How to fix a faucet leak

Leaks not only put stress on the drinking water system, but also send clean water to the wastewater treatment plant. Reduce your impact on the environment and save money and water by repairing some leaks yourself! Follow these easy steps to fix a leaky faucet.
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Tools you may need to fix your faucet

  • A roll of 1/2″ Teflon tape
  • A roll of 3/4″ masking tape
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Adjustable crescent wrench
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Replacement O-rings and/or washers
  • Hand towel

Parts of a faucet

A faucet is made of many parts. The diagram shows the parts of a faucet, and the parts are also in the numbered list below. These numbered parts are referenced in the steps below.

A illustration of the parts that make up a faucet. The numbered parts in this diagram are also in a numbered list on the webpage.
  1. Decorative button
  2. Top screw
  3. Faucet handle
  4. Top stem
  5. Six-sided packing nut (screws onto stem)
  6. Nylon washer
  7. Bottom stem
  8. Plastic o-ring
  9. Rubber washer
  10. Bottom screw
  11. Aerator
  12. Faucet

Step 1: Find the leak

Watch the leak to see where it's coming from—the handle (3), the top stem (4), or the faucet itself (12). Feel the temperature of the leaking water to see whether the faucet is leaking hot or cold water. You may have to fix one handle unit, not both.

Step 2: Turn off the water

Shut off the water supply valves under the sink. If you cannot locate them or if they will not shut off, shut off the master supply to the house. Turn on both faucet handles to let the water drain.

Step 3: Gather materials and prepare the work space

Make sure you protect any shiny parts of your faucet by wrapping them with a couple of layers of masking tape. This will keep them from getting scratched by your wrench. Place a towel in the sink to cover the drain. This will prevent any small parts from falling down the drain.

Step 4: Remove the faucet handle

If there is a decorative plastic button (1) on top of the handle, slip the blade of your flathead screwdriver under the edge and twist the screwdriver gently. The button should pop off. Unscrew the top screw (2) and pull or pry off the faucet handle (3). It may stick due to rust. Take it off as gently as possible. Note: Never bang the handle; the inner workings might break.

Step 5: Remove the stem

Beneath the faucet handle (3) is the top stem (4). Fit your wrench to the large six-sided packing nut (5) and loosen it. It may unscrew in either direction, so try turning it the opposite way if it does not loosen on your first try. Once the packing nut is loose, unscrew it with your fingers until you can lift the whole stem out of the faucet handle.

Step 6: Repair the leak

  • Handle leak: Cover the threads beneath the packing nut (5) with Teflon tape and tighten it gently. Never overtighten this nut. If the leak persists, remove the nut entirely and replace the nylon washer underneath. Reassemble the faucet (see step 7).
  • Stem leak: Unscrew the stem from the six-sided packing nut to expose the plastic O-ring (8). Pinch the O-ring on the stem to get a finger hold, and then pull it off. Replace with an O-ring the exact same size that has been lubricated with a little petroleum jelly. Reassemble the faucet (see step 7).
  • Faucet leak: On the bottom of the stem, the bottom screw (10) holds a rubber washer (9) in place. Unscrew it, put a new washer of the same size in place, and then replace the screw. Reassemble the faucet (see step 7).
  • Other problems: While some faucet repairs are easy, others are more complicated. Know your limitations—call a plumber if you have any concerns about how to make a repair. The Water Bureau is not responsible for any damage to your home or faucet because of faulty repairs.

Step 7: Reassemble the faucet

Rub a little petroleum jelly on the threads of the bottom stem (7). Screw the stem back into place, tightening it with your wrench. Put the handle back on.

Step 8: Test your work

After reassembling the faucet, turn the water back on. Watch your faucet for leaks.

Repair assistance and bill adjustments

Water Leak Repair assistance: Leak repair assistance is available to income-qualified homeowners.

Request a bill adjustment: Fix a leak? Let us know. You may be able to have your water bill lowered.