No it doesn't leak like that, it leaks like this.
December 2, 2009 12:05 PM   Subscribe

PlumbingFilter: My google-fu is failing me and need help finding directions on fixing our bathroom sink faucet. It only leaks when it's turned on and not from around the handles. Most of the internet directions are for fixing faucets that drip all the time or stopping a leak around the fixture handles when it's turned on. Maybe my problem is like one of these two, but the symptoms are completely different and I'm not a plumber.

The upper part of the fixture (where the handles are) remains completely dry when it's turned on, but there's a steady leak on the underside of the faucet when you turn the hot or cold on. It drips down the piece connecting the drain pull to the drain plug, so it seems to be coming from the place where the water comes out (the stem?). It's a compression faucet (I was able to figure that much out), doesn't drip when it's off and doesn't leak around the handles at all when it's on. It looks like this, only not in pieces.

I'm sure it's an easy enough fix and since I have all the time in the world at the moment, I want to have a go at it. If we have to replace the fixture, that's OK, but if it's just a washer or some plumber's tape I would feel dumb replacing the whole thing.
posted by fiercekitten to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Is the aerator loose?

You might try tightening it up. If it is loose, water will trickle up around the threads and run down the underside of the spout. There are washers in there, but they don't usually wear out, since there are no moving parts.
posted by davey_darling at 12:21 PM on December 2, 2009 seems to be coming from the place where the water comes out (the stem?).

This is confusing. As shown in the diagram you linked to, the stem is a component of the valve under the handle. If it's leaking around the valve stem, then it's leaking at the handle.

Have you tried turning on the faucet while the handles are removed (pry off caps, remove screws, pull handles) from the stems, to see whether the source of the leak is visible then?

If it's not leaking at the handles and not running back down the spout from the aerator as davey_darling suggested, then it sounds like an (unusual) irreparable internal break.
posted by jon1270 at 12:53 PM on December 2, 2009

It sounds to me like the leak is at the seal between the stem (the rod down to the seat washer) and the bore of the faucet body. This usually means replacing an o-ring, as shown on your diagram. That's the seal that prevents water from leaking out of the stem when the tap is open.

Tightening things won't help and may make thinks worse (by buggering up the seat washer seal for example). The o-ring is a very cheap replacement, typically less than a dollar. This is a very common repair and won't cost much at all if you do it yourself.

My advice:

1) turn off the water supply underneath the sink (if not cutoff taps, turn off the house supply).
2) pop the cap on your leaky faucet and use a slot screwdriver to remove the valave stem assembly.
3) Take the stem to you local hardware store or plumbing supply. Tell them what you told us and get the right sized o-ring for your faucet.
4) replace the o-ring, wipe clean the stem and receiving socket (no visible crud or particles)
5) screw back into place and push top back on, reversing step #2.
6) turn on water supply and check for leaks.

The whole thing will take an hour or so and cost more in gas than parts. This is quite a straight-forward repair and quite a common one. It shouldn't be hard to find the part you need. You don't need tape and the only tool you'll need is a screwdriver, probably a slot, possibly a Phillips (star-head) one.
posted by bonehead at 1:36 PM on December 2, 2009

Response by poster: I'm a dumb-ass. It's not leaking around the stem (the thingy inside the handle) but perhaps something inside the spout or at the rod connection.

Bonehead - I'll try your advice. There's a plumbing place nearby so I'll see what they suggest.
posted by fiercekitten at 2:28 PM on December 2, 2009

You're not a dumb-ass -- you're learning something new, that's all. Many people won't even CONSIDER doing what you're doing today, won't even TRY to do any of the work themselves. You get big points for giving it a whirl, and next time you'll know more.

So, does that make you a smart-ass now? Hmmm... You'll have to ask your friends on that one.

Have fun.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:09 PM on December 2, 2009

To confirm the leak point, take the handle off (pop the cap, and undo the screw underneath, the handle with then lift up). Turn the stem to open the tap.

If the leak is about half-way up the barrel of the valve, then it's leaking around the stem and you need to change the o-ring as above.

If the leak is coming from somewhere else, not around the threads the stem screws into, then that's good info too. Ask again and we'll have more suggestions for you.

BTW: I missed a step above. call it 2b-you need an adjustable wrench to unscrew the stem from the tap body. To remove the stem, you need to unscrew what your diagram calls the packing nut.

Finally, a tip: if you're changing the o-ring, I'd change the seat washer too. It a short job, just unscrew the bolt holding it on and swap it out while the stem is out. The washer ages at the same rate as the o-ring---if one is gone, the other is sure to follow. This way you only have to operate on the taps once.

Good luck! You can totally do this.
posted by bonehead at 3:44 PM on December 2, 2009

I think it's a loose aerator too.
posted by gjc at 4:57 PM on December 2, 2009

can you wrap a thin towel around the aerator (to protect the metal) then use a wrench to loosen it? You might have a deteriorated washer in there that has disintegrated. I'd guess all you really need is a new washer to reseal it. Good luck and let us know what happens. I bought my house 3 years ago and knew nothing of plumbing at the time but have fixed two broken faucets, replaced a kitchen faucet and a toilet valve myself. It was frustrating as hell while I was doing it but the satisfaction of finally figuring it out stays with you a lifetime!

Here's a great forum that I use often with very helpful advice for the diy homeowner
posted by any major dude at 5:56 PM on December 2, 2009

I too think this is a leak around the aerator. Here's an easy check: Wipe the spout with a dry cloth until you are sure it is dry. Grasp the spout between your thumb and forefinger about halfway between the tip and the base. You are, in effect, surrounding the spout with your hand. Turn the water on. Does your hand get wet? If so, the aerator is leaking. If not, it's somewhere else. If it is an aerator leak, first see if it is just slightly loose. Take cloth and wrap it around the aerator. With pliers, gently twist the aerator to loosen it a little, then tighten it until it won't turn with moderate pressure.

Do the finger/thumb test again. If it still leaks, take the aerator to the hardware store and ask for a repair kit that includes at least the rubber gasket that sits at the top of the aerator. The kit should cost $2-$3.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:38 PM on December 2, 2009

An additional thought:

I'm guessing that you have never cleaned the aerator. The screens in there get clogged. It is their job to filter out little stuff that is in your water so you don't drink it. When it gets clogged, the water looks for an easier route out and can be squeezing out through the threads of the spout. When you are checking for tightness, close the drain (so you don't lose any parts by dropping them down the drain) and take the aerator off. Carefully push on the screen that is at the bottom end of the aerator until pieces start coming out of the top. Remember the order that they came out. Gently wash each item as it comes out of the aerator and set it aside. Don't be put off by what you find in there. Now reassemble the parts in the aerator and screw it back on and gently tighten it.
posted by Old Geezer at 9:36 PM on December 3, 2009

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