for do-self or contracted repairs.
There is nothing more annoying than a dripping faucet. Not only does it waste water, but the
repeated action of the water can also cause a spot in the sink surface below. Whether you have
a single spout faucet or a mixing faucet (two separate units that share the same spout), fixing the
problem is usually fairly simple. (The two units that form a mixing faucet are repaired separately.)
With both traditional compression faucets and the newer “washerless” faucets, leaks can
originate in several areas, so it’s a good idea to replace all the parts that can wear out while you
have the faucet apart. The first step is to turn off the water to the faucet. If you don’t have shut-off
valves on the hot and cold water supply lines under the sink, you can usually find the zone valve in
the basement that controls the water supply to that part of the house. In a pinch, you can use the
main water shut-off near the meter that controls water for the entire house. When you have closed
off the valves, turn on the faucet until the water stops flowing. Then close or cover the drain, to
prevent losing small parts.
Repairing a Compression Faucet:
To disassemble the faucet, remove the screw that holds the handle in place. (Sometimes there
will be a cap that you’ll need to pop off to expose the screw beneath it.) If the handle has corroded
in place and is difficult to budge, don’t apply penetrating oil or other lubricant, as they will have little
effect on the problem; instead, try using two screwdrivers, one on each side, to pry it off. Tapping
the handle lightly with a hammer can also help to break the corrosion. If nothing else works, you
can rent or buy a special handle-pulling tool.
Once the handle is off, you’ll see a valve stem sticking up,
connected to a packing nut. Before you separate these two
pieces, check to see if there is any “play” in the valve stem
when screwed into the packing nut; if so, the valve stem has
worn down and needs to be replaced. (Take the one you
have to the hardware store to find the correct replacement
model.) Next, unscrew the packing nut and separate it from
the valve stem, using a crescent wrench or an open-end
wrench of the right size.
You will find a washer on the end of the valve stem, held
in place by a screw at the tip. This washer fits into a metal
depression or “cup” at the end of the valve stem itself; if the
washer no longer makes a good seal against that cup, your
faucet will drip even when the water has been turned off.
Put the valve stem back onto the handle to help you hold it,
and remove the screw on the end. Remove the worn washer
that was beneath the screw, and get a replacement of the same size; at most stores you can
buy a single washer or an assortment of various size and types. There are three general styles
of washers: one that is flat on both sides; one that is flat on one side and domed on the other;
and one that is flat on one side and beveled on the other. You will generally get the best seal
if you use a domed washer. Put the new washer in place, and tighten the screw down till it’s
snug (don’t over-tighten). The washer should expand slightly as it is compressed to fill any gaps
in the cup at the end of the valve stem.
Next, locate the packing nut that you removed earlier. Where it goes into the valve body there
is space for another washer. You can use a packing nut washer here, or you can use “packing,”
a type of string gasket that you make yourself. Wrap the packing around the spindle, and then
reassemble the nut with the valve stem. (Put plumber’s grease on the threads to make it easier to
disassemble the unit next time.) When the nut is finger tight, cut off the excess packing string and
finish tightening with a wrench.
On some faucets, instead of packing you will find an O-ring
higher on the valve stem. When water comes out from underneath
the handle when you turn on the faucet, it’s an indication that the
O-ring should be replaced. Cut off the old one and take it with you
to the store to match; you can buy kits with assorted sizes, or the
specific one you need. To install the replacement, soak it in a cup
of hot water for a few minutes to make it more pliable, then take it
out and put plumber’s grease on it. Slide the O-ring over the
valve stem and roll it down the shaft until it is in place.
Finally, look at the seat, the part of the faucet which mates up
with the valve stem. Replacing a washer won’t correct a leak if
damage to the seat has left holes or cracks that prevent the
washer from sealing completely against the surface. In such
cases, you’ll continue to have a small drip.
How you remedy this problem will depend on whether or not the seat in your faucet can be
replaced. If you look into a faucet seat that is replaceable, you’ll see squared edges (like a nut). You
can use a steel seat wrench to grab these edges and unscrew the seat. Seats can be very hard to
pull out. One approach is to insert the tapered end of the seat wrench and tap it with a hammer to
drive it into the seat before you turn it to loosen the seat.
There are many configurations of faucet seats, so take the old one with you to the plumbing store
to match it up. When you install the replacement, use the seat wrench to screw it into place. It just
needs to be snug, so don’t over-tighten.
On faucets where the seats are not replaceable, the seats will not have square sides, but only a
smooth round edge with no surface to grab onto. Your only recourse will be to use a seat dresser,
a cone-shaped tool that you insert into the seat and turn. As you twist the handle, the seat dresser
will shave off the edges of the seat, smoothing out any chips or gouges. If the seat is too badly
damaged for the seat dresser to be effective, you will have to replace the faucet completely.
When you have replaced all the parts prone to wear and tear, reassemble the valve stem,
packing nut and handle, turn the handle to the proper position, tighten the packing nut, and turn
the water back on.
Repairing a “Washerless” Faucet:
There are several common types of “washerless” faucets: ball faucets (such as the ones made
by Delta), cartridge faucets (such as the ones made by Moen), and ceramic-disc faucets (such
as the ones made by American Standard and Kohler). Most have a single handle that controls
both hot and cold water. Despite their name, these faucets do have some washers in them. The
replacement parts are generally inexpensive and easily available; however, the specific items you
will need and the way they are replaced will depend on the manufacturer. It’s usually easiest to buy
a replacement kit for the make and model of your faucet at the plumbing supply or hardware store.
The kit will contain the all washers, springs, O-rings, etc. you’ll need to replace.
The first step is to remove the faucet handle. Before disassembling the faucet, shut off the water
supply and close or cover the drain as described above. With a ball faucet, you loosen the screw in
the base of the handle and lift the handle off the spout.
Water leaking from beneath the handle of a ball
faucet is corrected by tightening the adjusting ring, a
threaded washer that you see when you remove the
handle. Place a putty knife in the slots on top of the
washer and turn it clockwise. Replace the handle and
test the faucet; if it still leaks, tighten the ring a bit more.
Sometimes tightening the ring will make the handle too
hard to move. If this happens, unscrew the ring and
then the domed metal cap beneath it, and lift out the
plastic and rubber cam assembly below the cap. These
cam parts can be replaced.
If water leaks from the spout, you’ll need to get to some parts
that sit below the cam assembly. The ball, O-rings, seals and
springs are subject to wear and need to be replaced periodically.
Remove the old ball, and then twist the spout upward to remove it
from the faucet’s central tube. Once you have exposed the faucet
body, use a screwdriver to pry off the O-rings surrounding it; then
use needle-nose pliers to remove the small rubber seals and the
tiny springs that fit into the faucet’s inlet holes. The replacement parts must match the old ones
exactly, although you can choose either a plastic replacement ball or one made from brass – a
more expensive option, but one that will last longer.
Clean all the surfaces and scrape off any mineral deposits, then reassemble the faucet. Use
plumber’s grease to lubricate the O-rings before rolling them into their grooves on the faucet body.
When you reinstall the spout, push down hard while twisting. Then install the springs and seals,
and fit the slot of the ball over the pin in the side of the faucet body, so that the ball’s ports will be
aligned with the hot- and cold-water inlets in the faucet when you want the water to flow. Finish
by reassembling the cam assembly and handle. If water still leaks from beneath the spout, tighten
the cap; if you have a leak from beneath the handle, tighten the adjusting ring as described above.
On a cartridge faucet, pry off the decorative cap and
remove the screw underneath; then, lift off the handle and
the handle body, a cylindrical slotted fitting. Before removing
the spout, you’ll need to unscrew the round retaining nut on
top of it.
For leaks from the base of the faucet, remove and replace
the O-rings around the faucet body. For other types of leaks,
pry out the horizontal metal clip on top of the faucet body,
and then pull out the sleeve cartridge from inside it. Buy
replacements for the cartridge and the O-rings around it.
(Cartridges with brass casings are more expensive, but will
last longer.) To install the new cartridge, pull out the stem as
far as possible, and press the cartridge into the faucet body.
(It’s normal for water to pool around the stem when you do
this.) Rotate the cartridge until the protrusions at the top are
aligned with the slots in the faucet body for the retainer clip;
press down on the cartridge and slide the clip under the
protrusions and into the slots.
Position the stem so that its horizontal notch points toward the sink. Then, reassemble the spout
and retainer nut. To replace the handle, the ringed end must slide into the handle body and the
rear end must hook over the rear of the retaining nut. After you have reinstalled the screw, test the
faucet. If the hot and cold water positions are reversed, remove the handle, rotate the stem 180°,
and reassemble.
In a ceramic-disc faucet, the cylindrical valve typically
contains two discs; when the handle is moved to the “on”
position, one disc rotates over another in such a way
that holes in both discs align and allow the water to
flow. Start by removing the handle and the locking nut
beneath it, and then pry out the cylinder. Because the
valve is made from ceramic, a durable material that
resists damage from grit and sediment in the water, you
will seldom need to replace it. However, the inlet seals
and/or O-rings are subject to wear. Replacement parts
can sometimes be difficult to locate, but removing the
old ones and inserting the new is reasonably simple.
Once you have replaced all the parts, reassemble the
faucet and turn on the water.
Repairing a leaking faucet is a common home maintenance task. Patience and a bit of manual
dexterity can allow you to save the cost of a plumber by doing the job yourself.
©2011, Home Repair Resource Center, 2520 Noble Rd., Cleveland Hts., OH 44121 (phone: 216-381-9560)
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