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The Complete Guide on How to Repair a Leaky Faucet

Virtually every homeowner everywhere has dealt with leaky faucets at least once, and not only a leaky faucet is annoying, but when left untreated, it can lead to other issues from water damage to the floor, walls, and furniture to higher utility bills, and others. Yet, do you know that you don’t really need to…

June 27, 2022

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Virtually every homeowner everywhere has dealt with leaky faucets at least once, and not only a leaky faucet is annoying, but when left untreated, it can lead to other issues from water damage to the floor, walls, and furniture to higher utility bills, and others.

Yet, do you know that you don’t really need to always call a professional plumber to fix the leak? 

In fact, fixing a leaky faucet is a relatively easy repair that will only take one or two hours to fix, and you don’t really need expensive tools and materials. In this guide, we will learn how. 

In this complete guide on how to repair a leaky faucet, you’ll learn about:

  • Different types of faucets, how they work, and how to identify them. So you can identify your faucet’s type and how to fix them.
  • The common cause of leaks for different types of faucets
  • Safety considerations, equipment and tools you’ll need, and best practices
  • Step-by-step guide on fixing faucet leaks

Without further ado, let us begin this guide right away.

Different Types of Faucets

Nowadays, we have many different types of faucets utilizing different technologies. The thing is, when these faucets are broken, each of these different types may require different approaches to fix them.

So, before you can start repairing your leaky faucet, it’s very important to first understand what type your faucet is and how it works, so you can use the right method and tools to fix the leak.

Fortunately, although they may seem like a potentially infinite number of faucets available in the market, most if not all of them can be categorized into just four main types:

1.Disc Faucets

Also called “disk” faucets, this type of faucet uses the newest technology available today, and we can easily find them in newer buildings.

How to identify them: a wide cylindrical body with single-lever control. This single lever can control the temperature of the water via side-to-side rotation (i.e., hot on the left, cold on the right, warm on the middle.)

How it works: a disc faucet utilizes two ceramic discs (hence the name) that sit at the bottom of a chamber called a “pressure balance cartridge,” which mixes hot and cold water inside it. The side-to-side angle of the control lever will control the proportion of the hot and cold water, while the two ceramic disks at the bottom (one for each type of water) will raise or lower themselves to control the volume of water.

Disk faucets are high-quality and very reliable, and in most cases, they won’t leak very often. However, when they do have issues, repairing them can be tricky, and you may need the help of a professional to fix them properly.

2.Ball Faucets

A very popular type of faucet, characterized by a metal or plastic ball inside the faucet’s body (hence the name). It is the first type of “washerless” faucet (not featuring neoprene or rubber washers), and they are very common in many residential houses.

How to identify them: easily identifiable by a single handle sitting on top of a ball-shaped cap (the ball should be visible when you lift the handle).

How it works: the single handle of the ball faucet controls the ball (either metal or plastic) inside the faucet. This ball has slots or chambers in it, along with spring-loaded rubber seals and O-rings. The ball’s position will determine the volume of the flow and the temperature of the water coming out of the faucet.

Since ball faucets use more components, they tend to leak more than disc faucets and cartridge faucets. 

3.Cartridge Faucets

Cartridge faucets look very similar to a traditional (compression) washer faucet, which we will discuss below. However, a cartridge faucet is a washerless faucet, so the handles feel better when used.

How to identify them: they can have one or two handles (typically two) and are much smoother to operate than traditional compression faucets. 

How they work: The handles on cartridge faucets should feel consistent; just a half-turn should bring the faucet to the fully-on position and should be easy to turn off without any effort at all. Due to this smoothness, cartridge faucets tend to use lever-style handles rather than round handles to provide better control.

Cartridge faucets tend to be robust and reliable, especially when compared to compression washer faucets.

4.Compression Washer Faucets

Compression washers are the oldest out of the four types discussed here, and unlike the other three, it features a rubber or neoprene washer. Nowadays, compression faucets are often found in older homes and commercial buildings.

How to identify them: again, they look very similar to cartridge faucets, but we can differentiate the two by trying to use them. Compression faucets will require you to fully tighten the handle to turn them off and will require more effort to operate. 

Due to this design, compression faucets often use round knobs that are easier to turn to accommodate the longer travel distance, rather than lever-style handles often found on cartridge faucets.

How they work: the compression washer uses a compression stem (technically a valve or a screw) that pushes against the washer to form a vacuum seal (blocking the water’s flow). The handle’s operation will move the stem up and down, controlling the flow. 

Compression faucets are, in most cases, the most affordable option but are also the most prone to leaks. Maintenance may be more challenging and expensive in the long run.

Faucet Leaks: Common Issues You Need to Know

Now that we’ve understood the four basic types of faucets and how they work, we can learn the common problems causing leaks for each type:

  1. Disc faucets: as mentioned, disc faucets are the newest and most “advanced” type and tend to be very durable and reliable. When they do leak, typically, it’s caused by a cracked ceramic disc (which is rare).
  2. Ball faucets: ball faucets have more parts than other types, so there are several common causes for leaks to happen:
    • leaks from handle base: typically caused by broken o-rings or adjusting rings, they may need to be replaced
    • leaks from spout handle: in most cases, can be fixed by replacing the o-rings
    • Dripping from faucet spout: can be caused by a cracked ball, which can be quite expensive to replace. However, it can also be caused by broken springs and seats (relatively easier/cheaper to replace.)
  3. Cartridge faucets: cartridge faucets are quite durable, but leaks can happen due to several scenarios:
    • leaks from handle base: typically caused by broken o-rings 
    • leaks from spout handle: in most cases, can be fixed by replacing the o-rings
    • Dripping from faucet spout: can be caused by a broken cartridge. Relatively cheaper/easier to replace than a ball, it can also be caused by faulty o-rings.
  4. Compression faucets: as discussed, compression faucets are most prone to leaks and maintenance. The most common reason for a leak in compression faucets is a worn-out washer. When the washer gets thinner with use, water flow isn’t completely stopped, causing leaks. Replacing the washer can fix the leaking issue in most cases, but a bad o-ring can also be the cause of leaks in compression washer faucets.

Fixing a Leaky Faucet: Preparation and Safety Considerations

So, you are considering repairing your leaky faucets on your own?

As mentioned, fixing a leaky faucet, regardless of the type of faucet you own, is fairly easy and affordable. However, you should still make the right preparations.

While you may need different equipment and materials depending on the specific issue on your faucet, below is a general list of equipment and materials you should prepare:

Parts and materials:

  • Replacement washers, seats & springs, cartridge repair kit, etc., depending on the type of your faucet
  • O-rings and adjustment rings
  • Scouring pad
  • Duct tape
  • Plumber’s grease
  • Duct tape

Equipment and tools:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • Allen wrench
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Adjustable wrench

Best Practices and Safety Considerations

Follow these best practices not only to ensure your (and your property’s) safety but also to help you save more money you’d otherwise spend on damaged furniture and other issues:

  • Always turn off the water to your faucet before starting the reparation process (including when you’d want to examine the faucet.)
    • Typically you can use the valve located below the faucet to turn the faucet off completely. Turn it clockwise to shut the faucet off.
    • If you can’t find the valve or handle anywhere, then find your water main and turn it off.
  • Plug the drain before starting the preparation. If you don’t have any sink plug, then you can use a rag to cover the sink. This is to prevent having screws and other small materials go down the sink.
  • Use the tips above to accurately determine what type of faucet you have.
  • When making your reparations, you can duct tape your equipment or the faucet to prevent any scratch or impact damage to the faucet. 
  • Be patient and don’t rush things. Make sure you’ve reassembled everything properly before turning the water back on. 
  • Prepare distilled white vinegar in a bowl and a soft cloth. You’ll use this solution to clean off mineral stains commonly found on faucet parts.

Step-By-Step Guide: Fix Your Leaky Faucet

1.Fixing leaky disk faucets

Remember that for disk faucets, the majority of the time, leaks are caused by cracked or broken discs. So, the objective of the repair is to replace this broken disc.

Step 1: Locate the leak

First, turn off the water supply to the faucet. 

If it’s a two-line disc faucet (it has two handles), then turn off the water supply one line at a time. If the leak continues after you’ve turned off one line, then the leak is on the other line. Turn off both valves once you’re sure you’ve identified the leak.

Step 2: Remove screws

The next step is to disassemble the faucet. 

First, free the faucet from any remaining water by fully turning on the handles. Close the drain and plug the sink to prevent parts from falling down the drain. 

While it may vary depending on the model, typically, you should be able to see the screws after you’ve pushed the handle back. Unscrew the screw or screws with an Allen screwdriver, and lift the handle off. Then depending on the model, you can remove the cap either by removing more screws or unclipping it.

Remove the aerator, check for damage, and finally, pull out the disc cartridge.

Step 3: Replace cartridge seals

Check the condition of the disc’s cartridge. Typically it will show some mineral buildup, so use the distilled white vinegar solution you’ve prepared to clean it. Check the cartridge’s rubber seals whether they need to be replaced.

Step 4: Replace o-ring seals

Remove the disc, and you should be able to see the o-ring seals. Check the condition and replace them as needed. Clean the faucet’s cylinder if clogged.

(optional) if the disc is cracked or broken, then you’ll need to replace the disc cylinder. Set the new disc in place, and reassemble the faucet.

Important note, ceramic discs could crack if there’s too much air inside the faucet’s cylinder. It’s best to leave the faucet open as you turn the water on again to allow the air to escape. Wait until the water runs smoothly before turning the faucet off. 

2.Fixing leaky ball faucets

Ball faucets contain more components than other types of faucets, and there can be multiple sources of leaks. It’s best to purchase a repair kit for ball faucets before starting the repair process. 

Ball faucet repair/replacement kits are relatively affordable, so trying to pinpoint the cause of the leak might not be worth it.We’d recommend just replacing all potential leaking spots instead, also to avoid other leaks in the future.

Step 1: Remove screws

First, make sure to turn off the water supply to the faucet. Make sure to release all water before attempting to disassemble the faucet.

Lift the handle, and remove the faucet’s cover. You should be able to see the screw. Use an Allen screwdriver to loosen the screw until you can lift the handle from the base. 

Check whether water is leaking around this base. If that’s the case, then tightening the adjusting ring alone can probably fix the leak. Simply turn the adjusting ring clockwise to tighten it. If you’ve got a repair kit with you, then it should include a spanner tool for tightening the adjusting ring.

Or else, if you found water dripping from the faucet spout, then you should replace the seats and springs.

Step 2: Remove cap and ball

As we’ve recommended, you might want to wrap the jaws of your pliers with duct tape to avoid scratching the faucet as you use the pliers to unscrew the cap. Unscrew the cap by turning it counterclockwise.

Then, you should be able to lift the cover and remove the ball. Check the ball whether there’s any damage, and replace the ball if needed.c Carefully align the new ball’s groove with the pin in the socket and ensure it fits securely.

Step 3: Install new parts

Remove the rubber seats and springs (there should be two for each of them), and replace them. Carefully place the new springs and then the new rubber seats over them.

Then, replace the plastic cover. Line the lug on the cover with the notch in the valve body and carefully set it over the ball. Replace the adjusting ring over the cap, and use pliers to tighten it.

Turn the water back on and check if there are still any leaks, and replace the faucet handle once everything else is done.

3.Fixing leaky cartridge faucets

Similar to ball faucets, cartridge faucets also have multiple parts, and it’s recommended to purchase a repair kit and replace all the parts at once rather than trying to pinpoint the problem.

Once you’ve got your hand on the repair kit:

Step 1: Disassemble

First, pry off the handle cap on top of the faucet handle. You should be able to see the handle screw, unscrew it then pull the handle off by tilting it backward. 

Remove the faucet parts one by one, but remember their placements and order. You can use your phone to take a video to help you remember the order of replacing the parts.

Step 2: Remove the retaining clip

Some cartridge faucet models feature a threaded retaining clip, and you may need to remove it first before you can remove the cartridge. Use needle-nose pliers to remove the clip first.

You should’ve got a spanner cap in your replacement kit, which you can use to remove the cartridge. Simply place the spanner cap over the cartridge, then grip the spanner cap with pliers and twist it back and forth to loosen it up. Then, you can pull the cap straight up with pliers to remove it.

Step 3: Replace worn parts

Clean any parts with mineral deposit buildups with distilled white vinegar, and start replacing worn parts with new parts from your repair kit.  

Here are a few tips:

  • Coat the new O-rings with the plumber’s grease before installing them. If removing the old o-rings is difficult, you can simply cut them with scissors or a knife. Be careful not to scratch other parts of the faucet.
  • If the faucet features a retaining clip, when inserting a new cartridge, you may need to twist it with pliers or the plastic spanner cap so it can align with the retaining clip.
  • When re-assembling the faucet, follow the reverse order it was disassembled (if you’ve kept a disassembling video/pictures, you can use it as your reference.)
  • Before anything else, try to find a small notch on the top of the stem. Rotate the stem so that the notch faces you, then proceed to install the other parts.
  • If the faucet features a retaining clip, make sure to properly slide the retaining clip into the slots to secure the cartridge.

Once reassembled, try the faucet to check whether there is still any leak, and check whether everything works properly. If the cold and hot water gets reversed, you’ll need to open the faucet again until you can see the stem and turn the steep 180 degrees.

4. Fixing leaky compression washer faucets

As mentioned, the traditional (compression) washer faucets typically leak due to faulty or worn-out washers.  

It’s worth noting that since, design-wise, compression faucets are very similar to cartridge faucets, so the disassembly processes of both are quite similar. You can check the disassembly guide for cartridge faucets above as a reference.

To replace the washer, you can follow these steps:

Step 1: Remove handle

Remove the handle cap by unscrewing all the screws. Then, you can proceed to remove the handle screw and remove the handle.

Step 2: Remove the stem

Use a crescent wrench or an adjustable wrench to unscrew the packing nut, then proceed to loosen (don’t completely remove) the stem until the washer under it is visible.

Step 3: Remove and replace the washer

Remove the washer at the bottom of the stem, and replace it with a new one. Coat the new washer with the plumber’s grease before installing it.

Try reassembling the faucet and then test it. If it’s still leaking, it can be caused by either a worn-out O-ring:

  • Replacing O-ring

Remove the stem (check the instructions above), so you can access the O-ring. Make sure to get the right O-ring size before replacing it; bring the old O-ring to a hardware store so you can get the right size if necessary.

When To Get Professional Help

If, after you’ve followed the tips we’ve shared above, the leak still persists, it’s time to get professional help.

Cocoon Home Services provides you with an easy way to get help from a professional plumber with just a single tap, click, or phone call. Sign up with Cocoon today, and we’ll send a Cocoon Service Pro to fix your leaky faucet right away.