Some plumbing changes in your home happen so slowly, you do not even realize anything is different. Faucets are a great example of this—one day you realize the faucet is difficult to turn, and wonder how it ever got that way. It did not become hard to turn overnight, but fixing a hard-to-turn faucet is a quick repair any homeowner can do themselves.
A hard-to-turn faucet can be caused by several problems. Your job is helped by knowing (through a little tinkering) what the cause is. Some clues:
- Mineral deposits
Plumbing repairs can be made with a few common tools, plus a few plumbing-dedicated tools. In fact, with cartridges in some faucets, brand-specific cartridge-pullers are needed. A basic faucet repair kit should have these tools and supplies:
- Plumber’s grease—consider both silicone grease and lithium-based, old-fashioned grease
- Tongue and groove pliers—these can adjust to handle various sizes of nuts
- Adjustable wrench—also called a crescent wrench
- Vinegar—to clean the parts
- Allen wrenches—hexagon-shaped metal wrenches to loosen and tighten set screws
- Rags—you will usually find you need one more than you have, no matter how many you gather
- Shoe box—to hold parts you remove
- Phillips head screwdrivers—make certain to have several sizes on hand to avoid tearing out the screw head
- Slotted screwdrivers—again, have several sizes on hand to avoid tearing up the screw head
As you unpack the faucet’s insides, you may find you need a brand-specific cartridge puller.
If possible, find a brand name on the faucet handle or spigot. This will be handy when searching for replacement parts. Also, take a photo with your cell phone of the faucet and dismantled parts to help with selecting replacements. No matter the brand, a few steps are universal:
- Turn off the water beneath the sink at the hot and cold water supply lines. Gently and slowly turn these off (righty tighty, lefty loosey). They are often not opened and closed for years at a time and can freeze in position, so a quick or forceful turn can snap off the valve handle.
- The faucet handle may have a plastic decorative cap that hides the screw holding the handle to the valve. Use a screwdriver to gently pry this cap off, exposing the screw. Put loose parts in the shoe box.
- Remove the handle by loosening the screw in its center. Most handle screws use Phillips screws. Some handles do not feature this axial screw, but are held in place with a tiny set screw in the side, in which case you need the Allen wrenches.
- The valve stem is now exposed, held down by some type of retaining clip or nut.
The valve itself can be pulled out once the retaining clip or nut is off, but usually this requires significant force. For some brands, this is where the cartridge-pulling tool is a must, to avoid breakage.
Clean or Replace
- Clean out the inside of the faucet valve with vinegar, and repeat the cleaning on the cartridge.
- Inspect for metal shavings, worn parts, grit, or mineral buildup. A scrub brush can help loosen deposits.
- Use the plumber’s grease to lubricate any threads you can see. Do not worry about contaminating your water—the grease and water will never meet.
- You can also opt to replace the cartridge, using plumber’s grease to lubricate the threads.
Reassemble the faucet in the reverse order you disassembled it, using the parts in order from the shoe box. Clean up any water around the faucet before turning on the water supply, to make leak detection easier. Finally, turn on the water supply, test the faucet handle, and check for leaks.