Articles and Buying Guides

Common Causes of Leaky Faucets

A silver faucet with two handles on a white background has a single drop of water coming from the spout.

There’s nothing quite as annoying as a leaky faucet. The steady dripping can keep you up at night with that irritating noise. Left unaddressed, leaks can eventually stain and even damage bathroom fixtures. So, what causes a leaky faucet, and how do you fix it?

Leaky faucets are one of the most common household problems. Yet, when most of us walk away from a sink, we may not notice when the water doesn't shut off completely. A dripping faucet doesn't seem like an urgent problem, but it can definitely be annoying. Moreover, a faucet that drips once per second will waste five gallons of water per day. When you do the math, that's a lot of wasted water!

Don’t let a leaky faucet keep you up at night. Stop wasting water and discover how to fix a leaky faucet today (it’s an easy repair)!


Different Types of Faucets

If you’re wondering what’s causing a leaky faucet, it helps to look first at the type of faucet. There are several different common types of faucets. We may have multiple types of faucets in our homes. Here’s how to determine the faucet type you have so you can figure out a solution for your leaky taps.

There are three major types of faucet construction: rotary ball, cartridge, and ceramic disc. These all refer to how the faucet is designed internally and how it controls temperature and water flow. Because each is built differently, they're also prone to different problems. Knowing the type of faucet you have will help you diagnose what kind of repair you need.

black kitchen faucet with wooden cutting board and green plant

Rotary Ball Faucets

Rotary ball faucets rotate within their socket to control water flow and temperature. The hollow ball of the faucet is often plastic or stainless steel. These faucets feature a simple construction with just a ball and an O-Ring, making them one of the easiest to repair. The typical cause of rotary ball faucet leaks is a worn-out O-ring.

Rotary ball faucets feature a single handle that moves on a rounded base to control the temperature and flow of the water. These are commonly found on kitchen and bathroom sinks. If you have questions about your faucet type, you can typically find the manufacturer's name somewhere on the plate—this will help you determine the best way to repair your leaky faucet.

Cartridge Faucets

Cartridge faucets are extremely common. They may have one handle or two that lift up and down to control the water's flow (and, in some cases, the temperature). A cartridge faucet design is a little more complicated internally, with a cartridge containing O-rings at each end that control the flow and temperature of the water. These O-rings can be the source of leaks from the base of a cartridge faucet.

Cartridge faucets aren’t as likely to leak, although any faucet can start dripping after years of use. Rubber O-rings degrade over time, so eventually, you may need to repair your cartridge faucet. It’s important to note that hard water can speed up wear and damage to all types of faucets—minerals can build up within the cartridge and degrade the rubber O-rings as well.

Ceramic Disc Faucets

Ceramic disc faucets are another type of cartridge faucet that is durable and long-lasting. Rather than O-rings, these faucets use ceramic discs to control water flow. Ceramic disc faucets rarely require repairs; ceramic discs are much more durable than rubber O-rings.

You may see ceramic disc faucets in kitchen sinks and newer fixtures. Ceramic disc faucets require minimal effort to turn on and off, so they're ideal for people with mobility issues. Because they need such little pressure to turn on and off, there's less wear and tear on the ceramic discs over time, too.

Compression

Finally, there are compression-style faucets. These are the older faucets that usually feature two separate handles. You must turn the handles completely to control the water flow. We often see these types of faucets outdoors and on older utility sinks. Some older homes may also have these types of faucets on the tub or sink.

Compression faucets feature a rubber washer that can often wear out over time and start to leak. Fortunately, replacing the washer is very simple and typically fixes the leaking faucet immediately.


Most Common Causes of Leaky Faucets

Once you've determined the type of faucet you have, you can start fixing the leak. There are several common causes of leaky faucets, so you'll want to carefully determine where the leak originates and troubleshoot the cause.

1. Loose Parts

A person repairing a faucet using a silver wrench to tighten the top of the faucet. The person is repairing a silver-colored faucet on a white ceramic sink.

Faucets have many small parts that work in conjunction to deliver water flow. Unfortunately, many of these parts may wear out after years of use. If your faucet seems to leak near the base, it may be that the adjusting ring or packing nut has become loose. To address this issue, remove the handle on a rotary ball faucet and tighten the adjusting ring.

If the leak continues after you've tightened the adjusting ring, you may need to replace the springs or the seals. Check the area around the sink carefully to ensure that water isn’t leaking underneath the fixture too.


2. Worn Out O-rings

A pile of black O-rings is grouped together. The black rubber rings are in various sizes and thicknesses against a white background.

An O-ring is a rubber gasket used to seal gaps between the cartridge and other internal parts in cartridge faucets. O-rings will eventually wear down, and you will need to replace them. When the O-ring degrades, it often causes leaks at the base of the faucet or issues with hot and cold water mixing.

To inspect the O-ring, you'll want to remove the cartridge and determine if the O-rings appear degraded or if the problem seems to be with the entire cartridge. Your local Do it Best store is an excellent place for expert advice and replacement parts when determining what you need.


3. Washer Issues

A person is removing the bottom part of a silver faucet. In their fingers, they are holding the washer that fits beneath the screen of the tap.

When water is dripping from the faucet's spout directly, the culprit is usually the washer. The washer presses against the faucet's valve seat when the water turns on. Over time, the repetitive motion and resistance can cause the washer to wear out.

If you notice a slow drip from your faucet spout, replacing the washer can fix the leaky faucet. In some faucets, there may also be a rubber seal that can wear out and lead to leaks as well.


4. Water Pressure and Other Issues

A women's hand under a silver faucet with low pressure water stream, close-up view

If your faucet leaks aren't caused by any of the above issues, there could be other triggers. For example, you could have a water pressure problem or a larger plumbing issue throughout your house. Once you’ve gone through the troubleshooting process to repair a leaky faucet, the cause of the leak should be clear. If it’s not, you may need to contact a professional to assist.


Fixing a Dripping Faucet on Your Own

A shot of a man's hands working on a kitchen sink. He is wearing blue overalls with his tool kit in the background.

A leaky faucet is one of those home problems easily addressed on your own. Even plumbing novices can tackle a washer replacement or rubber O-ring repair. Here are the steps to fixing a leaking faucet.

Step 1: Follow the steps above to figure out your faucet type.

Knowing whether you have a cartridge, ball, ceramic disk, or compression faucet will help you find the right parts for repair. You may also need to know the manufacturer and model of your faucet (which will usually be somewhere on the fixture.

Step 2: Turn off the water supply before dismantling your faucet.

For most sinks, the turn-off valves are located below the sink. Be sure to turn off the cold as well as the hot valve. You should also put the stopper in the sink.

Step 3: Remove the knob caps.

These screw covers are typically on the face of the knob, and they are easy to pop off with a flat-head screwdriver. Once the screw is exposed, you can unscrew the faucet handle.

Step 4: Loosen the packing nut and stem.

You will need to use pliers or a wrench first to loosen up the packing nut and then loosen the stem. Be careful not to damage these items as you remove them.

Step 5: Inspect the black rubber O-ring.

If you see any degradation, replace the O-ring.

Step 6: Inspect the washer housed in the valve seat.

If you see any damage to the washer, you may need to replace it.

Step 7: Put the faucet together and turn the water back on.

Turn on the faucet to see if you have fixed the leak. If the leak continues, you may need to contact a professional plumber to assist.

You can DIY most basic causes of leaky faucets. If you’re ready to tackle this minor home repair, Do It Best can help. We have all the plumbing supplies you need to repair your leaky faucet!

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.