How to Fix a Leaking Bathtub Faucet

This simple DIY repair saves money and water. Learn how to fix a leaky bathtub faucet.

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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.

Tools Required

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Bath socket wrench
  • Handle puller
  • Seat wrench
  • Utility knife

Materials Required

  • Plumber's grease
  • Stem valve repair parts

Make sure you have new parts available

The first step for bathtub faucet repair is to make sure you have the new parts that you need. You can fix most bathtub plumbing 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. There are thousands of different faucet replacement parts available to fix a leaky bathtub faucet, so bring your old parts to the store for a proper match to fix a leaky bathtub faucet. If your valve is highly corroded or the finish is wearing off, replace the entire faucet. Save money by doing simple plumbing repairs yourself. These plumbing fixes are completely DIY with basic tools and skills.

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Disassemble the faucet: Pry off the handle insert

leaky bathtub faucet remove handle insertFamily Handyman

Removing the faucet handle is the toughest part of the job. Over time, corrosion can virtually weld the handle to the stem. Shut off the water supply to the faucet and open the valves to drain excess water from the system. Pry off the handle insert with the thin blade of a pocketknife.

Step 2

Bathtub Handle Replacement: Remove the Handle Screw

remove handle screwFamily Handyman

Remove the handle screw. Then wiggle the handle and pull it off. If the handle doesn’t come off, heat it with a hair dryer to free it. Be careful; if you pull too hard, it’ll break.

Step 3

Bathtub Handle Replacement: Pop loose the handle

pop loose bathtub handle Family Handyman

If the handle won’t come off, don’t force it-it might break. Instead, remove it with a special handle puller. Turn the handle screw about halfway back into the stem. Position the handle puller’s post against the screwhead and press the arms together behind the handle. Turn the post clockwise until the handle pops loose. Remove the handle screw and handle. Then pull off or unscrew the escutcheon plate.

Step 4

Bathtub Handle Replacement: Remove the stem

remove the stem bathtub faucetFamily Handyman

Once the handles off, unscrew the escutcheon and stem assembly (See Figure A below). 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.

Slide the bath socket onto the stem bonnet and turn it counterclockwise to break the stem loose. If it sticks, soak it with penetrating lubricant. Unscrew and remove the stem.

Step 5

Use a seat wrench

seat wrench remove bathtub faucetFamily Handyman

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. Replace the seat using a special seat wrench.

Press the seat wrench firmly into the center of the seat. Turn counterclockwise to snap the seat loose and remove it. If it sticks, soak it with penetrating lubricant. Coat the threads of the new seat with pipe dope and screw it into the fixture body with the seat wrench.

Step 6

Replace the faucet stem parts

Figure A: Faucet stem assemble and replacement partsFamily Handyman

Figure A: Bathtub faucet parts names, faucet stem assemble and replacement parts

Fig. A shows the bathtub plumbing faucet 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Third, pull off the old bonnet washer, grease the new one and slide it in place.
  4. Fourth, apply pipe joint compound to the bonnet threads and reinstall it in the faucet body (Step 4).
  5. Five, grease the handle splines and replace the escutcheon and handle.

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