How to Repair a Leaking Tub Faucet

This simple DIY repair saves money and water.

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


One day




$20 - $100

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.

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

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