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How to Fix a Leaky Faucet (Compression Type)

That constant drip-drip-drip isn’t only annoying; it can cost you more than you think on the next water bill. Luckily, the most common causes for leaks are also the simplest to repair. With a few tools and between 15 to 30 minutes of your time, you can easily take care of the dastardly drip once and for all.

What you’ll need (depending on faucet type) (tools available here):

  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Flat screwdriver
  • Assorted washers
  • Pliers
  • Seat wrench
  • Utility knife
  • Heat-proof grease
  • Faucet repairkit (for compression or ball-type fixtures)
  • Replacement cartridge (for cartridge and disc fixtures, only if needed)

Step1: Determine your faucet type

See here for more detail from my friend Mike.

Compression faucets use two separate handles to control hot and cold water. They’ve been around since the dawn of time and are probably the most commonly used (and most likely to leak) faucets of all.

Ball-type faucets are found most often in kitchen sinks and use a single, pivoting handle to control hot and cold water flow. Along with compression faucets, ball faucets are very common.

Cartridge faucets can be single or double handled. Single handled cartridge faucets operate in an up/down motion to control water flow, and left/right motion to control water temperature.

Disc faucets are the latest in faucet technology and rarely need repair. They have a single lever over a wide, cylindrical body.

Step 2: Turn off the water

Usually the water valve is right under your sink – if not, just follow the plumbing line to the nearest valve. Turn it to the off position (almost always clockwise.) Turn on the faucet to drain any remaining water. Put a stopper or towel in the sink to cover the drain, so you don’t lose any small parts.

Step 3: Remove, inspect and repair stem

Pop off any decorative cover with a utility knife, to expose the screw that holds the handle in place. Remove the screw and pull off the handle to get to the stem assembly. Inspect for damage: check the rubber washer at the end, unscrew the packing nut to see if the o-rings look okay. Replace any bad washers or o-rings (cut off old o-rings with a utility knife, and use a little heat-proof grease to coat a new one before you slide it on.) The alternative to replacing washers and o-rings to replace the entire stem assembly, and if you do – be sure to replace the stems on both the hot and code sides.

If the washers and o-rings all look good, check inside the valve seat for rough spots. (This means putting a finger into the hole you took the stem assembly out of.) If you feel any rough spots, you’ll need to use a seat wrench to remove the damaged seats and replace them with new ones. If your valve seats are damaged, new washers and o-rings will not solve your problem!

Step 4: Replace stem assembly

Replace the repaired, or new, stem assembly and tighten the retaining nut with pliers. Replace handles and screws and decorative caps, and make sure everything is tightened back up. Turn the water back on and test both hot and cold sides to make sure your faucet is working properly.

Step 5: Relax

Enjoy life, sans drip!

(Note: this article is part 1 of a 4-part series on leaky faucet fixes. The upcoming parts 2, 3, and 4 of this series will deal with fixing leaky faucets of the other types detailed above.)

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