Q: The drip in my bathroom sink is driving me nuts. I live in a 1930s California bungalow. The original faucet is mounted on a pedestal sink. It is a three-piece unit with a spout in the center and hot and cold handles about 8 inches apart. The handles are porcelain with very attractive cone-shaped porcelain escutcheons.
I suppose I could have a plumber replace the faucet, but I’d rather keep it if I can. Short of replacing the fixture, what can I do to stop the drip?
A: When dealing with old houses, our mantra has always been to try to keep the original parts and pieces. We’ve stripped paint off old baseboards, reconditioned gumwood trim, refurbished old claw-foot tubs and even had old faucets re-chromed.
Fortunately, your problem is easy to fix. Change the washers in the faucet and the drip will go away. No need to replace the fixture, no need to call the plumber. It’s a do-it-yourself job that requires only a little know-how, a little time and less than a dollar. Make sure to change the washers in both faucets. Sure as shootin’ if one isn’t leaking now, Murphy’s Law means a new drip is in your future.
Follow these steps:
1. Turn off the water. Look below the sink and you’ll probably see two handles attached to a valve with small pipes or hoses leading to each faucet. Turn the handles clockwise to shut off the water to the fixture. Sometimes there aren’t shut-off valves under the sink. In that case, shut off the water to the house. In many areas, the main shut-off valve is below a hose bib where the water line enters the house. Again, turn the valve clockwise to shut off the water.
2. Turn the handles of the sink to the full on position to make sure the water is off. When you’re sure the water is off, turn the handle clockwise halfway toward the closed position.
3. Remove the handle. Handles are mounted to the stem with a screw. Often screws are hidden under a plastic or metal cover. If so, gently pry off the cover with a thin blade (a utility knife works good), remove the screw and lift off the handle.
4. The faucet stem is secured to the basin with a locknut and perhaps a washer. Replace the handle on the stem and hold it steady while turning the nut counterclockwise to unscrew the locknut from the stem. Remove the handle and the locknut.
5. Replace the handle but not the screw. Remove the stem from the faucet body by turning the handle counterclockwise. Keep turning until the stem can be lifted out of the faucet body. Remove the stem. If the stem threads are bound up, a squirt or two of WD-40 or Liquid Wrench will loosen them.
6. At the bottom of the stem is a hard rubber washer attached by a small screw. It may be flat or it may be cone-shaped. Unscrew the washer. Use a small towel or stopper to cover up the drain. We’ve skipped this step and have wasted a half hour fishing the screw out of the P-trap. It’s likely that the stem has another rubber O-ring to prevent water from oozing up and out of the stem. Rubber washers come in many sizes, so it’s best to take the washers to your local hardware store and make sure you get the right matches.
7. With the correct washers in hand, replace the worn-out ones and reassemble the unit. Replace the rubber O-ring, screw in the new faucet washer, screw the stem into the body, install the locknut and reinstall the escutcheon and handle.
8. Finally, turn the water back on and test the faucets. Be gentle; when the water first comes back on, it will spit and gurgle. Nothing is wrong, but if the faucet is full-on open you’ll get a spray.
By the way, we’ve been checking out the "how to" offerings on YouTube. There’s no shortage of advice, but as you would expect, the quality is all over the map. Happily, we found one that does a fine job of addressing your leaky faucet issue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15A0V7lj_Lo.
You can watch the video below:
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