How to Fix a Leaky Faucet the Right Way

Tom Hartelby Tom Hartel
plumber fixing bathroom

If you think a leaky faucet is not a big deal, consider that you could be wasting five gallons of water a day. That’s a situation where you have a drip per second, but if you’ve got a more extensive leak, it’s going to be far more than five gallons a day, and it will really start to show up on your water bill.

In some cases, it’s not the water loss that bothers people; it’s constant drip noise that drives them crazy. The goal should be to remedy the situation before it gets worse and you have a flood on your hands. If you’re not comfortable tackling this project yourself, by all means contact your local trusted plumber.

If you’re a DIY champion, we have some tips you can use to stop that leak.

What type of faucet do I have?

There are four main types of faucets installed in American homes. Let’s take a look at each:

Compression faucet:

These were once quite common because they were inexpensive, but they have fallen out of favor due to the maintenance required. These faucets will almost always feature two different nobs for hot and cold water. They use rubber seals, or washers, that will go bad eventually. The washer is found at the end of the compression stem, which makes them quite easy to fix.

Ball faucet:

Found mostly in the kitchen sink, the ball faucet utilizes a single lever on a slotted ball that will align with hot and cold water. It doesn’t have washers, but it has a number of parts that can fail, leading to leaks. Therefore, it’s more difficult to fix.

Ceramic disc faucet:

This is not a very common faucet, but it is known for its reliability. It uses two ceramic discs; one that sits in place and another that will move up and down or sideways to regulate the water flow and temperature. They are found within a cartridge. These cartridges rarely fail, but the size of the discs require the sink to have a wider body than others. When they do fail, they are quite expensive to fix.

Cartridge faucet:

The cartridge in these are usually hollow and metal, though some with have plastic housings. There will be two cartridges on two-handle faucets, or one for a one-handle version. Water pressure is adjusted by pulling up or down on the handle. The two-handle variety works similarly to a compression faucet, but the components in the cartridge are different. Most of these cartridges are built to last, but when they fail, leaks are the result.

What’s causing the drip?

There are three components that fail on a faucet depending the type you have: O-ring, cartridge or washer.

The O-ring is found within the handles. This is the part that is responsible creating a seal that keeps the water in. However, over time, the O-ring begins to break down, letter water leak in the handle.

The cartridge is found in cartridge faucets. You’ll know if yours is a cartridge faucet by turning the handle or handles (they are made with one and two handles) and feeling a smooth glide. A compression or ball faucet offers a turn that is less smooth. Most new cartridges cost upwards of $15 and they’re fairly easy to install.

The washers are often found in compression faucets that have two separate handles. These are the only type that use washers, which corrode and eventually cause water to seep out.

What tools are required?

Fortunately, you won’t need anything specialized to tackle this job. An adjustable wrench, petroleum jelly, flat head or Phillips screwdriver, needle nose pliers and replacement parts are pretty much all that is required to stop your leak.

How do I fix it?

Regardless of what type of faucet you have, your first step is to turn off the water supply to the sink. These are almost always found directly underneath it, one for hot water and the other for cold.

On a compression faucet, you’re most likely going to be replacing the washer. If you can’t find the screws, they are likely hidden under a metal or plastic disc. Take the handles off and remove the packing nut. Take the spindle out and remove the screws that keep the washer in place. Pull out the damaged washer and replace it.

If the leak is within the handle, which is often the case with a ball faucet, you likely need to replace the O-ring. Just remove the coupling nut and move the spout upward out of the socket so you can see the O-rings. Pull them out and replace them with the correct size O-Ring.

If you’ve got a cartridge faucet leak, remove the handle lever or the cover plate, depending on which model you have. Once those are removed, you can gain access to the screws holding the faucet body together. Loosen those and lift the faucet body off the cartridge. You also have to remove the locking nut that secures the cartridge to the sink. Remove the cartridge and replace with a new one.

Contact your local plumber

While many people will want to go the DIY route, it’s not for everybody. At Old World Plumbing, we are experts in residential plumbing and have served the Chicago area since 2004. Our team is made up of trusted, licensed, insured and certified plumbers who aim to please. Whether it’s a leak in your faucet or something as severe as a broken water main – we can handle the job. Contact us today and make us your go-to plumbing contractor.

Tom Hartel
President/Author
Tom Hartel

I acquired my expertise by directing day-to-day operations of the business for over 20 years. Continuous hard work helped me become a nationally recognized speaker and expert on plumbing and fire protection systems. In this blog, I share my knowledge that will hopefully help you make better decisions for your homes.

Let’s get connected: Linkedin