Fixing a leaky faucet

This DIY can help you fix the following problems:

  • Water is leaking from the faucet spout
  • Water is leaking from underneath the faucet tap

What you need to know:

Fixing a leaky faucet is a straightforward job if you're up for it. First, you'll need to figure out what type of faucet it is, and then follow the repair steps for that type.

What you'll need:

  • Knife
  • White vinegar
  • Old toothbrush or other small brush
  • Pliers, regular and needle-nosed
  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Wrench
  • Old towels or rags
  • Plumber's grease (make sure it's heat-proof and non-toxic)

Depending on what type of faucet you have, you may also need:

  • Compression faucet:
    • Replacement seat washers
    • Replacement O-rings (possibly)
  • Ball faucet:
    • Ball-faucet replacement kit
  • Cartridge faucet:
    • Replacement O-rings
  • Ceramic-disk faucet:
    • Replacement seals (possibly)

How to fix it:

  1. Turn off the water supply to the faucet. Look under or near the sink and find the two pipes that lead to the faucet. They should have taps on them. Close these taps tightly, and then turn the faucet on and off to make sure the water supply is shut off.
  2. Put an old towel or a rag in the sink, and another next to the sink. The towel or rag on the counter will be used to lay out the parts as you remove them, so you can put them back in the right order later. The one in the sink will catch any small parts you may drop accidentally, before they go down the drain. (Too late? Check out our DIY for opening a P-trap.)
  3. Identify the faucet type. There are four of them. Scroll down this page to find the instructions for the type of faucet you have.
    1. If your faucet has separate hot and cold taps like this one, it's a compression faucet. Scroll down the page and follow those instructions.
    2. If your faucet has a single arm like this one for controlling water flow and temperature, then it's one of the three remaining types. You won't be able to tell which type it is until you take it apart. Scroll down the page and follow the instructions for these types.

Compression faucet - repair instructions

  1. Remove the handles on the hot and cold taps by removing the screw in the top of the handle. This screw is probably covered by a plastic cap, which may be labelled (HOT/COLD, H/C, red/blue, etc.) You'll need to pry off the caps to get at the screws. Once the screw is out, the handle should just pull straight off.
  2. Using a wrench or pliers, remove the nut on top of the tap. If you're using pliers, you may want to put some duct tape on the plier jaws so you don't damage the nut.
  3. You'll see something called the stem. Pull the stem out.
  4. Identify and examine the washers for wear and damage. You'll see two of them. The bigger one is called an O-ring, and the smaller one is called a seat washer.
  5. Replace the O-ring if necessary. If your O-ring is damaged or worn out, this will likely be the source of the leak under the tap. Remove the O-ring and take it to a hardware store, so you can get a replacement that's the same size. Install the new O-ring.
  6. Replace the seat washer if necessary. If the seat washer is worn or damaged, it will likely be the cause of a leak from the faucet spout. Remove the seat washer by removing the screw that holds it in place. Take the washer to the hardware store to get an exact replacement. Cover the new seat washer with plumber's grease before you install it.
  7. Remove any mineral deposits. Using a toothbrush or small brush and some white vinegar, scrub any parts that have mineral deposits on them. These deposits can also cause leaks.
  8. Reassemble the faucet parts.
  9. Remove the towel or rag from the sink, turn the water supply back on, and check the faucet for leaks. If there are none, nice work, you're done.


Single-arm faucet - type identification

  1. Remove the faucet handle. There should be a screw on the side or underneath the handle that holds it on. Loosen this screw with a screwdriver and lift the handle off. There may also be a decorative cap on the handle that you'll need to pry off.
  2. Pull out or examine the faucet parts and identify what type they are. If you don't know which faucet type you have, the instructions for taking them apart are all different. Look at the first one or two steps for each of the types below to see which is the right one for your faucet, then follow the instructions for your faucet type.
  3. Here are a few tips that may help you identify your faucet.
  • If it looks something like this with its handle removed, or it has a ball bearing that looks something like this, it's a ball faucet.
  • If it looks something like this with its handle removed, or its parts look something like this, it's a cartridge faucet. (If your faucet handle has a decorative cap, it's also likely you have a cartridge faucet.)
  • If it looks something like this with its handle removed, or it has a ceramic cylinder that looks something like this, it's a ceramic-disk faucet.

Ball faucet - repair instructions

  1. Take the parts to a hardware store and buy a replacement kit. Ball faucets are a little tricky, because they may have more than one part that needs to be replaced, and special tools are needed to work on them. The easiest way to fix them is with a replacement kit, which will have everything you need, including the special tools. Talk to someone in the plumbing section and get them to help you find the right kit.
  2. If you haven't already done it, take off the cap and collar with pliers. Cover the jaws of your pliers with duct tape so you won't damage the cap and collar.
  3. Using the tool from the kit, loosen the faucet cam, then take out the cam, washer, and ball. This assembly of parts will look something like this: a rubber ball that fits into a socket.
  4. Pull out the inlet seals and springs with needle-nose pliers. Look at the picture to see how to do this.
  5. Find and replace the O-rings. You'll probably have to cut the old ones off with a knife. Cover the new ones in plumber's grease, and then put them on.
  6. Install the new parts from the kit, including the new springs, the valve seats, and the cam washers. Essentially, you'll be following the last four steps, just in reverse.
  7. Put the handle back on and tighten its screw.
  8. Remove the towel or rag from the sink, turn the water supply back on, and check the faucet for leaks. If there are none, congratulations, you're done.

Cartridge faucet - repair instructions

  1. Take off the handle.
    1. Cartridge faucets usually have some kind of decorative cap, so pry that off first.
    2. Then remove the screw holding the handle in place, and tilt the handle back to remove it.
  2. Remove the retaining clip if necessary. The retaining clip, if your faucet has one, is a round threaded plastic or metal part that holds the cartridge in place. You can remove it with pliers.
  3. Pull up on the cartridge. You want it standing straight up, the same position it's in when the water is flowing fastest.
  4. Remove the faucet spout. Pull it straight up and off the rest of the faucet base.
  5. Locate and replace the O-rings. Cut the old ones off with a knife. Before you install the replacement rings, coat them in plumber's grease.
  6. Reassemble the faucet by reversing the steps above.
  7. Put the handle back on and tighten its screw. Put the decorative cap back on as well, if your faucet has one.
  8. Remove the towel or rag from the sink, turn the water supply back on, and check the faucet for leaks. If there are none, you're all done.

Ceramic-disk faucet - repair instructions

  1. Take off the escutcheon cap. You'll find it right under the handle. It's usually a metal part.
  2. Unscrew the disk cylinder and remove it.
  3. Locate the seals on the underside of the cylinder and pry them out. There will be a few of them.
  4. Clean the seals and cylinders with white vinegar. This is an important step if you have hard water (like most of us in the Edmonton area). Give them a soak for a few hours or overnight to remove any deposits.
  5. After cleaning, examine the seals and replace them if necessary. You're looking for fraying, pits, thin spots and other signs of wear. If you have any doubt, take them to the plumbing department at the hardware store so you can pick up exact replacements. Taking the cylinder along as well wouldn't hurt.
  6. Reassemble the faucet by reversing the steps above.
  7. Put the handle back on and tighten its screw.
  8. Remove the towel or rag from the sink, and turn the water supply back on. Turn it on GRADUALLY; a ceramic cylinder can be damaged if it gets too much water pressure all at once.
  9. Check for leaks. Turn the water on and off gradually, change the temperature. If there are no leaks, pat yourself on the back.

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