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How to Fix a Leaky Bathtub Faucet (13 Easy Steps)

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Fixing a leaky bathroom faucet is an easy DIY job; here’s how to do it.

If your bathtub faucet is leaking, it’s important to prevent it from getting worse and stop it as quickly as possible. To accomplish this, you need to know how to fix a leaky bathtub faucet.

In time, seemingly insignificant drops will add up and cost you money. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 10,000 gallons of water are wasted annually as a result of leaks in homes (1).

Just one faucet dripping every couple of seconds adds up to 10 gallons of water down the drain each day. That’s over 1,000 gallons per year being added to your water bill (2).

This article explains what causes a bathtub faucet to drip and offers step-by-step instructions on how to fix them.


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What Causes a Leaky Faucet?

The most common causes of a leaky faucet are:

  • Wear and tear
  • Mineral build-up
  • Corrosion
  • Loose parts

The seals and O-rings can deteriorate or corrode, reducing their ability to hold the water in the pipes. These are the components that usually degrade first, so you should check them when a faucet is leaking.

Understanding How a Faucet Works

The external handle on a faucet is attached to a stem. When you turn the faucet handle, the stem also moves.

At the end of the stem, there is a small rubber washer secured by a screw. When you open your faucet, the pressure holding the washer against the seat is released, and water flows through.

Conversely, when you turn the handle to the closed position, the washer is pressed against the faucet seat and the flow stops.

If the washer or seats are worn out, the necessary pressure can’t be applied, and water seeps through the slight gap. This leads to water dripping from your faucet.

How to Fix a Leaky Bathtub Faucet

There are two broad types of bathroom faucets:

  • Single handle.
  • Two-handle.

The fix is the same for both types, but a two-handled faucet will need double the work if you can’t determine whether the hot or cold water is leaking. Even if you can tell, it might be worth replacing both so they wear at the same rate and you don’t need to repeat the task in a few months.

Remember

It is essential to turn off the water supply before you begin any repairs to your bathroom faucet.

You can do this at the mains supply or the inlet pipes to the faucet if they have shut-off taps attached. Once the water is turned off, drain any remaining water from the system by opening the faucet.

Before proceeding, it’s a good idea to plug the drain of the tub. This will prevent you from losing any screws or parts if you drop them.

What You Need

  • Monkeywrench
  • Bath socket wrench or vice grip pliers
  • Faucet seat wrench
  • Philips screwdriver
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Hairdryer (maybe)

What You Do

Step 1: Locate the Handle Screw

At the end of the handle, there is a decorative cover. Use a flathead screwdriver to remove this and expose the screw underneath.

Step 2: Remove the Handle

Using a Philips screwdriver, remove the retaining screw in the handle.

You should now be able to remove the handle. If it seems stuck, try heating it with a hairdryer or pouring hot water over it to loosen it. Don’t force it or it might break. If it breaks, you will need to call a plumber.

Step 3: Unscrew the Decorative Trim and Collar (Escutcheon)

Just behind the handle on the wall, there might be a decorative collar. There might also be a collar fitted over the internal part of the faucet that is threaded and unscrews. If they are present, remove them.

Important

Make sure you carefully place all the screws and handles to one side, preferably in a container. They will need to be replaced later, and it is easy to lose them. It is also worth taking a note of the order in which you removed them, to make it easier to reassemble the faucet later.

Step 4: Remove the Packing Nut (Stem Bonnet)

Use a bath socket wrench or vice grip to remove the retaining nut by turning it counter-clockwise.

Step 5: Extract the Stem

The stem of the faucet can now be removed by gripping it with pliers and pulling. You might need to gently turn it from side to side to loosen it first.

Step 6: Inspect the Removed Parts

Check the stem and packing nut for corrosion, mineral deposits, or any other damage. If you’re in doubt that a part might be worn, it is probably best to simply replace them all.

Step 7: Remove Mineral Deposits

Mineral build-up on the stem or inside the faucet can be loosened by pouring white vinegar onto it. Leave it for a while, then use a scourer to scrub off the mineral deposits.

Rinse off any debris before replacing the parts

Step 8: Check the Seat for Damage

The washer on the bottom of the stem sits on a seat — a small tubular threaded component inside the faucet. When the washer wears down, it can damage the seat. Remove the seat and inspect it using a seat wrench.

Step 9: Replacing Parts

Visit your local hardware store or plumbing supplier and purchase the parts you need.

You should take the old ones with you to ensure you find the correct ones for your faucet.

Parts likeliest to need replacing include o-rings and washers, but you might need to replace the entire stem.

Step 10: The Seat Washer

The seat washer is the washer secured with a screw at the bottom of the stem. It is commonly the cause of a leaky faucet as it is pressed against the seat when under pressure.

Replacing it is easy; undo the screw, prise off the old washer and replace it with a new one, then screw it into place.

Step 11: Reassemble Your Faucet

Put your faucet back together by reversing the above steps.

Step 12: Two-handled Faucet

If you have two handles, you will need to repeat all the above steps for the other handle.

Step 13: Turn the Water Back On

Turn your water supply back on and test your faucet to see if your handiwork has paid off. If your bathtub spout is still leaking or any new leaks have appeared, it might be time to call a plumber.

Pro Tips

  • The right tightness: When reassembling your faucet, make sure everything is tightened, but not too much. This way, if you need to perform any repairs in the future, you will be able to disassemble it more easily.
  • Check the faucet: To determine which faucet is leaking when you have two handles, feel the water drips to see whether they are hot or cold. This will give you some indication of which one needs repairing.

FAQs

Why Is My Bathtub Faucet Leaking?

If your bathtub faucet is leaking after the water is turned off, it is likely being caused by natural wear and tear to the washer or faucet seat. A faucet has to hold back a lot of water pressure when it is turned off, which gradually erodes the parts that come into contact with it. In most cases, replacing the washer will be enough to completely eliminate the leak.

How Hard Is It To Fix a Leaky Faucet?

Fixing a leaky faucet is usually a very straightforward task that can be performed by even beginner DIYers. Washers inevitably need replacing at some point, so faucets are designed to be easily disassembled. This varies from model to model, but a washer replacement will usually only require a few basic tools such as screwdrivers. If replacing the washer doesn’t fix the issue, you might need to consult a professional plumber.

Do I Need To Turn My Water off To Fix a Leaky Faucet?

Before taking apart your faucet to replace parts, you should turn off the water supply to the faucet. This might require turning off your entire mains water supply, or simply closing the shut-off taps on the specific pipes that feed water to the faucet. Try running the tap to make sure no water comes out before you disassemble it, as you could end up flooding your bathroom.

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No More Leaks

Knowing how to stop a dripping bathtub faucet will help you save money on your water bills and avoid having to pay a plumber. Perhaps most importantly, it will prevent you from having to listen to a constant dripping bathtub spout, as well as avoid stains on your bathtub.

You might be surprised by just how big a difference fixing a couple of leaky faucets can make to your water bill over the course of a year. Rather than looking for a short-term temporary fix, replacing one or two parts should keep your faucet leak-free for several years.

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About the Author

Peter Gray

Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.