How to Fix a Leaky Faucet

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Fix a leaky faucet yourself, or hire a professional if you're not confident in your own skills. (Photo: @relgiad137 via Twenty20)
Anyone who has heard the slow drip of a leaky faucet knows how much of an annoyance it can be. While the problem is typically mild and often easily solved, the dripping does add up over time; even a slight leak can result in upwards of three gallons of water wasted in a day. Here’s what you need to know to fix a leaky faucet.

Preparations to Make Beforehand

Step 1: Make sure you have the necessary tools first. Although it goes without saying, you’ll need the right tools to disassemble the faucet and put it back together again.
If you have a toolkit at home, you should already have everything you’ll conceivably need. While irregular faucets may require their own tools, you should be able to get by in most cases with an adjustable crescent wrench, a flathead screwdriver, and a Phillips (crosshead) screwdriver, in addition to the supplies needed to repair the damage itself.
A penetrating oil such as WD-40 also helps restore faded hardware and makes it easier to remove parts.
Step 2: Buy the necessary replacement parts. The parts for a faucet can be found at a home hardware store or online.
You may want to cut the water and disassemble the faucet first to confirm which parts you need to replace. However, it may be possible to figure out the cause of the leak externally.
If water is dripping from the spout, you’ll probably need to buy a fresh valve seat or metal washer. With an old faucet, a leak may be the first sign that you should replace it with a newer model.
Step 3: Cut off the water flow for the faucet. Before you do any work on a faucet, you should first make sure that the water has been turned off.
There should be a handle underneath the sink that you can crank to cut off any extra flow. In addition, if you’re not able to commit to repairs immediately for whatever reason, turning off the water can at least rid you of that annoying leak for the time being.
Step 4: Plug the drain before moving on to repairs. Before you start taking parts off the faucet, it’s a good idea to plug up the drain with a wet rag or towel.
There’s a risk of small parts falling down the drain; losing screws and washers can put a knife in your repairs if you lack any spare parts. It’s a major inconvenience and an awful reason to have to go to the store again.

Fixing a Leaky Faucet

Step 1: Remove any decorative pieces. Many faucets are adorned with decorative pieces on the handle.
While they’re primarily intended for aesthetic purposes, they’re also used to hide the removable sections of the faucets, such as nuts and screws.
These parts can be pried off or otherwise removed by hand. A flathead screwdriver may be used to pry the pieces away from the stem. Be gentle if you have to pry it off; excess force may result in damage to the parts.
Step 2: Take the faucet apart. Once the decorative pieces have been removed, it should become apparent what tools will be needed to disassemble the faucet.
Certain types of faucets can be unfastened with a wrench, while others comprise parts that can be unscrewed. Using the wrench or appropriate screwdriver, unlock the parts from one another.
Make sure to keep track of the order in which you take off each piece. You’ll have to put the pieces back together in the reverse order later on, so placing them down in sequence will make reassembly easier.
Step 3: Check the individual components for issues. Scan each component you have removed for signs of corrosion.
Any wear, corrosion, or other sign of damage could be a cause of the drip. Certain parts can be revitalized for use again by placing them overnight in white vinegar.
Often enough, you may find that all of the pieces are actually still functional; in this case, all the faucet probably needs is some tightening in order to quell the leak.
Step 4: Replace the problematic parts as necessary. Once the worn or corroded parts have been disposed of, put the faucet back together.
Screw the parts back on tightly, without applying excess force that may damage the faucet. At this stage, it’s also a good idea to lubricate the interconnecting components with some penetrating oil.
Step 5: Turn on the water and test the faucet. If you’re still seeing a leak, even after you’ve replaced all of the pieces that were potentially causing the leak and have reassembled the faucet properly, it may be indicative of a more extensive problem with the faucet or the plumbing.
If this is the case, you may want to consider getting a professional to look at the problem.

Exploring Other Options

If you have a hard time with handyman jobs, you may decide to leave things in the capable hands of a plumber. This option is also recommended if the plumbing problem is more severe or extensive.
A leaking faucet by itself isn’t always enough to justify bringing in the big guns, but if there are other apparent issues, then you should seek help. In addition to fixing any problems, a plumber can look over your pipes and ascertain if there are other potential issues on the horizon.
Fortunately, if the faucet leak is the result of a clear home damage issue (such as an earthquake), your insurance policy may cover your plumbing bill. The specifics of whether a certain repair is covered or not will depend on the policy you have. Speaking in general terms, while a leak should be covered in an insured incident, you’re most likely on your own for issues that are the result of regular wear and tear. Your policy most likely includes a provision that relieves the insurance provider of responsibility for covering issues that are deemed to be reasonably preventable by maintenance or naturally occurring.