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How to fix a leaky faucet
Fortunately, fixing a leak faucet is a relatively easy DIY repair.
(Tools needed vary by faucet type)
- Needle-nose or adjustable pliers
- Crescent or Allen wrench
- Ball faucet repair kit
- Phillips and flat-head screwdriver
- Spare faucet parts (e.g., seals or O-rings)
- Scissors or utility knife
- Plumber's grease
- White vinegar
A leaky faucet may seem like a small issue, but that seemingly innocuous drip-drip-drip from the spout can prove costly, raising the price of your water utilities.
Step 1. Turn off water supply
Look for a nearby shutoff, a handle along the exposed pipe beneath your sink—which, in some installations, may be inside the vanity or cabinet unit—that will allow you to twist it to the OFF position.
If your fixtures do not have individual shutoffs, you’ll need to turn off the main shutoff and cut off the water supply to your home while you work. If you are not sure how to do this, see our step-by-step guide to shutting off the main water supply.
Step 2. Identify type of faucet
Faucets come in a variety of styles, so before you get into repairs, you’ll need to identify your faucet’s type.
Compression faucets are the most basic and some of the most common. They are easily identified as they have two handles: one for hot and one for cold.
Cartridge faucets can have two handles like a compression faucet. You can tell the difference between the two in how they feel when you twist the handles; compression faucets will tighten down and compress while a cartridge faucet will move smoothly.
Disc faucets are more modern in style, with a single lever over a wide cylindrical body.
Ball faucets are commonly found in kitchens and have a single handle that moves over a rounded, ball-shaped cap.
Step 3. Plug drain
This small step is essential, as it keeps any small items that may slip through your fingers in the process from going down the drain.
Engage the stopper if working on a bathroom sink.
Set the strainer basket in the drain if working on a kitchen sink.
Lay a towel or facecloth across the drain if you don't have or trust the stopper or strainer basket.
Step 4. Cover tools in tape
You’ll be using a crescent wrench during this process, so to protect your fixture’s finish, place a layer of duct tape over the grooves on the wrench.
Tip: Keep your tools close and from damaging your sink by setting them out on a towel laid out in your sink basin.
Step 5. Remove handle
- Compression faucets: Remove the decorative caps, if necessary; these parts often say “hot” and “cold” and can be pried off or unscrewed.
Cartridge faucet handle: Remove the decorative caps, if necessary. Tilt the handle backward and pull it off.
Disc faucets: Simply unscrew and remove the handle.
Ball faucets: Use an Allen wrench to loosen the set screw securing the handle, but don't remove it. Remove the handle.
Step 6. Remove necessary parts
This step is different for each type of faucet, so follow the step that corresponds to your faucet type:
Compression: Use a crescent wrench to remove the nut; inside you will find a stem, underneath it an O-ring, and underneath that a seat washer. Remove the stem, which will expose the thin O-ring and the seat washer. Remove the seat washer, which will be held in place by a brass screw.
Cartridge: Remove the retaining clip, a circular, threaded piece usually made from plastic. You may need to use your pliers to do so. Pull the cartridge so that it stands upright, and then remove the faucet spout.
Disc: Remove the escutcheon cap, a piece usually constructed from metal that sits below the handle. Unscrew and remove the disk cylinder, which will expose neoprene seals underneath.
Ball: These types have many more pieces than their counterparts and require a little more finesse. You can find kits with special tools for replacing the inner-workings of these faucets online or at your local hardware or home improvement store. Use adjustable pliers to remove the cap and collar, then use the tool provided in your replacement kit to loosen the faucet cam. Remove the faucet cam assembly, the washer and the ball. You will then remove the inlet seals and springs, which will require needle-nose pliers.
Tip: Line up the parts in order on the towel set in the sink basin as you take the faucet apart. This will help you to reassemble it correctly afterward.
Step 7. Replace seat washer/O-rings
It’s now time to replace the seat washer or O-rings, depending on your faucet. It is important to replace each part with a new part of the exact size to ensure a good fit and a secure faucet that will not leak.
Compression faucet: Replace the seat washer.
Cartridge faucet: Replace the O-rings. Be sure to coat each replacement part with plumber's grease before installing it.
Disc faucet: Clean the cylinders with white vinegar, and replace the seals if they look pitted or worn.
Ball faucet: Replace the O-rings. Be sure to coat each replacement part with plumber's grease before installing it.
Tip: You can remove old O-rings by cutting off with a utility knife or scissors.
Step 8. Reassemble handle
Step 9. Test faucet
Slowly turn the water back on so that your faucet isn't subject to too much pressure too quickly. Then shut it off to test the faucet and be sure that the leak has been repaired.
If the faucet is still leaky, reach out to a qualified service professional to help you solve the problem.