The typical residential faucet may seem like a relatively simple fixture, but there's more going on inside those chromed handles and spout than you might expect. Since all faucets have quite a few potential failure points, it's rarely necessary to throw in the towel when one stops working. Instead, you can usually replace the failing component and fully restore the faucet.
Since these fixtures aren't as straightforward as they might seem, you may not know where to begin when something goes wrong. This article will describe a few components found in most modern faucets and how they typically fail.
Depending on your faucet's design, it will have one or more valves to control water flow. Faucets with a single handle have one valve (usually located at the base of the spout), while faucets with two handles have a valve in each one. Two-handled faucets contain internal water channels that allow water to flow from the handle to the central spout.
If you've ever tried to repair an old-style faucet, you may remember disassembling valves to replace individual components. With modern faucets, a replaceable cartridge contains the entire valve assembly. When a leaky faucet results from a faulty valve, you can usually solve the problem by swapping out the whole cartridge as a single piece.
O-Rings and Seat Washers
O-rings are simple rubber rings that help seal parts of your faucet to prevent water from ending up where it shouldn't. Seat washers serve a similar role, and you can find them underneath the handles of double-handle faucets. These items can wear out over time, usually causing a leak around the spout base or faucet handles.
Problems with seals can often be subtle, so pay attention to small amounts of water appearing on your countertop around the faucet base. These leaks can cause the metal on the faucet to rust, so it's a good idea to address them quickly. Fortunately, o-rings, seals, and washers are all cheap, replaceable parts, so you can fix this problem without replacing your faucet.
The aerator is a small filter installed on the end of your faucet's spout. This simple component filters out sediment, saves water, and improves the feel of water flowing from the tap. The aerator consists of a housing, a filter, and an o-ring to prevent leaks. If your faucet seems to be clogged, you can remove the aerator to clean the filter.
Aerators rarely fail outright, but a worn o-ring may allow water to leak around the aerator and into its threads. Replacing the o-ring usually solves this problem, but aerators are typically cheap enough that replacing the whole unit is an easy option when necessary.
To get help with a faucet repair, talk to a plumber in your area.