How to Diagnose Kitchen Faucet Problems

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That faucet drips all night long, annoying you (and the dog, who whines because it reminds him that you forgot to fill his water dish). There are several things that you, as a homeowner, can do before paying a $100-plus plumbing bill to do something you could do yourself with some time, a trip to the hardware store and a few bucks to spend. Bumps, clunks and leaks can often be diagnosed and repaired quite easily. A faucet is a really simple machine with a connection to water, a control mechanism that either rotates or lifts to let water through and a spout to deliver water. This part of plumbing, at least, is not rocket science.

Things You'll Need

  • Phillips and regular screwdrivers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Towel to lay pieces out in order of assembly
  • White vinegar
  • soft cloths
  • Check the screen that aerates the water that comes out of your faucet. It's held in by an assembly at the end of the faucet. Be careful to cushion this end with a cloth if you need to use a wrench to loosen this ring because you don't want to damage or scratch it. Inside the ring, you'll find a plastic diverter, a black washer to seal the edge and the aeration screen. In areas where water is hard, these screens and the little holes in the plastic diverter clog with minerals and slow the flow of water. Clean or replace the screen and/or the diverter if clogged. If you wonder what they do, turn the faucet on a little bit--water will rush out and splash all over the place.

  • Check is the control assembly. Take the cap off the faucet lever or knob. There should be a screw that holds the cover on. When you remove it, there will be a "packing nut" that holds the stem in the control assembly. Twist this out and you should be able to lift the stem, ball or cartridge out, depending on the type of control your faucet uses. The gooey black parts are o-rings, seat washers and/or seals. These are the parts that wear and cause leaks. You can easily replace them and reassemble the faucet. Most hardware stores and home centers stock a complete range of sizes of these replaceable parts. They can also frequently replace entire cartridges if there is damage. Be a wise consumer, though--sometimes 'tis less expensive in the long run to to buy a new faucet than replace a stem.

  • Look for possible replacement parts. Many kitchen sinks are the single-lever ball or cartridge type. These come apart the same way as compression faucets. They are little simpler to work with (fewer parts to drop), but, in the end, you're more likely to need replacement parts beyond o-rings and seals.

  • If you've replaced the seals or washers, cleaned the screen and diffuser and your faucet is still leaking at it's base, look under the sink. Sometimes the supply line is at fault and needs tightening or new plumber's tape around the connections. Be careful never to over-tighten plumbing connections. Since they operate under pressure, stripped fittings tend to explode.

  • If your faucet's stopped leaking, but now it clunks when you turn it on or off, call a plumber to check to see if the pressure coming into your house and to this faucet is too high or low. Water utilities provide approximately uniform pressure to customers, but the configuration of plumbing fixtures and water-use patterns in your house will determine how much pressure gets to each control device/faucet. Pressure can also vary according to elevation and neighborhood development. Pressure that is too high or too low causes unusual wear and tear by either pushing or pulling on control assemblies. This problem is easily dealt with--by a professional.

Tips & Warnings

  • Get to know your hardware store guy. He knows more than the teenager in the plumbing section at the discount store and can save you hours of grief--and clean up.
  • If you're taking pipes apart, have a bucket handy to catch the water left in the pipe when you turn the water off.
  • Use one of your soft cloths to plug the drain so you don't lose any little pieces.
  • Lay out pieces on a towel in the order they came apart as you work, so you don't have to go look up how a faucet goes together before you can put it back together.
  • Soak screens and other small pieces in white vinegar and scrub with a toothbrush to remove encrusted mineral deposits.
  • Always turn the water off before attempting any plumbing repairs.
  • Be sure to replace o-rings and washers with the same size and type.

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