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Faucet Maintenance 101: What Causes a Faucet to Drip Water

Written by Warner Levit

Nothing is worse than trying to sleep and hearing your faucet drip. Drippy faucets are a symptom of a bigger problem. Left unrepaired, they cause water damage and costly repairs. Here we discuss the issues of a leaking faucet,  what causes a faucet to drip, and how to resolve the problems.

What kind of faucet do I have?

To fix the leak, you need to know the type of faucet you have. Some faucet designs are simple and easy to fix, while others can be tricky. Four popular choices are often used in homes: a cartridge faucet, compression faucet, disc faucet, and ball faucet.

Cartridge faucet –The cartridge sits under the handle, so when you turn it, the valve the cartridge rests in manages the amount of water coming out of it. All cartridge faucets have a single handle.

Cartridge faucet

**Photo Courtesy: This Old House

Compression faucet – The compression faucet uses a stem that sits on a washer to manage water flow. Turning the faucet handle moves the washer onto the valve seat to turn the water off and on. Compression faucets have hot and cold handles.

Compression faucet

**Photo Courtesy: Denver Water

Disc faucet – The disc faucet has a single handle that swivels in both directions. The pressure balance cartridge at the base of the faucet creates the rise and fall of the discs to control the water stream. Moving the handle to each side also changes the water temperature.

Disc faucet

**Photo Courtesy: House Trends

Ball Faucet – The ball faucet uses a combination of O-rings, springs, cams, rubber valves, and a ball to manage the water stream and temperature. The system is washerless and was the first in this design. They only come in a single handle option.

Ball Faucet

**Photo Courtesy: Home Tips

Why Your Faucet Leaks

Faucets start dripping for many reasons. It can be issues with water pressure, pipes, or the internal parts of the faucet.

Before starting any water project, you must shut the water off in that room. Most sinks have their valves in a cabinet below the sink. These shut-off valves can be used to turn the water off to the sink. If your sink doesn’t have these valves, you will have to shut off the water at the main.

Applying silicone grease to rubber o-rings, washers, and seats will help deter mineral deposits and increase the longevity of rubber parts.

The list of tools below will be helpful in any of the following repairs.


  • White vinegar (loosens sediment and mineral deposits)
  • Replacement parts
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Regular pliers
  • Allen wrench
  • Soft, clean cloth
  • Hex wrench
  • Silicone grease

Inlet seat damage

Hard water is a faucet seat’s nemesis. Over time, the sediment and mineral build-up can cause the seat to seize, stopping water flow. Sinks with extreme water pressure can also damage the seat. The best solution for this situation is to replace the inlet seal.

Replacing inlet seats entails taking the sink apart to get to the inlet seats and replacing them. Taking pictures as you remove parts assures everything is put back in the same order and position you removed it.

Internal hardware is faulty

The more a faucet is used, the more wear and tear issues are a problem. Over time the nuts, bolts, and screws become corroded, loose, and sometimes break. If your faucet handles are not moving as they used to, feel loose or jiggly, there is probably a broken piece of hardware. Water pressure pushes the water through the fractured hardware creating a leak. It may not drip in the traditional sense, but you will see the water leaking from the faucet as you use it. Ball faucets have more parts that make the repair more extensive. To fix this, you will need to check the internal hardware.

Replacing broken and cracked hardware requires you to dismantle the faucet and find the damaged parts before fixing them. Take the damaged hardware to the store to ensure you have the correct size and replacements the first time you shop!

Damage to the cartridge

If your sink has individual handles for hot and cold water and it is leaking, chances are the cartridge is the problem. Damaged seats leak when they can’t fit in the cartridge’s hole to stop the water flow. Replacing the cartridge will fix this problem.

Replacing a broken cartridge is the trickiest repair on the list. Some cartridges have brass retention screws and clips that need removing before the cartridge can come out.

Mineral deposits are like glue on a cartridge. If you have trouble loosening the cartridge, use the white plastic tool in the replacement kit to improve your grip on the cartridge and softly wiggle it loose.

Cartridge faucets come in single-handle and double-handled options, be sure to get the correct replacement cartridge for your faucet.

Washers issues

While most washer issues have to do with wear and tear, using the wrong size washer and not installing them correctly will also cause the faucet to drip.

  • Worn washers are found most often in compression faucets. The washer is constantly pushed against the valve seat, where the friction cracks it or rubs the rubber thin. The leak is usually at the back of the faucet, where it can go unnoticed until it is severe.
  • Poorly installed washers are usually from DIY repairs where the owner doesn’t do it correctly or uses the wrong size, though a loose seat washer screw will also cause leaks. The dripping starts after you turn the water off and is the most common issue with faucets.

The only fix for a washer issue is to replace the washers. Ensure you use the correct size washer for the faucet you are repairing. Using silicone grease on the washers before installing them will reduce friction, and washers to last a little longer.

O-Ring issues

O-Rings are seated on the base of the valve stem. Worn or loose o-rings can cause leaking from under the faucet’s handle due to wear and tear, shrinkage, or deterioration caused by hard water. This is a common problem with cartridge faucets. All faucets have one ring, but some faucets have more than one. The more o-rings your faucet has, the bigger chance of dripping.

Replacing the o-rings is the only solution to the problem. It entails dismantling the faucet and replacing the faulty o-rings with a proper size replacement ring. Silicone grease applied to the o-rings on installation will help reduce the constant friction.

Deteriorating valve seats

The valve seat is located between the spout and the faucet, where corrosion caused by sediment starts. Its location creates a complex repair that most DIYers avoid. If you believe you have a leaky valve stem, calling a local plumber is the best choice for repair.

Dripping Caused by Other Plumbing Issues

A leaking faucet usually causes the sound of dripping water, but sometimes it is caused by a leaking pipe or water pressure.

Water pressure

Even water pressure is ideal for faucets. Extreme water pressure creates turbulence and creates a water backup. When water has nowhere to go, it finds a weak spot in the pipe or faucet and causes leaking. Left unrepaired, it can cause severe problems to your faucet and pipes.

Leaky pipes

A leaky pipe can be a few drops of water at the start of the leak to a gusher if it isn’t repaired. Small drips may only need some plumbers putty applied at the drain pipe nuts. But a crack or leak that is a stream of water requires a part of the pipe to be replaced.

Both repairs can be done inexpensively by a DIYer. The pipes are in sections joined by drain pipe nuts and pressure washers. Having the line in sections makes replacing a section of the pipes easier.

When doing a plumbing repair on sink pipes, ensure you have the correct size pipes, pressure washers, and drain pipe nuts. Always place a bucket under the lines to catch the water that may come out as you take the pipes apart.

About the author

Warner Levit

Water Filtration Expert

As a trained chemist and an independent researcher I started working on a portable water filter project as part of my business plan. While carrying out my research, I got involved with FaucetsReviewed. My fields of expertise include environmental science, biochemistry and water purification chemistry. Apart from contributing to this website, I’m currently working on my book “Water Filtration Science”. It will be published soon. I grew up in California, and completed my postgraduate degree from the University of California-Berkeley. I also work as a private counselor on the household water management system.

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