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Around the house with Julia
Fix that leaky kitchen faucet!
By Julia Strzesieski

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 new faucet can give your kitchen a new aesthetic with the beautiful new designs and finishes now available. But no need to replace your old faucet if it’s just leaking – 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 figure out the type of faucet you have. Kitchen faucets come in several basic styles:
• Ball-type faucets are single-handled and have a dome-shaped cap or faucet knob. A single-handle pullout faucet has a spray wand that docks in the faucet neck.

• Ceramic disc faucets are like ball-type faucets in that they can have single handles. Under the cap, the workings of the 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 handles as they turn.

• Cartridge faucets are found in both single- and double-handled models and are quite common on kitchens sinks.
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 stem faucets, turn off the 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.

Ball-type faucets

Remove the cap and check the valve springs for wear. They may appear compressed or have lost tension. While the faucet is disassembled, it’s a good time to replace the springs. The rubber seat surrounding the springs may also be causing the leak. It’s also a good idea to replace this part now rather than coming back to it later. For convenience, kits are available that include both springs and the accompanying seats. 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.

Ceramic disc faucets
With these faucets, the culprit is usually a dirty cylinder. Remove the cylinder from the faucet body and clean the openings with a pad designed for nonstick cooking surfaces. Next, rinse the cylinder under fresh water.

Stem faucets
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, bring the stem when shopping for a replacement to ensure a proper fit.

Cartridge faucets
Leaks in these faucets 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 heatproof grease on the rings and the stem itself before sliding the new ring into its groove.

If you’ve tried these steps and your faucet is still leaking, it just might be time to invest in that fancy new faucet after all. But it never hurts to try a little troubleshooting first to avoid that costly bill for a plumber’s visit.

Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator at Cole Hardware. E-mail:

September 2011 Issue


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