A dripping faucet is one of those chores that tend to get pushed to the bottom of the “honey-do” list. It’s not dangerous, like a sparking electrical outlet. It’s not super-annoying, like a Justin Bieber song, or a smoke detector that wants new batteries, and reminds you by chirping loudly every 30 seconds, ALL NIGHT LONG. It might seem a little intimidating, because you have to move the 247 containers of shampoo and conditioner and toilet cleaner and sponges and razor blades and feminine hygiene products from under the sink, so you can shut the water off. You then have to figure out how to take the faucet apart, and then actually go find the right parts and put the stupid thing back together. All this can lead to a decision to just let the leaking bathroom faucet keep on leaking. Deep in your environmentally responsible heart, though, you know that’s the wrong decision, and it’s really a pretty simple fix. Take heart, and follow our simple guide to fix YOUR leaking bathroom faucet.
Where To Begin
At the risk of being a party pooper, before you start pulling things apart, you’ll need to figure out what brand you have, and the model, if possible. You might think this would be simple. You might be wrong. Some faucets do have the name where it’s easy to see, but many make you work for it, if they put the name on at all. The faucet in this article is made by Peerless, but it took some searching to figure it out. The name is etched across the base in superfine letters; very elegant, but for someone with crappy vision (like me) tough to spot. Our downstairs bathroom faucet has no name on it anywhere. If you can’t find it anywhere on the faucet body, try checking on the stopper or drain body in the sink; usually they come with the faucet as part of a set.
Now to decide what parts you need to fix your leaking bathroom faucet. Is it leaking from under the handle? You might be able to get away with just replacing the O-rings on the valve body. If that doesn’t do it, you’ll need to replace the entire valve. If the leak is coming out from the aerator, you should be able to just replace the springs and seats.
Many faucets come with a lifetime warranty. The Peerless faucet did, and they also have an excellent online help section, including instructions on how to repair single faucet and double handled sink and tub faucets. I contacted their customer service people via email. They were very helpful, and sent out a complete repair kit, including new valve stems, springs and seats. Unfortunately, when the parts arrived, I didn’t get around to installing them right away, and they disappeared into the abyss. A mind is a terrible thing to waste…
If you can’t figure out who made your faucet, or you just want to get on with fixing it, most home centers and local hardware stores carry a good assortment of faucet repair parts. They’re not expensive; the set of springs and seats for my faucet was around $4, and a whole new valve assembly was only around $8. This makes it a good idea to do both sides at once, even if only one is leaking.
Let’s Tear That Leaking Bathroom Faucet Apart!
Assuming you’d like yourself and your bathroom to remain mostly dry, step one is TURN OFF THE WATER! Most sinks have shutoff valves under them. These shutoff valves probably worked great when they were installed 25 years ago. Like other things that don’t often get used, though – politician’s brains, for instance – they tend to seize up and not work so well. Turn both shutoffs all the way off, then try to turn the hot and cold water on at the faucet. If you still have water coming out, check in the basement (or wherever your plumbing comes in from). If there’s a set of shutoffs for the pipes going into that room, you can cut it off there. Otherwise, you’ll have to shut off the water at the main.
Water off? Let the dismantling begin! You don’t need much in the way of tools for this; regular and Phillips head screwdrivers, possibly an Allen wrench or small screwdriver, a pair of pliers, a pencil, and an adjustable wrench should see you through. Sadly, no power tools are required. Ah well, there’s always the NEXT project… One final pro tip before you begin pulling tiny parts out: Lay a small towel or rag in the sink to catch the little parts that you WILL drop if you don’t have a towel there.
Many faucet handles, whether knob or lever handles, have a small cap on the top covering a screw. Using a thin-bladed screwdriver, carefully pry the caps out of both handles. This will expose a screw going through the valve body. Remove it, and lift off the handle and escutcheon.
Some lever-type handles may not have a cap; in that case, there should be a small set screw on the handle body, probably around the side or rear. This could be either an Allen screw or slotted-bit screw. Back out the screw enough to loosen the handle body, and pull it off.
Next, grab your adjustable wrench and remove the retaining nut around the base of each valve. It should come off pretty easily. The next step is to remove the valve from the faucet body. Before you do, note the orientation of the raised stop on top of the valve, so you can reinstall it the same way. To remove the valve, just grab the top and pull it straight up. Wiggling it a bit helps, and if it’s sticky, grab your pliers and put them to work. No need to go all Incredible Hulk on it; it should come out pretty easily.
The final step in the dismantling process is to remove the springs and seats. They tuck into a little hole in the bottom of the faucet base, under the valves. You can use an Allen wrench, a pencil, or a small screwdriver to gently pry them out. Now take a clean, soft cloth, and wipe out the inside of the body. And that’s it – you’re ready to make it better!
Putting It Together
If you’re buying your parts locally, throw the old parts in a little sandwich bag, and take them along to make sure you get a good match. While you’re picking up your repair kit, it’s not a bad idea to get a small container of plumber’s grease. Lubing the seats and O-rings helps reduce friction, and provides a better seal. If the leak is from the aerator, and you’re only planning to replace the springs and seats, it’s not a bad idea to pick up some O-rings for the valves, or even some new valves, just in case. Ditto if you were just replacing the O-rings; get some new springs and seats. If you don’t need them you can return them. If you DO need them, you don’t have to stop mid-project and run back to the store.
Reassembly is simple – it’s pretty much the reverse of what you just did. Start with the springs and seats. Put a very light coating of plumber’s grease, if you have it, on the new seats. Most springs are tapered; the narrow end goes into the seat. Now insert the new spring and seat into the recess in the body, with the seat toward the top. I used a pencil to push it in.
Take the valve body, making sure it’s clean, and put a very light coat of grease on the O-ring. Making sure you orient the valve correctly, push it firmly down into the base. Take the retaining nut, tighten it down by hand, then very gently snug it up with your adjustable wrench. Now slide the handle on over the valve, and reinsert the screw through the top, or tighten the set screw on the side, depending on your setup. If the handle doesn’t go on correctly, remove the valve and rotate it 180°. If there’s a cap for the handle, push it into place.
After reassembling both sides, turn the water back on, and check for drips. If the leak continues after replacing the springs and seats, you’ll have to replace the valve assembly. Now that you know the drill, though, you should have that done faster than you can say “we don’t need no stinking plumber!” When it’s all done, sit back with a cold glass of water, and admire your drip-free plumbing handiwork!
I’ll Get Around To It Someday…
Not quite convinced yet? Need a bit more motivation? Yeah, you’re thinking, it’s one of those things you know you SHOULD fix, because it wastes water, but heck, it’s only a drop at a time; how much could it really be wasting? I admit it, I put this simple repair off WAY longer than I should have, thinking heck, it’s only a drip, and besides, who knows where the hell the repair kit went. (By the way, I discovered the kit the next day – naturally!)
A drop of water doesn’t seem like much, but here’s how it can add up: At one drip per second, which is the rate the faucet in this article was dripping, we were losing 86,400 drips a day, which adds up to just over 5.7 gallons. If that goes on for a year (and I’m not admitting that it did!), there goes 2,082 gallons of water. That’s the equivalent of flushing your toilet around 1,000 times, or taking over 100 ten-minute showers (or about 30 showers the way my youngest daughter rolls). Want to see how much water YOU’RE wasting? In a fine example of Your Tax Dollars At Work, the USGS offers up a handy drip calculator. Check it out, then get in there and fix that leaking bathroom faucet, and quit going to bed with YOUR drip!