Fixing Leaky Faucets
Learn to fix leaky faucets. Most repairs in your home are simple enough for you to do without calling a plumber.
Listening to running water is a very relaxing experience. But a dripping faucet will drive most people to distraction. Even worse are those leaks, some small but becoming larger, that leave you wading through damp carpet or wet floors. Although there a many different types of faucets that must each be repaired in their own way, most repairs are simple enough for you to do without calling a plumber.
Before you begin repairing a faucet always be sure you have shut off the water under any sink or basin and then opened the faucet to allow any trapped water to drain. It is also a good idea to cover your wrench or pliers with electrical tape to protect the finished surfaces of the fittings. Remove the part you are replacing and take it with you to a plumbing supply store so you can be sure you are getting an exact duplicate. You will also want to pick up some heatproof, waterproof grease to coat all the parts with. This will insure smooth movement of the parts, a good seal, and help in the future to disassemble if you need to replace a part.
If the faucet you are working on consists of a threaded stem assembly that turns the flow of water on and off, a seat washer to keep the water from leaking out the spout, and a packing nut with sealant that prevents leaks at the top of the stem, it is a stem faucet. To take this type of faucet apart you will first have to remove the handle. Next, unscrew the packing nut or stem nut and lift out the stem. If the leak is in the spout you should remove the screw holding the washer and simply replace the washer. When you discover that the stem assembly has a diaphragm that is shaped like a top hat with no washer, you should remove the worn diaphragm and snap on a new one. When the leak does not stop after you have changed the washer, you most likely will need to replace or resurface the valve seat. If the valve seat appears worn or pitted when you examine it under a flashlight, it should be removed with a seat wrench. To do this you will need to insert the wrench and turn it counterclockwise, then lift out the seat. Be sure you lubricate the new seat with pipe joint compound before you push it firmly onto the seat wrench and screw it back into place.
If you disassemble your faucet and discover that the seat cannot be removed you should smooth the rough surface with a seat dressing tool that is fitted with a cutter the exact size of the seat. The cutter should be screwed into the faucet so that it is flush against the valve seat. Make sure the guide fits snugly inside the valve. Gently turn the handle of the cutter until it moves with a smooth motion. Then remove the cutter and wash away the bits that have been ground off. In most cases, when water is seeping out of a faucet it is a sign of faulty packing. To repair this you should begin by gently tightening the packing nut. If this does not stop the seepage you will need to replace the item that was used to seal the faucet stem. This could be a packing washer, O-ring, or self forming packing. If the item used was self forming packing you will need to remove all of the old packing and wind enough new packing onto the stem to fill the packing nut. When this is done you should add about half as much packing since the nut will compact it as the faucet is used.
If your faucet is a single lever faucet the interior mechanism will differ from model to model. In this case you will need to purchase either a kit of replacement parts or an entire new cartridge. Make sure you take the parts with you since it is very important with this type of faucet that the kit or cartridge you purchase will fit your specific faucet. Although detailed disassembly instructions will come with a kit you will need to keep the drain closed and lay out each part in the order it is removed. The biggest challenge when working on this type of faucet is getting to the insides. As you work on this type of faucet you will notice that it is becoming more streamlined and the screws are carefully hidden by being tucked under the lever or covered by the decorative plates and buttons. In most cases, after you find the screws, you will need a small allen wrench to remove them. This is what makes the kits so worthwhile since they usually come equipped with the allen wrenches you will need.
When the leaky faucet is in your shower or bathtub you will need a plumber's socket to get the stem out of the wall. With a wall mounted shower or bathtub stem faucet you might find that you need to chip away the plaster to get to the stem. Once this is done you can insert the socket wrench into the wall. At this point you should treat this repair as you would any sink or basin faucet that is equivalent to the one you are working on. Replacing the cartridge can repair most single lever shower or tub faucets. When you have completed your repairs on a faucet always turn the water back on at about one half the pressure so you can test the assembly for further leaks. If a leak occurs in the same area or it is the same type of leak you may need to disassemble and reassemble the faucet, paying close attention to all the details. If you find you have extra screws when reassembling your faucet, take the assembly apart and find the area that is missing a screw.