Faucet Tips

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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.

How do I install flexible supply lines to my faucet?

Installing flexible supply lines

Here's a newsflash for folks living in pre-WWII homes. The old rigid copper supply lines have gone the way of Rosie the Riveter. The entire supply system has been updated: the riser, the nuts, ferrules, compression rings have been incorporated into a flexible hose model that just screws onto to the faucet tailpiece above and the shut off valve below. No more cutting or bending copper, no more kinked lines or out-of-round tubing that won't fit into the shut off. Flexibles come in white braided vinyl or a slightly more expensive metal braided, non-burst model. Most folks will need to buy a ½” (for the faucet tailpiece) x 3/8” compression for the shut-off valve. Hoses range in length from 12”-30”. If you need longer (which is rare), you can connect them with what the plumber's call a “pigtail.”

How do I replace a cartridge faucet

Repairing a leaky cartridge faucet

The great thing about modern cartridge faucets is that drips and leaks can often be stopped by simply replacing the cartridge. This is much less challenging to the non-plumber than the old-fashioned stem type valves. The first step is to remove the old cartrige. Here's how it is done:

  1. Turn off the water at the water-supply valve under the sink, behind an access panel or at the main shut-off in the basement (usually.) As with any faucet repair, you will have to open the faucets to let the water in the supply lines drain out.

  2. Take off the faucet handle. It is probably screwed on. You'll find the screw by popping off the decorative cap on the handle. Pull the handle off. If it doesn't cooperate immediately, swear at it. No, that's wrong. Work it back and forth and pull at it some more. If that doesn't work, try to pry it off (gently) using the shaft of the screwdriver. Whatever you do, be careful not to break the handle.
  3. Once you get the handle off, check around the cartridge to see if there is a lock nut or ring holding the cartridge in place. If there is, you'll need to take a pair of pliers and get it off. If there is not nut or ring, take the pliers and gently pull the cartridge from its hole.
How do I know if I have a washerless faucet?

The Washerless Faucet and You

If your bathroom faucet has only one handle, then you have yourself a washerless or seat and spring faucet. Inside it contains an ball assembly that houses the seats and springs. "What are those?", you ask. Seats are two small rubber cups with holes in the bottom. They sit on top of springs that put them in constant contact with the water-supply valves inside the faucet body. If you see your faucet dripping from the spout, it is probably because the rubber seats are worn.

How do I know when my aerator is kaput?

Diagnosing a dead aerator

If the water flow from your faucet has lost its spritz, you may need to clean or replace the aerator. That's the little thingy that screws into the end of your spout. It usually has a screen or other type insert with tiny little holes, which can get clogged my mineral deposits and other stuff from your water lines that you probably don't want to know about. If your water pressure is OK but going off in all directions, that's a sign your aerator needs to be cleaned. You can usually get this done by soaking the aerator's innards in some white vinegar for about an hour. If that doesn't work, take off your aerator and go to a home center or plumbing supply and buy a replacement.

How many types of faucets are there?

Faucetology 101

If you haven't noticed, faucets come in four different types of internal workings. They are the following:

  1. Ball-type - This faucet has a single-handle over a dome-shaped cap. If you have a Delta faucet or a Peerless single-handle faucet, it's probably a ball-type.
  2. Disc - If you have a single-handle faucet made by American Standard or Reliant you probably have a disc design. If you're not sure whether you have a disc or a ball-type, you'll be able to tell by the mechanism after you remove the handle. The workings of a disc faucet are contained in a cylinder versus the many internal parts of a ball-type.
  3. Cartridge - Cartridge faucets are available with both single and double handles. Price Pfister, Moen, Valley and Aqualine faucets are popular cartridge faucets.
  4. Stem - This is a two-handle faucet design. You can tell a stem faucet by the way it feels when you turn it off. You should feel a rubber washer being squeezed inside the faucet. Stem faucets are available under several brand names.

How do I make sure I get the right replacement piece for my faucet?

Getting it right

If you are not a plumber, and never aspired to be one, but think you can replace a faucet stem yourself, you can save yourself time and grief by opening up the faucet and taking the interior parts to a plumbing supply or hardware store. Once there, seek out a sales associate to help you find what you need.

How do I attach a spray hose?

Installing a kitchen spray hose

Here's something you should know before you try to attach a spray hose to your kitchen faucet: Your faucet must be set up for a spray hose: Many are, some are not. You can't just buy a spray hose and hook it up. No. When you buy a new kitchen faucet, you will know if it comes with a spray or not. In which case, attaching it is really very easy. Look underneath at the faucet's plumbing, so to speak. You'll probably see two copper supply tubes. Behind these tubes you will see what is known as a stub-out, which is threaded and to which you screw on the spray hose. You can't screw up; there is only one end that you can screw on. The spray head is at the opposite end. Apropos, you should probably make sure you have threaded the hose down through the hole in the sink designed to hold the spray head. (A minor, but important detail.) Use a basin wrench to tighten the nut. This is a useful tool with a springy swivel head and big teeth that allows you to lie on your back under the sink and twist the necessary nuts. To check to see how well you screwed up, so to speak, take out the aerator on the faucet and on the sprayer. Turn on the water slowly at first, then go back and forth between the faucet and sprayer. If the bugger leaks, give the coupling nuts another quarter twist with the old basin wrench.

How do I attach copper supply tubes?

Attaching copper tubes

If you prefer rigid copper or chrome-coated copper supply tubes to the modern screw-on flex lines, that's your business. They may look spiffier, but they do take more work to install. If your copper tubes are too long, you will have to cut them to make them fit. You should use a tubing cutter to do this. This will ensure that you get a clean cut and that the tube will stay “in round.” To get the ends of the tubes to go neatly into the shutoff, you will need to gently bend them with a tool known as a tubing bender. You want the tube to go straight into the shutoff valve – no kinks, no gnarls, and no radical bends. Before you place the tube into the valve, you will need to slip on a coupling nut with a compression ring at the top and bottom of the tube. You can now insert the tube into the valve. Tighten the bottom nut over the ring first. Fit and tighten the top nut to the faucet tail piece. Now you can turn on the shutoff valves. If you spot any leaks, give the offending coupling a quarter tweak. If this works, take out the faucet aerator and let the water run for a little bit to clear the lines. Your work here is done.

How do I take out and clean a faucet aerator.

Cleaning an aerator

Replacing an aerator is one of the easiest things you'll ever do. No need to call a plumber or handyperson or your uncle Bob. You don't even need to turn off the water supply. Just follow these easy steps.

  1. Close the drain so you don't lose any parts.
  2. Locate the aerator. That's the is the screw-in thingamabob at the end of the faucet spout.
  3. Make sure both the spout and your hands are dry before trying to remove it with your fingers.
  4. Unscrew the aerator in a clockwise direction. If it doesn't want to cooperate, then you will need to use adjustable pliers. Before you do that, wrap masking tape or a rubber band around the aerator so you don't leave teeth marks on your nice finish.
  5. Once you get the aerator off, you will see it has a few small parts inside. These are the guts of your aerator. As you disassemble the aerator, note the order and orientation of the parts.
  6. Rinse the pieces with water and brush off the debris. If you still have stubborn deposits sticking around, soak the parts in white vinegar for a few minutes and scrub with a toothbrush. Replace any cracked and broken parts, or hardened washers.
  7. After de-gunking, reassemble the aerator. Using your fingers, screw it back onto the faucet. Test your work by turning on the water. If you get leaking around the threads, give the aerator a slight turn with the pliers, then remove the masking tape.

How do I remove solid copper supply tubes?

Removing copper tubes

OK. So it's time to put in a new faucet. But first you have to take out the old one. Here's how you do it. You will want to start this process by removing the supply lines that feed water into the faucet. You have a hot line and a cold line. Before you start cranking away with wrench or pliers, you need to shut off the water to the old faucet and open up the faucet. This will empty the supply lines. Put towels or a small rug or blanket down to reduce the agony of working under the sink. (You'll never be able to avoid it entirely). Unloosen the nuts at the shut off with an adjustable wrench. You will probably need to use a basin wrench to unloosen the lock nuts on the faucet. Your old copper tubes should come off right in your hand.

What's the story on Oil Rubbed Bronze finishes.

Oil Rubbed Bronze

Oil Rubbed Bronze is a charcoal-colored finish that is sure to draw admiring comments from guests who are into commenting on finishes or throwing out compliments. You'll find this unique finish on faucets, showers, and door hardware. Plumbing items finished in oil rubbed bronze often have a protective coating. Door hardware, copper basins, and other items usually do not. This allows them to age more gracefully as their beauty is enhanced through the touch of human hands.

Why buy a Kohler faucet?

Kohler faucetology 101

The Kohler company of Wisconsin has been producing quality plumbing products since 1883. A Kohler faucet may feature

  1. Solid brass and zinc die-cast construction an variety of lustrous finishes.
  2. Ceramic disc valves that control water flow under any water or temperature condition. A Kohler faucet is resistant to debris and hard water, and exceed industry longevity standards by a factor of 2.
  3. Rite-Temp™ showering technology delivers added safety by preventing extremely high temperatures and surges of hot or cold water.
  4. A Lifetime Limited Warranty for as long as the original consumer purchaser owns his/her home.
  5. Easy Installation: Faucet handles are pre-assembled on the valve of widespread faucets, which saves time.
  6. Self-contained valve cartridges make replacement easy.
  7. Innovative design: compelling range of styles, colors and materials.
  8. Durable, Lustrous Finishes: KOHLER faucets feature an extraordinary range of exclusive colors/finishes that are both durable and beautiful. Vibrant® PVD color finishes resist corrosion and tarnishing.
  9. A palette of rich KOHLER colors, plus Polished or authentic Hand-Brushed textures.

How to identify stem type from cartridge type faucets?

Stem type vs cartridge: You decide

If your faucet has two handles, you have either a compression type or a cartridge type. How do you tell? Compression (or stem type) faucets have been around for ages. Cartridge types are a relatively recent phenomenon. If you don't have the installation instructions that came with the original faucet (fat chance, right?), you're going to have to put on your plumber's hat and do a little hands-on research. Start by shutting off the water supply and removing a faucet handle. Most all handles are fixed on with a screw, which you can usually find under a decorative cap that you pop off with a small screwdriver. Remove the screw, then lift or jiggle the handle off. (Warning: This is not always as easy as it sounds.) If you see a shaft going down into the body of the faucet, you have a compression type. On the other hand, if you see the innards encased in a plastic body that you can lift out easily, you've got yourself a cartridge type.

Which size lavatory faucet do I need?

The spread's the thing, lav wise.

Lavatory, or bathroom, faucets are measured by the lavatory that they fit. The spread, or distance, between the holes in the lavatory determines the size of faucet needed. Spreads of 4", 6", 8", and 12" are common. Kitchen faucets, like lavatory faucets, are measured by the sink that they fit.

How can I clean my Moen LifeShine faucet?

Maintaining your Moen

According the nice people at Moen, The LifeShineTM finish can stand up to most household cleaners (including mild abrasives), as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions. As with any faucet finish, you should avoid using any type of cleaning agent or material that could mar or damage the surface. You know, like scouring pads or those green pads you can get in a supermarket. Or drain opening chemicals. So what cleaner is best for the old LifeShine? Moen won't say. Just be careful. Here is a technique for cleaning that is pretty basic and non-abrasive for Moen faucets. Right after you clean your faucet, wash off any cleaning agent residue with plain water. Use a soft, damp cloth to get rid of water spots. If you have hard water stains, you can 86 them with a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water. If that doesn't work, you can try gently buffing your faucet with extra super fine quadruple ought steel wool (0000 grade). Finally, spraying on a coat of car wax or furniture wax will help protect your faucet from the slings and arrows of spotting, staining and dulling.

After replacing the washers my faucet still leaks. What now?

Replacing the valve seat

If the faucet still leaks after you've replaced the washer, you probably have never heard of the washer's better half -- the valve seat. This oft neglected fellow is located below the stem and can be accessed when the stem is removed. Without a valve seat even the best washer is useless. They work together to form a watertight seal. When one or both breaks down, you get leaks. And here's more bad news. You're going to need a special wrench, (which you may use once in your lifetime), to get it out. It never ends.

What's the story on Solid bronze

Solid bronze

If you are looking for a weather-resistant alloy which requires minimal care, go for the metal that made Cro-Magnon famous: 100% Solid Bronze, (aka the metal for third-place finishers). The forging process leaves a rugged texture that makes every piece unique, so no two fixtures will be alike. Fixture manufacturers have created a variety of living finishes for solid bronze. These finishes have no protective coatings and are designed to change with time and use. The finish may rub off where it is frequently used and darken where it is not. Any item or liquid that comes into contact with the finish can affect the color. But this is OK. It is all part of the natural plan. Examples of popular patinas are bronze, (dark brown), natural bronze (honey-colored), silver nickel or white bronze (bright silver finish).

When should plumber's putty not be used.

The evils of plumber's putty

Because of its chemical make-up, you want to make sure you don't get plumber's putty on any finished items. In fact, plumber's putty, detergents or abrasive cleansers will void the warranty on the finish. Read the limited warranty on your nice chrome faucet if you don't believe this. This is why they call it a limited warranty. The best way to keep your warranty intact and your finishes in shiny shape is to use non-abrasive, non-corrosive cleaners and a soft cloth for polishing and routine cleaning.

How do I put in a new faucet?

Replacing a faucet

Once you remove the supply tubes, flexible or otherwise, you are ready to take out the faucet. The first thing you do is unscrew completely the lock nuts that hold the faucet to the sink. Carefully remove the faucet from the sink. You'll want to avoid damaging the sink surface by putting down some masking tape. You will also want to clean away any old plumber's putty or sealant from the sink. A putty knife is best for this job. If you still have stubborn spots of putty hanging on you can use very fine steel wool or a scratch pad to get it off. Now you are ready to drop in the new faucet. Line up the spray hose and any supply tubes, if any, and place them into the proper holes. If your faucet has copper supply tubes sticking out of them, be careful not to kink them. Most faucets these days are sold with a gasket under the faucet's deck plate to provide a watertight seal. If you want, however, you can put a ring of plumber's putty or silicone around the holes of the sink and the underside edge of the faucet plate. If you want to be the prefect plumber you can also put a bead around the edge of the faucet deck plate after you've tightened it down.

What's the story on stainless steel finishes?

The stainless steel story

Stainless steel has been at home in American kitchens for decades. Made from a combination of steel alloys and chromium (chrome), stainless steel is popular with folks who think straight chrome and polished brass are too gaudy. Stainless steel shines like a new penny when new but (like most of us) can become dullish over time. Still, stainless resists rust and corrosion well and can last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance.

Do I always have to buy a new cartrdige when it leaks?

Seats and springs do the trick: sometimes

Not always. Sometimes all you need to do is replace the washer and spring from the bottom of the faucet. This beats buying a new cartridge by several dollars. To make sure you get exactly what you need always bring your cartridge with you when you visit your hardware store or home center.

How do new showerheads conserve water?

Water-saving shower heads

In light of the wave of water conservation that is sweeping the country, it pays to replace a leaky or outmoded shower head. New showerheads are restricted to 2.5 gallons per minute, and technological advancement in the direction of water streams and the materials used result in a more satisfying rinse while reducing your water usage. Removing the flow restrictors from showerheads is not recommended as it may make temperature control more difficult and increase the risk of scalding.

What if my aerator is dead?

Replacing a dead aerator

If your aerator has broken parts or a hardened washer, you are going to need a new one. But don't just drop everything and walk into the DIY store empty-handed. Take your ex-aerator with you. This will make your life much, much easier. Home improvement stores like Home Depot have a section with replacement aerators and a template that you can use to get the correct product. Before you go, it will help you to know that aerators come in male (threaded on the outside), female (threaded on the inside) and dual thread (both). You'll also be happy to know that the chances of finding the right aerator are 9-1 in your favor.

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William Pirraglia