Replacing a Faucet Valve Washer
If your water pipes have suddenly started to sound like the New York Philharmonic Orchestra when you turn a faucet on or off, there’s a good chance that you’re only a few cents away from a simple repair.
When a new humming- or vibrating-noise presents itself for the first time somewhere in an already established plumbing system, the culprit can usually be found to be emanating from inside the faucet that is being used when the sound occurs – even though it may not seem so.
Most water faucets contain a rubber washer that is used to insure a water-tight seal in the off position. Eventually (sometimes 20 years or more), the washer can dry out and become brittle – sometimes to the point where the faucet will leak – but not always.
Once in awhile, a dried-out valve-washer ends up reacting to the flow of water in the same way that the reed in a clarinet reacts when air is passed over it. And like the clarinet in the hands of a sixth-grade student, the dried washer can cause a reverberation in the plumbing system that can creates the illusion that an earthquake is in progress.
If the vibrating condition occurs, regardless of which faucet is used, then the cause can usually be attributed to the washer in the main inlet valve where the main water line enters the home.
If a newly-replaced washer or the washer in a recently-installed faucet is defective (or not properly lubricated) the same nerve-raking sound could occur.
In older homes, vibrations can result from a loosened pipe support, but this is rare and usually surfaces as a thump rather than as a vibrating sound. Conversely, in a new home, vibrations in the plumbing system can usually be attributed to loose pipe supports.
Replacing a faucet valve washer can be a chore if the fixture hasn’t been worked on for several years. Almost invisible leaks can cause mineral build-up and corrosion that can freeze screws and nuts in place – making parts almost impossible to remove. We hate to be bearers of bad news, but if this is the case, just in case, be prepared to replace the entire faucet.
A brass brush and a good solvent (such as WD-40) can be used to remove corrosion and loosen frozen fittings. Don’t force retaining screws and fittings. Most water faucets are made of brass. And although brass resists corrosion better than most metals, it is very soft – making it highly susceptible to damage due to undue force.
To make the actual repair, first make sure to turn the water off from beneath the sink or at the main control outside the house. Once you’ve removed the faucet handle and gotten past the grit on the exposed valve stem, the rest is easy. Remove the valve stem by unscrewing the valve stem retaining nut, and you’ll find the nasty-washer at the end of the valve stem. A small screw holds the washer onto the end of the valve stem. Unscrew it, replace the washer and reverse the process to reinstall the assembly.
Some valve assemblies include a removable valve-stem-washer seat. It is wise to check with your local plumbing supply store to determine if such could be true in your case. A special wrench (that for some unknown reason is referred to as a valve seat wrench) is used to make the 30-second replacement.
As opposed to two-handle faucets, most single-lever valve-replacement kits include detailed instructions on how to make the repair. However, when repairing a single-lever valve we strongly recommend that you consider replacement of the entire assembly as opposed to just the washers. It is difficult for the untrained eye to detect defects in this kind of valve. An entire assembly can be purchased for under $10. And good luck!