The first step needed to fix a faucet is to determine the type of faucet in question. You are likely to have one of four basic faucet types: compression, cartridge, disc, or ball. It is sometimes possible to fix a faucet by replacing only one or two worn components. In certain cases, it may be necessary to replace the entire valve mechanism in order to complete the repair. You can often fix a faucet with only a screwdriver, pliers, and a limited amount of plumbing knowledge.
As a general rule, faucets with two handles utilize either a compression or disc type valve mechanism. These mechanisms typically develop drips from the spout of the faucet and are somewhat complicated to repair. A single handle faucet is likely to employ either a ball or cartridge valve mechanism, although some may utilize a disc mechanism. These mechanisms usually develop a leak at the base of the faucet handle rather than the spout. If you are unable to determine the exact type of faucet, it is probably best to take the entire valve assembly to a hardware store for an expert opinion before purchasing repair parts.
If your faucet utilizes a compression type of valve mechanism, the type of repair will be determined by the location of the leak. Leaks under the handle will require replacement of the packing material which typically consists of a washer, O-ring, or some type of twine. In some cases it may only be necessary to tighten the packing nut itself to stop the leak. If water is dripping from the faucet spout, you will probably need to replace the valve seat, seat washer, or both of these components to complete the repair. An ordinary faucet repair kit typically contains all of the parts needed to fix a faucet of this type.
Faucets containing a cartridge style valve mechanism typically develop a leak when the rubber O-ring of the cartridge stem becomes worn or broken. In some cases the entire cartridge must be replaced to stop the leak. When repairing a cartridge faucet, you must be careful to use parts that match the original components exactly. Replacement parts for cartridge type faucets are usually available at home improvement stores and large hardware stores. The components of certain types of cartridge faucets may, however, need to be special-ordered before the repair can be made.
Disc type faucets have both inlet and outlet seals that can fail and cause leaks under the handle. Sediment can also build up in the inlet and prevent the valve from closing properly. If a disc faucet drips, you will need to use vinegar to remove the built up sediment in the inlet opening. If water is leaking under the handle, both seals will probably need to be replaced. After completing the necessary repairs, be sure to turn the water supply back on slowly to prevent damage to the ceramic disc located in the valve.
Faucets utilizing a ball type valve assembly may develop a leak at the handle or the spout. If the leak is occurring at the handle, it may be possible to repair the faucet by tightening the adjusting ring located under the handle. If the leak persists, you may need to replace the handle itself. To repair a leak coming from the spout, it will probably be necessary to purchase a replacement kit and install new valve seats, springs, and washers. A specially designed tool is typically included in the repair kit to help you make the necessary repairs.