How Can I Repair My Leaky Faucet

PROBLEM #8: How does a faucet work, and how to repair it.

When you can’t turn your faucet off no matter how you turn the knob – you have a PROBLEM. Maybe it is always dripping or slowly running. Or maybe it’s like mine – “Off” is “On”, and “On” is “Off”. We call it the rebellious leaky faucet.

Leaky faucet won't turn off

I’ll show you how to take apart a faucet to at least see how it works, and possibly replace the faulty part.




The very first thing you need to do is turn off the water to the leaky faucet. You will need to turn both the hot and the cold water off – either under the sink or elsewhere. Make sure it’s off – otherwise you’ll wind up with a bigger mess on your hands. You know how people say, “the smallest DIY jobs always turn into huge projects”? Well this is how.  Just leave the water on, and see what happens. Can you say, “water, water everywhere”?

After you verify that the water is off – turn the faucet on (this relieves any pressure left in the pipes and faucet) – you can start to take it apart. Start by finding the set screw that holds the knob on. Hint: it’s usually covered by some little rubber cover that might be difficult to see. Once you take off the knob, you should be able to see the cartridge and the inner workings of your faucet.

Make sure you remember the position of the cartridge in the faucet body. Hint – you can always take a picture – before you take it out.

Faucet with handle removed to expose the cartridge

How a Faucet Works

The cartridge contains a mechanism to both stop the water flow – when the knob is in the “off” position, and in certain faucets to mix cold with hot water. Various faucets accomplish this in different ways, but they usually all use ceramic inserts that slide against each other. These ceramic inserts will have holes in them that will allow water (hot, cold, or both) to pass through depending on their position.In the left-hand picture below, the ceramic insert is in the “Off” or closed position. In the right-hand picture, water can pass through the openings through the faucet – “On”.

Leaky faucet cartridge inside view

Fixing a Leaky Faucet

This is usually where the problems occur. These ceramic inserts can either break, get dirty, or be positioned incorrectly. Most times all you need to do is clean the parts and put them back together. If that doesn’t work, you can also replace the cartridge. Many companies also sell replacement cartridges. Sometimes seals, gaskets, or o-rings need to also be replaced.

Fun fact: O-rings are so named for their “O” shaped cross-section, not because they look like an “O”. They are actually hollow to allow the 0-ring to compress and make a water-tight seal.

The cartridge can be removed by taking off the nut that holds it in the faucet body. All you have to do is pull the cartridge out. In my particular faucet, the ceramic inserts can change positions seemingly at random. All I need to do is re-position the inserts correctly, and put the faucet back together.

Faucet parts including a ceramic insert


And just like that my leaky faucet is fixed – at least for a while – until the ceramic insert moves again.

The last thing to do is turn the water back on, and verify that the faucet works correctly.

Engineer-ism – If it’s broken – take it apart – figure out how it works – save the parts to use for something else later.


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