Replacing a faucet washer. Stop That Water-Wasting Drip:

Replacing A Faucet Washer
To Fix A Leaky Tub Faucet

 
In This Article:

An older bath tub faucet is taken apart and the faucet washer is replaced.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 2 (Basic) Time Taken: 45 Minutes

By , Editor

When a traditional washer-based faucet drips instead of shutting off completely, it is a sign that the washer has worn and needs to be replaced.

This article shows how a bath tub faucet was repaired, but the same procedure will apply to most other types of washer-based kitchen, lavatory and utility faucets.

This bath tub faucet dripped a little, but only on the hot side. The faucet has been in the house since it was built in the late 1940's.

 

I looked in the basement for a valve to shut off just the hot water. The water heater had valves on both the cold and hot lines.

Only one needed to be shut off.

 

But... there was a ball valve (which only takes 1/4 of a turn to close) near the well tank, so I shut this valve instead. It turned off the water to the entire house.

I chose this option because I know this type of valve almost always stops the flow of water completely. Those valves at the water heater often get a buildup of mineral deposits, preventing the washer from sealing against the seat.

I opened the faucet to relieve the water pressure. Sometimes it also helps to open a valve at a lower level, such as in the basement.

Fixing plumbing in multi-story homes can be a nuisance because the water in the pipes upstairs may need to be drained first. This may require opening faucets at the lowest level and the highest level (to let air into the system).

Note that with any single-handle faucet repair, both hot and cold supply lines need to be shut off.

To remove the faucet handle, I had to remove the little cap in the center of the handle. I first tried (unsuccessfully) to pry off the cap with a small screwdriver.

 

A pair of Channel-Lock pliers loosened the little cap.

 

This cap is just threaded into a hole in the center of the handle.

 

I used a flat-blade screwdriver to remove the screw that held the handle onto the valve stem.

 

The handle just pulled off with a firm tug.

A Stitch In Time Saves Nine...

Now folks, when a handle like this gets a little loose, you need to spend a minute and tighten it up. I once rented a house where the previous occupant had neglected to spend that little minute, and the tub faucet handle got really loose and eventually stripped off that special knurling on the end of the shaft. So then they used a pair of pliers to turn the water on and off, and completely destroyed the end of the shaft so no handle could ever stay on. The landlord had to replace the entire tub faucet (which is a real chore) because he could not find a replacement stem. It was his daughter and son-in-law who had lived there previously, and he didn't seem too pleased with their attitude toward maintenance. This is more like "a stitch in time saves ninety".

 

There was a knurled fitting that held the round "nose cone" cover in  place. I used Channel-Lock plierss to remove this threaded fitting.

 

The exposed faucet mechanism. There are two hexagonal parts, which are a clue to components that can be removed with a wrench.

 

I removed the first fitting with a wrench.

 

This component has a cup-shaped underside. It's purpose is to squeeze the stem packing tight to prevent water leaks at the valve stem while the faucet is being used.

If you see a trickle of water from the handle while you are running the water (but not when the faucet is off) then the culprit is the stem packing. Sometimes this leak can be fixed by tightening this fitting, which I believe is called a packing nut.

The red arrow points to the stem packing. Believe it or not, many older faucets have stem packings that are made from leather, of all things. Leather packings get very dry and brittle over time, and may crumble when removed. 

A few months ago I repaired an ancient tub faucet that leaked badly at the stem. I was surprised to find new leather packings at my local Ace Hardware store. I think I added an O-ring for good measure, and it worked.

I removed the next hex fitting. This took quite a bit of force to loosen, enough force to make me worry for a second. It is possible to break an old rusty pipe by applying too much torque to a nearby fixture.

 

I unscrewed the valve stem. Removing valve stem from bathtub faucet.

 

This is the "business end" of a traditional washer-based faucet. The washer is held in place with a simple screw. Note the groove worn into the rubber (red arrow). Often there will be small pits in the rubber, which prevent the rubber from sealing no matter how hard the knob is tightened.

 

I removed the screw that held the washer in place. I put the handle back on the shaft to make it easier to grasp.

 

The washer just popped right off.

 

The washer sits in a recess in the end of the shaft. I cleaned the mineral deposits from around this area, so the new washer would fit properly.

 

I installed the new washer. 

It's worth noting that sometimes, if the back of the washer is smooth and in good shape, it can simply be turned over.

Note: Deep inside the faucet body, the washer presses against a brass seat, which is essentially a circular ridge of metal. Sometimes this seat gets chipped or broken, and no amount of washer replacing will stop the dripping. Some faucets have removable seats (indicated by a hex Allen wrench socket), while others are molded in. A faucet seat resurfacing tool can be purchased for a few dollars. The resurfacing tool simply cuts away some metal to make that circular ridge smooth again.

The seat can be inspected by looking into the valve hole with a flashlight.

I applied a small dab of pipe thread compound to the threads before installing the stem.

 

I applied a small dab of silicone grease to the stem, just in front of the packing. This should help lubricate the packing and keep if soft.

Silicone grease is an awesome product. It's not soluble in water, so you can't really wash it off no matter how hard you try. It's thick and gooey and stays put.  It won't attack synthetic rubber seals used in valves because it's not the usual petroleum-based lubricant. It's safe to use in potable (drinkable) water systems. A small can costs about two bucks. I use it to lubricate any moving parts in plumbing valves.

No, you cannot use WD-40 instead.

I installed the packing nut and then the cover "cone".

 

I installed the handle and cover plug, and then turned the water supply back on.

This faucet worked fine after the repair.

The tightness of the packing nut will determine how much effort it takes to turn the handle. It may be a good idea to turn the water supply back on before replacing the cone, so the packing can be inspected for leaks while the water is running.

I also took a few minutes to clean the faucet parts with a lime-remover product, since some parts can be cleaned more easily when dismantled than when installed.

 
 

Tools Used:

  • 10" Adjustable Wrench
  • Channel-Lock Pliers
  • Screwdrivers

Materials Used:

  • Faucet Washers
  • Silicone Grease
 
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Copyright © 2001, 2005  HammerZone.com

Written May 5, 2001
Revised January 12, 2005