How to Fix a Leaky Faucet: Compression Faucets

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How to fix leaking tapsWe get it, hiring a plumber for a repair is often an unexpected and unwelcome expense, so you may be searching online trying to find out how to fix a leaky faucet on your own. If you’re going to try to do it alone, we want to make sure you have complete and accurate information, easily available in one place (right here), and without advertisements and distractions that could lead to damaging and costly mistakes.

In this post, we’re going to explain how to fix a leaky faucet, specifically leaks in a two-handle compression faucet. In addition to the information in this post, you can also download a diagram and checklist of steps to repair a leaky two-handle compression faucet for free here.

If you don’t know what type of faucet you have, you have two options:

  1. contact us (or another qualified plumber in your area) and ask us to help you figure out which type it is; or
  2. hold that thought, because this is just the first in a series of Seven posts, published bi-weekly, leading up to the publication of our Plumber’s Apprentice Leaking Faucet Repair Manual, which will be available on July 31st, 2017 (email aduffy at if you would like to be notified where you can get a free copy when it’s available).

What is a Compression Faucet?

There are two basic types of faucets out there: those with washers and those without. Compression faucets are the basic washer type faucets that have been around since indoor plumbing became available.

A compression faucet is usually found in laundry room wash basins, but can also be found in bathrooms and kitchens, especially if they are older fixtures. Compression faucets, which have two separate handles for hot and cold water, are the least expensive type of faucets on the market, but they are also most likely to leak and require maintenance.

In a compression faucet, a washer or seal opens and closes against the valve seat at the base of the stem to open or restrict water flow through the faucet body when you turn each handle. This sounds very technical, but it all boils down to the fact that a worn or damaged washer or seal inside the handle will cause water to leak when the taps are shut off.

How to Fix Your Leaky Faucet

Tools and Materials

  • – Pipe Wrench or Channel-Lock Pliers
  • – Phillips Head Screwdriver
  • – Replacement parts (when purchasing replacement parts, it’s best to take the original parts with you to make sure your new part is a perfect match.

Parts of a Compression Faucet

Here’s a diagram that outlines the many parts of a compression faucet, which you’ll want to keep handy when taking yours apart and putting it back together. You can download a PDF version of this diagram (watermark free) along with a step-by-step checklist to help you repair your leaky compression faucet here.

Leaky Faucet - Compression Faucet Diagram

In addition to keeping this diagram handy, a good practice is to have a towel next to the sink when you are disassembling the faucet. Lay each part on the towel as you remove it, placing it in order so that when it’s time to reassemble the faucet you can work backwards and know the order with which to put each piece back.

The First Step in Repairing a Leaky Faucet

No matter what type of plumbing repair you are performing, or what type of leak you’re fixing, the first step is always to begin by turning off the water. When fixing a sink faucet, you may be able to do so at the shut off valves under the sink, or, if you have no valve under your sink, at your home’s main shut off valve, which is most likely in your basement near the front of the house. After you turn off the water supply, turn on the faucet to bleed the pipes of water and you’re ready to begin your repair in earnest.

Fixing Handle Leaks

If a compression faucet leaks from the handle, you’ll first want to try tightening or replacing the packing nut. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to replace the packing, which will be a washer, O-ring, or in some cases twine, that is wound around the compression stem.

Again, keep the diagram above handy, and when disassembling parts lay them out onto a towel in the order that you remove them so that you know what order to reassemble pieces in. Never forget to turn the water supply off before attempting any repairs, and to open both the hot and cold water taps to allow the water to drain out of the faucet.

Fixing Spout Leaks

Repairing a leaky compression faucet most often involves replacing a washer. If you have water leaking from the spout of a compression faucet you’ll need to replace a washer or a corroded valve seat.

The hardest part about changing a washer in a leaking compression faucet is finding the right replacement washer. If you don’t have an extra washer, take the old one with you to the hardware store to make sure you can find a match. Of course, an experienced plumber will have several common washers on hand, and will how to source a replacement if it’s not one plumbers normally keep in stock; so, not to sound like a broken record, but if you find yourself frustrated in the plumbing aisle, remember that you can always call a plumber to help.

To fix a broken washer in a compression faucet, you must remove the handle itself and replace the washer or seal. Here is a fantastic video by showing how to replace a washer in your faucet handle.

As you’ll be reminded of in the video, the first step in replacing a washer is to turn off the shut off valve for the fixture and opening both the hot and cold faucets to allow any residual water to escape. Next, you’ll need to take off the faucet handle, loosen and remove the packing nut, remove the stem, and replace the worn part with another one. This is also an opportunity to lubricate the threads of the stem with silicone grease before reassembling the handle and turning the fixture valve back on.

If the Repair Isn’t Going as Expected

If you have any doubts about any step in the faucet repair you’re attempting, even with our free step-by-step checklist and diagram for compression faucets, we recommend you stop and call a professional plumber. Even if it’s just a question about a repair you’re attempting yourself, Instant Rooter is happy to take your call day or night. We are happy to answer any question you may have and know that by offering our knowledge freely to those who need it, when they need it, we are building trust within our community which benefits all of us.  You can contact us here.

One last time, if you would like a diagram and checklist of steps to repair a leaking two-handle compression faucet, we have one you can download for free here.

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