The Faucet Handle is Hard to Turn – Repairing a Single Handle Faucet
It often happens to me as a plumber. After I repair a faucet and the homeowner turns the faucet lever for the first time they are amazed. “The faucet turns so easily!” they exclaim. What is amazing to them is not that the faucet works so easily after repairing, but that they had never noticed that it was not working well until it either leaked terribly, or was impossible to move the handle.
Think about it. You walk into the kitchen or bathroom and, as you have done thousands of times before, you reach for the handle of the faucet and turn on the water. Notice anything? Probably not. The water flows; you turn it off and go on your way. Because you use the faucet everyday, what you don’t notice is that gradually the internal parts of the faucet gain a buildup of minerals from the water, and the parts wear. This causes the internal parts to resist movement and thus, the handle is increasingly difficult to move. Think of it as arthritis in the faucet joints.
The good news is that you can save a lot of money by repairing the faucet yourself. Now, don’t let plumbing scare you. With a few common tools and some guidance, even the novice can accomplish the task and become a hero to your spouse or friend. Following, I have listed a few simple steps to help you repair a single lever faucet. I am only detailing the repair of a single lever faucet in this article because the steps for repairing this faucet are unique and I don’t have the space here to explain a multi lever faucet.
Please read the entire article before beginning the repair process. Once you begin the actual repair, you can then refer back to the individual steps to refresh your memory.
Single lever faucet repairing steps:
1) First of all, determine the brand and type of faucet you are repairing; if you can actually locate a brand imprint on the faucet that helps immensely. There are over 100 different brands and makes of faucets, and most of them take different parts. If you can’t find a name on the faucet, a great help is a digital camera. Take a picture of the faucet and show the picture to the plumbing supply store clerk. Odds are, when an experienced clerk sees the picture, he or she will know immediately what brand it is.
2) Once you know the faucet brand, or have a photo, you can purchase the necessary repair parts. You can either go to the big box type stores or a local hardware; they each have their own particular strong points. Describe the symptoms of the sick faucet to the clerk. Is the handle difficult to move? Does the faucet leak water around the base of the spout? (Kitchen faucets are notorious for this.) The clerk should know which parts to give you and may save you from having to make multiple trips to the store because you have the wrong parts. If you are repairing a Moen brand faucet, it is a good idea to purchase a “puller” tool to remove the old cartridge. There are differing types of cartridge removal tools; an inexpensive plastic design is available or more expensive heavy duty metal ones. For the homeowner, the cheaper plastic one should work just fine. You can accomplish the faucet repair without one, but using the removal tool makes life a LOT easier. (When making repairs, the lowest priority for me is saving a few cents on parts. I would much rather frequent a store or supplier that stocks a wide variety of quality parts and employs knowledgeable and helpful staff.)
3) TURN OFF THE WATER TO THE FAUCET. Did I emphasis this enough? Before you disassemble the faucet, turn off the water supply. Usually, there are small chrome or brown valves inside the sink cabinet toward the back. If you are like every other American I have ever worked for, the sink cabinet will be packed full and those valves will be buried under every kind of cleaning and shampoo bottle imaginable. Toss in a hair dryer, makeup, spare soap and toothpaste and…well, you get the idea. Dig through the debris and locate the valves. If the valves won’t turn easily, you may have to find the main water shut-off valve for the house and turn off the water there. If you need help in finding the main water valve, check out the article on how to do this at my website.
4) Once the water is off, close the drain stopper on the sink. This little trick was taught me by another plumber over 30 years ago. The reason for this? Most likely, while disassembling the faucet, you are going to drop a small screw or gasket and the closed stopper prevents the small part from disappearing down the drain. Brilliant. Before disassembling the faucet, if you want or need a detailed, illustrated breakdown of your particular faucet and its parts, these illustrations can usually be found on the manufacturer’s websites.
5) Remove the handle. There is often a removable plastic lid which covers the handle screw. Pry off the lid and remove the screw. Some handles are attached by a set screw on the side of the handle instead of the top. Look the handle over, with a little investigating, it should be obvious.
6) Once the handle is removed you will see some type of device which secures the replaceable parts in place. Sometimes this is a horseshoe shaped metal clip that slides out. Other times it is a type of round threaded cap that unscrews. Remove the retaining clip or cap.
(Some brands of faucets have a surrounding sheath that encircles the horseshoe clip. This tube needs to be removed first, and then the horseshoe shaped ring can be slid out. To remove the sheath either it is designed to unscrew or to be pulled off by grasping with pliers and pulling toward you. After the sheath is removed grasp the tab of the horseshoe clip with pliers and carefully slid it out by pulling it to the side. These parts should remove easily.)
7) Now, you should see a plastic or brass cartridge that can be removed by pulling it out. If this is a Moen faucet, this is when you use the removal tool. Follow the directions found on the tool packaging. Be careful not to damage the faucet body itself during this process. Some faucet brands contain a plastic or brass ball here instead of a cartridge. Lift or pull this part out. Under the round ball you should see two small rubber seats and springs. Remove them. (In this step, all parts removed should match the new parts which you picked up at the store.)
8) Once the old parts or cartridge are removed, it is a good idea to use a flashlight and peer inside the faucet where the old part used to live. See any pieces of debris or broken pieces of the old cartridge in there? If so, use needle nose pliers to remove it.
9) You can now install the new parts and work your way backwards through the steps as you reassemble the faucet, remembering to replace all retaining clips and rings. If you have any parts left over, take the faucet back apart and figure out where they go before turning the water on. Take your time and you should be just fine
10) This is the most important step. After the faucet is reassembled, the water is back on and you have tested it to make sure it works well, show off your work to your spouse or friends. Watch their reactions as they marvel at how well the faucet works. Now, YOU are the hero, not the plumber you would have had to pay to make the repair.
The author maintains no liability for work performed by readers of his articles. The plumbing repair articles are meant to be a helpful general guide for the homeowner.