10 Tips for Installing a Faucet the Easy Way

Updated: May 17, 2024

Installing a new faucet is a snap, but removing the one it's replacing can be a pain. Avoid headaches with the right tools and some expert tips.

Water pouring from sink faucetmrs/Getty Images

When you purchase a new faucet, the installation instructions that come with it are usually straightforward, making the job look pretty doggone easy. Don’t be fooled. In the past, I’ve had many “simple” faucet installations turn into jobs that consume the better part of an afternoon, and the reason isn’t because of the new faucet; it’s because of the old one.

During a faucet’s lifetime, the nuts securing it to the countertop, as well as those for the water supply hoses, have ample time to corrode and freeze. Loosening them would take time even if you had lots of working space — but of course, you don’t. These particular nuts are tucked between the sink and the back of the cabinet where you can barely fit your hand, let alone a wrench, and the fact that you’re usually working on your back in a dark, claustrophobic space just adds to the frustration.

Fortunately, there’s a tool perfect for stuck faucet nuts, and I recommend it to every DIY plumber. However, other problems can also arise depending on the faucet’s age, such as out-of-date supply hoses and stuck or non-working shut-off valves. You can often handle these problems with simple techniques. Here are some tips to help your faucet installation go almost as smoothly as the instructions promise.

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Using basin wrench
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Get a Basin Wrench

A basin wrench is a standard plumbing tool that is indispensable for removing and installing most faucets. It consists of toothed jaws on the end of a long handle. You use it by reaching the wrench behind the sink from below, hooking the jaws on the faucet nut and torquing the other end of the handle, which extends below the base of the sink. This tool allows you to reach into the cramped area behind the sink to loosen or tighten the nuts that hold the faucet to the sink and the nuts that connect the supply lines.

You may not need a basin wrench to install your new faucet if the package includes a wrench or other means of installing it. For example, some faucets come with screws instead of nuts. Check inside the package when you buy the faucet to see what’s required.

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Cutting the old faucet
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Cut Out the Old Faucet

Sometimes loosening the corroded nuts holding older faucets to the sink can be practically impossible, even with a basin wrench. If you don’t care about wrecking the faucet, cut off the nuts instead. You can use either a rotary tool (Dremel is one brand) with a metal-cutting disc or an oscillating tool with a metal-cutting blade.

Cut through one side of the nut. Then, use a screwdriver to pry the nut away from the faucet’s body. You can also cut off other stubborn parts, like the pop-up drain assembly on a bathroom sink.

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Applying silicon on faucet base
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Mount the Faucet With Silicone

If water gets under your faucet, it can corrode it or, worse, damage your countertop or cabinet. Most new faucets include a gasket of some type to create a seal between the faucet and the sink, but it’s still a good idea to apply a bead of clear silicone caulk to the bottom of the faucet and the bottom of the gasket to ensure a good seal. Also, the silicone acts as an adhesive to prevent the faucet from moving around if the connection nuts loosen. Clean up any silicone that oozes out using a paper towel, followed by mineral spirits.

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flexible pipe and steel pipe on blue grid background
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Upgrade Your Supply Lines

Old copper, plastic and flexible steel supply lines have to go. Even if you can loosen and remove them without much trouble, they can be difficult to re-tighten securely and are a source of leaks waiting to happen.

Modern flexible supply lines with braided steel jackets have gaskets built into each end, making connections virtually foolproof. They cost more than the old-style supply lines but are worth every penny. You don’t need to crank the connector very tight for an effective seal. Just thread it finger-tight and then add about a half-turn with a wrench.

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Measuring the distance with measuring tape
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Get Supply Lines of the Right Length

Of course, you don’t want supply lines that are too short, but you don’t want them too long either, or they’ll just get in the way. Moreover, you need supply lines with the right-size connectors for the faucet and for the shut-off valves.

To determine the length of the supply lines you’ll need and avoid repeated trips to the hardware store (personal experience speaking), measure from the ends of the faucet connectors to the shutoff valves and add a few inches. To make sure the threads on your new supply lines match those on your shutoff valves, take one of your old supply lines with you to the store and match it with the new supply lines.

  • Pro tip: Some new faucets come with supply lines, but they aren’t always long enough. You can buy extensions to make them longer, but that just adds another connection point that can potentially leak. It’s more efficient to buy new supply lines that are the right length.
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Lossening the Tight valves
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Loosen Stuck Shutoff Valves

If your shutoff valve is stuck open, you can often free it by loosening the packing nut slightly. This relieves pressure on the valve stem and allows you to turn the valve more easily. Re-tighten the valve stem nut just enough to prevent leaks around the valve stem.

  • Pro tip: Old, worn-out shut-off valves that don’t close all the way force you to turn off the main water supply to do the faucet replacement. It’s very much in your interest to replace these valves as part of the project to make future repairs easier.
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Removing Aerator from faucet
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Remove the Aerator Before You Turn on the Water

Messing around with plumbing often dislodges minerals or other debris built inside the pipes and valves. To prevent that stuff from clogging the aerator in your new faucet, remove the aerator before turning the water back on. The aerator is the device on the end of your faucet that has a screen or perforated plastic covering the end. Most aerators simply unscrew counterclockwise. Some new faucets include a special tool for removing the aerator.

The aerator can be tricky to remove if you’re installing a pullout faucet. If this is the case, simply unscrew the spray head from the supply tube and point the tube into the sink while turning on the water. Let the water run for a few seconds. Then replace the aerator or spray head. If your faucet ever starts to run slowly, remove the aerator and clean it. This will usually fix the problem.

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Papers and tools in plastic bag under the sink
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Save the Instructions and Parts in a Freezer Bag

Many new faucets include wrenches, aerator removal tools, and other parts or tools that you should keep. An easy way to keep track of this stuff, along with the instruction sheet, is to put it all in a big freezer bag and hang it inside the sink cabinet, where you’ll always be able to find it.

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Lady fixing faucet
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Pre-mount the Faucet on New Sink Installations

If you’re installing a new sink along with your faucet, mount the faucet to the sink before you install the sink. It’s much simpler than lying on your back inside the sink cabinet to install the faucet.

Even if you’re not installing a new sink, you may find it easier to remove the old sink to get better access for removing the old faucet and installing the new one. Plus, removing and reinstalling the old sink will allow you to clean off old caulk and gunk that’s accumulated around the edge and renew the seal between the counter and the sink with fresh caulk.

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FAQs

Should I test the faucet for leaks after installation?

A hand cleaning a sink
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When you’re done with the faucet installation, check for leaks. Turn on the water and let it run for two or three minutes. Then crawl under the sink with some tissue and wipe around the joints with it. Even a tiny leak will show up as a wet spot on the tissue. Tighten the connection near any leak you find.

  • Pro tip: Because they have rubber washers in the connectors, braided flexible supply hoses will be leak-proof even without plumbing tape (widely known as Teflon tape.). I recommend the tape if you use older supply lines without washers, however. Remember to wrap it clockwise around the male threads of each connector.

How do I maintain my faucet after installation?

A close-up of a hand holding a white plastic faucet
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Your faucet needs little maintenance other than to remove the aerator and clean it once or twice a year. At some point, mineral buildup in the valve cartridge may cause a leak or reduce the water flow from the spout, at which point you’ll need to remove the cartridge and clean it by soaking it in vinegar or replace it.