There are several types of faucets found in homes today, including the washer type, the washer-less type, the spring-and-valve type, and the disk type. The repair procedure differs for each type. Because replacement parts vary so much, it is best to find a hardware in your area that has replacement part reference books and to work with them to find the parts you need. When possible, try to determine the manufacturer of the unit before you go to the hardware store, and take the old parts along with you for reference.
What to do: If a faucet begins to leak, never use excessive force to try to close it because that will only cause damage. Nearly all faucets can be taken apart to replace defective parts. Before beginning to work on a faucet, turn off the stop valves on the hot and cold lines. If you don't have stop valves, you will have to turn off the main water supply valve and work on the faucet when the rest of the home can get by without water (or have a plumber do the work).
With washer-type faucets, dripping water is often caused by worn out washers. Replacement involves taking out the screw in the handle (which may be covered by a decorative cap), taking off the handle, loosening the packing nut, and removing the spindle and washer assembly. A screw holds the washer in place. Replace it with the correct-size washer and reassemble.
Note: If washers must be replaced often, it may be a sign that the faucet seat is worn. If the seat is replaceable, install a new faucet seat insert, or reseat (smooth the seat with a seat dressing tool). If a worn faucet seat is not removable, the only option is to use this tool. For other types of faucets, consult product sheets, detailed how-to books, or your local parts supplier.
If the faucet that drips is more than 5 years old, you may want to consider replacement rather than repair - unless the original is a high-quality faucet. More expensive, quality replacement faucets are generally worth the money; they can last up to three times as long as inexpensive faucets, saving both replacement and labor costs.
Tip: If there are no stop valves near the fixture where a faucet must be replaced, consider installing new stop valves at the time of the replacement. They will allow you to isolate the fixture and still have water throughout the rest of the house the next time the faucet needs attention.
Faucet Handle Leaks
When water comes out along the handle of the faucet when it is turned on, you have yourself a faucet handle leak. Some faucets, usually old-style units, use either a washer or packing (which looks somewhat like greased yarn) to keep water from escaping along the spindle. In this case, the problem will most likely be with the washer or packing material under the packing nut, not the faucet's washer .
What to do: If water is leaking around the handle area, remove the handle and try to tighten the packing nut. If this doesn't correct the problem, remove the packing nut. If there is a washer under it, replace it. If there is no washer, you will need to unwind the old packing and replace it. After wrapping the spindle with new packing material, replace the packing nut. The packing nut will compress the packing material in place. Replace the handle and turn the water back on at the shutoff valve.
Mixing faucets, which are used on sinks, laundry tubs, and bathtubs, consist of 2 separate units, with the same spout, that need to be repaired separately. Most packing nuts may be loosened with an adjustable wrench, and most will loosen by turning counterclockwise. (Caution: Avoid using excess pressure with wrenches because it can cause damage and create the need for new parts.)
Tip: When buying packing material, ask your supplier to see any improved versions in stock. Some newer, nylon-coated materials help faucet handles turn easier and last longer than the older packing materials do.