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

Is there a drip coming from your bathtub faucet? Maybe your tub is getting stained, and you want to stop it getting worse. Knowing how to fix a leaky bathtub faucet can help.

All those tiny drips add up over time and cost you money. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10,000 gallons of water is wasted annually as a result of leaks in the home (1).

Just one leaky faucet dripping every couple of seconds equates to 10 gallons of water down the drain every day. That’s over 1,000 gallons a year being paid for on your water bill (2).

In this article, we detail the potential causes of a leaky bathroom faucet and step-by-step instructions on how to fix them.

Table of Contents

    What Causes a Leaky Faucet?

    The main causes of a leaky faucet are:

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

    The seals and O-rings can deteriorate or corrode, undermining their ability to keep the water in the pipes. These are the most common components that degrade first, so are good areas to check when the 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 moves.

    At the end of the stem is a small rubber washer secured in place with a screw. When you turn on your faucet, the pressure on the washer against the seat is released, and water flows.

    Similarly, when you turn the handle to “Off,” the pressure is placed back on the faucet seat and washer, and the flow stops.

    If the washer or seats are worn, then the correct pressure can’t be applied, and water seeps through. The result is water dripping from your faucet.

    How to Fix a Leaky Bathtub Faucet

    There are two types of bathroom faucets:

    • Single handle.
    • Two-handle.

    The fix is the same for each, but on the two-handled faucets, you might have to fix it twice if you can’t determine which is leaking. Even if you can, it might be a good idea to replace both so they wear at the same rate.

    Remember

    It’s important to make sure you turn off the water supply before commencing any repairs to your bathroom faucet.

    You can do this at the mains or on the inlet pipes to the faucet if you have shut-off taps attached. Once the water is off, drain any left in the system by opening the faucet.

    It’s a good idea to plug the drain on 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’s a decorative cover. Use a flathead screwdriver to remove this, exposing the screw underneath.

    Step 2: Remove the Handle

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

    You should then be able to remove the handle. If it’s 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 does, you’ll need to call a plumber.

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

    Just behind the handle on the wall, you might have a decorative collar. There might also be a collar fitted over the internal part of the faucet that’s threaded and unscrews. Remove both if they are present.

    Important

    Make sure you set all the screws and removed handles to one side, preferably in a container. These will need to be replaced later, and you don’t want to lose them. Also, remember the order in which you removed them for reconnection when you’re finished.

    Step 4: Remove the Packing Nut (Stem Bonnet)

    Using a bath socket wrench or vice grip, remove the retaining nut by turning counter-clockwise.

    Step 5: Extract the Stem

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

    Step 6: Inspect the Removed Parts

    Check over the stem and packing nut for corrosion, mineral deposits, and damage. If you’re unsure what’s worn it’s a good idea to replace all the parts.

    Step 7: Remove Mineral Deposits

    Build-up on the stem or inside the faucet can be loosened by pouring white vinegar over them. Leave them for a short time then use a scourer to remove mineral deposits.

    Rinse off any debris before replacing any 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 that sits inside the faucet. When the washer wears, damage to the seat can result. Remove this and inspect it using a seat wrench.

    Step 9: Replacing Parts

    Pop along to the hardware store or plumbing supplies store and purchase new parts.

    It’s a good idea to take the old ones with you to ensure you get the correct ones for your faucet.

    Parts likely to need a replacement include o-rings and washers, or sometimes the whole stem.

    Step 10: The Seat Washer

    This is the washer secured with a screw at the bottom of the stem. It’s more often than not the cause of a leaky faucet as it wears against the seat when under pressure.

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

    Step 11: Reassemble Your Faucet

    Put your faucet back together reversing steps 1 through to 5, and 10.

    Step 12: Two-handled Faucet

    Repeat all the steps above for the second faucet if you have two handles.

    Step 13: Turn the Water Back On

    Restore your water supply and test out your handy work. If you still have a leak or any new ones appear, it might be time to call a plumber.

    Pro Tips

    • The right tightness: When reassembling your faucet, make sure everything is tight, but not overly tight. That way, if you have to do repairs in the future, you’ll be able to take it apart more easily.
    • Eliminate the faucet: To check which faucet is leaking when you have two handles, feel to see whether the drips are hot or cold. This will give you an indication which one needs repairing.

    No More Leaks

    Knowing how to fix a leaky bathtub faucet will save you money on water bills and a plumber. It will also protect your sanity from that constant annoying dripping noise and prevent stains on your bathtub.

    Ready to have a go yourself? Please leave us a comment and let us know how you fare — and don’t forget to share this article.

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