How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

If you have no clue what you are looking at, then you will not have any idea how to fix a leaking faucet.

Hopefully this brief summary will provide enough information to allow you to give it a go, and try fixing this faucet yourself!

It is important that the basic function of any faucet be explained to prevent you from having to call a plumber to fix a very simple issue with a leaky or non- functioning faucet.

There are several types of faucets that service kitchens, baths, laundry rooms etc. However there are some basic characteristics that are common to all faucets or water spigots.

  • The majority of faucets have both hot and cold water supplied to the faucet.
  • The cold water is normally installed on the right hand side of the faucet. An easy method of remembering that the cold is on the right, is that the majority of individuals are right handed and would normally, in a panic situation, reach out with their right hand to activate the right side of the faucet. For safety sake, the best initial blast of water would be cold and not hot. Therefore the cold water is installed on the right and the hot on the left. This same principle pertains to any single handle faucet that has one lever as a control. Push the lever to the right and the cold water will dominate, to the left and the hot water. Somewhere in the middle is the varying degrees of mixing that a levered kitchen or bathroom sink, basin or tub, mixing valve will offer.
  • Shower mixing valves are normally the opposite. The handle is turned counterclockwise with the cold water being the first water to dominate the shower head. As the valve is turned in a counterclockwise direction additional hot water is added to the mix of water out of the shower head. Therefore, this would place the hot water on the right hand side of the valve and the cold on the left as the valve is turned counterclockwise.
  • In a kitchen and bathroom sink faucet, there is usually a strainer attached to the end of the spigot. The spigot is the spout that the water runs out of into the sink. This strainer normally consists of a small orifice to control the flow of the water, and small independent holes in the inner portion of the strainer to allow the water to flow in a uniform fashion. Immediately after this orifice with the holes, is a screen that will further distribute the water in an even fashion. The reason for the strainer is to produce a uniform, easy to use, stream of water that has been filtered to prevent any particles in the water to exit the faucet.
  • In some instances there are two separate water spigots, one for the cold and one for the hot water. In the center of this type of faucet is a spigot or spout that combines the hot and cold water and distributes a flow of mixed water into the sink.
  • In other cases there are simply two separate and independent faucets, one with cold water, the other with hot. There is no common spout, and no mixing of the hot and cold water. The user of the sink will judge the temperature of the water by testing the water in the sink or tub and adjust the amount of hot or cold water required.
  • Research and development have introduced several new and innovative designs and appearances for faucets. However all of the faucets have both hot and cold water attachments as well in most cases, a mixing valve, to allow the user to mix the water and adjust the temperature prior to the water entering the sink, bowl or tub.

How do the majority of faucets work?

  • There are four plumbing elements that must be installed to allow the proper functioning of a faucet that delivers both hot and cold water. I am including the exiting of the water from the basin, sink, bowl or tub in this analysis.
  • A connection of hot water / this is usually done with a flexible connector leading from a valve that project out of the wall under the sink, tub or faucet and connects to the bottom of the faucet.
  • A connection of cold water / this is usually done with a flexible connector leading from a valve that project out of the wall under the sink, tub or faucet and connects to the bottom of the faucet.
  • A sanitary connection that drains the water from the sink, bowl, tub or water every container the faucets are depositing the water into.
  • A vent that is connected to the sanitary connection. All drainage piping must be vented to allow the balancing of air pressure within the piping itself. Logic will indicate that if water is drained down a pipe, the resultant effect will be a negative air pressure that builds up in the line. Why would this occur? Water does not allow any air to pass through it. If the pipe is full of water and the water is basically pushing the air ahead of it, there must be some path for air to refill the line above the descending water. This is why it is required to vent all plumbing lines. If venting is not correctly performed, the water will simply not exit the pipe and a backup will occur.
  • The faucet works by a mechanical function that allows the water, whether it is hot or cold, to enter the faucet body itself and discharge out of the spigot or the spout. This is normally performed by a plunger mechanism that will seat into an assembly to make a watertight control. This seat will have a designed element, such as a concave cup, or a flexible seat to allow the plunger to enter or push against, to control the water flow. There are channels within the faucet assembly that properly direct the water to the spout or spigot once the faucet is turned on.
  • In some cases, the faucet is operated by a ball and a lever. The ball sits in a cup shaped receiver that is specially machined to have a smooth and even surface. This ball is designed with channels in certain locations to allow the movement of the ball within the cup to allow hot and cold water, depending on the position of the ball in the cup, to exit into the spigot or spout of the faucet.
  • At the end of the spigot or spout in most types of faucets is located the strainer which we have described earlier in this webpage.

What can go wrong?

There are several issues that can occur that will cause maintenance problems with your faucets.

  • The never ending and ever increasing leak. Everyone has experienced the frustration of the leaky faucet. What should you do besides, immediately call the plumber.
  • Find out the make and model of the faucet and visit the local hardware store or big box builder supply store and pick up a rebuilding kit for that particular faucet. What will you find in the rebuilding kit will be various size gaskets, washers and any specialized item that may be intrinsically special to that particular faucet.


  • Most faucets are easily taken apart. What are the common first moves to take to start the faucet dis-assembly? FIRST TURN OFF THE WATER – this is performed by turning off the valves where the flexible connections are connected to the wall. If for some reason these valves will not turn off, they are frozen or they will not stop the full flow of the water, the primary valve for the entire home must be turned off.

1.) There is a set screw that is located on the shaft of the faucet. In some cases this set screw is surface mounted to allow visual identification of the location. A hex wrench, which is available from the local hardware store or large box stores will loosen this hex nut and allow the removal of the faucets handle and shaft.

2.) There is a special cap on the top of the faucet that is removed by either unscrewing the cap off the top of the faucet or prying the cap off. Under this cap will be either a screw head or a bolt type fastener that must be loosened to allow removal of the faucet handle and shaft.

3.) In some cases, the actual handle and shaft will rotate off in the counterclockwise direction, however, this is a rare instance, and most modern faucets are not designed in this manner.

c.) Once the faucet handle and shaft is removed, with the water turned off, the remaining assembly of the faucet must be analyzed. In some cases a special set of faucet wrenches will be needed to remove the actual valve assembly of the faucet. This assembly may resemble a plunger type of shaft with a special valve and seat at the end. In other faucets, there could be a ball assembly that turns the water on and off. In either case, the removal of these mechanisms is required to properly identify the problem with the faucet. If you have purchased the correct re-building set of gaskets and washers, you will identify similar washers and gaskets as you take the faucet apart. Make sure you layout the items that you are taking apart, linearly alongside the faucet. In this manner, you will remember how the faucet went together. Clean all the items that you have taken apart to ensure that any sand or foreign particles are not present when you reassemble the faucet. Remember, the existence of dirt, sand or foreign particles will cause leaks. Any ripped or worn washer, gaskets or special assemblies found in the rebuilding kits, will also cause leaks.

d.) Once the faucets are taken apart, the items that are in the rebuilding kits are installed and all items are cleaned of foreign material, the faucet is ready to put back together. Carefully reassemble the faucets and do NOT overtighten any of the elements of the faucet. The faucet is designed to be reassembled without a lot of torque being applied to the elements of the faucet. If the faucet requires excessive tightening to stop any leaks, this simply means that the leak will reoccur in the near future.


  • The faucet has lost pressure and the quantity of water coming out of the spigot or spout has diminished. This usually involves the strainer or any of the filtering systems that might be involved with the dispersal of water out of the faucets or the common spigot or spout.   The best method of correcting this issue is to perform the following;


  • Carefully remove the existing strainer from the end of the spout or spigot. This is best performed with a channel lock type plier. A channel lock is a wide opening, large jaw set of pliers that will allow an even nearly horizontal pressure on the end of the strainer. Almost all strainers are threaded into the end of the spigot by a male or female thread assembly. Be very careful when removing this strainer from the end of the spigot or spout due to the finishes on the surface of the spigot or spout. You don’t want to scratch the end of the spout or spigot with the channel locks. The use of a rag or other means of protection is recommended.
  • Once the strainer is removed carefully start to take it apart. I stress that it is important to layout the parts of the strainer in a linear fashion to ensure the proper reassembly. As you take the strainer apart, normally each part simply fits into each other and can be removed by simply prying one part from the other.   Look for sand and particles that have caused the strainer to become clogged up.
  • At the end of the majority of strainers is a screen assembly that will filter the water as well as evenly disperse the water to allow a uniform flow from the end of the spigot. This screen should be cleaned and examined for rips or tears that could be causing the water to not flow evenly from the strainer.
  • Strainers are not expensive pieces of the faucet assembly and replacements can be easily found in hardware stores as well as the big box stores. In most cases, the simple replacement of the strainer will fix any water dispersal issues out of the end of the spigot or spout.
  • Strainers are also available in a number of different configurations. There are strainers that are simply straight strainers, they simply direct and filter the water in a uniform pattern to allow the discharge to be even and easily used. There are also strainers that have directional heads as well as spray heads that allow a more controllable flow of the water out of the spigot head.

A good axiom when trying to correct a leaky faucet or a faucet that has been compromised regarding the flow of water is to simply TAKE IT APART! Don’t be afraid of what you are going to find, or that you will not be able to get it back together again. If the final solution is to call a plumber, why call that plumber prior to trying to fix the problem yourself? It makes sense to learn by doing, and if you fix it, all the better!







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