Faucet Handle Difficult to Turn: Repairing a Mixer Faucet
It often happens to me as a plumber. After repairing a faucet and the owner turns the faucet lever for the first time, they are astonished. “The tap turns so easily!” they exclaim. What surprises them is not that the faucet worked so easily after repair, but that they had never realized that it was not working well until it was leaking terribly or the handle was impossible to move.
Think about it. You walk into the kitchen or bathroom and, as you have done thousands of times before, you reach for the faucet handle and turn on the water. Did you notice something? Probably not. Water flows; you turn it off and go 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 the handle is increasingly difficult to move. Think of it as arthritis in your 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 newbie can get the job done and become a hero to their spouse or friend. Below I have listed some simple steps to help you repair a mixer tap. I am only detailing the repair of a single lever faucet in this article because the steps to repair this faucet are unique and I do not have the space here to explain a multi-lever faucet.
Read the full article before starting the repair process. Once the actual repair begins, you can go back to the individual steps to update your memory.
Steps to repair the mixer tap:
1) First of all, determine the brand and type of faucet you are repairing; if you can really locate a brand footprint on the faucet that helps tremendously. There are more than 100 different brands and brands of faucets, and most of them have different parts. If you can’t find a name on the tap, a digital camera is a great help. Take a photograph of the faucet and show the photograph to the clerk at the plumbing supply store. Chances are, when an experienced employee sees the image, they will immediately know what brand it is.
2) Once you know the brand of the faucet, or have a photo, you can buy the necessary spare parts. You can go to big box stores or local hardware; each has its particular strengths. Describe the symptoms of the sick tap to the secretary. Is it difficult to move the handle? Is the faucet dripping water around the base of the spout? (Kitchen faucets are notorious for this.) The clerk needs to know what parts to give him and it can save him from having to make multiple trips to the store because he has the wrong parts. If you are repairing a Moen brand faucet, it is a good idea to purchase a “puller” tool to remove the old cartridge. There are different types of cartridge removal tools; an inexpensive plastic design or a more expensive sturdy metal design is available. For the homeowner, cheaper plastic should work fine. You can do the faucet repair without one, but using the removal tool makes life MUCH easier. (When doing repairs, my lowest priority is saving a few pennies on parts. I would rather go to a store or supplier that has a wide variety of quality parts and employees with trained and helpful staff.)
3) CLOSE THE WATER FROM THE TAP. Did I stress this enough? Before disassembling the tap, turn off the water supply. There are usually small chrome or brown valves inside the sink cabinet towards the back. If you’re like any other American I’ve worked for, the sink cabinet will be full and those valves will be buried under every type of cleaning and shampoo bottle imaginable. Mix in a hair dryer, makeup, soap, and toothpaste and … well, you get the idea. Dig through the rubble and locate the valves. If the valves don’t turn easily, you may need to find the home’s main water shutoff valve 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 has run out, close the sink drain plug. This little trick was taught to me by another plumber over 30 years ago. The reason for this? Most likely, when you disassemble the faucet, a small screw or gasket will fall off and the closed cap prevents the small part from disappearing down the drain. Shiny. Before disassembling the faucet, if you want or need a detailed and 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 handle screw. Take off the cap and remove the screw. Some handles are attached by a set screw on the side of the handle rather than the top. Look at the handle, with a little research it should be obvious.
6) Once the handle is removed, you will see some kind of device that secures the replaceable parts in place. Sometimes it is a metal horseshoe clip that slides out. Other times it is a type of round screw cap that is unscrewed. Remove the retaining clip or cap.
(Some faucet brands have an encircling sleeve that surrounds the horseshoe clip. This tube must first be removed and then the horseshoe-shaped ring can be slipped. To remove the sleeve, it is designed to be unscrewed or to be grasped with pliers and pulling towards you. After removing the cover, grasp the tongue of the horseshoe clip with pliers and carefully slide it to the side. These parts should be easily removed).
7) Now, you should see a plastic or brass cartridge that can be removed by pulling it out. If it’s a Moen tap, then that’s 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 brands of faucets contain a plastic or brass ball here instead of a cartridge. Lift or remove this part. Under the round ball you should see two small rubber seats and springs. Remove them. (In this step, all of the recalled parts should match the new parts that you picked up at the store.)
8) Once the old parts or cartridge are removed, it is a good idea to use a flashlight and look inside the faucet where the old part used to live. Do you see any chunks of debris or broken pieces of the old cartridge there? If so, use needle nose pliers to remove it.
9) You can now install the new parts and work backward following the steps as you reassemble the faucet, remembering to replace all clips and retaining rings. If you have any spare parts, turn the faucet back on 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 reassemble the faucet, the water is turned on again and you have tested it to make sure it works well, show 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 to the homeowner.