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How to Repair a Leaking Tub Faucet

You don't have to put up with the slow drip from a leaky faucet, nor with the growing stain it often leaves in the tub or shower. Fix it now and you'll prevent those headaches and save on you water bill too. The entire job, with special tools, may set you back a bit of cash, but doing it yourself is a lot cheaper than hiring a plumber, and usually much cheaper and easier than tearing out the old faucet and installing a new one.

Worn rubber washers, seals or gaskets in the valve assembly cause most leaks. Here we'll show you how to fix a stem-type valve, which is common in older, two-handle faucets (separate hot and cold). We won't cover single-handle faucets here.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

  • TIME
  • TimeTime One day
  • close X

    Allow about two hours to take the faucet apart and replace worn parts. Expect to make two trips to the hardware store for special tools and the correct repair parts.

  • ComplexityComplexityComplexity Moderate
  • close X

    This repair is simple if you get the correct parts and nothing is too corroded. Corroded parts may be difficult to remove, making the job tougher

Step 1: Make sure you have new parts available

You can fix most problems with the replacement parts available at hardware stores and home centers. A plumbing parts distributor will carry a much larger selection and may be able to special-order hard-to-find items (look under “ Plumbing Parts and Supplies” in your local Yellow Pages or online). There are thousands of different faucet replacement parts available, so bring your old parts to the store for a proper match. If your valve is highly corroded or the finish is wearing off, replace the entire faucet.

Step 2: Disassemble the faucet

Removing the faucet handle is the toughest part of the job. Over time, corrosion can virtually weld the handle to the stem. Remove the handle by following the instructions in Photos 1 and 2. If the handle won't come off, don't force it—it might break. Instead, remove it with a special handle puller (Photo 3). Once the handles off, unscrew the escutcheon and stem assembly (Photo 4 and Fig. A). The stem assembly controls the amount and temperature of the water dispensed through the tub spout or shower head. Remove it with a special bath socket wrench, which looks like a spark plug wrench on steroids (Photo 4).

Leaks usually occur for two reasons. Over time, the seat washer stiffens and won't seal tightly. And water pressure gradually erodes the brass rim of the seat (Photo 5). Replace the seat using a special seat wrench as shown in Photo 5.

Step 3: Replace the stem parts

Fig. A shows the stem replacement parts and how to prepare the stem for reinstallation. Lubricate the parts with special plumber's grease. If you're working on a two-handled faucet, we recommend replacing the washers and seats in both the hot and cold valves.

First, unscrew the packing nut. Twist the stem clockwise and back it out of the bonnet. Pry out the old packing washer with a small flat-blade screwdriver or pick. Grease the stem threads and reinstall the stem in the bonnet. Grease the new packing washer and slide it in place, and then grease the packing nut threads and firmly tighten the packing nut. Use special plumber's grease.

Second, remove the old seat washer screw and the old seat washer. Grease the new seat washer and the threads of the new screw and then reinstall them.

Third, pull off the old bonnet washer, grease the new one and slide it in place.

Fourth, apply pipe joint compound to the bonnet threads and reinstall it in the faucet body (Photo 4).

Five, grease the handle splines and replace the escutcheon and handle.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Adjustable wrench
    • Utility knife
    • Handle puller

Bath socket wrench, Seat wrench

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Stem valve repair parts
    • Plumber's grease

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 10 of 10 comments
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June 23, 8:46 PM [GMT -5]

My shower valve is a little harder than it should be to turn on and off could that have anything to do with the flow of water between the two?

June 23, 8:37 PM [GMT -5]

But cthis same process help even the flow of water? Like the hot runs fast and the cold runs slow? I need help can some anwser this.

June 11, 2:07 PM [GMT -5]

What do I do if my shower only have 1 faucet to turn the water on/off with? Is it the same process?

February 25, 5:49 PM [GMT -5]

@Hareld: not sure if you have fixed your problem, but you may have tightened the screws on your handles too much. I haven't done this project yet, but I have replaced the handles to my shower and did the exact same thing.

This project sounds simple enough, I hope it actually is!

February 14, 11:06 AM [GMT -5]

I had "Gerber" shower faucets that I always had leak or small drip problems with them. First, make sure you have the proper tools, the very deep socket to remover the entire assembly, and the handle puller. Go to a plumbing store, they can be very helpful AND they can even sell you a completely updated replacement assembly of washer, screw, brass stems and valves. The money you save by doing it yourself will more than pay for the materials. Second, I found that the seat, which the rubber washer closes upon should be replace as well, they're cheap. Again - get the right tool. Make sure the tool is FIRMLY inserted into the seat, tap it with a hammer a few times to set it in the seat, as they are usually made of brass - a very soft metal, which strips easily, and put some elbow grease into turning it. A handy item to get at the store is plumbers grease....which will help move the sticky valve stems more easily, and put some on the washer screw and washer itself when you install them. Hope this helps...

December 19, 2:56 PM [GMT -5]

My title is tight around the steam. Is there a special tool to cut the title. ? Help

May 21, 2:28 AM [GMT -5]

i think i did something wrong. I replaced the seat, the seat washer and the packing washer. nothing is leaking ...BUT the handles are EXTREMELY hard to turn on and off.
Please Help...did i tighten something too much?

March 31, 7:24 PM [GMT -5]

Note that Lowes (or at least my local store) does not carry all of the tools needed to perform this repair. Home Depot however, does. Also, in many cases it is cheaper to get a rebuild kit than to buy the individual parts, not to mention that it ensures you have the proper parts that you need.

February 16, 12:03 PM [GMT -5]

That faucet looks exactly like the one I need to repair. I would like to buy to buy a repair kit for it & need to know the brand.

February 03, 12:42 PM [GMT -5]

First I changed the washers, and it still leaked, then I was told to change the valves, which I have and it still leaking..... Help.


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