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Slow Running Water: Unclog the Aerator

If your spray head has a weak flow, the problem is usually a clogged inlet screen or aerator. We show you how to fix these and troubleshoot other possible causes as well.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Step 1: Check the supply line

If your pullout sprayer delivers a weak spray, here’s what to do. First, make sure the problem is with the spray head and not farther down the line. Start by removing the sprayer (Photo 1). Clip a clothespin or small clamp on the hose to keep it from snaking back down the spout. If water flows from the hose when you turn on the faucet, then you know the problem is in the spray head—unless the flow is still weak. In that case, there’s a problem with the faucet or supply lines. Type “faucet repair” into the search box above for help with this problem.

Step 2: Check the inlet screen and/or aerator

Most pullout sprayers have an inlet screen (Photo 2), a removable aerator (Photo 4) or both, which can get clogged with mineral deposits or other debris. But there are dozens of different types of pullout spray faucets, and they all have slightly different parts, so yours may not look exactly like this. The biggest difference is in how you remove the aerator. On some faucets, the aerator has flat spots for a wrench or pliers and you simply unscrew it (Photo 4). Other faucets require a special tool (sometimes included with new faucets) for unscrewing the aerator. You can clean out the holes in the inlet screen with a dental pick or other pointed tool (Photo 2), but it’s not worth trying to clean a clogged aerator since they seldom work quite right when you’re done. Take the aerator to a hardware store, home center or plumbing supplier to find a replacement. If it’s not available, go to the manufacturer’s Web site to find out how to order one.

If these fixes don’t work or you don’t want to do them, simply replace the entire spray head. First contact the manufacturer of your faucet. It may be guaranteed so that you can get a new spray head free. If not, go to the manufacturer’s Web site for information on ordering a new one (it will cost about $30 to $40). Also, many home centers stock a generic replacement that fits most faucets (about $25).

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Required Tools for this Project

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    • Adjustable wrench
    • Pliers

Required Materials for this Project

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