Faucets wear out, and when they do, they can waste a surprisingly large amount of water.
A faucet leaking at the rate of one drip per second wastes 250 gallons of water per month or 3,000 gallons a year. Regardless of whether you or your tenant pays the water bill, it’s irresponsible to waste that much water.
If you use a property management company or hire a plumber yourself, you can rest in the knowledge that leaks are handled quickly and professionally. If, on the other hand, you prefer to handle faucet leaks yourself, this article is for you.
Why Is the Faucet Leaking?
Inside every faucet is a collection of rubber gaskets, washers, and O-rings. They form the seal that holds back the water, and they are the parts that usually wear out. There is no way to avoid this — rubber naturally corrodes and weakens with age.
Faucets also contain metal and plastic parts. You seldom have to service any of these, although you might, on occasion, have to replace a chipped or cracked valve seat or cartridge.
Both of these parts are easy to remove — at least in theory.
Know Your Faucet
Before you start disassembling a faucet, it’s good to know what to expect. There are fours types of faucets on the market:
- Compression — Before Al Moen started a revolution by inventing the single-handle mixing faucet, the compression faucet was the only type available. It’s the type that you have to screw down to close. Most outdoor and laundry faucets are this type.
- Cartridge — This is the faucet that Al made. The cartridge, which contains a series of holes that align with the water inlets in the valve seat, is removable. Gaskets inside the valve seat and O-rings on the cartridge keep water from flowing when the faucet is closed.
- Ball Valve — If your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or shower faucet is a Delta, it probably has a ball valve. A few other companies also manufacture these. This type of faucet features springs and gaskets in the water inlet ports that have to be replaced every few years.
- Ceramic Disk — Common in European faucets, the ceramic disk valve is usually screwed into the valve seat, and you remove it by first removing the screws. Of all valve types, this is the least prone to leaking, and it’s also the most expensive to replace.
Fixing a Leak Is Easy … Sometimes
Stopping a faucet leak is seldom complicated, but it can be difficult. Age, corrosion, and hard water deposits often conspire to turn a simple repair into a frustrating one.
If all else fails, look on the manufacturer’s website, which is also a good place to check for pointers if you get stuck. You can usually find more how-to information by simply inputting “how to repair (your faucet model)” into an internet search field.
Turn Off the Water
Sink faucets have shut-off valves. Make sure they are off before you unscrew the faucet valve retainer, or you could have a minor flood on your hands. When servicing a tub or shower faucet, look for a dedicated shut-off for the bathroom.
If you can’t find one, shut off the main water valve for the house. When servicing an outdoor or laundry faucet, the main shut-off is often your only option.
Common Repairs by Faucet Type
Once you know what type of faucet you have, the rest is straightforward. The procedure involves disassembling the faucet, removing and then replacing the worn parts, and putting everything back together again. Including shopping for parts, you shouldn’t have to devote more than two hours of your time to the repair.
Outdoor, Laundry, and Double-Handled Compression Faucets
On the end of the compression faucet valve stem is a rubber washer, and when the faucet leaks, it’s usually because this washer has worn out. Compression faucets can also leak from the handle. When this happens, it’s often because you need to replace the packing inside the handle.
- Unscrew the handle screw with a screwdriver and pull off the handle.
- Unscrew and remove the valve retaining nut with a wrench or with channel-lock pliers.
- Pull out the valve stem. Unscrew the washer from the end and replace it.
- Replace the packing inside the retaining nut if the valve has been leaking from the handle.
- Put everything back together.
Single and Double-Handled Cartridge Faucets
When a cartridge faucet leaks, the best course of action is usually to replace all the rubber parts inside the valve housing, including the O-rings around the cartridge. If the cartridge is cracked or nicked, replace it along with the gaskets.
You should be able to pull out the cartridge after removing the handle and unscrewing the cartridge retainer. Note that on some Moen faucets, you have to pull out a retaining pin instead of unscrewing a nut. (Use needle-nose pliers for this.) A small flat-head screwdriver is all you need to fish the gaskets out of the water inlet holes and to put the new ones in place. Be sure to lubricate all rubber parts with plumber’s grease before installing them.
Ball valve faucets are extremely easy to service, but you need model-specific repair parts. You can usually find kits at hardware stores. In particular, Delta sells an all-purpose repair kit that works with most of its kitchen and bath faucets. A typical repair procedure looks like this:
- Remove the handle, using a screwdriver or hex wrench.
- Unscrew and remove the bonnet and lift out the ball valve. Check it for nicks and cracks and replace it if necessary.
- Lift the gaskets and springs out of the inlet hole. I find a standard flat-head screwdriver to be the perfect tool for this.
- Grease up the new gaskets, insert the springs and place the gaskets in the holes with a screwdriver. Push until the gaskets snap into place.
- Spread grease on the ball, set it back in place aligning the notch with the tab in the valve housing, and put everything back together.
Ceramic Disk Faucets
Disk faucets seldom leak, and when they do, you usually have to replace the disk along with the rubber gaskets. Unscrew the disk with a screwdriver, replace the gaskets, insert the new disk, and screw it in place. Prepare to spend $100 or more for the new disk.
If the faucet continues to leak, try unscrewing the valve seat with a seat wrench and replacing it. Continued leaking probably means the faucet itself is damaged and has to be replaced.