How to Fix a Leaky Kitchen Faucet (Complete Guide)

If your nerves are being tested by the annoying dripping of a leaky kitchen faucet and your bank account is being drained from wasted water usage, you may need to know how to fix the leak.

No matter your experience level with maintenance and skilled labor, anyone can fix a leaky kitchen faucet in a few hours using minimal tools. The majority of faucets that leak are due to internal parts that get worn down from frequent use. Once you know the type of kitchen faucet you have (there are four types), you can use this step-by-step guide to make repairs.

Keep reading to learn how to fix leaking kitchen faucets, including materials you’ll need, an overview of the four different types of faucets, signs of a faucet that’s leaking, and all the steps necessary to unassemble, repair, and reassemble your kitchen faucet. We’ll also throw in a few professional tips and advice.

Detecting A Leaking Kitchen Faucet

If your kitchen faucet is leaking, the leak could be originating from one of two places, no matter the style of faucet – the base or the spout. Therefore, it’s crucial to identify the source of the leak if you want to make efficient repairs.

A leaking kitchen faucet can result in annoying drips or a persistent running stream, higher water usage equaling higher monthly water bills, lowered water pressure, and advanced water wastes. 

Did you know? According to the EPA, a leaking faucet that produces one drip per second can cause your home to waste more than 3,000 gallons of water a year. If your faucet has a significant leak that allows more water to gush, the number of gallons increases.

Base

If your kitchen faucet is leaking at the base, it may be harder to detect. This issue is because water tends to collect on the sink deck with regular faucet use. A dripping faucet may also cause watershed to build on the base, making it more challenging to determine which part is leaking.

The base is where the body of the faucet connects with the base of the sink. 

To determine if your faucet base is the cause of pooling water or if your family gets a little too messy when they use the sink, start by drying the faucet and the area around it. Once it’s completely dry, turn the tap on and watch for signs of water seeping from around the faucet base.

Spout

A leak at the spout is a lot easier to spot than when the leak is in the base. The spout is the part of the faucet where the water comes out. 

A telltale sign of a leaking spout is when you still see water coming out of the faucet when the handles are fully turned off. You may even have to move the handle a specific way or put it in a particular position for the water to stop dripping. Or it could take more pressure to turn the knob enough to make the water shut off.

Spout leaks tend to start small, with a few random drips, and worsen over time. Thus, detecting the leak in the early stages can prevent significant water waste and expensive bills. But if left unrepaired, the leak can progress to a considerable gush. 

To check if you have a leak in your spout, dry the sink thoroughly. Then put a dry paper towel in the sink underneath the spout. You could also place an empty cup directly under the faucet to measure the significance of the leak.

Causes Of Leaking Kitchen Faucet

Most things that can cause a kitchen faucet to leak are easily fixed DIY, rather than wasting money on a professional to do the work. So before you call in the pros, try checking all of these common causes. 

Because many of these pieces are damaged over time and use, and there’s no way to prevent the breaking down of these parts, you may want to stay prepared by having extra parts on hand in case emergencies occur. 

You can save money and space by going with a faucet repair kit, which comes with multiple components that you may need to repair or replace over time with your faucet.

O-ring

There is a stem screw that secures the handle to your faucet. Attached to this screw is a small disc – O-ring – that works as a seal. However, over time and use, this rubber ring starts to wear down or can get loose. Once the ring messes up, you’ll begin to experience leaking around the handle – typically found with cartridge faucets. 

Valve Seat Corrosion

In the case of compression faucets, there is a valve seat connecting the water mechanism with the spout. Poor water quality and hard water can cause mineral deposits and sediment buildup that corrodes the valve seat. Damaged valve seats will be evident with leaks coming from the spout.

Worn Washer

The friction that occurs every time you turn your faucet on or off between the valve seat and the internal washers can eventually cause the rubber to wear down. Once the rubber starts degrading, it won’t be as effective at sealing, resulting in the tap leaking when the faucet is off. Washer failure is another common problem for compression faucets.

Faulty Installation

Nothing can function the way we want if it’s installed improperly, including your kitchen sink. If your installer was careless with their tasks and skipped or forgot to use washers and seals in all the appropriate places, you could end up with a leaking faucet. But this issue could also be a result of a botched DIY repair or cheap labor.

How To Fix Leaking Kitchen Faucet

Once you’ve identified the source of the leak – base or spout – and you’ve identified the cause – pick your faucet model, assemble the necessary gear, and follow the simple step-by-step faucet repair guide.

Tools And Materials

You won’t need any specialized equipment to fix a leaking kitchen faucet, which is why it makes an excellent DIY task, no matter the skill level. Look in your toolbox and locate the following standard items – Allen wrench, slip joint pliers, pliers, and a 4-in-1 screwdriver. 

Depending on the type of faucet you have installed, you may need materials like new seals, washers, O-rings, or even a whole new faucet. A faucet repair kit could come in handy for having all the pieces you might need to make repairs to your leaky kitchen faucet.

Hold up! Before you start disassembling your faucet to make repairs, you’ll need to turn off the water supply. Most sinks have valves underneath the cabinet for hot and cold (located on the pipes) that you can easily turn. 

Be smart. To prevent losing pieces down the drain, plug the sink with a stopper or put a down in the bottom of the sink, where you can put all of the parts you remove. 

Step-by-step Instructions (Faucet Cartridge)

Most modern or standard updated homes have a cartridge faucet. These fixtures can be a single or double handle model and contain a cartridge – a piece of plastic that controls the flow of water inside the faucet.  

You can turn off the faucet without using pressure, as is required for a compression sink. A half-turn can make the handle go from off to on (or vice versa) in a smooth, consistent motion. To repair a faucet cartridge, you’re going to need the assistance of an Allen wrench. 

Step One: Pry off the protective cap.

Take off the protective cap that covers the screw securing the handle. You may need to use a flathead screwdriver, a utility knife, or your fingernail. But not all models will have a protective cover. If you see the screw, there’s nothing to remove.

Step Two: Remove the handle.

Use an Allen key (or a Phillips screwdriver) to remove the screw and pull the handle off by tilting it free. If you have a faucet with double handles, you’ll have to do the same process with each handle. Angled handles may have the screw on the side and require a ⅛ Allen wrench.

Step three: Take out the retaining nut.

You should see a retaining nut behind the handle. You may have to remove a decorative collar with a plastic ring and a stem washer first if you don’t. Use pliers or a wrench until the retaining nut is loose, then finish removing it by hand.

Step four: Remove the retaining clip

Now, you should see a u-shaped clip securing the cartridge. Use a flathead screwdriver or a pair of needle-nosed pliers to take this piece out. 

Step five: Remove the cartridge

Now use your pliers to grab the stem of the cartridge and pull it out. If there’s a lot of buildup around it, you may have to use force to get it free. For stubborn pieces, twist back and forth.

Step six: Buy replacement pieces.

Take your removed cartridge to the hardware store and pick a suitable replacement. Then push it back into place in the faucet and correctly align it.

Step seven: Reassemble.

Work through steps one through four reversed to reassemble your faucet and test your repair work. 

Troubleshooting: If your hot and cold supplies are reversed after reassembly, it means your cartridge is in backward. You’ll need to go back through the steps to unassemble your faucet and flip the cartridge. 

Step-by-step Instructions (Compression Faucet)

Out of all the different faucet types, compression models are the oldest style. This faucet type has separate handles connected to stem assemblies that operate the cold and hot water – rotating to turn the water on or off. 

Turning the faucet handle off causes the stem to plug into the valve seat – where the water enters the tap. The washer on the stem creates a compression that stops water from flowing up and out. Compression faucets typically develop leaks due to seat washer failure. 

Step one: Remove the decorative cap.

Use a utility knife or slotted screwdriver to remove the decorative cap so you can access the attachment screws under the handle.  

Step two: Take out the screw and remove the handle.

Use your screwdriver to remove the screw securing the handle to the valve stem. Then lift the handle off in a straight upward motion. You may need a compression faucet handle puller if the handle doesn’t come loose. 

Step three: Take off the valve stem cover.

Some models may have a cover on top of the valve stem assembly. Next, you’ll need to use pliers to unscrew the knob that holds the stem assembly in place.

Step four: Take off the valve stem assembly.

There should be a hex-nut at the bottom of the assembly where it connects to the faucet body. You can loosen this nut to release the valve stem assembly using an adjustable wrench or pliers. Once it’s completely unscrewed, take it out of the body.

Step five: Take out the rubber washer.

At the bottom of the stem, there’s a rubber washer held inside the valve seat with a screw. If this piece gets deformed, degraded, or damaged, it could be the cause of your faucet link. Take out the screw and use a flat-blade screwdriver to push into the washer hole to pop it out of the valve seat. Clean the holder before replacing a new washer into the valve seat.

Step six: Get replacement parts.

If your washers have damage, you’ll need to buy some replacements. Or you could save time and money by getting a faucet repair kit that comes with washers and rubber O-rings. Put the new washer into the seat and replace the brass screw. If needed, also replace the O-rings (coat the outside with waterproof plumber’s grease).

Step seven: Reassemble the sink.

Once you’ve cleaned and replaced all the pieces, start your reassembly by threading the valve stem assembly back into the faucet and tighten it down. Then add the handle and cap back into place and test your faucet for leaks.

Step-by-step Instructions (Ceramic Disk Faucet)

Ceramic disk faucets are a newer type of technology that combines hot and cold water in a chamber – referred to as a pressure balance cartridge. At the bottom of the chamber, two ceramic disks lift or lower as it reacts to the volume of water inside.

To fix a ceramic disk faucet, you’ll require a small Allen wrench. The steps to fix a ceramic disk faucet are similar to other types, starting with disassembly.

Step one: Undo the protective cap.

Take off the cap that covers the screw that connects to the handle. You may find this cap on the rear or front of the faucet. 

Step two: Take off the handle.

Next, take out the screw using a Phillips screwdriver or Allen key. Then lift the handle off the faucet. 

Step three: Release the Decorative Escutcheon.

There should be a decorative escutcheon – cover underneath the tap. You may be able to lift it, but some models require unscrewing – you can use your hand for either method.

Step four: Loosen the Retaining Nut.

You’ll then see a retaining nut at the top of the cartridge. Remove this piece using a wrench.

Step five: Pull out the Ceramic Disk Cartridge

Lift out the internal cartridge. 

Step six: Examine or Replace the Cartridge

After you take the cartridge out, examine it for signs of O-ring damage. Damage like worn down or broken pieces cannot be repaired and will require you to replace the cartridge to get a proper seal. If your cartridge is in good condition but dirty, you can soak the piece in vinegar to break down mineral deposits. 

Step seven: Put the Cartridge Back and Reassemble.

After putting the cartridge back in place, reverse steps one through five to reassemble the faucet. 

Assembly tip: Ensure your faucet is working correctly before re-screwing the handle in place, saving you time from having to disassemble if your faucet is still leaking.  

Step-by-step Instructions (Ball-type Faucet)

Ball-type faucets are one of the most common faucet types in kitchens – known as the first washerless faucet. They have a single handle that operates a ball in the body with slots or chambers, spring-loaded rubber seals, and rubber O-rings. Any of these pieces failing could result in a leaking faucet. 

Step One: Remove the screw cover.

Use a flat tool to pop off the screw cover to access the set screw. This screw may be on the bottom of the handle in some faucets. 

Step two: Take out the screw and remove the handle.

To remove the set screw, you may need to use a hex wrench (Allen wrench) or a Phillips screwdriver. Once the handle is loose, lift it free of the assembly.

Step three: Examine the adjusting ring.

You can use a pair of needle-nose pliers to tighten a loosened adjusting ring. Turn the water supply on and test for a leak before reassembling. If the ring is not loose, you may need to remove it using the needle-nose pliers. 

Step four: Take off the Handle Cap

Cover the dome-shaped housing with a cloth, then use a pair of tongue-and-groove pliers to work the cap loose and remove it. But don’t use too much pressure, which can damage the housing. 

Expert tip: Soak the cloth in vinegar before wrapping it around the dome and give it time to soak for pieces that won’t budge. The vinegar will break down any buildup and deposits so that it will loosen easier.

Step five: Take out the ball, packing, and cam

You should now see the ball assembly – take note of the exact position of the ball. You will need to reassemble it in this position. To remove the metal ball valve assembly, you’ll first need to take out the plastic cam and the rubber packing washer underneath that covers the assembly.

Step six: Take out seats and springs – replace as needed

After the ball is out, you’ll be able to see the valve’s seats – shaped like circles. The springs are underneath the seats. Dry up any water in the faucet stem with a towel, then use your hex wrench to catch and lift the springs by sticking the wrench through the rubber seat. Most people replace the pieces with new seats and springs rather than reusing the old ones.

Step seven: Put the ball assembly back together. 

Adjust it to the proper placement after putting the ball valve on and covering it with the packing. Then make sure the slot on the faucet meets up with the cam tab, and place the cap back on top. Use downward pressure with your thumb to keep everything aligned until you get everything screwed back together.

Step eight: Put the faucet back together.

Tighten the adjusting ring with needle-nosed pliers until the ball is snug while the rod moves back and forward. Then put the handle back on and retighten the set screw and add the cover.

Conclusion

Most leaky kitchen faucets are due to simple causes that you can fix yourself with minimal tools or labor experience. Disassembling, repairing, and reassembling a kitchen faucet to fix leaks can be a task that takes less than one hour of your time. A vinegar solution can help clean any residue or buildup that can make pieces malfunction. But frequent use of your sink can cause simple parts inside the faucet to break, resulting in a leaky sink.