Don't ignore a leaky faucet — fix it

By Tom Seymour | Aug 21, 2014
Photo by: Tom Seymour Red-and-blue plug must be removed before beginning repair

That pesky “drip-drip-drip” happens sooner or later to all faucets. In the early stages of a leaky faucet, the problem usually goes away by simply using a bit more force when shutting off the faucet. But eventually, no matter how hard we push the handle, the leak returns.

Visions of dollars spent on plumbing bills often keep people from addressing the problem of a leaky faucet. Besides, having a plumber come often means staying home and even taking time off from work while the faucet is being fixed. But there is an easier and cheaper way. Fix the leak yourself.

Modern faucets are called “washerless” faucets. But that’s really a misnomer, since washers, or something very like them are necessary in order to assure a watertight seal when the faucet is turned off. So instead of flat washers, modern faucets use little, rubber, cup-like devices that are held in place with coil springs.

Take notes

A faucet may seem like a daunting, complicated contraption, but it really isn’t. However, as with any mechanical device, care must be taken when disassembling so that the thing can go back together the same way it came apart. Having parts left over is never a good thing when doing a home improvement project.

So let’s begin. My kitchen faucet is a single-handle type and it has begun leaking. So I went to the plumbing supply shop and bought a repair kit. It’s important to try to get a kit designed specifically for the type of faucet you have, be it Delta, Peerless, or any other brand. The kit costs about 6 bucks and contains a tool for doing the repair (how nice is that, hey?), springs, O-rings, cams and lubricant. I have gotten by replacing just the seats, using the old springs and leaving everything else intact. It is better to replace everything, though, while you have the faucet apart.

The first step in the repair process is to turn off the water supply to the faucet. The next step is to make double sure you have turned off the water to the faucet. Then look for a little rubber plug near the base of the handle. With a small screwdriver (I use a jackknife blade), remove the plug. Shine a flashlight in the hole and see a recess. This where the repair tool that came with the kit comes in handy. On one end it has an Allen wrench. Insert the Allen wrench into the hole and into the recess and turn counter-clockwise to loosen the handle. Keep wiggling the handle as you turn the wrench and soon, it will pop off.

Take note of what everything looks like, because as you disassemble the faucet, you will need to reverse the order to re-assemble it. So study what you see and then take the repair tool and look at the two bent ends on the end opposite the Allen wrench. These fit neatly into slots atop the round metal ball-shaped object that the handle sat on. Sit the two bent ends, or tabs, in the slots of the ball-shaped object and using moderate pressure, use the tool like a wrench to loosen and remove the ball-shaped object.

Next, look for a white plastic cap. This sits atop a ball and the ball has a long end sticking up through the cap. Pick up on the cap and remove it and do the same with the ball. Look down in the reservoir, or cupped part and see two rubber cup-shaped objects. They are made of a kind of hard, black rubber and need to be removed and the new ones that came with the kit put back in their place.

With a long, thin tool such as the end of a small jackknife blade or a tiny screwdriver, pry the rubber, cup-shaped objects out. They are under spring pressure and a coil spring sits beneath them. Do these one at a time so as to avoid confusion. Match the new springs that came with the kit (kits usually have several different size springs) to the old springs and insert the new spring, and then a new, rubber cup-shaped object. Then do the same with the other side.

Take heart, because the worst is over. With the cups and springs in place, place the round ball with the long end back in the reservoir, atop the spring-loaded cups. Make sure that the slot on the ball aligns with a screw that protrudes inside the reservoir. This allows the handle to turn from one side to the other, without side play. Holding the ball in place, put the white plastic cap over the ball and make sure a little tab on the cap sits in a notch on the reservoir lip. Now using the same bent tabs on the repair tool, tighten the cap as much as possible without forcing anything. It must be secure, but don’t take a chance on breaking it. If it leaks when you turn the water back on, you can always tighten it more.

Now replace the faucet and when it is centered, use the Allen wrench on the repair tool to tighten it securely. Move the faucet forward and backward, left and right. Then, hoping for the best, turn the water supply to the faucet back on and watch for leaks. If nothing leaks, turn the faucet on and check for hot and cold. Everything should work fine.

The last step is to replace the little rubber cap that you removed with the first step. Then congratulate yourself. You have just affected a repair that most people are afraid to tackle. But it was easy, wasn’t it?

So from now on, leaky faucets should hold no terrors and when a leak begins, just remember that for $6 and a little time, you can have the equivalent of a spanking-new faucet. Well done.

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