By Mark G. McLaughlin
A leaky sink or tub faucet is more than just a noisy nuisance – it wastes water. For most people, water is not free, which means a leaky faucet is quite literally money going down the drain. Any plumber can fix a leaky faucet, and usually in less than an hour.
For those who don’t want to wait around for a plumber, or don’t want to spend the money to pay a professional, there are ways to fix-it-yourself. Here are the basic things you need to know and the steps you need to take to fix a faucet yourself.
Step One: Have the Right Tools – and the Right Parts
To fix a faucet you need tools and possibly some new parts. Any hardware store can sell you what you need, as long as you can tell them what kind of faucet you have. For most faucets, all you will need is:
- An adjustable wrench,
- A flat head and a Phillips-head screwdriver
- A pair of pliers.
- Plumber’s grease (available at any hardware store)
- A utility knife
For a ball faucet, however, you also will need to buy a replacement kit, as there are several parts that will have to be swapped out for new ones. A good ball faucet kit will come with the right tools for the job. For any other faucet, you will probably need a set of replacement seals or O-rings. The part you need depends on the kind of faucet you have. Just ask a knowledgeable clerk in the hardware store to point out the kit or wrench that is right for you.
Step Two: Turn Off the Water
The water needs to be off before you try to fix a faucet. The valve or knob to turn off the water is usually located on a pipe beneath the sink or in cabinet behind the tub. If you can’t find it, then find the main water pipe that brings water into the house and turn it off. This, of course, means letting everyone else in the building know that the water will be off.
Step Three: Plug the Drain
Put a stopper or thick rag to plug the drain. This way if you ensure you won’t see a needed screw, washer or part literally go down the drain – which is a whole different plumbing problem.
Step Four: Depends on the Faucet
There are basically four kinds of faucets: ball, compression, cartridge, and ceramic disk. How you proceed from here depends on the faucet you are dealing with.
- Unscrew the handle
- Remove the cap and collar with pliers.
- Loosen the faucet cam (there is a tool and instructions on how to do so in the kit you had to buy to do this process)
- Remove the springs and inlet seals (if the correct tool did not come with the kit, needle-nose pliers or tweezers will work in a pinch)
- Cut off the O-rings
- Grease and replace the O-rings (this is where that plumber’s grease comes in)
- Put in new springs, seals and washers. These come with the kit and the instructions will show the order in which they are placed
- Put it all back together and reattach the handle
- Remove the caps (one for hot water, one for cold). These may need to be pried off.
- Unscrew the handle
- Remove the nut. For this you need a wrench.
- Find and pull out the stem
- Remove and replace the O-ring
- Take out and replace the seat washer (a little plumber’s grease won’t hurt)
- Put it all back together again
- Pry off any decorative cap and unscrew and remove the handle.
- Get out your pliers and look for the retaining clip. Gently pull it out – that will reveal the cartridge.
- Use your pliers to make the cartridge stand up strait.
- Take off the spout; this will reveal the O-rings (which look like Os)
- Remove and replace the O-rings. The rings usually have to be cut off using a knife. Coast the new rings in plumber’s grease and put them where the old ones were seated.
- Put the handle back on.
Ceramic Disk Faucet
- Unscrew and Remove the handle
- Remove the escutcheon (a metal cap)
- Remove the cylinder – this should just unscrew by hand.
- Find the seals and cylinder. Clean the cylinder with soap and water, white vinegar or something similar. It is usually better to replace the seals than it is to just clean the old ones and put them back in. If you did not know what kind of seals you needed in advance, take the old ones with you back to the hardware store – and get the ones that fit your faucet.
- Put it all back together – seals, cylinder, metal cap and handle.
The Last Step: Unplug the drain and turn on the water
The final step, and the proof of your work, is to unplug the drain, turn the water back on and then try the faucet. Let it run for a few seconds and then turn it off. If it is no longer leaky, congratulations. If it is still leaky, take it apart and put it all back together again. If that fails, well, then it is time to call a plumber.