Stop the Drip, Conserve Water: How to Fix a Leaky Faucet
A leaking faucet, whether it is the sink in the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room, can result in water damage to the floor, countertop, and cabinet base as well as an increase in the monthly water bill. Even a small water drip can have a significant impact on the amount people will pay each month if the leak is not repaired in a timely manner. Research can help people determine the type of faucet in their home that is in need of repair, along with the tools, materials, and basic steps needed to fix the problem. With this information, the repair process can be an easy do-it-yourself project, even for beginners.
Table of Contents
- How Much Can a Leaky Faucet Cost?
- Problems that Occur from a Leaky Faucet
- Ball Faucets
- Cartridge Faucet
- Ceramic Disc Faucet
- Compression Faucet
- Best Practices for DIY Faucet Repair Projects (And When to Call a Pro)
How Much Can a Leaky Faucet Cost?
Any time water is leaking, even if it is just a slow drip, the amount of water wasted is significant and can result in an increase in the monthly water bill. On average, one gallon of dripping water is equal to 15,140 drips, and one liter of dripping water equals 4,000 drips. A faucet with a slow drip averages three liters of wasted water each day that can turn into close to 350 gallons per year. A faster-dripping faucet can waste over 20 liters of water daily, adding up to over 2,000 gallons wasted yearly.
Depending on the severity of the drip, the number of faucets in disrepair, and how long it/they are allowed to go unaddressed can affect the increase in the monthly bill, which can be on the low end of around an extra $20 per month to an increase in hundreds of dollars. To get an idea of what repairing a leaking faucet could cost when people use a professional plumber versus doing the simple repairs themselves, this online cost calculator can provide an estimate.
Problems that Occur from a Leaky Faucet
The following problems can occur if a leaky faucet is not immediately repaired.
A costly problem resulting from a leaky faucet is the amount of wasted water that people will pay for through an increased water bill. Wasting gallons of water is not only costly, but also has a negative impact on the environment.
There are several materials used to supply water to the faucets in homes. One of the options is galvanized metal piping. Like oil and water, metal and water do not mix; in the case of metal piping, a leaky faucet can lead to rust inside and outside the pipes.
Dripping water left unattended and allowed to seep and soak into surrounding materials will affect those areas, causing the material to crack or warp and ultimately lead to rotting materials.
The moisture created by a leaking faucet will, in a short time, develop into mold. The dark moldy patches are accompanied by a musty odor. Mold left unattended can result in health issues such as irritated skin or difficulty breathing.
A ball faucet is one of three types that contain no washers. Instead, the internal chambers of the faucet are fitted with spring-loaded seals and O-rings made of rubber. The single handle moves easily in multiple directions over a round cap and controls the operation of a metal or plastic ball situated inside the handle along with the seals and O-rings. The ball-shaped cap and single handle mechanism control the density of the water flow from a light to heavy stream as well as the desired temperature such as cold, warm, or hot. The construction of the ball faucet contains multiple parts, which makes them more prone to leaking.
Causes of a Leaking Ball Faucet
The ball faucet has been a standard fixture since 1954 when it was first introduced by Delta as a washerless faucet. Even with its long history as a durable and reliable faucet and the lack of traditional washers that are prone to leaking, the ball faucet remains a popular choice for the kitchen and bathroom. While the ball faucet has no washers, it does have spring-loaded rubber seals that are susceptible to drying out, which leads to leaking. The springs may also deteriorate and weaken, which can result in leaking. Mineral buildup on the spout or if the rotating ball becomes damaged can also cause the faucet to leak. The rubber O-rings fitted inside the spout, like the spring-loaded rubber seals, have a tendency to dry out, which causes leaking at the base.
What Tools Are Needed to Fix Ball Faucets?
Depending on where the source of the leak is emanating from will determine the type of tools needed to repair a ball faucet. The basic tools that may be needed include an Allen wrench, spanner wrench, slip-joint pliers, utility knife, Philip-head screwdriver, and a faucet repair kit.
How to Repair a Ball Faucet
With a ball faucet, there are several parts or areas that may be the cause of a leak. These include problems within the dome base, damaged washers in the spout, and damaged or worn-out O-rings.
Dome Base Leak
- Step 1: If the leak is emanating from the dome-like base where the spout/handle rests, the setscrew needs to be loosened using the Allen wrench just enough to allow removal of the handle.
- Step 2: Use the spanner wrench in the clockwise direction to tighten the locking collar.
- Step 3: Turn on the water supply if you turned it off, and test to see that there is no longer any evidence of leaking from this area. If there is none, the repair is complete, and the spout/handle can be reattached. If it is still leaking after the initial tightening repair, choose from the following steps applicable to the problem.
- Step 1: Shut off the supply knobs to each water line located under the sink or shut off the main valve to the house.
- Step 2: The cap of the dome where the handle rests needs to be removed. Do this using the slip-joint pliers. To avoid damaging the finish of the chrome, use a piece of tape to wrap around each of the pliers' tips before twisting/removing.
- Step 3: Remove the plastic ball and the cam washer. Give both a quick inspection to see if either is damaged or deteriorated.
- Step 4: Next, use the tip of a screwdriver to lift out the rubber valve seats. You will also see a small spring situated behind the seats.
- Step 5: Inspect the valve seats for wear and tear. If this is apparent, replace both the seats and the springs. Do this by placing the spring then the valve seat onto a thin rod, such as that of a screwdriver, and carefully place each seat into the appropriate slot. Gently press each valve seat with your finger to secure it tightly in place.
- Step 1: If the leak is originating from the base versus the spout or dome, the O-rings need to be inspected. In many cases, the O-rings are worn out and are no longer able to do their job.
- Step 2: To check the O-rings, the spout must be removed.
- Step 3: Once the O-rings are exposed, use the hook portion of the spanner wrench to remove them.
- Step 4: Replace with new O-rings that are coated with plumber's grease prior to reinstalling.
- Step 5: Reassemble the faucet, turn on the water supply, and check for leaks.
The second faucet that does not rely on traditional rubber washers is the cartridge-style faucet. This faucet type is fitted with O-rings and brass or plastic cartridge cylinders fitted internally and operates using a single-lever or double-handle mechanism. With the single-handle model, the hot and cold water flow is controlled via the same internal cartridge, which is controlled by the handle. The double-handle faucet is similar to the single lever in the way it operates. The difference is the double-handle faucet is fitted with two cartridges to control water flow: one for hot water and one for cold water. The movement of the double handle results in twisting the cartridge versus the up/down motion generated by the single-lever faucet.
Causes of a Leaking Cartridge Faucet
A cartridge faucet consists of a hollow metal cylinder (cartridge) that fits inside the faucet. Its purpose is to prevent water from flowing from the cold and hot water lines. Whether it is a single-lever or double-handle faucet, there are two main reasons that can cause leaking. There may be a problem with fittings not properly seated into the opening on the cylinder, which results in a leak. The other issue is with the O-ring. The cartridge is positioned against the O-ring, which is made from polymer materials that provide a durable, yet pliable, O-ring. In the event the material becomes damaged or contains cracks, the faucet can leak or have a continuous drip.
What Tools Are Needed to Fix a Cartridge Faucet?
When a cartridge faucet is leaking from the spout or handles, several tools and materials are recommended to address repairs. Tools needed include a pipe wrench, tongue-and-groove pliers, an Allen wrench, a flathead screwdriver, and a Phillips screwdriver. Materials that may be needed include a new spring, new seat, plumber's putty, new O-ring, and a new cartridge or cartridges.
How to Repair a Cartridge Faucet
The following steps cover the repair of a two-handle cartridge faucet.
- Step 1: Before starting the project, shut off the water source by turning the knobs located under the sink in a clockwise direction. If under-the-sink valves are not present, shut off the main water valve that supplies the entire home.
- Step 2: Once the water supply is turned off, turn on the faucet to let any water in the line(s) drain into the sink and to allow any built-up pressure in the line(s) to be released.
- Step 3: The screws securing the faucet handle must be removed using the Allen wrench. These may be located on the side of the faucet or the rear. Other handles may be secured with a screw that is concealed beneath a plastic cap that sits atop the handle. Use the flathead screwdriver to remove the cap and the Phillips screwdriver to remove the screw securing the handle. Remove the handle by pulling it straight up.
- Step 4: Once the handle is removed, a retaining nut on the cartridge must be loosened and removed using either the pliers or the wrench. If the faucet contains a brass screw located atop the cartridge, remove it, and set aside to use in case the replacement cartridge does not come with the appropriate screw.
- Step 5: Observe the placement of the current cartridge so when the new cartridge is installed, it will be placed in precisely the same position. Remove the cartridge from the faucet body using the pliers to pull it straight up and out.
- Step 6: Visit a local hardware store or major home center and buy an exact cartridge replacement kit. Take the old one to compare to ensure you buy the correct cartridge. The replacement cartridge will most likely contain a new set of O-rings.
- Step 7: If necessary, use the old brass screw by inserting it into the top of the new cartridge, then dab a little plumber's putty/grease to the new O-ring. Reinsert the new cartridge in the exact same position as the old one making sure any notches or tabs line up precisely with the faucet bodY. Then, gently push until the cartridge is snugly fitted into the housing.
- Step 8: Reattach the retaining nut and secure it by using the pliers or wrench. Put the faucet handle in place and secure it with the applicable screws.
- Step 9: Turn on the valves, which are located under the sink or in the main valve to the home. Once that is complete, turn on the faucet to see if it is operating properly.
Ceramic Disc Faucet
The ceramic disc or disk faucet is one of the more durable faucets that is well-known for providing long-lasting reliability with minimal maintenance or repair necessary. The streamline design of the faucet features a single lever fitted over a protruding handle. Internally, the faucet relies on a pressure balance cartridge that works as a chamber to mix cold and hot water. There are also two ceramic discs located within the chamber that are responsible for controlling the volume of water and the strength of the water's flow. To control the water's temperature, the single lever is manually moved from one side to the other depending on the desired temperature.
Causes of a Leaking Ceramic Disc Faucet
Due to its modern technology and well-designed construction, the ceramic disc faucet is not as prone to experiencing leaking problems as the older style washer-reliant ball faucet, the washerless cartridge faucet, or a compression faucet. The areas that are most apt to be problematic include the seals, a damaged cartridge, or buildup of sediment within the assembly.
What Tools Are Needed to Fix a Ceramic Disc Faucet?
The basic tools and materials that may be needed for repairing a leaking ceramic disc faucet are minimal. These include a flat-head screwdriver, utility knife, an Allen wrench, groove-point pliers, hex wrench, O-ring (optional), food coloring (optional), toothbrush, and a new cartridge, if applicable.
How to Repair a Ceramic Disc Faucet
Fixing a ceramic disc faucet that is leaking is not difficult, but care must be taken to ensure the disc is not damaged during the repair process. Begin by shutting off the water supply using the valve or oval-shaped knob located under the sink, or turn off the main valve that supplies the entire home. Move the faucet lever to the on position to allow all water to drain from the line.
- Step 1: The handle needs to be removed. To do this, push the handle backward to expose the setscrew beneath, then use a hex wrench to remove it. In some older models, the screws may not be located beneath the handle but instead located under the counter. When located, remove the screws so the handle can be removed.
- Step 2: Use the tip of a flat-head screwdriver or the edge of a utility knife to carefully remove the decorative cap to expose the disc cartridge. Use groove-joint pliers to loosen the cartridge. You may be able to lift and remove the cartridge by hand, however.
- Step 3: Use the screwdriver to remove the seals from the cartridge. Inspect the seals for wear and tear. If any damage is visible, replace them with new seals. If the seals appear to be in good condition, use the toothbrush to clean and remove the seals and the area of the cartridge where the seals were located. Even if the seals and seal seat area where the cartridge resides seem in good condition, if any sediment/mineral buildup is apparent but cannot be removed, it is recommended that one or both be replaced.
- Step 4: As an alternative to using an old toothbrush to remove any built-up grime that may have accumulated in the cylinder openings, a soft pad doused with distilled white vinegar can be used to clean the area. Once both areas have been inspected, replace the original seals.
- Step 5: The O-ring will need to be removed using the screwdriver and inspected for cracks, splits, or evidence of wear and tear. If the O-ring needs replacing, apply a light layer of plumber’s grease before reinstalling it into the faucet.
- Step 6: Put the original cartridge back in place inside the faucet body if it is not damaged; otherwise, install a new cylinder along with new screws. Use the groove-joint pliers for tightening. Put the decorative cap in place and gently tighten it using your hand to prevent damage.
- Step 7: Use the Allen wrench to tighten and secure the setscrew. Once the faucet is reassembled, check that it is functioning properly. Do this by first turning on the water source then allowing the water to run through the system very slowly. Do not allow the water to rush or gush out at full force through the system, as the pressure can cause the ceramic disk to fracture.
The compression faucet has a long history as a plumbing fixture. This type of faucet is typically found in homes constructed years ago and often in garage or laundry room utility sinks in newer homes. The double handle mechanism that requires manual twisting to turn the hot or cold water tap on then twisting in the opposite direction to turn it off makes this type of faucet easy to identify. While the compression faucet is generally the least expensive of the four, this faucet typically generates more leaks than the other models.
Causes of a Leaking Compression Faucet
A compression faucet, like other models, has a series of working parts that are on call year-round. Because the compression faucet is considered an original style, it is more prone to leaks than other types of faucets. Four issues can cause leaking in this style faucet, including a damaged, deteriorated, loose, or worn-out washer, a damaged or loose O-ring, pitting inside the faucet spout, and corrosion of the valve seat.
What Tools Are Needed to Fix a Compression Faucet?
Several tools may be needed to replace or repair the multiple parts that may be prone to leaking with a compression faucet. The tools used in the following steps include a slotted/flat-head screwdriver, utility knife, Phillips-head screwdriver, crescent wrench, slip-joint pliers, heat-proof plumber's grease, valve-seat wrench, and replacement kit. An Allen wrench, also known as a hex key, may also be needed.
How to Repair a Compression Faucet
Even with its many parts, fixing a leaking compression faucet is typically a simple process. Before starting the repair, turn off the water supply to the sink. Turn both the hot and cold faucet handles on to allow water in the lines to drain. Then, cover the sink opening to prevent any repair items from entering the drain.
- Step 1: Each handle should have a decorative cap that will need to be removed to access the inner workings. Use a slotted screwdriver to remove the cap. As an alternative, a utility knife can also be used.
- Step 2: Remove the screw holding the handle in place using a Phillips-head screwdriver. Then, remove the handle so the stem assembly is exposed.
- Step 3: Unscrew and remove the packing/retaining nut using a crescent wrench or slip-joint pliers.
- Step 4: Remove the stem, which is attached to the body of the faucet, and check the assembly for any damage as well as the seat washer and the O-ring. If the washer is not up to par, remove and replace it. If the O-ring is damaged, use the utility knife to cut it from the stem. Use heat-proof grease to coat the replacement O-ring before installing/guiding it back onto the stem using a flat-head screwdriver.
- Step 5: Whether you've chosen to make repairs to the stem assembly or opted to install a new assembly, put the parts back into place in the proper order. Use the slip-joint pliers to secure the packing/retaining nut, then place and secure each handle and reposition the decorative cap. Note: If you choose to replace the stem assembly in one handle, it is recommended the other stem assembly be replaced as well.
- Step 6: Turn on the water supply, then turn on each handle individually to ensure the assembly is working properly and that there are no leaks.
If, after inspecting the washer and O-ring for damage and none is found, the next area to check is the valve seat. This is where the faucets fit into the base. If there is any damage to the seat, such as rough or uneven spots, the faucet may not fit properly/snugly into place, which means it won't be watertight, regardless of replacing the washers, and will continue to leak. If this is the case, the valve seat(s) will need to be removed and replaced using a special wrench.
Best Practices for DIY Faucet Repair Projects (And When to Call a Pro)
When dealing with a leaking faucet, keep in mind there are several models and manufacturers as well as a variety of reasons the faucet isn't functioning properly. Take the model number and the damaged part with you when shopping to ensure you purchase the correct replacement item and that you have the appropriate tools on hand for your particular faucet type.
It's also totally normal to call in a professional if you're not feeling confident in your ability to solve the issue with the tools you currently have or if you think you may damage something in the process. They'll be able to deal with the problem quickly and effectively, which can take a lot off your shoulders.