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Repair a Leaky Single-Handle Faucet

Single-Handle Faucet

The drip, drip, drip of a worn faucet can cost you money and try your patience. Fix it fast with the right replacement parts.

Tools & Materials

Use this checklist when you go to the store and purchase your items.

Know Before You Shop for Faucet Repair Materials

  • This is one of those projects where you need to stop halfway through to go to Lowe’s for the parts you’ll need. That’s because many parts look similar. The best way to avoid confusion is to compare actual parts from your disassembled faucet to what’s available. A Lowe’s assistant can help you pick out the correct replacements.
  • Water shutoff valves under your sink can feel like they’re locked in the open position after years of disuse. Use care (and not too much muscle) when closing them, especially if the job requires a pair of groove-joint pliers.
  • If your faucet has no manufacturer’s labeling on the outside, it may be an older off-brand model that can’t be repaired. Even for older name-brand faucets, original manufacturers’ parts may not be available. Check the maker’s website for model number and part information.
  • The aerator is the piece that screws onto the end of the faucet spout. By mixing air with the water, the aerator reduces splashing and helps conserve water. But it also tends to corrode and get gunked up with minerals in hard water. If you can’t remove and clean it with a soak in white vinegar, toss an inexpensive replacement aerator into your shopping cart.
  • At a minimum, you’ll need new seats (cylinder-shaped washers) and springs to stop most leaks. If you notice worn spots, mineral build-up, or corrosion on the ball that rotates within the faucet, consider buying a replacement. Take the ball assembly with you to the store to compare the number and placement of holes to potential replacements.

Remove the Old Ball and Washers

Step 1
Remove the Insert

Shut off the water-supply valves beneath the sink. If your house doesn’t have individual shutoff valves, close the main water-supply valve for the whole house. Open the faucet and turn it to both the hot and cold sides to relieve any water pressure.

Step 2
Tug the Handle Free

If the handle isn’t held in place with a set screw, insert a nail or scratch awl in the notch along the round insert on top and pry the insert up until it’s free.

Some common bath faucets used a lever in place of a faceted plastic ball. You can reach the set screw holding the lever on the faucet by prying out a small plastic insert in front beneath the lever. Then back out the set screw with a hex wrench to loosen the handle.

Step 3

Loosen the screw holding the plastic handle in place and tug the handle free.

As soon as you’ve loosened the handle screws, pull up on the rod that drops the drain stopper. This keeps screws, springs, washers and other small parts from disappearing down the drain.

Step 4
Find the Dome-like Collar

Find the domelike collar around the handle. It may have flat edges on the outside along the top openings. This is a good place where an adjustable wrench or groove-joint pliers can get a grip and loosen it.

By wrapping a thick cloth or rubber pad around the collar, you can gently grip the collar with your wrench without scratching the finish. Avoid squeezing too hard or you’ll bend the metal out of shape.

Step 5
Three Holes

Removing the metal collar will reveal a plastic-and-rubber insert (sometimes called a “cam”) and the ball assembly (a ball on a rod). Pull on the handle of the ball to pull both free of the faucet.

Look carefully at the position of the holes on the ball as you pull it out of the faucet. This part (or a replacement) needs to go back in place in the same position.

Step 6

Look where the ball rested. You’ll see three holes -- two for the incoming water and one leading to the faucet spout. Inside each water inlet, you’ll find the washers and springs that press against the ball. Use a small screwdriver to gently pry them free without scratching the inside of the faucet.

Install the New Parts of Your Faucet

Step 1

Start the reassembly by installing the replacement seats and springs. To keep the seats and springs under control long enough to plant them inside the faucet, slide one of each onto the shaft of a small screwdriver and gently insert the screwdriver tip inside the water inlet hole. Then let the seat and spring slide into the hole and press it into place.

Getting the seats to slip into the faucet holes can be tough. To help them slide in position, apply a tiny amount of petroleum jelly to the outside of the seat before inserting it into the faucet.

Step 2
Adjustment Ring

Insert the ball assembly so that the holes in the ball align with the three holes inside the faucet body. Check that it moves freely. Then place the plastic-and-rubber cam over the ball. You should see a tab on one side of the cam that fits a slot in the faucet body.

Step 3

Reattach the metal cap and hand-tighten it. (Don’t worry if the plastic adjustment ring accidentally rotates in the process.) The ball should feel loose inside the faucet after you install the cap. If it doesn’t move, loosen the adjustment ring and check the tightness of the metal cap.

Step 4

Gradually tighten the adjustment ring (if your faucet has one) until the ball feels snug in the faucet when you move the rod back and forth. You want the ball to press against the seats and springs without grinding against metal inside the faucet.

If you didn’t buy a replacement part set with a wrench for turning the adjustment ring, make your own turning tool by spreading the tips of a needle-nose pliers and inserting them in the notches of the ring.

Step 5

Attach the handle by reversing the method you used to remove it. Turn on the water supply under the sink and allow water to flow through the faucet. Check for leaks around the faucet and drips when you shut it off. If you notice any, remove the handle and tighten the adjustment ring a little more.

Step 6

One more thing: While you were loosening up the shutoff valves, you may have knocked loose mineral deposits in the water line that are now clogging your aerator. Run both hot and cold water through the faucet. Then remove the aerator and rinse it free of debris before reinstalling it.