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How to Fix a Leaky Bathtub Faucet (13 Easy Steps)

A leaking bathtub faucet can be annoying and expensive. Many people don’t realize that a simple leak can cause up to 3,000 gallons of wasted water a year. 

We’re here to help you learn how to fix a leaky bathtub faucet in thirteen simple steps. We also give you a breakdown of how faucets work, issues that cause bathtub faucet leaking, and the different faucet types.

That’s enough jibber-jabber. Let’s get into why you’re here. Get ready to learn everything you need to know about bathtub faucet leaking issues!

How A Faucet Works

There are different types of faucets, so they vary in how they operate. However, the central concept is pretty similar no matter the style. 

Faucets contain an external handle that controls the flow of water. This handle connects to a stem, and as you move the handle, the stem moves too. 

There’s a small washer on the end of the stem held in place with a screw. When you turn the faucet on, it releases the pressure holding the washer to the valve seat, allowing water to flow. Turning the tap off causes pressure on the seat and washer, so the water stops.

What Causes A Leaky Bathtub Faucet?

When a bathtub faucet leaks, it’s usually a sign of a broken component. Common reasons why faucet parts fail include:

  • Loose or damaged parts
  • Wear and tear
  • Corrosion
  • Mineral buildup

The most common parts that can cause a leaking faucet include bad O-rings, seals, washers, or hardware. Corrosion of the valve seat or a faulty cartridge is also a frequent issue. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these components.

O-Rings

The O-Ring provides a leak-proof seal between the faucet stem (or cartridge) and the washer. Over time and use, these rings can degrade, causing your faucet to leak. Replacing these is a simple process. 

Washers

Damaged washers are the most common cause of leaky bathtub faucets. Washers are small rubber or plastic pieces inside the faucet that open and close as the faucet turns off or on. The friction of these movements can cause the washer to degrade, leading to a leaky faucet.

Seals

Many faucets have internal seals that control the water flow when the faucet turns off and on. Like O-rings and washers, these seals wear down with time, resulting in dripping or leaking sinks or tubs. 

Hardware

If any part of the faucet’s hardware breaks, the tap may not turn on or off correctly. Leaking is another common problem. You will have to repair the damaged piece or replace the entire faucet.

Corroded Valve Seat

The valve seat rests at the base of the handle used to control the water flow. Repeated use can cause corrosion, which will damage the valve. Signs of a corroded valve seat include water coming out of the handle.

Faucet Cartridge

Faucets that only have one handle contain a cartridge that manages the water’s temperature. As this cartridge starts to wear out with use, you can experience a leaking faucet.

How Much Does It Cost To Repair A Leaky Bathtub Faucet?

The cost of repairing a leaky bathtub faucet can vary depending on the cause of the leak. It also depends on whether you’re making the repairs yourself or hiring a professional. Most issues do not require expert knowledge to fix. Fixing it yourself is cheaper than expert repair.

The national average for how much it costs for the materials needed to repair a leaky bathtub faucet is $26.74 a faucet, although the price can range from $25.02 and $28.47. 

Now, if you decide to hire an expert to do the job for you, you can expect to spend between $167 and $201. The exact price can vary by location, company, and repairs. 

Bathtub Faucet Leaking? Fix-It In 13 Easy Steps

Most, if not all, of the issues that cause leaky bathtub faucets, can be DIY fixed. It may help if you researched videos regarding the exact model of your faucet so you can see a visual representation of the steps, given that there are different types of taps.

Types of Faucets

Despite the wide variety of different styles of faucets, there are four main types. Knowing which one you have will make it easier to diagnose and repair any issues. The type refers to the mechanisms that operate the faucet.

Ball

Ball faucets are washerless, although they do contain O-rings that can fail and cause leaking. These faucets operate with a single handle that moves a ball inside, which controls the water flow, including amount and temperature. 

Cartridge

Cartridge faucets contain an internal stem cartridge that moves vertically to change the water flow. When you turn the faucet knob, you can feel it shift up or down. Most cartridge faucets have dual handles – hot and cold.

Compression

Compression faucets are the oldest design and commonly a feature of older homes. These faucets have two handles that you have to rotate to control water flow. Each handle has a washer that closes on the valve seat to control the water flow. These washers commonly leak.

Disc

Ceramic disc faucets rarely leak or drip since two ceramic discs control water flow. The top disc turns and raises up or down against a fixed lower disc. The seal between these two discs is watertight because both discs are almost entirely flat.

Side Note

With two handle faucets (separate knobs for hot and cold), you may have to repair both if you can’t figure out which side is leaking. Most experts recommend changing both sides anyway, just so the parts wear out at the same time.

What You Need

Many experts recommend blocking the drain before you begin disassembling your faucet. This step prevents you from losing any small components, like screws, if you drop them in the tub.

You may need the following:

  • Monkeywrench
  • Vice grip pliers or bath socket wrench
  • Screwdriver (Philips and Flathead)
  • Faucet seat wrench

After gathering your tools, you’re ready to start repairs using these twelve easy steps.

1. Shut Off the Water Supply

Before attempting to repair a leaky bathtub faucet, you should turn off the water supply. You can do this at the main located outside, which cuts off water to the entire house

Or, if your tub has shut-off taps (many do), you can shut off the supply for the tub while leaving the rest of your house with water. Once you’ve shut off the water, turn on the faucet to drain any water left in the pipes.

2. Remove the Cap From the Faucet

Once you’ve turned your water off and drained your pipes, it’s time to disassemble your faucet. Start by using a flathead screwdriver to remove the decorative cover at the end of your handle. If there isn’t one, you’ll automatically see the screw in the middle. 

3. Unscrew the Handle Screw

Next, change over to the Philips screwdriver and unscrew the retaining screw inside the handle. Be sure you’re putting all your loose screws into a container or somewhere safe, so you don’t lose them.

4. Remove the Handle

Once the screw is out, you should be able to remove the handle. If it feels stuck, you can heat it with a hairdryer or pour hot water over it. Do not try to force it loose, as it can break, causing significant damage that may require professional repair.

5. Remove the Decorative Trim and Collar (Escutcheon)

Some handles may have a decorative collar on the wall behind your handle that you must remove. There may also be collars over the internal parts. You will need to unscrew these threaded pieces and remove them.

6. Remove the Packing Nut (Stem Bonnet) Assembly

Next, you’ll need to remove the stem bonnet accessory. Using your vice grips, turn the retaining nut counter-clockwise until it comes out. Once this is out, remove the faucet stem by pulling it up with your pliers. You may need to twist it from side to side to loosen.

7. Check the Washer

The first things to examine when disassembling your bathtub faucet are the washers and O-rings. These pieces often face a lot of force, which can cause wear and tear. Look for cracks, missing parts, or other signs of damage.

8. Replace the Washer

The most common part that needs replacing to stop a leaky bathroom faucet is the washer, which is at the bottom of the faucet stem. To replace the washer, remove the screw holding it in place, pull off the old one, replace it, and then retighten the screw into place.

9. Remove Mineral Deposits

Mineral buildup is a common problem with faucets. Examine all components for signs of mineral deposits. If there is buildup, soak the corroded parts in white vinegar and clean them with a scourer. Rinse each piece before replacing it.

10. Check the Seat and Other Removed Parts for Damage

While your faucet is disassembled, examine the valve seat for damage. The valve seat is a small threaded tub inside the faucet that holds the washer. You can remove the valve using a seat wrench. 

11. Replace Parts, If Necessary

Once you’ve figured out which parts need replacing, you can head to a hardware store or shop online to find replacement parts. It’s a good idea to take the parts along or to have pictures, so you get the right replacements.

12. Put Everything Back In Place For All Handles

After you’ve finished replacing the washer, O-rings, stem, or any other damaged pieces, it’s time to reassemble your faucet. After completing all repairs, work your way backward from steps six through two.

13. Turn the Water Back On

Once you have everything put back together, the last thing to do is turn your water supply on and test your repair. If your faucet still leaks, you may want to seek professional help.

Conclusion

A leaky bathtub faucet is a common issue many people face. The good news is it’s usually a simple fix that you can do in your spare time without spending a fortune on replacement parts. We’ve described some common reasons for drippy tubs and given you simple steps for how to fix a leaky bathtub faucet.