How to Repair (Not Replace) Any Leaking Bathroom Faucet (Sink or Shower)

Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 23 years with experience ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

Need to replace a leaky sink or shower faucet? Here’s an easy repair guide to get the job done inexpensively (and a quick tip to quiet the noise from a dripping faucet until you can make that repair!).

The Deafening Sound of a Leaky Faucet

You’re laying in bed when you decide to kill the lights, turn off the TV and turn in for the night. It’s not too long before you notice the “drip, drip, drip” noise coming from the bathroom. You try to ignore it…”drip, drip”. You cover your head with the pillow but the sound just keeps getting louder and louder…”DRIP, DRIP”. You can hardly hear yourself think and up you go to see what you can do to make it stop!

I know. It sounds a lot like “The Tell-Tale Heart” but you have to admit, it can seem that way when the faucet starts to leak. Perhaps you’re better at tuning things like this out than I am but for me, trying to ignore my shower fixture was nearly impossible.

Well, I have some good news. Fixing that pesky drip can be quite simple and even better, may only cost you a couple of dollars. Let me show you how.

Finding the Right Replacement Faucet Cartridge

The first thing you’ll want to do is to find the proper replacement part for your leaking faucet. Knowing the model of faucet you have can often help to find a replacement before you start the repair but if you don’t have that information, remove the problem part and take it with you to the store to match it up with a universal replacement part. In this example, the leaking bathroom sink problem will be a bad cartridge located in the faucet handle.

NOTE: Cartridges may be specific to the hot and cold sides of the faucet. Make sure you get the right one.

How to Repair a Leaky Faucet, Step by Step

  1. Turn off the water supply to the sink. Usually, there will be a shut off under the sink but if not, locate the main valve in the water line and shut it down from there.
  2. Next, remove the cap on the handle of the faucet. Some may vary a bit but here you can see it’s quite easy to locate and remove.
  3. Now that the cap is off, remove the screw that is holding the handle in place and lift the handle off the faucet.
  4. Then, remove the beauty ring if you have one. If there is a hex top on the beauty ring, you should be fine to just loosen it with a wrench. If not, place a rag around the ring before wrenching on it to avoid damaging the finish.
  5. Lastly, remove the cartridge. It should wiggle out fairly easily with your hand.
  6. Replace the cartridge. Be sure that it is seated so that the handle turns off and on properly before putting it all back together again. Otherwise, your handle may turn to the wrong positions from where it was before. Many of these cartridges are finicky this way but simple to figure out.
  7. Enjoy! You’ll sleep like a baby without that annoying drip and it only took a couple of dollars and a few minutes of your time.

Let’s move on to that shower. It’s slightly different but just as simple with a couple minor, potential differences.

Did You Know…

There’s a specific way to apply Teflon tape. You must apply the tape in the opposite direction that you will be turning the threads, otherwise, it will unravel.

Make sure you’re using a quality Teflon tape for this job since the chances are you won’t be wanting to disassemble your faucet anytime soon. I’ve been using this Everflow Teflon tape for years with very good results. It sticks and seals very well.

Replacing a Faucet Washer

Replacing a faucet washer is just as easy as the cartridge and even less expensive. Here, we will be repairing a leaky shower faucet but the method would be the same if your sink has this sort of washer as opposed to a cartridge as we’ve seen above.

NOTE: You want to be sure you buy the right size washer replacement. When in doubt, remove the old one and take it to the store with you to match it up with a new one.

How to Repair a Leaky Shower Faucet, Step by Step

  1. Turn off the water supply to the shower. This may be in an access panel on the wall behind the shower or you may have to shut off the main line as shown above.
  2. Remove the cap on the end of the handle.
  3. Remove the screw holding the handle on. This again will likely be a Philips screw.
  4. Now, remove the beauty ring if you have one to expose the valve stem. Again, be careful of your finish and use a rag to protect the piece.
  5. Remove the valve stem. This stem should have a hex area for you to place your pliers (channel locks) and grab hold tightly.
  6. Remove the screw that is holding the rubber washer onto the end of the valve and remove the old washer.
  7. Put the new washer in place and secure it back down with the screw you just removed.
  8. Apply Teflon tape to the threads that you will be screwing back into the fixture.
  9. Put the faucet back together in the same way you’d removed it.

How to Stop the Noise of a Leaking Faucet

If this may not be something you’re going to do right away, I do have a tip for at least curing the noise that annoys you. Tie a string from the dripping faucet to the base where the water lands.

The water will now run quietly down the string to the basin and never will a “blip” be heard. This will also show you how rusty the water is since the string will begin to “brown” from the water. This may tell you that it’s time to flush that water tank.

The Benefits of Fixing a Leaky Faucet

Aside from not having to listen to that “drip, drip, drip” all night long, there are other benefits from taking care of this problem.

  • Saving Money: A leaking faucet does cost money. Depending on the severity of the leak, it may not be much but it will pay for those washers you bought. If it’s bad, it could be noticeable in your water bill.
  • Avoiding Water Stains and Deposits: This slow leak can increase the rate at which deposits build up on the filter in the faucet, thus blocking up the flow of water or consistency of the stream. It can also cause staining around the drain.
  • Deterring Mold Growth: If there is a faucet leaking that isn’t used regularly, mold will eventually begin to grow in the sink where the water is being splashed too. This light mist of water makes a damp surface where mold can begin to grow and once it establishes a foothold, it will grow quite rapidly from there and now we’re talking about bad smells and potential health concerns.

Sink Aerators / Faucet Screen

Easy to Do Yourself

This is definitely one of those repairs you don’t want to have to pay large sums of money to have done. With a couple of simple household tools and a few dollars for a replacement part, you can fix this problem easily and in just a few minutes. The repairs shown to the shower and faucet in this article took a total of 20 minutes to do both. For even the less mechanically inclined, this is a repair that takes just minutes.

Of course, as always, when in doubt don’t guess. Guessing at a household repair can cause further damage and end up costing more money than is necessary. Never force something to fit or use parts that are not meant for the repair.

Happy plumbing and sleep easy with that annoying sound in the past.

Need More Plumbing Tips?

  • Unclogging a Sink Drain in the Bathroom or ElsewhereLearn how to get rid of that standing water in your sink. Liquid drain cleaners don’t always work and it requires a bit more effort but knowing how you can do this yourself can save you big money.
  • Anyone Can Fix A Leaking Water Pipe Fast and Easy Us…Burst a water line? Need to add a water line? No problem. See how you can do it yourself fast, easy and much cheaper than calling a plumber. It really is a snap! No soldering needed!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Dan Reed


Becky H on August 23, 2020:

I’m having a heck of a time trying to get the stems out of my bathtub faucet, it’s an American standard I’m pretty sure. Whoever put it in must have been very confident it would never have to be worked on bcoz they made the holes for the pipes to go through exactly big enough to fit the pipes through. I can’t get any kind of a tool in to the hex nuts to remove the stems from either side. And I’m not sure what I can do to make room for a toil without wrecking the faucet. Do you have any advice? Thank you.

Pat Derks on April 29, 2019:

What if you didveverthing right and the faucet still drips?

David from Idaho on June 28, 2012:

We live out in the country and have a well, with plenty of hard water. Our faucets don’t last too long out here but I’ll save your info when I have to change out the parts on the tub.

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