Fixing a leaky faucet is one of the most common household repairs. It sounds like an insignificant problem, but all those drips add up. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the average home wastes about 11,000 gallons (42 kiloliters) of water every year with assorted leaks and drips. Aside from that being enough of the wet stuff to fill a swimming pool, it's also wasted cash you could be using for better things [source: EPA].
If you want to stop a leaky faucet without expert intervention, the process can be pretty simple, depending on the type of faucet you have. Start by shutting off the water to the faucet. There's usually a shutoff valve somewhere nearby. If not, you can always temporarily shut off the water to the entire house and turn it back on again later. The house shut-off is often in a basement or laundry room.
Compression-type faucets are pretty common, so we'll address replacing washers on that faucet style. If you don't know what type of faucet you have, try to get the name of the manufacturer off the faucet itself. It may be somewhere on the handle or main faucet housing. Many manufacturers have Web sites where you can identify your faucet and get information about replacement parts and comparable models.
You can complete a compression-type faucet washer replacement by following these steps:
- Unscrew the faucet handle and remove it. The screw may be hiding under a decorative metal or plastic cap, or at the back of the handle. For aesthetic reasons, the screw is probably concealed, but it's there, so keep looking.
- Remove the packing nut. You'll need pliers for this, and it may put up some resistance.
- Unscrew the valve stem and remove it from the housing.
- Take out the screw that holds the washer in place. If the washer's been in there a long time, you may need penetrating oil to loosen the screw.
- Remove the washer and examine it. If it hasn't deteriorated too much, you can use it as a template to help you locate a replacement. If the washer fell apart when you removed it, you may have to check the valve-body to get a better idea of the size washer you're looking for. Check the valve seat at the bottom of the valve body to determine whether the washer fits into a space with straight or angled walls, too. If you've identified your faucet make and model, you'll be able to find the right washer using that information and may even be able to locate a washer made specifically for your model by the manufacturer.
- Source a replacement washer at your home improvement retailer or plumbing supplier. Your retailer will also have generic washer kits that include dozens of washers in different shapes and sizes. Having a kit on hand may help with your next plumbing project.
- Once you've located a new washer, reverse the steps you took to remove the old one to complete the installation.
Deteriorated washers account for most faucet leaks, but in a small percentage of cases, the washer won't completely eliminate the leak because another part of the faucet may be worn. In most instances, addressing a leak by changing out the washer is the most logical place to start diagnosing the problem.