Faucet handle is difficult to turn: single-lever faucet repair

Happens to me often as a plumber. After I fix a faucet and the homeowner turns the faucet lever for the first time, they are amazed. “The faucet turns so easily!” they exclaim. What surprises them is not that the faucet works so smoothly after they fix it, but that they never realized it wasn’t working right until it leaked terribly or the handle couldn’t be moved.

Think about it. You walk into the kitchen or bathroom and, as you have done a thousand times before, you grab the handle of the faucet and turn on the water. Do you notice something? Probably not. Water flows; you turn it off and go on your way. Because you use the faucet every day, what you don’t notice is that gradually the internal parts of the faucet accumulate minerals from the water and the parts wear out. This makes the internal parts resist movement and therefore makes the handle increasingly difficult to move. Think of it as arthritis in the tap joints.

The good news is that you can save a lot of money by repairing the faucet yourself. Now, don’t let the plumbing scare you off. With a few common tools and some guidance, even the novice can get the job done and become a hero to his spouse or friend. I have listed a few simple steps below to help you repair a single-lever faucet. I’m only detailing single-handle faucet repair in this article because the steps to repair this faucet are unique and I don’t have the space here to explain a multi-handle faucet.

Please read the entire article before beginning the repair process. Once the actual repair begins, you can refer back to the individual steps to refresh your memory.

Single lever faucet repair steps:

1) First, determine the brand and type of faucet you are repairing; if you can actually locate a brand print on the faucet that helps immensely. There are over 100 different makes and models of faucets, and most of them have different parts. If you can’t find a name on the tap, a big help is a digital camera. Take a picture of the faucet and show it to the clerk at the plumbing supply store. Most likely, when an experienced employee sees the picture, he will immediately know what brand it is.

2) Once you know the brand of the faucet, or have a photo, you can purchase the necessary repair parts. You can go to the big box type stores or a local hardware store; each have their own particular strengths. Describe the symptoms of the sick faucet to the employee. Is it difficult to move the handle? Does the faucet leak around the base of the spout? (Kitchen faucets are notorious for this.) The clerk must know which parts to give you and can save you from having to make multiple trips to the store because you have the wrong parts. If you’re repairing a Moen brand faucet, it’s a good idea to purchase a “pull” tool to remove the old cartridge. There are different types of cartridge removal tools; An inexpensive plastic design or more expensive heavy-duty metal designs are available. For the homeowner, the cheaper plastic should work just fine. You can do your faucet repair without one, but using the removal tool makes life MUCH easier. (When doing repairs, the lowest priority for me is saving a few pennies on parts. I prefer to frequent a store or supplier that has a wide variety of quality parts and employs knowledgeable and helpful staff.)

3) TURN OFF THE TAP WATER. Have I emphasized this enough? Before disassembling the faucet, turn off the water supply. There are usually small chrome or brown valves inside the sink cabinet towards the back. If you’re like every other American I’ve ever worked for, your sink cabinet will be cluttered and those valves will be buried under every kind of shampoo and cleaning bottle imaginable. Add a hair dryer, makeup, spare soap, and toothpaste and… well, you get the idea. Dig through the rubble and locate the valves. If the valves do not turn easily, you may need to find the main water shutoff valve in the house and turn off the water there. If you need help finding the main water valve, see the how-to article on my website.

4) Once the water is turned off, close the drain plug in the sink. This little trick was taught to me by another plumber over 30 years ago. The reason for this? Most likely, when disassembling the faucet, a small screw or gasket will fall out and the closed stopper prevents the small piece from disappearing down the drain. Bright. Before taking the faucet apart, if you want or need a detailed, illustrated breakdown of your particular faucet and its parts, these illustrations can usually be found on the manufacturer’s websites.

5) Remove the handle. There is often a removable plastic cap that covers the screw on the handle. Take off the cover and remove the screw. Some handles are attached by a set screw on the side of the handle instead of the top. Look at the handle, with a little research, it should be obvious.

6) Once the handle is removed you will see some type of device that secures the replaceable parts in place. Sometimes this is a horseshoe-shaped metal clip that slides out. Other times it is a kind of round screw cap that is unscrewed. Remove the retaining clip or cap.

(Some brands of faucets have a sheath that surrounds the horseshoe clip. This tube must be removed first and then the horseshoe-shaped ring can be slipped on. To remove the sheath, it is designed to be unscrewed or pulled off by holding with pliers and pulling toward you. After removing the cover, grasp the tab of the horseshoe clip with pliers and carefully slide it to the side. These parts should come off easily.)

7) You should now see a plastic or brass cartridge that can be pulled out. If it’s a Moen faucet, this is when you use the removal tool. Follow the instructions on the tool packaging. Take care not to damage the faucet body during this process. Some faucet brands contain a plastic or brass ball here instead of a cartridge. Lift or remove this part. Underneath the round ball you should see two small rubber and spring seats. remove them. (In this step, all the removed parts should match the new parts you picked up at the store.)

8) Once the old parts or cartridge are removed, it’s a good idea to use a flashlight and look inside the faucet where the old part used to live. Do you see any pieces of debris or broken pieces of the old cartridge in there? If so, use needle nose pliers to remove it.

9) You can now install the new parts and work backwards as you reassemble the faucet, remembering to replace all clips and retaining rings. If you have any pieces left over, take the faucet back apart and find out where they go before turning on the water. Take your time and you should be fine

10) This is the most important step. After you put the faucet back together, the water is back on and you have tested it to make sure it is working well, show off your work to your spouse or friends. Watch their reactions as they marvel at how well the faucet works. Now, YOU are the hero, not the plumber who would have had to pay to do the repair.

The author assumes no responsibility for the work done by the readers of his articles. The plumbing repair articles are intended to be a helpful general guide for the homeowner.