REPAIRING A LEAKY WASHER-TYPE FAUCET
- Washer-type faucets work with a rubber or composition washer that closes onto a metal
washer seat (Fig. 1). The washer can become hardened, worn or the seat wears, causing the
faucet to leak. You can close the faucet tighter to stop the leaking temporarily, but this
increases the internal damage to the faucet.
- To repair the leak, first turn off the water. If there's a shutoff valve beneath the
fixture, turn off the water at that point. Otherwise, turn it off at the main house
shutoff valve in the basement, utility room, or crawlspace. Turn off the hot water supply
at the water heater.
- Take the faucet apart by removing the handle (this may not be necessary on some older
faucets). Loosen the Phillips-head screw, which usually is beneath a decorative cap in the
center of the handle. The cap either unscrews or snaps off when you pry it with a knife
blade. If you must use pliers on decorative faucet parts, pad them with electrical tape or
cloth to protect the finish. And take special care with the plastic parts found on many
modern faucets. Next, lift or pry the handle off its broached stem. Unscrew the packing
nut beneath the handle, exposing the rest of the stem. Remove the stem by rotating it in
the "on" direction. It will thread out. Reinstall the handle if you have
difficulty turning it (Fig. 1). Clean chips from the faucet cavity, but do not use harsh
abrasives or a file.
- Examine the stem. If the threads are badly corroded or worn, take it to your retailer
and get a new stem to match. Clean the stem if it's dirty.
- Now look at the washer, which is located on the lower end of the stem and held in place
by a brass screw. If the washer is squeezed flat or has a groove worn in it, replace it -
this should stop any dripping. Take the washer with you to your dealer to ensure an exact
match in size and style. If the brass screw is damaged, too, replace it with a new brass
- The washer seat is located inside the faucet body. You probably can't determine if the
washer seat is causing the leak just by looking at it. Any faucet that needs frequent
washer replacement obviously has a damaged seat. The seat should either be refaced with a
seat-dressing tool. A seat-dressing tool is not costly. Every home with washer-type
faucets needs one. Use the tool according to the manufacturer's directions, placing it in
the faucet along with the packing nut. Then rotate (Fig. 2) until the seat is smooth, and
blow out the chips.
- Some washer seats can be unthreaded and replaced. Check the faucet body with a
flashlight to see if it has a square or hexagonal hole through its center or is slotted
for a screwdriver; if so, it is replaceable. However, if the seat simply has a round hole
through its center and no slots, it is not replaceable. In this case, dress it with a
seat-dressing tool. To replace it, you'll need a faucet seat wrench, which comes with a
combination of square and hex heads to fit most faucet seats. Turn the washer seat
counterclockwise to loosen, clockwise to tighten (Fig. 3). Add a little silicone rubber
sealant (RTV) or pipe joint compound around the threads of the seat before you install it
to make it easier to remove during future repairs.
- It's important to install the correct type of faucet washer (Fig. 1, bottom). A
swiveling washer (C) is preferable to either A or B. To install washer style C, file the
shoulder off the end of the stem, drill out the threads of the screw hole. Instead of
rubbing against the seat as it closes, a swiveling washer closes with a straight-down,
frictionless action - this allows it to outlast fixed washers.
- Following this seat and washer service, your faucet should be like new. Put the parts
back together in the reverse order of taking them apart. Spread a bit of petroleum jelly
or silicone grease on the threads of the stem to lubricate the faucet's action.
- If the faucet leaks around the stem rather than from the spigot, install new packing.
You may want to install one of the newer nylon-covered or graphite-impregnated packings -
their lubrication allows the faucet handle to turn more freely. Wrap one turn of this
packing around the stem just beneath the packing nut (Fig. 1). Use three complete wraps if
you're applying string-type packing. Some stems use O-rings, rather than packing. For
these stems, replace the O-ring with a matching one to stop a leak. Hand tighten the
packing nut, then tighten it another half-turn.