That kitchen or bathroom faucet has one job: to turn the water on and off. It’s a simple concept, but unfortunately, sometimes these things don’t always work the way they are supposed to. Parts wear out, and before you know it, that faucet you have relied on and not given much thought to suddenly won’t turn off. Or if it does, it allows water to drip constantly, which can be so annoying.
So, what are you to do when you are faced with a faucet that’s not functioning properly? Luckily, there are only a few things that could be wrong, and they are relatively easy to fix. While a faucet that won’t shut off isn’t the end of the world, it is irritating and wasteful, so keep reading to find out why this issue is happening and what you can do to stop it.
Why Your Faucet Won’t Turn Off
There are only a handful of reasons why your faucet isn’t turning off, and they are all associated with wear and tear. So don’t be alarmed, as they are all normal responses to a faucet being used regularly. Here is why your faucet won’t turn off or is dripping.
Faucet Handle Stripped
A common reason some faucets fail to stop the flow of water when turned off is that the handle is stripped. If you turn the handle to the off position but it doesn’t ‘catch’ and keeps turning, the handle is stripped and won’t be able to do its job of closing the valve.
To understand this issue better, you need to understand the mechanics of a faucet handle. The handle screws onto a threaded stem. The threads corrode or wear down over time, leaving them vulnerable to stripping, and therefore preventing the valve from closing fully. In this situation the best option is to replace the handle or the stem, and sometimes both. If one handle is stripped, I recommend replacing both handles to avoid having to deal with another malfunctioning handle down the road.
The Stem or Cartridge is Damaged
As mentioned above, you already know that the faucet handle is screwed atop a stem, which is sometimes called a cartridge. If this item becomes damaged, corroded, or worn, the faucet won’t be able to shut off appropriately. The solution to this issue is to replace the stem.
Faucet Valves Need to Be Replaced
Whether the problematic faucet is in your kitchen, shower, or bathroom sink, they all have valves inside that can wear out over time. These valves must be replaced if they are the culprit of your continuously running faucet. Since the faucet will need to be disassembled to access these valves, you may want to call in a plumber to make this repair.
Rubber Washers Shrunk
Your faucet’s handles have rubber washers underneath that help create a watertight connection between the handle and stem. Unfortunately, rubber washers are prone to cracking and shrinkage with time. If this happens, the faucet may continue to run or drip after the handle has been turned off. To fix this problem, you will need to remove the handles, inspect them for proper lubrication, and replace any worn washers you find.
High Water Pressure
Water pressure ebbs and flows depending on the time of day. If your faucet drips only during certain times of the day, it may be that your home’s water pressure is higher than normal, which can cause faucet handles to leak.
Leaking or Running Faucet
If you stop to think about how many faucets you have in your home, you will realize just how many opportunities there are for one to drip or continue to run after being turned off. Obviously, there are faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, but like most people, you probably have them in the laundry room, basement, garage, and exterior of your home, too. Most people take these water sources for granted, but if one starts leaking, you need to pay attention.
Why Does a Faucet Drip Non-stop
Most faucets drip non-stop because they are corroded, have mineral deposit buildup on their internal parts, or their washers, gaskets, or O-rings have worn out. If you don’t know much about plumbing, you may be intimidated by this problem, but rest assured, most leaky faucets can be fixed by the average do-it-yourselfer – assuming you have the right tools.
If that leaky faucet hasn’t already driven you crazy with its incessant dripping, consider yourself lucky. While it may not be bothering you, the reality is, a leaky faucet is never a good thing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) figures that just one leaky faucet dripping at a rate of one drop per second wastes about 3,000 gallons of water per year. That is about the same amount of water needed for someone to take 180 showers! Not only is a leaky faucet expensive but it is also detrimental to the planet, so don’t ignore a leaky faucet – get it fixed right away.
Fixing Shower Vs Kitchen Faucet
The biggest difference between fixing a shower faucet vs. a kitchen faucet is size. Kitchen faucets tend to be larger and taller than bathroom faucets because they must accommodate activities such as filling large pots and washing dishes.
With this said you must be sure to get the right parts when repairing or replacing your leaky faucet. While the working concept of any faucet is rather simple, their parts of very different depending on the type of faucet you are fixing. The best way to make sure you are getting the right parts is to jot down the model number of the faucet and take it with you or take the broken part itself with you to compare at the hardware store.
Repair or Replace?
Ultimately, this decision is up to you. You need to consider a few things when deciding.
- How old is the leaky faucet? If it is less than 10 years old, repairing it may be the best option, especially if it only has one of the issues listed above. However, if the faucet is more than 10 years old, replacing it may be the better choice since it can be difficult to find parts for older-model faucets.
- What does your budget allow? Faucets can be quite expensive, especially if you want all the bells and whistles. If you are working with a tight budget, and you can find the parts, it may make more sense to repair a leaky faucet rather than replace it.
- Is the problematic faucet experiencing more than one issue? If your leaky faucet is old and experiencing more than one of the issues outlined above, replacing it will likely make more sense.
How to Fix a Faucet
Now is the time to find the owner’s manual that came with your faucet. This will help you when it is time to purchase replacement parts. You will also want to gather a few tools to help with the disassembly process. These tools include a pipe wrench, needle nose pliers, a set of Allen wrenches, and a flat-head screwdriver. The steps below will help you to get your leaking faucet fixed in no time:
- Turn off the water. Most sinks have a shutoff valve underneath, but if you are repairing a shower faucet, you may need to turn off the main water supply to the house.
- Cover the drain to keep small items from falling into it.
- Take the faucet apart. Start by removing the handle(s) using a pipe wrench. If there is a cover plate with a screw, use a flat-head screwdriver to remove it. Unscrew the handle and remove the cartridge. To help make this process easier, do some research before starting. Removing the cartridges can be tricky, so find out how to do it correctly to avoid damaging them.
- Find the problem. Look for worn, corroded, or broken parts. Be sure to look closely at any rubber washers, O-rings, and gaskets as these parts are prone to damage and wear over time. Any minute cracks or obvious buildup or wear could very well be the problem and those parts will need to be replaced.
- Buy the replacement parts and reassemble the faucet. Once you have the replacement parts, you can reassemble the faucet by following these instructions in reverse.
When to Call In A Plumber
Fixing a leaky faucet is usually easy to do, and most people can make the repairs themselves. That said, you always have the option of calling in a plumber if need be.
If, after attempting to repair your leaky faucet, it still won’t turn off, something else is likely wrong with it, and calling in a plumber will resolve the issue once and for all.
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As a retired Master Plumber Jamie has over 30 years of hands-on experience, making his plumbing knowledge second to none. He has also worked on both residential and commercial HVAC installation and repair projects.