One of the most bothersome problems with owning a home is minor repairs that can turn major. A leaky faucet is one problem that can happen frequently, and if not taken care of properly, can turn into a major repair. So, here are some easy fixes to try before calling a professional plumber.
If your sink is dripping constantly, a lot or a full trickle, you may need to change the cartridge. A cartridge is a unit that screws into the inner workings of the faucet, so that you don’t have to replace the entire fixture, just the worn out parts. Each brand will have different cartridges by brand and also by type of unit. Knowing the brand, model and serial number can be very helpful; if you don’t have them recorded or saved, you may be able to find them with an online search. If all else fails, take the cartridge with you to the hardware store; knowledgeable staff in the plumbing department can help you find the right one.
Step 1: if you’re working with a sink, look in the cabinet underneath for your shut-off valves; if your leak is in a shower, look in the wall behind the faucet (there should be a door or access panel on the back or side to get inside the area): one for hot and one for cold. If you are unsure which is the leaky tap, shut off one and wait a few seconds to see if the leak stops; if it does, that’s your leaky valve. If it doesn’t stop leaking, turn that valve back on and shut off the other to make sure they aren’t both leaking. Once you’ve determined if it is the hot or cold water (or both) leaking, turn off the water to both, again.
Step 2: on top of each handle, there is a decorative cap – usually with an “H” or “C” on it; carefully remove this cap with a sharp/thin knife. Using the knife as a lever, it will pop right off with little effort. Beneath the cap will be a screw, most likely a Phillip’s head. Use a screw driver to remove the screw, then remove the handle. If there aren’t caps on the top (as in photo 1), look for a hole in the back of the handle, where you’ll use an allen (hex head) wrench to loosen the set screw and remove the handle.
Step 3: remove cartridge. In photo 2 (#5a & 5b), you’ll see an example of what a cartridge may look like and where it is located after you remove the handle. Place an adjustable wrench (crescent wrench) – see photo 3 – on the flats of the cartridge and turn wrench counter-clockwise to remove the cartridge. Try not to force it: if it seems tight, try to work it back and forth to loosen it for removal. *Be Careful*! Most cartridges are made of plastic and can shatter with excessive pressure or torque. Once the cartridge is out, check the remaining workings to see if any pieces remain, and if so, remove them and discard. Clean workings, so they are free from particles, dirt, sediment, etc. Repeat for other side, if both taps were leaky.
Step 4: take your fixture’s information (brand, model, etc.) and the cartridge(s) to the hardware store and consult the staff. Knowledgeable plumbing staff will be able to tell you if your unit(s) require a repair kit or if you’ll need to purchase an entirely new cartridge. The repair kit is significantly less expensive (usually half the cost or less) than a new cartridge, so that is a good thing to know. If buying the new cartridge, remove new unit from the box and compare it to the one you brought from home to make sure they are the same size and shape.
Step 5: if you’ve bought a new cartridge, skip to step 6; otherwise, follow the instructions that came with your repair kit to replace worn parts.
Step 6: put new or repaired cartridge in, screwing into place with fingers and when you can’t tighten it any more with your fingers, snug it up with the adjustable wrench – be sure not to over-tighten! You don’t want to break your newly repaired or new cartridge by over-doing it. You can always snug it a bit more if testing shows a need.
Step 7: turn your shut-off valve back on. Watch closely for a few seconds to make sure water isn’t leaking out of the works or cartridge. If there is leakage, snug it up slightly and look to see if that stops or slows the leak. If it slows it, but doesn’t stop it, snug it a bit more.
If there is no change in the rate of leakage, shut off the water again and remove the cartridge; examine it for debris. Remove debris and repeat steps 5 through 7. If that still doesn’t fix it, and you used the repair kit, check the package to see if there is another, similar-sized gasket/washer and exchange that for the one you used; repeat steps 5 through 7. If you replaced the entire cartridge and still have leakage at this point, you may need to either replace the entire water faucet fixture or call in a plumber.
Step 8: if the cartridge remains leak-free, replace the handle, screw and cap.
Step 9: Brag to family & friends that you fixed it yourself – for a great price!
For more tutorials by Dave on other home repairs, do-it-yourself, honey do list fix-its and other how to’s, check out the other Honey Do listings on our profile.