Fix-it Guide: Leaking Washerless Faucets

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A washerless faucet usually has a single lever or knob that controls the flow and mix of hot and cold water by aligning interior openings with the water inlets. Washerless faucets generally work for years without fail, but when one needs repair you must re place some or all of the mixture and flow parts. How you’ll do this depends on the type of faucet—disc, valve, ball, or cartridge (see Ill. 8).

When taking a washerless faucet apart, look for screws and nuts in odd places, such as under handles or at the base of the spout. Once you can see inside the faucet, you can deter mine what kind of control the unit has.

Disc faucets

This type of washerless faucet (see Ill. 9) relies on two discs that connect with the handle to mix hot and cold water. The disc assembly seldom wears out. More often, a rubber inlet seal proves to be the Achilles’ heel.

CAUTION: Before doing any work, turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valves or the main shutoff valve. Open the faucet to drain the pipes.

To repair a leak at the base of a disc faucet, remove the setscrew under the faucet handle and lift off the handle and decorative escutcheon. Then remove the cartridge (see Ill. 10) by loosening the two screws that hold the cartridge to the faucet body.


Under the cartridge, you’ll find a set of inlet seals (see Ill. 11). - Take each one out and replace any worn ones with exact duplicates. Also check for sediment buildup around the inlet holes; scrape away any de posits to clear the restriction. When reassembling the faucet, be sure to align the inlet holes of the cartridge with those in the base of the faucet.


Ill. 8. Types of washerless faucets: Disc faucet, valve faucet, Ball faucet, cartridge faucet.


Ill. 9. Disc faucet


Ill. 10. To remove the cartridge, loosen the screws that hold the cartridge to the faucet body.


Ill. 11. Check the inlet seals for wear, and scrape away any sediment in the inlet holes.

Valve faucets

This type of faucet (see Ill. 12) is so called because it has a pair of valve stem assemblies (one for hot water, one for cold) through which water flows up and out the spout. Moving the handle forward and backward controls the flow; moving it from side to side controls mix. All the parts are replaceable; though these faucets are no longer made, you can buy a kit that has all parts (except strainers and plugs) at a plumbing supply store, or you can buy the parts separately.

CAUTION: Before doing any work, turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valves or the main shutoff valve. Open the faucet to drain the pipes.

Using a pipe wrench wrapped with electrician’s tape, turn the spout ring counterclockwise.

If your only problem is a leak at the base of the spout, replace the O-ring (see Ill. 13) with an identical one and reassemble the faucet.

If the spout drips, you’ll need to replace one of the valve parts or the valve seat (see Ill. 14). Remove the spout and escutcheon. Unscrew the hexagonal strainer plugs on either side of the faucet and take out the valve parts—a gasket, strainer, spring, and valve stem—by hand. Use a valve seat wrench to remove the valve seat. Replace any worn or corroded part. Lubricate the threads of the valve seat with plumber’s grease and reassemble the faucet.

If flow from a valve-type faucet is sluggish, it’s likely that the strainers are clogged with sediment from hard water. Clean the parts with an old toothbrush and soapy water; rinse each thoroughly and reinstall.

If the handle of a valve faucet has loosened, first tighten the screw that holds the handle to the cam assembly (see Ill. 15). If the handle still wobbles after you tighten the handle screw, remove the screw. Chances are that the unthreaded portion of the screw beneath the screw head is worn flat. Solution: Replace the screw.

If none of these remedies works, tighten the adjusting screw atop the cam assembly about one quarter turn.


Ill. 12. Valve faucet.


Ill. 13. To replace an O-ring, turn the spout ring counterclockwise, using a tape-wrapped pipe wrench.


Ill. 14. To remove the valve assembly, unscrew the strainer plugs and take out the valve parts by hand.


Ill. 15. To fix a loose handle, tighten the screw at the base of the handle or turn the adjusting screw on top of the cam.

Ball faucets

Inside every ball faucet (see Ill. 16) is a slotted metal ball atop two spring-loaded rubber inlet seals. Water flows when the openings in the rotating ball align with hot and cold water inlets in the faucet body.


Ill. 16. Ball faucet


Ill. 17. To take apart a ball faucet, remove the setscrew with an Allen wrench (A), and the cap with rib-joint pliers (B).


Ill. 18. To replace seals and springs, lift out the old parts with needle-nose pliers and replace with exact duplicates.


Ill. 19. To reinstall the ball-and-cam assembly, align slot in ball with pin (A), and fit lug on cam into faucet body notch (B).

If the handle of a ball faucet leaks, tighten the adjusting ring or replace the seal above the ball. If the spout of a ball faucet drips, the inlet seals or springs may be worn and need replacement. If the leak is under the spout, you must replace the O-rings or the ball itself.

CAUTION: Before doing any work, turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valves or the main shutoff valve. Open the faucet to drain the pipes.

Remove the faucet handle by loosening the setscrew with an Allen wrench. Use tape-wrapped rib-joint pliers to unscrew the cap (see Ill. 17).

Lift out the ball-and-cam assembly. Underneath are two inlet seals on springs. Remove the spout sleeve to expose the faucet body.

To replace the seals and springs (see Ill. 18), use needle-nose pliers to lift out the old parts. With a stiff brush or penknife, remove any buildup in the inlet holes. If new O-rings are needed, apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to them to stop leaks at the base of the faucet.

Before reassembling the faucet, check the ball; if it’s corroded, replace it. To reinstall the ball-and-cam assembly (see Ill. 19), carefully line up the slot in the ball with the metal alignment pin in the faucet body. Also be sure to fit the lug on the cam into the notch in the faucet body.

Cartridge faucets

These washerless faucets (see Ill. 20) have a series of holes in the stem-and-cartridge assembly that align to control the mixture and flow of water. Usually problems with this type of faucet occur because the O-rings or the cartridge itself must be replaced.

Pb_18-0 Ill. 20. Cartridge faucet

Ill. 21. To take apart a cartridge faucet, remove the spout sleeve and retainer clip, and lift out the cartridge.

Ill. 22. To install a cartridge, face the flat side (if there is one) forward and fit the retainer clip into its slot.

The cartridge is held in place by a retainer clip, which may be on the inside or on the outside of the faucet. Once you remove the retainer clip, the stem-and-cartridge assembly simply lifts out.

CAUTION: Before doing any work, turn off the water at the fixture shutoff valves or the main shutoff valve. Open the faucet to drain the pipes.

Take the faucet apart by removing the handle screw and the cap atop the faucet. Moving the spout sleeve back and forth, gently pull it off the faucet body. Then lift off the retainer ring.

Next, remove the cartridge (see Ill. 21). You’ll find the retainer clip just under the rim of the faucet body. Using a screwdriver or needle- nose pliers, remove the clip from its slot. Grip the stem of the cartridge with pliers and lift it out. Examine the O-rings on the cartridge and replace them if they show signs of wear. On swivel-spout models, apply petroleum jelly to the new O-rings before installing.

If the O-rings are in good shape, it’s the cartridge assembly that has seen its day. Take the old one to the plumbing supply store and buy an exact duplicate.

Installing a cartridge (see Ill. 22) is a simple task, but remember to read the manufacturer’s instructions first. Cartridges vary; the most common type has a flat side that must face front—otherwise your hot and cold water supply will be reversed. Also, be sure to fit the retainer clip snugly into its slot.

Minimizing overflow damage

If an appliance overflows, a pipe bursts, or some other plumbing emergency occurs, you’ll quickly learn that water on the loose can wreak havoc. To minimize damage, follow these guidelines:

• Turn off the water-supply at the main shutoff valve before taking time to trace the source.

• If an appliance is the culprit, turn off all the power by throwing the main circuit breaker or the main switch so that you’re not working with electricity and water—a dangerous combination.

• If a pipe is leaking, spread water proof drop-cloths and pans in the dripping area.

• If a pipe has burst, dam doorways with rolled-up rugs or blankets to help keep water from spreading throughout the house.

• Use a water-safe vacuum or rent a submersible-motor pump to remove large volumes of water.

• Call the fire department if the flooding is extensive.

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Updated: Monday, December 13, 2010 13:12