The Complete Guide to Fixing a Leaky Kitchen Faucet

A leaky kitchen faucet is money down the drain; learn how to fix it in easy steps.

Do you have a constant drip from your kitchen faucet? Is there a permanent puddle of water at the base? Follow our easy step by step guide on how to fix a leaky kitchen faucet in this article. We’ll show you how to detect a leak, the different types of kitchen faucets, and how to fix them.

A dripping faucet can feel like Chinese water torture. Once you tune into it, you can’t seem to ignore it!

Even worse, a leak can waste tons of water. One leaky faucet in your home dripping 10 times a wastes 3 liters of water a day. If it’s left for a year that would be about 347 gallons of water down the drain (1).

How to Detect a Leak in a Kitchen Faucet

There are two places water can leak from in a kitchen faucet:

1. Leaking From the Spout

This will be the most apparent leak, and it’s quite easy to detect. You might see a small drip from the faucet spout after you’ve turned the water off. Maybe you find you’re having to adjust the handle more to tighten it or get it in just the right position to prevent water flowing.

This type of leak tends to start slowly with an occasional drip and gets worse over time. If you suspect you have a leaky faucet in its early stages, there are easy ways to check if this is the case.

You can dry the sink after use and place a piece of paper towel underneath the spout. Alternatively, strategically place a cup or other container under the spout. Leave it for a few hours and check for moisture on the towel or water in the container.

2. The Base of the Faucet

This type of leak is not as obvious. Inevitably, we splash water around the base of the faucet when water is running, and it pools on the sink deck.

To test for a leak in this area, dry the base of the faucet and surrounding area. These leaks happen when water is flowing, so turn the faucet on and look for water seepage from the bottom.

Different Types of Kitchen Faucets

Kitchen faucets come in many different designs, externally and internally. There are four different types of kitchen faucets.

The compression faucet is easy to distinguish as it has two handles for hot and cold water. The other three (ball, cartridge, and ceramic disk faucets) all look similar externally with a single handle, but are different inside.

  • Compression faucet: This has two handles, one for hot water and one for cold. The water generally comes from a central spout.
  • Ball faucet: When taken apart, this faucet has a ball joint that controls water flow.
  • Cartridge faucet: This has a single cartridge under the handle.
  • Ceramic disk faucet: A cartridge is found under the handle, which has a ceramic disk.

What Causes a Faucet to Leak?

There are several reasons why you might have a leaky faucet. Four of the most common ones are:

O-Ring Issues

A faucet handle is held in place by a stem screw, which has a small disc attached to it called an o-ring. This helps seal the faucet but with regular use can become worn or loose. A drip or leak near the handle results and is most often found in a cartridge faucet.

Corrosion in the Valve Seat

Compression faucets have a valve seat that connects the spout to the water mechanism. Sediment and mineral deposits can cause this to corrode, leading to a leak from the spout area.

Washer Wear

Every time you use your faucet, the internal washers are forced against the valve seat. This causes friction, and the rubber will eventually wear and lose effectiveness. The result is a dripping tap as the water gets past the seal.

This is again a common issue in a compression faucet.

Incorrect Installation

When your faucet is installed, all seals and washers should be in the right place. If they aren’t, then leaking will result.

Top Tip

If you’re unsure how to install a faucet or carry out a repair yourself, call a professional for the job.

How to Fix a Leaky Kitchen Faucet


No matter which type of faucet you have, remember to turn off the hot and cold water supply, and drain the faucet before fixing.

The taps to turn off the water to your faucets are generally under the sink. They’re located on the pipes that connect to the faucet.

It’s advisable to plug the sink so you don’t drop any screws down the drain while you complete the necessary fix. You could use a towel laid flat in the bottom to place the removed parts on.

Before reassembling your faucet after a repair, be sure to clean out any build-up or debris on the inside. You can do this using vinegar and a cloth. Failing to do so could lessen the effectiveness of your repair.

We’ll now show you, step by step, how to fix each different type of kitchen faucet.

Compression Faucet

What You Need

  • Flathead screwdriver.
  • Phillips screwdriver.
  • Wrench.

Step 1: Remove the Protective Cap Covering the Screw

This is usually a plastic disc indicating hot or cold; it might be red or blue or have the letters “H” or “C” on it. You can pop it out with a flathead screwdriver.

Step 2: Lift off the Handles

Once the plastic disc is removed, you will see a screw underneath. Using a Phillips screwdriver, remove the screw and remove the handle.

Step 3: Unscrew the Nut

You should now see a nut at the base of the main stem the handle sits over. Using your wrench, loosen and remove this nut.

Step 4: Remove the Stem

Lift out the main stem of the faucet revealing the seat washer and o-ring.

To differentiate between the two, the seat washer will be thicker than the o-ring and held in place with a brass screw.

Step 5: Check for Wear and Damage

Examine the seat washer and o-ring for wear or damage.

If your faucet is dripping, it’s generally the o-ring at fault. If it leaks from the handle, then it’s the seat washer.

Step 6: Replace the Washer or O-ring

Go to your hardware store and get new o-rings.

It’s a good idea to take the old ones with you to ensure you buy the correct size replacements.

Step 7: Reassemble your faucet

Put your faucet back together by reversing steps 1 – 4 above.

Use a small amount of plumbers grease to lubricate the washer or o-ring.

Turn your water supply back on and test your repair. Any minor leaks should now be fixed.

Pro Tips

  • Check for a loose nut: Sometimes the leak might be caused by a loose nut under the handle. Before turning off the water, remove the faucet handle following steps 1 and 2 above and tighten the nut. If this stops the drip, you don’t need to do anything else apart from replacing the handle.
  • Plumber’s putty: If your stem assembly does not have a washer, use plumbers putty to create a seal at the base of the stem.

Ball Faucet

What You Need

  • The correct ball replacement kit for your brand of faucet. This kit should contain the parts and tools you need to use.
  • Flathead screwdriver.
  • Wrench.
  • Needle-nosed pliers.
  • Pencil.

Step 1: Remove the Protective Cap Covering the Screw

At the center front of the handle, you should see a protective plastic cap. It might be colored half red and half blue, or bear the company logo. Prise it out gently using the flathead screwdriver.

Step 2: Lift Off the Handle

Using the Allen key wrench supplied in your repair kit, remove the screw retaining the handle. Once done, remove it.

Step 3: Remove the Collar and Cap

Beneath the handle, you’ll find a cap and collar holding the ball assembly in place.

Using a wrench, loosen the cap and collar and remove them.

Step 4: Lift out the Cam

Using the tool supplied in your kit, remove the plastic cam. This looks like a round disc with a D shape in the middle.

There will be indents to aid removal that the special tool fits into.

Step 5: Take out the Ball Assembly

Once the cam has been removed, the ball assembly can easily be lifted out.

Step 6: Remove the Seals and Springs

Beneath the ball assembly and each spring, you’ll see two o-rings. Using your needle pliers, lift both from the faucet.

Step 7: Renew the Seals and Springs

Take the new seals and springs from your kit and place them into the faucet.

You might find it easier to put these over the end of a pencil or flathead screwdriver to fit them.

Step 8: Replace the Ball Assembly and Cam

Using the new parts supplied, replace the ball assembly and cam, making sure they’re correctly aligned.

Step 9: Reassemble the Faucet

Following steps 1–3 above in reverse, put your faucet back together.

Turn the water supply back on and test out your repair.

Pro Tip

To avoid damaging decorative finishes on your faucet, use some rubber or cloth under your wrench when removing the collar and cap.

Cartridge Faucet

What You Need

  • Allen key.
  • Wrench.
  • Needle-nose pliers.
  • Phillips screwdriver.
  • Small flathead screwdriver.

Step 1: Remove the Protective Cap Covering the Screw

Prise out the cap covering the screw that holds the handle in place.

Step 2: Detach the Handle

The screw holding the handle in place can be removed with either an Allen key or a Phillips screwdriver, depending on the screw.

Lift off the handle by tilting it away.

Step 3: Remove the Retaining Nut

Once the handle has been removed, a retaining nut should be exposed.

On some models of faucet, you might need to remove a decorative collar, a plastic ring, and a stem washer to expose the retaining nut. Use your wrench or pliers to loosen the retaining nut and remove it by hand.

Step 4: Take Out the Retaining Clip

You’ll see a u-shaped clip that holds the cartridge in place.

Take this out either using a flathead screwdriver to loosen it or a pair of needle-nosed pliers.

Step 5: Pull out the Cartridge

Using pliers, pull the cartridge straight up by the stem.

This could take some force as mineral deposits might have sealed it in place. You can try twisting it back and forth to release it.

Step 6: Replace the Cartridge

Take your old cartridge along to the hardware store and buy the right replacement cartridge.

Seat it in the faucet by pushing down and making sure it’s correctly aligned.

Step 7: Reassemble the Faucet

Follow steps 1–4 above in reverse to put your faucet back together.

Pro Tip

If you find your hot and cold water supply is the wrong way round after reassembly, then you have the cartridge in backward. You will need to disassemble the faucet again and rotate the cartridge through 180 degrees and reassemble again.

Ceramic Disk Cartridge

What You Need

  • Small Allen wrench.
  • Adjustable wrench.

Step 1: Remove the Protective Cap Covering the Screw

Pop out the cap covering the screw holding the handle in place. This might be on the front or rear of the faucet.

Step 2: Lift off the Handle

Remove the screw holding the handle in place. Use either an Allen key or a Phillips screwdriver, depending on the screw. Lift the handle free from the faucet.

Step 3: Detach the Decorative Escutcheon

Once the tap is removed, there’ll be a decorative cover or escutcheon. This might either lift off or need to be unscrewed. Either method can be done by hand.

Step 4: Unscrew the Retaining Nut

At the top of the cartridge, there’ll be a retaining nut.

Using a wrench, loosen and remove it.

Step 5: Take out the Ceramic Disk Cartridge

The internal cartridge can now be lifted out of the faucet.

Step 6: Clean or Replace the Cartridge

Examine the removed cartridge for damage to the o-rings in the base.

If they’re broken or worn, renew the whole cartridge making sure it’s properly sealed. If not, clean the cartridge by soaking it in vinegar to remove mineral deposits, and then put it back.

Step 7: Reassemble the Faucet

Put the faucet back together reversing steps 1–5 above.

Pro Tip

When you reassemble your faucet, check it’s working correctly before screwing the handle back in. This will save time if you need to disassemble it again. Maybe cleaning the cartridge didn’t work and you need to replace it.

Leaking at the Base of the Spout

What You Need

  • Wrench.
  • Cloth.
  • Small flathead screwdriver.
  • Plumber’s grease.

Step 1: Remove the Spout

Cover the base of your spout with a cloth. Then, use a wrench to loosen the retaining cover on the bottom.

Twist the spout back and forth to release it.

Step 2: Check the O-Rings

Once the spout is off, you’ll see anything from one to four rubber o-rings at the base of the spout.

Use a flathead screwdriver to remove them and inspect them for damage. Replace them if necessary.

Step 3: Reassemble the Spout

Put the spout back together and check for any leaks.

Pro Tip

Use some plumber’s grease around the base of the spout before replacing the o-rings, and make sure they’re seated correctly in the grooves.

Extending the Life of Your Kitchen Faucet

Time will eventually take its toll on a kitchen faucet, and a repair might no longer be an option.

There are a few things you can do to help prolong the life of your faucet:

  1. Treat your faucet with care: Be gentle when turning your water on and off. Use only normal hand pressure.
  2. Look for pressure drops: Sometimes, dirt and metal can get into water lines, especially in a new build. This can damage the washers on your faucet. If you notice any drop in pressure from your faucet, take it apart and flush it out.
  3. Check the aerator: Many faucets have a small screen at the end of the tap called an aerator. This easily unscrews so you can check it for mineral build-up, and clean it in vinegar.

Finally Drip-Free

Dealing with a drippy faucet is relatively quick and easy. Now you have the know how to fix a leaky faucet, why not go ahead and give it a go?

Bear in mind the different methods to fix the leak depends on your faucet type. The last thing you want to do is attempt a method that isn’t relevant to your faucet’s design. If you’re ever in doubt, ask a professional for help.

We would love to hear how you get on. Please leave us a comment below and don’t forget to share, so others don’t have to put up with that annoying drip, drip, drip!

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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.