Repairing Leaky Faucets

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If you have leaky faucets, you are wasting water and could be staining your fixtures. Small leaks in your faucets can waste 3 gallons of water every day.

There are lots of faucets on the market today and even though they look different, they all use the same basic parts and work pretty much the same way. There are “mixing faucets” and “stem faucets,” both of which allow the user to select temperature settings by controlling the hot and cold handles. ‘Mixing faucets’ have a single control arm that mixes the water in the valve itself. ‘Stem faucets’ have two individual handles, one for the hot water and one for the cold water. The water mixes in the faucet pipe. With ‘stem faucets’, both or either of the valves may need to be repaired.

This article will focus on stem type faucets.



Just under the handle of a stem valve, there is a packing nut that can be tightened or loosened. If water is leaking around the packing nut area – near the base of the handle – your connection is probably just loose. Using an adjustable wrench, tighten the nut located just below the handle. (Note: In some faucets, the nut may be hidden inside the handle. Pull the handle off to reveal the faucet’s hardware.)


Most faucet leaks are caused by washers which are improperly installed, worn out or are the wrong size. Signs of a bad washer include water that drips or runs out of the faucet and water that collects or pools around the back of the handle area of the faucet. You can figure out which valve is leaking by shutting off the water supply in stages. First, turn off the hot water to check for leaks. If the dripping stops, it is the hot water valve washer that you’ll need to replace. Below are steps for replacing the old washers in your stem-type faucet valve.


Washers of several different sizes. You can get these at a home supply or plumbing supply store.

An adjustable wrench.

Screwdriver – you may need either a Philips or a standard screwdriver – whatever matches your faucet washer screws.

Steps to fix a water leak


Turn off the water supply to the sink you’re working on. The supply lines run from the floor or the wall behind the sink. Near the wall of the floor, there will be a valve that will shut off the water. Turn off both the hot and the cold water supply before you do anything else. Make sure the water is off by turning on the water valves.
If you do not have valves behind the sink, you may have to turn off the water supply to the whole house. When no water comes out at the faucet, you’re ready for step two.


Loosen the packing nut (counter-clockwise) located just under the faucet handle. If you’re working with a decorate bathroom faucet handle, you’ll may need to remove the decorator covering. Unscrew the nut so it is completely free of the valve stem. Use the faucet handle to pull out the entire valve unit ( you will have to twist and pull up at the same time – the valve may be stubborn).


With the valve stem in your hand, look at the bottom for the old washer. Using the screwdriver, remove the screw that holds the washer.


Using the old washer as a guide, replace the old washer with one of equal size and shape. Replace the screw to hold the washer in place.

Before you replace the valve stem, look into the valve at the ‘seat’ where the washer will press down to close off the water. This seat usually looks like a ring of metal with a hole in the middle. The water comes into the valve through that hole – occasionally a faucet leak will wear a groove in the seat. If that is the case, replacing the washer may not solve the leak problem. If you can see a deep grove in the seat, you will have to have the entire faucet replaced. We recommend calling a plumber to do this for you.


Place the valve stem unit back into the faucet, turning the handle to its proper position before tightening. Make sure the valve is in the same open or closed position it was in when you took it apart.


Tighten the packing nut and turn the water back on. Test for leaks.

If your faucet continues to leak and you’re fairly certain the washer is to blame, try replacing your old washer with one of a different size and/or shape.
If that doesn’t solve the problem we recommend calling a plumber to set things straight.


The metal on faucets is softer than the metal in a pair of pliers or wrench. If you wrap the jaws of your pliers or wrench with duct tape you’ll prevent marring and damaging the soft metal parts of your faucet.

Close the drain or put a stopper in it before doing any faucet repairs. That way when (not if) you drop something in the sink, you won’t have to take apart the drain trap to get it back.

Take digital pictures or lay out parts in order when you’re removing parts so that you know how they go back together when you reassemble them.

Purchase some plumbers grease when you buy the washers. If you lubricate everything it will help improve the seal.

Washers on the hot side wear out faster than those on the cold side, and if you really crank down on the handles when you turn off the water, you will damage the washers faster than if you simply turn the water off with a tight twist.

Boulder Plumbing

Boulder Plumbing in Boulder, Colorado is the place to go for plumbing information  in Boulder, CO

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