Faucet Repair

This Fix-It Guide on faucet repair tells how a faucet works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a faucet problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives instructions for how to service a compression faucet, how to repair a reverse-compression faucet, how to change the packing in an older compression faucet, how to service a cartridge faucet, how to service a rotating-ball faucet, how to service a disk faucet, how to replace a faucet, how to repair or replace a leaking shower head, how to repair a shower head that leaks at the swivel, how to repair an outdoor sillcock faucet, how to clean an aerator, how to service a diverter valve, and how to clean a spray head.

How Does a Faucet Work?

 Faucet Repair

Below the cartridge in a cartridge faucet are two O-rings that seal the water from entering the faucet when it isn’t supposed to (dripping).

A faucet is a plumbing fixture for drawing water from a pipe. Household faucets use simple valves that control the flow of water. There are several types of valves–compression (sometimes called stem-and-seat), disk, ball, and cartridge are the most common. Outdoor faucets typically are compression or a long-stem compression design called a freezeless sillcock. Faucets also use different configurations of levers and handles to open and close the valves. That’s why they look different.

Faucets are fed from below by hot- and cold-water supply lines. Shutoff valves in the lines can be turned off while you’re working on a faucet.

To repair a faucet, you first need to know what kind of valve is inside. Start by identifying the brand and, if possible, the model. You can then take this information (or the removed faucet) to a plumbing supply store or home center for repair parts or kits. If you’ve kept the owner’s manual for the faucet from the last time it was replaced, you’ll have brand, model, and even parts information you need.

What Can Go Wrong with a Faucet?

Many new faucets are nearly maintenance free. The most common complaint about faucets is that that they drip or leak. Repair kits are available for most home faucets and they are relatively easy to install.

Fix-It Tip

Don’t know what kind of valve a faucet has? Guess! If the faucet has two handles that rise when you turn the water on, it’s probably a compression valve. If the handles lowers when you turn the water on, it’s probably a reverse-compression faucet. If it has only one lever for both hot and cold water, chances are it’s a cartridge type.

How Can I Identify a Faucet Problem?

  • If a faucet leaks, replace seals and gaskets (see below).
  • If a shower head leaks, create a better seal or replace seals (see below).
  • If a sillcock wears out, replace the washers (see below).
  • If a compression faucet drips from the spout, replace the washer and/or the seat (see below).
  • If a faucet leaks from the handle, replace O-ring(s), replace the packing washer, tighten the packing nut, or replace worn packing, depending on the valve type (see below).
  • If a ball or cartridge faucet leaks from the collar, replace worn O-rings (see below).
  • If a disk faucet leaks around the base or has reduced flow, replace cracked or pitted disk assembly or worn inlet seals (see below).
  • If there is water under the sink, tighten the faucet-set locknuts under the sink. You also can replace putty or a gasket, replace a worn faucet, or replace leaky supply tubes (see below).
  • If the aerator leaks around the edge, replace the washer in the aerator (see below).
  • If the spray hose leaks or has reduced flow, replace the O-ring on the diverter valve, replace a worn washer at the base of the spray head, or clean the diverter valve and spray head (see below).

Fix-It Tip

Can’t get the faucet handle to turn? Apply penetrating oil (WD-40) and let it soak in. If the nut or screw is stripped, visit a hardware store for tools to loosen stuck fasteners.

What Do I Need for Faucet Repair?

Just about all the parts and tools needed to fix faucets are available through larger hardware and plumbing stores or home improvement centers. The tools you’ll need include these:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Plumbing or pipe wrench
  • Valve seat wrench
  • Plumber’s grease
  • Plumber’s putty
  • Plumber’s tape
  • Vinegar
  • Small brush

What Are the Steps to Faucet Repair?

Service a compression faucet:

  1. Turn off the water supply and open the faucet handle to relieve water pressure.
  2. Carefully pry off the trim cap with a small screwdriver or putty knife.
  3. Remove the locknut with an adjustable wrench, then lift the spindle out of the faucet.
  4. As needed, remove and replace the O-ring. Before reinstalling, coat the stem lightly with plumber’s grease.
  5. As needed, remove the retaining screw and pry out the washer. Install an exact-replacement washer and tighten it.
  6. As needed, inspect the seat and replace if damaged.
  7. Install the valve and tighten, then reinstall the handle and test.

Repair a reverse-compression faucet:

  1. Turn off the water supply and open the faucet handle to relieve water pressure.
  2. Carefully pry off the trim cap with a small screwdriver and remove the handle screw. Unscrew the packing nut and lift out the stem assembly.
  3. As needed, pry out the washer under the packing nut and replace it.
  4. As needed, remove the seat washer and replace it with one that fits exactly. Re-thread the spindle and washer back onto the stem, and reassemble the faucet.

Change the packing in an older compression faucet:

  1. Turn off the water supply and open the faucet handle to relieve water pressure.
  2. Remove the handle and any trim.
  3. Remove the packing washer or string and clean the area of debris.
  4. Insert a new packing washer into the packing nut, replace the stem, reassemble the handle, and test.

Service a disk faucet:

  1. Turn off the water supply and open the faucet handle to relieve water pressure.
  2. Remove the trim cap with a small screwdriver, then remove the handle screw and pull off the handle.
  3. Use an adjustable wrench to unscrew the locknut, then lift the disk assembly from the faucet body.
  4. Inspect the assembly. If it is damaged, replace it with a new unit.
  5. As needed, purchase and install a spring-and-seat repair kit made for the make and model of faucet.
  6. Tighten the locknut, reinstall the handle, and test the faucet.

Service a cartridge faucet:

 Faucet Repair

Remove the faucet handle.

  1. Turn off the water supply and open the faucet handle to relieve water pressure.
  2. Remove the handle (often held on by a hex screw) and any trim.
  3. Unscrew the retainer nut by hand or with adjustable pliers and lift it off the faucet.
  4. Remove the retainer clip, if any, that holds the cartridge in the faucet body.
  5. Remove the cartridge stem and lift it out of the faucet body.
  6. If the cartridge is worn or
     Faucet Repair

    Remove and, if needed, replace the cartridge with an exact replacement.

    damaged,replace it. If the O-rings are damaged, replace the rings only.

  7. Reassemble and test the faucet.

Fix-It Tip

When working on a faucet still attached to the sink, make sure you close the drain to prevent losing any small parts.

Service a rotating-ball faucet:

  1. Turn off the water supply and open the faucet handle to relieve water pressure.
  2. Remove the handle by loosening the setscrew under the handle.
  3. Carefully turn the adjusting ring clockwise so the ball moves easily without the handle attached; do not over-tighten.
  4. Reinstall the handle, aligning the setscrew with the flat spot on the ball lever and test the faucet.
  5. If additional service is needed, refer to the faucet owner’s manual or a rotating-ball faucet repair kit.

Replace a faucet:

  1. Turn off the water supply and open the faucet handle to relieve water pressure.
  2. Carefully loosen the coupling nuts at the shutoff valves and at the base of the faucet.
  3. Carefully remove the supply tubes.
  4. Remove the locknuts that hold the faucet to the sink and lift the faucet out.
  5. Clean the area where the old faucet sat.
  6. As needed, install the new spray hose and supply tubes, if any, through their holes in the sink.
  7. Set the rubber gasket that came with the faucet on the sink where it will be mounted. If no gasket is supplied, apply plumber’s putty.
  8. Set the faucet into position and center it.
  9. From under the sink, attach the faucet locknuts to hold it to the sink.
  10. Reinstall the supply lines, then turn them on and test the faucet. Turn it on carefully because the line and faucet have air in them.

Repair or replace a leaking shower head:

  1. Remove the shower head from the pipe.
  2. Clean the arm threads and wrap them with plumbers’ joint tape.
  3. Screw the head back on and hand-tighten it. Remove any excess compound or tape.
  4. Test and re-tighten as needed.

Repair a shower head that leaks at the swivel:

  1. Unscrew the shower-head body from the swivel-ball ring.
  2. Find the O-ring or a similar seal inside. Replace it and screw the shower head back into place.

Repair an outdoor sillcock faucet:

  1. Shut off the water at the plumbing branch or meter.
  2. Loosen and open the faucet top.
  3. Remove the stem.
  4. Replace the washer, apply plumber’s grease, and replace the stem.
  5. Turn on water at the branch shutoff or the meter.

To attach a new spray hose, follow instructions on the replacement spray hose.

Clean a faucet aerator (the mesh filter at the end of a faucet spout):

  1. Unscrew the aerator from the spout.
  2. Disassemble the aerator, noting the order that parts are removed. Replace the washer if it is worn or cracked.
  3. Clean the screen and aerator disks with vinegar and a small brush.
  4. Reassemble the aerator and thread the assembly back onto the spout.

Service a diverter valve:

  1. Turn off the water supply to the faucet and remove the spout (see above).
  2. Remove the diverter valve, typically located on the faucet body for a single-lever faucet and under the spout nut on a double-handle faucet.
  3. As needed, clean or replace the diverter valve. If the O-ring needs replacement, do so.
  4. Reassemble and test the diverter valve.

Clean a spray head:

  1. Remove the screw cover from the nozzle with a small screwdriver.
  2. Remove the disk, seat, and sleeve, inspecting each for condition. Replace as needed.
  3. Reassemble and test.


To avoid damage to plated plumbing fittings, wrap wrench jaws with masking tape, rubber, or a soft rag.