

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