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Plumbing and heating expert, Richard Trethewey, shows you how to fix a leaky faucet.

There are few things more annoying than a leaky faucet. It's a constant reminder that you're wasting water, plus the drip, drip, dripping sound is beyond irritating. Don't put up with it—fix it! Repairing a leaky faucet is an easy and inexpensive project. The key is in knowing how to fix your particular type of faucet.

What Causes a Faucet to Drip?

There are four kinds of faucets: cartridge, compression, ceramic disk, and ball type. A compression faucet relies on rubber washers to seal the valve seat, which can wear out and need to be replaced. With the other three types of faucets, either the O-ring or neoprene seal that's causing the leak needs to be replaced. We’ll go over each of these fixes in more detail below.

How Do You Fix a Dripping Faucet?

Before you start, shut off the water under the sink. Cover the drain with a rag to catch dropped parts, and establish a spot nearby to lay out the parts in the order of their removal. Tape the jaws of your wrench with a layer of duct tape to avoid scratching the fixture, and have some distilled white vinegar and a soft scouring pad ready for removing any mineral deposits found on the parts.

Faucet Cartridge

Faucet Cartridge Parts Illustration

How To Fix a Leaky Cartridge Faucet:

  1. Pry off the decorative cap on the handle, remove the handle screw, tilt the handle back, and pull it off.
  2. If there’s a threaded retaining clip holding the cartridge in place, use needle-nose pliers to remove it, then pull the cartridge straight up.
  3. Remove the spout and cut off the old O-rings using a utility knife. Coat the new O-rings with nontoxic, heat-proof plumber’s grease.
  4. To replace the entire cartridge, match the length of the old cartridge with the length of the replacement. Also match the stem end where the handle attaches.

Compression Faucet

Compression Faucet Parts Illustration

How To Fix a Leaky Compression Faucet:

  1. Most leaky compression faucets need new seat washers. Use a small slotted screwdriver or utility knife to pry off the decorative cap on the handle, exposing the attachment screws.
  2. Use a screwdriver to remove the handle screw, then pull off the handle.
  3. Use a crescent wrench to unscrew the packing nut and an adjustable wrench to loosen the stem from the faucet body.
  4. Unscrew the rubber washer from the bottom end of the stem to remove and replace the seat washer.
  5. Coat the washers with nontoxic, heat-proof plumber’s grease.
  6. Pop the stem out of the packing nut and replace the O-ring, the culprit for leaky handles. O-rings range in size from 3/8 to 5/8 inch, so it’s crucial to match the exact size of your faucet. Coat the new O-ring with plumber’s grease.
  7. The washer sits in a round, recessed disk called a retainer. If the original retainer is damaged, grind it flush and install a replacement retainer ring. If your faucet continues to leak, the seat may be pitted.
  8. Remove the stem and sand the top end of the seat with emery cloth to smooth it out.
  9. If you can’t repair the original seat, replace it with a new one.

Ceramic-disk Faucet

Ceramic-disk Faucet Parts Illustration

How To Fix a Leaky Ceramic Disk Faucet:

  1. Push the handle back to access the set screw. Remove the screw and lift off the handle.
  2. Remove the escutcheon cap, unscrew the disk cylinder mounting screws, and lift out the cylinder.
  3. With a blunt screwdriver, lift out the neoprene seals from the cylinder. If the seals are damaged, replace them.
  4. Use distilled white vinegar and a soft scouring pad to clean the cylinder openings, then rinse them thoroughly.
  5. Replace the seals and reassemble the faucet.
  6. Move the handle to the “on” position and turn the water back on slowly—the force of the returning water can fracture the ceramic disk.
  7. If you’re replacing the entire cylinder (usually not necessary), set it in place and secure it with the new mounting screws.

Ball-type Faucet

Ball-type Faucet Parts Illustration

How to Fix a Leaky Faucet Ball-Type:

This type of faucet contains a lot of parts, which often makes it difficult to find the cause of the leak. You can avoid the aggravation by buying a replacement kit and putting in all new parts.

  1. Use a pocketknife to pry off the small index cover from the side of the faucet and reveal the hex-head screw.
  2. Loosen the screw with a hex-key wrench and pull off the faucet handle.
  3. Use adjustable pliers to remove the cap and collar.
  4. Using the special tool included in the faucet-repair kit, loosen the faucet cam and lift it out, along with the cam washer and the rotating ball.
  5. Reach into the faucet body with needle-nose pliers and remove the rubber seats and springs.
  6. Slip a new spring and rubber seat onto the tip of a pencil and lower it down into the faucet.
  7. Repeat to install the second seat and spring.
  8. Reinstall the stainless-steel ball, making sure to align its keyway with the corresponding tab inside the faucet body.
  9. On top of the stainless-steel ball, install a new rubber gasket and cam cap.
  10. Align the keyway on the cap with the corresponding slot.
  11. Hand-tighten the top cap assembly back onto the faucet.
  12. Use a spanner wrench to tighten the nut to provide the proper tension against the stainless-steel ball.

Looking for help with repairs around your home? A home warranty may help. Check out these in-depth guides from the This Old House Reviews Team: