Question:

How do I repair a leaky stem-type faucet

Repairing a leaky compression type faucet

When an old-school compression type stem springs a leak it is usually because its washer, located at the tip, has worn out, allowing water to seep between it and the faucet's seat. Usually this leak can be stopped by replacing the old washer. Here's the rub. One size washer does not fit all stems. Far from it. There are, or have been hundreds, of faucet makers over the last 150 years, and each one it seems to have specified a different size washer. Today, there are roughly five common sizes that may, or may not, fit your stem. How, exactly, do you know which size washer your stem takes? Simple. You've got to do the heavy twisting to get the blasted thing out of your faucet's housing. Not to worry, though. This operation can be done with a little patience. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Turn off the water at the water-supply valve under the sink or in the wall behind an access panel. If you don't see these shutoffs, you'll have to shut off the main water supply. If you don't know where that is, call a plumber.
  2. Before you start your little stem autopsy, drain the water that is still in the supply lines by opening your faucets.
  3. Note: Compression stems are always removed from the top, so get out from under the sink. Start by taking off the faucet handle. Since most handles are screwed on, you'll have to remove the screw, which may be hiding under a decorative cap. Use a screwdriver to pop this bad boy off. You should then be able to pull the handle off. Put the handle aside after you've gotten it off.
  4. Loosen the locknut inside with a crescent wrench. Once the nut is loosened and removed, pull out the stem. (Note: Some types of faucets may have a stem that screws into/out of the body of the faucet. What's more, it may run counter to the “lefty-loosey, righty-tighty” rule. That is, you'll have to turn it counter-clockwise to get it out.)
  5. Once you get the stem out, look for the rubber washer; the black roundish thing at the end of the stem. If you see a screw, get a screwdriver and take it out.
  6. Now you are ready to take the stem to your local hardware or plumbing supply store in place of the replacement washer that fits your stem.
  7. One final tip: Don't just buy one washer. Get at least two. Generally, where there's one bad washer, there are two. Or will be soon. So, replace both washers at the same time. You'll save yourself a lot of time and aggravation.

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