How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average family can waste 180 gallons per week from household leaks. Little wonder that these leaks account for as much as 900 billion gallons per year, nationwide. So, if you have a leaky faucet and have promised yourself that you will "get around to it," now could be a good time. But how do you fix that leaky faucet, and where do you start? Read on for a step-by-step guide. 

Grasp the Scale of the Issue 

In March every year, the EPA champions Fix-a-Leak Week. This program draws attention to the scale of the problem, and the department will often run events from coast to coast to help occupants find and fix any household leaks. An average leak accounts for almost 10,000 gallons of water every year, and 10% of homes with leaks waste around 90 gallons daily. 

Often, these leaks occur out of sight, and the user may only suspect an issue when they get their inflated utility bill. But occasionally, leaks occur right under the occupant's nose — like with a leaky faucet. This usually is caused by old or worn faucet washers or gaskets. Such a leak may seem innocuous, but losses can add up. Check out the AWWA drip calculator to see how just a few drips per minute can lead to an incredible amount of waste over time. 

Prepare to Fix a Leaking Faucet 

So, when it's time to roll your sleeves up and fix that leaky faucet, where do you begin? 

The starting point is simple: Turn off the water. Typically, you'll find a pair of valves below the sink or basin — one for hot and one for cold. Turn both fully clockwise to shut off the water. Open the faucet to drain any water in the line, and plug the drain to prevent any small parts from falling in. 

You next need to determine what type of faucet you're dealing with — one with a washer (compression) or one without (cartridge, ceramic disc or ball-type). 

How to Fix a Compression Faucet 

This type of faucet has a small rubber washer that sits within the valve seat and holds the water back in the system. You can typically identify them by their separate hot and cold water handles and the fact that you have to tighten the handles down to shut off the water flow. To correct a leak in this type of faucet, follow these steps: 

  1. Remove the decorative cap from the top of each handle. You can usually pry this away carefully with a flathead screwdriver. 
  2. You will now see the screw that retains the handle. Loosen this with either a flathead or hex screwdriver (based on the type of screw). 
  3. Lift off the handle. You may need to use a dab of penetrating oil if it's stuck. 
  4. Once you've removed the handle, use an adjustable wrench to carefully loosen and then remove the nut that holds the stem in place. 
  5. Pull the stem away to reveal the O-ring and seat washer. You may need to replace both parts if they look significantly worn. 
  6. Sometimes, the seat washer is held in place by a screw. If so, you will need to remove this first. 
  7. Take the seat washer away and replace it with a new one. 
  8. Either return the old O-ring or add a new one before reintroducing the stem. 
  9. Tighten the stem nut with the adjustable wrench. You can then add the handle and screw and replace the decorative cap. 
  10. Turn on the water and test your handiwork. 

How to Fix a Washerless Faucet 

If you have a washerless faucet, you'll need to take a different approach: 

  1. Turn off the water beneath the sink and cover the drain so you won't lose any screws or other small parts.
  2. Remove the plastic or metal cap on the top of the faucet by using a flathead screwdriver to prize the cap away gently. 
  3. Loosen the screw that holds the handle in place and lift the handle away. If it's stubborn, use a couple of drops of penetrating oil. 
  4. You'll find one of three faucet types — cartridge, ball or ceramic disc. 
  5. For a  cartridge type, remove the circular threaded clip that keeps the cartridge in place and then (with needle-nose pliers) pull the old cartridge away. 
  6. Inspect the condition of the O-rings. You may need to cut the old ones away and replace them with new but if you're not sure, replace the entire cartridge. 
  7. If you have a ball device, you may need a toothless wrench to remove the cap and collar. Next, you can remove the cam, cam washer and ball to get at the spring and seal below. Remove the inlet seal and springs with needle-nose pliers and replace them with new components. You can usually buy these in a premade kit from a local hardware store. 
  8. If you have a ceramic disc, you must first remove the piece of rounded metal on top of the disc cylinder. Next, unscrew the cylinder and pry out the seals beneath. You may be able to clean away any muck that may have been causing the problem or replace the seals themselves. 
  9. Finally, reinstall the components in the order you removed them before turning the water back on to test your handiwork. 

Safety First: Install an Early Warning System 

Remember, water leaks can cost you money and waste a valuable resource. In some cases, they can even lead to significant damage over time. Consider installing a smart monitoring sensor to get an early warning so you can take immediate action. Notion Sensors will alert you as soon as they detect any water leaks. And now, once you discover the leak, you'll be well prepared to fix it.