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Four Home Plumbing Repair Tips

Never give up!

FH11FEB_PLUJAM_01-2Family Handyman
When kitchen or bathroom faucet repairs go bad, they can be a nightmare. Professional plumbers share their solutions for disassembly and repair problems, with tips about when to give up and buy a new faucet.

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Cut and replace

Cut and wedge

Slice down the side of the cap with a rotary tool and a cutting wheel. Don’t worry about cutting the plastic seal (you’ll be replacing that). But avoid cutting into the brass threads.

If a cap doesn’t twist free, and the cap is metal, not plastic, heat the cap with a heat gun and grip it with the bare teeth of a slip-joint pliers.

If heating doesn’t work, or your faucet is plastic, cut the cap with a rotary tool and a cutting wheel. Then jam in a flat-blade screwdriver and widen the opening until the cap unscrews. Buy a replacement cap at the home center. Coat the new cap threads with plumber’s grease to prevent it from sticking again.

Get aggressive with setscrews

Get a better grip

Use a hex socket and valve grinding compound to avoid stripping the setscrew.

Loosen with leverage

Squeeze the hex socket deep into the setscrew with one hand and pull the ratchet handle with the other. Then loosen the setscrew with a quick yanking motion.

If the hex wrench that comes with your repair kit won’t loosen the setscrew on the faucet, don’t force it—you’ll just ruin the head. Spend a few bucks for a 3/8-in.-drive hex socket kit. Buy a tube of valve grinding compound and apply a dollop to the hex tip to reduce the likelihood of stripping the setscrew. Then use a ratchet to break the screw free. If it still won’t budge (and the handle is metal and not plastic), try heating it with a heat gun. As a last resort, drill out the center of the setscrew and use a screw extractor to remove the rest of it. Buy a new setscrew and coat it with anti-seize compound before reinserting it.

Special tools are worth it

Twist, pull, done

Line up the prongs on the tool with the ears on the cartridge and tighten the screw at the top of the T-bar. Then turn the large nut with an adjustable wrench and twist the T-handle as you turn. The cartridge will pull right out.

Replacement cartridges usually come with a plastic loosening tool. If the cartridge is really stuck, the loosening tool can actually break off the cartridge ears and turn the job into a real nightmare. Even if you get the cartridge to rotate, you may still have to yank hard to get it out. Save yourself a lot of time (and sweat) by forking over a few bucks for a cartridge puller from amazon.com or a home center. Install it and pull the cartridge in minutes.

Know when to throw in the towel

Don’t fight it; replace it

If you feel a groove where the O-rings mate to the spout, the faucet is toast. Don’t waste any more time and energy on O-ring repairs—you’ll never get a long-lasting seal. Replace the faucet.

It makes sense that a pivoting kitchen spout will leak if the O-rings are worn. But brass wears too. So if you’ve replaced the spout O-rings and the leak reappears in a few months (or weeks), check the inside of the spout.

Required Tools for this Project

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

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Allen wrench
  • Cordless drill
  • Pliers
  • Socket/ratchet set
You may also need a rotary tool, a hex socket set, a heat gun and a cartridge puller.

Required Materials for this Project

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

  • Replacement cap
  • Replacement faucet
  • Replacement setscrew
  • Valve grinding compound