The Portland Water Bureau has stated that 16 percent of the water that’s used in about 700,000 area homes comes out of faucets. Every leaky faucet is unique in its drip rate, but if you’ve got one drip per second you are wasting 1225 gallons of water every year (you can calculate your own here). Multiply that by the tens of thousands of homes with leaky faucets and you can see that this water wastage is a serious issue.
The good news is that you can easily fix this problem yourself. Most faucet leaks are caused by worn-out washers.
This step-by-step guide will show you how to fix most leaks in two-handled faucets:
1. Gather Your Tools.
Make sure you’ve got everything you need before you begin. At minimum you’ll need a dual flat head/Philips screwdriver, a package of new washers and an adjustable crescent wrench, but here are some more items that might be good to have on hand:
- Masking tape
- ½ inch plumber’s tape such as Teflon tape
- Petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
2. Find the leak.
Look at the dripping water to see whether it’s leaking from the faucet or the handle. Touch the water to find out whether it’s cold or hot.
3. Protect the sink.
It’s possible to damage parts of your sink while you work. Use masking tape to cover brass or stainless steel on your faucet (but be sure not to cover the spout!) Lay a towel inside the sink to protect the sink’s surface from a dropped wrench, and also to prevent small parts like washers and screws from falling down your drain. Wrap the jaws of your adjustable wrench in masking tape to protect your faucet’s finish.
4. Remove the handle of the faucet.
If you aren’t able to locate the handle’s screw, there is probably a decorative cap hiding it. If you have turning knobs, the cap and screw are on the top; for levers that you lift, look on the underside. Your flathead screwdriver makes a good lever that you can use to carefully pry off the cap. Put it aside and unscrew the screw that holds the handle in place. Pull the handle off the faucet. If rust and corrosion make it hard to remove, avoid banging on it. It’s easy to damage the inside parts.
5. Pull the stem out.
The handle was attached to a stem that has a 6-sided nut. Loosen this nut using your wrench. You can’t tell which way this nut will turn to unscrew, so try both directions if necessary when applying torque. When the nut is loose enough, finish unscrewing it using your fingers. Lift the faucet stem out of the handle.
6. Fix the leak.
What you do next depends on where the leak is.
- Handle: Wrap white plumber’s tape carefully around the threads where the 6-sided nut was removed. Screw the nut back into place, taking care not to over-tighten it. If this doesn’t solve the leak problem, unscrew the nut again and change the nylon washer underneath it.
- Stem: You will find an O-ring under the nylon washer. Use your fingers to squeeze it together and then peel it away. Take a new O-ring that’s precisely the same size, rub some petroleum jelly on it as a lubricant and put it in place.
- Faucet: At the bottom of the faucet stem you’ll see a screw that holds in place a rubber washer. Undo this screw with your screwdriver and replace the rubber washer with a new one of the appropriate size. Replace the screw.
Put all the parts back together in the right order: the screw goes on the bottom followed by all of the o-rings and washers and the 6-sided nut. Put the stem back in the handle, re-screw it into place and put the decorative cap back over the screw.
By following these easy steps, you should be able to fix most leaks that occur in two-handled faucets. No more wasted water! If you follow all of these steps, replacing all of the o-rings and washers and adding plumber’s tape and you still have a leak, you may have a bigger problem. You will probably have to call a plumber and possibly replace the faucet stem itself.