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How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

Expert DIY advice on how to fix a leaky faucet in the bathroom or kitchen, including how to stop leaks and drips, and how to repair plumbing problems.

A leaky or dripping faucet is generally a sign that a part is worn and needs to be replaced— a fairly simple task. fix a dripping faucetThe exact repair depends upon which part of the faucet is dripping and, more importantly, the mechanical makeup of the faucet.

There are four main types of faucets, based on their internal mechanisms: compression, disc, cartridge, and ball. Your first step to fix a dripping faucet is to determine what type it is.

If the faucet has a single handle that controls both hot and cold, it is either a ball, disc, or cartridge faucet. If it has two controls, one each for hot and cold, it is probably a compression faucet, though some types of compression faucets have disc mechanisms. The best way to tell which kind of faucet you have is to disassemble it.

There are different types of faucets, each requiring different types of repairs

When fixing a leaky faucet, refer to the illustrations for the locations of washers, seals, and O-rings—drips and leaks nearly always mean these parts need replacement. Failed washers or seals usually cause drips; to replace them, you must disassemble the faucet. Leaks around the handle usually mean that the O-rings on the stem need to be replaced or that the packing nut or adjusting ring needs to be tightened; to do this you normally just remove the handle.

Compression faucets are the most likely to drip. The washers or seals of compression faucets are repeatedly torqued down against the metal valve seats, so they eventually wear out. When they do, the result is relentless dripping that can corrode fixtures, stain sink bowls, and waste a lot of water if they are not fixed.

“Washerless” is a termed used with disc, cartridge, and ball faucets because they don’t utilize the same types of compression washers. They are far less prone to drip from the spout. They too have moving parts sealed by O-rings that wear out, evidenced by leaking from the base of the faucet itself.

Compression Faucet Repairs

If a compression faucet leaks from the handle, tighten the packing nut or replace the packing, which may be a washer, an O-ring, or twine wound around the compression stem. If water drips from the spout, you’ll need to replace a washer or a corroded valve seat. Turn off the shutoff valve for that fixture, take off the faucet handle, remove the stem, and replace the worn part with one that is the same size. While you’re at it, take this opportunity to lubricate the threads of the stem with silicone grease. If you have these kinds of faucets, it pays to have on hand an inexpensive faucet repair kit, which is essentially a little box of assorted washers and O-rings.

Replacing a Faucet O-ring

Repairing or Replacing a Faucet Washer

Disc Faucet Repairs

Disc faucets leak when the inlet and outlet seals wear out or when sediment builds up in the faucet inlets. Disc assemblies don’t often wear out, but sometimes the inlet and outlet seals fail. Turn off the shutoff valve and replace the worn seals with duplicates. Be sure to realign the seals on the bottom of the cartridge with the holes in the faucet.

Cartridge Faucet Repairs

Cartridge faucets leak when the O-ring cushioning the cartridge stem wears out or breaks. When they drip it might mean the cartridge needs replacing. You can buy replacements at plumbing supply retailers, home improvement centers, and some hardware stores. In certain cases, they may need to be special ordered. Be sure the replacement matches the original.

Ball Faucet Repairs

Ball faucets such as those made by Delta and Price Pfister drip when the inlet seals wear out and leak when the O-rings wear out or break. If the handle leaks, tighten the adjusting ring after lifting the handle off the assembly. If the handle continues to leak, replace the cap; if the spout drips, the inlet seals and springs or the ball need replacing.

General Faucet Repair Tips

At the first sign of a drip, don’t torque down on a faucet in an effort to stop the drip—in most cases this will just damage the faucet. Instead, replace the washers or seals that are failing to seal off the faucet’s flow. If you have an older faucet that is chronically leaky, consider replacing it with a new, high-quality model.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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