Fixing A Leaky Faucet
It’s like an ancient Chinese water torture, and it’s slowly driving you nuts! At 3 a.m., what do you do? Bury your head under the pillow – or get up and drag out your tools? Neither! That drip, drip, drip echoing from your bathroom sink doesn’t have to continue to make noise. Use some string or twine to solve the problem. In most cases you’ll need about a foot. Tie the string around the spout and allow the extra to hang just below the drip. The water will trickle silently down the string and into the drain until a permanent repair can be made. Oh, and don’t forget to move the string out of the way in the morning before you try brushing your teeth. An alternative would be to turn off the valves below the sink. A lot of work compared to our string solution. But who knows – you may be out of string. Once you get the time, you will need to make a permanent repair. A dripping faucet can waste thousands of gallons of water every year – a costly proposition and a major waste of resources.
In our example the leak obviously is coming from the end of the spot – the noisiest of the possible leaks that can “spring up” from any faucet. Leaks can also occur at the valve handles – and with faucets that have a rotating or swiveling spout – there can be a third leak location – where the spout attaches to the valve body.
Does the location of the leak matter? Today you’ll learn that it does. And, you’ll learn how to determine if you need valve packing, a washer or an “O” ring to fix it.
If you’ve got a dripping spout, you will need a new valve gasket. If you have a leak at a handle it is more than likely a problem with the packing that’s wrapped around the top of the valve stem just below the handle. Packing is a Teflon- or graphite-impregnated string wrapped around the valve stem to prevent leaks from occurring at the valve handle(s). Conversely, a valve gasket is a rubber washer that attaches to the bottom of the valve stem and which is compressed against the valve’s seat to form a water-tight seal that prevents water from leaking through the spout – that noisy leak we talked about. O-rings are usually used to prevent leaking between the body of the valve and the spout.
Now back to our original question: Is it leaking from the end of spout, the handle or the connection between the body and the spout?
HANDLE = PACKING
If it’s leaking from the handle, you’ll need to replace the packing. Just remove the handle and/or the valve cover. Remove the packing nut that holds the valve to the body and you will expose the packing. Usually you will find the packing is hidden within the underside of the packing/retaining nut. Simply wrap fresh packing counter-clockwise two or three times around the valve stem and put it all back together in reverse order.
DRIPPING SPOUT = VALVE STEM WASHER
When a faucet is leaking from the spout, it indicates that the rubber gasket at the bottom of the valve stem needs replacement. Use the steps above to remove the handle and packing nut. Remove the valve stem by lifting (or screwing) it out of the valve body. The valve stem washer is found at the bottom of the valve stem and is usually held in place with a single screw. Replace the washer and reverse the removal process.
NOTE: Whether the leak is from the handle or the spout we suggest that you replace both gaskets. Also, it is wise to replace both gaskets in both valves (hot and cold) even if only one is leaking.
Make sure the water is off before attempting a repair.
- First, the faucet handle must be removed.
- Normally, the screw that holds the handle in place can be found either at the top of the handle or immediately below a cover that caps the top of the handle. Caps usually indicate hot or cold, and can be pried loose with a knife blade or a small screwdriver. This should be done carefully as handle covers are usually made of soft metal or plastic and can be damaged.
- Once the handle is removed, the valve and valve stem is exposed. The valve stem is connected to the valve body with a threaded nut or cap screw. Sometimes a larger nut exists that surrounds the valve at sink level. Do not loosen this nut. It holds the valve in place and has nothing to do with stopping a leak. Hold the valve body with a pipe wrench or vise grip, and with a second wrench turn the nut at the top of the valve counter-clockwise. This will remove the valve stem from the valve and expose both gaskets.
- At this point, remove the bottom gasket (with a screwdriver) and save the screw. With the bottom gasket off, slide the gasket at the top down the shaft or cut it away with a knife. If you elect to use a knife, use caution. With the gaskets removed, clean the valve stem with scouring powder and pad to eliminate mineral salt buildup and corrosion.
- Next, you will need replacement gaskets.
- There are two ways to find the right ones:
- 1) Before removing the gaskets from the valve stem, take it to the store for a matchup
- or 2) Before starting your project, purchase a box of assorted gaskets (make sure there are two of each size in the box if you intend to work on both valves). Even though you are installing new gaskets, it is wise to lubricate them before reinstalling the valve stem. The lubricant will help to keep them soft and reduce the chance for damage during reinstallation. A special rubber lubricant must be used.
- Slide the top gasket into place, screw in the bottom gasket, apply the lubricant and reverse the removal process to return the faucet to normal operation. Be sure to check for leaks at the top of the valve stem before reinstalling the handles.
Caution: Do not over-tighten the nut at the top of the valve stem. Doing so can damage the packing and make turning the handle difficult. The nut should be just tight enough to prevent a water leak. At first, a slightly loose adjustment is in order; then tighten as needed.
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