Probably nothing in your kitchen gets as much use as your kitchen faucet — arguably the most functional and utilitarian piece of equipment in the house. A leaky faucet is probably one of the most common household problems and one of the simplest to fix. While one drip of water doesn’t seem like a lot, 4,000 drips can equal a liter of water.
The first step to fixing your leak is to determine the type of faucet you have. Kitchen faucets come in a variety of styles: Cartridge faucets are found in both single- and double-handled models and are quite common on kitchen sinks; ball-type faucets are single-handled and have a dome-shaped cap or faucet knob; ceramic disc faucets are like ball faucets in that they can have single handles, and under the cap, the workings of the disc faucet are contained inside a cylinder (unlike the many individual internal parts within a ball-type faucet); stem faucets always have two handles and can be distinguished from other types of faucets by the way they turn off (you should feel the pressure of a rubber washer being squeezed inside the faucet as it turns); and single handle pullout styles allow the spray to be directly pointed, and the spray wand docks in the faucet neck.
Once you’ve identified the type of faucet, the next task is to know what part, in the midst of many, is causing trouble. First and foremost, you must turn off the water supply. The shutoff valves will probably be located under the sink, but some older homes might require that the water supply to the entire building be turned off. For two-handle faucets, turn off water to either the hot or cold side first to isolate which side might be leaking. Be sure to include padding like cloth, tape, or gauze between every tool and the faucet to protect against scratching or marring the surface.
Remove the cap and check the valve springs for wear. They might appear compressed or have lost tension. While the faucet is disassembled is a good time to replace the springs. The rubber seat surrounding the springs might also be causing the leak. Again, it’s a good idea to replace this part now rather than coming back to it later. Repair kits are available that include both springs and the accompanying seat. Next, check that the ball valve isn’t worn or damaged — a pitted or eroded ball slot is a dead giveaway. Also, the ball slot should fit snugly around and attach to the faucet body’s pin.
With faucets of this type, usually the culprit is a dirty cylinder. Remove the cylinder from the faucet body and clean the openings with a pad designed for nonstick cooling surfaces. Next, rinse the cylinder under fresh water. If the leaking doesn’t stop after reassembling the faucet, the entire faucet will most likely need to be replaced.
SINGLE- AND DOUBLE-CARTRIDGE FAUCETS
Leaks here are usually caused by weathered O-rings. These are typically black rubber or Teflon circular seals found within the cartridge. To replace an O-ring, bring both the cartridge and retaining nut when shopping for a replacement, as these parts need to be perfectly matched. Remove the old ring and clean any deposits on the stem.
Spread a thin layer of petroleum jelly or heat-proof grease on the rings and the stem itself before sliding the new ring into its groove.
Faulty O-rings are also a common cause for leaks with this type of faucet. If your faucet uses packing string, remove the old string from the stem along with any buildup before replacing the string. Feel for wear on the top of the faucet’s valve seat. If it’s not completely smooth, it should be replaced or resurfaced.
Another cause of a leak on a stem faucet can be a worn out washer on the end of the stem. Replacing the washer will correct the problem, but because these washers come in different sizes, you should bring the stem into a hardware store to ensure a proper fit.