How to Fix a Leaky Compression Faucet (Free Diagram & Checklist)

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 11/08/22 •  7 min read

Hiring a plumber for a simple repair is often an unexpected and unwelcome expense, so you may be searching online trying to find out how to fix a leaky faucet on your own.

If you’re going to try to DIY the repair, we want to make sure you have complete and accurate information, easily available in one place (right here) to avoid damage and costly mistakes.

In this post, we’re going to explain how to fix a leaky faucet, specifically leaks in a two-handle compression faucet.

In addition to the information in this post, you can also grab a diagram and checklist of steps to repair your leaky two-handle compression faucet, right here:

Click the image to download a handy one-page Compression Faucet Repair Checklist complete with a compression faucet diagram to help you with the repair.

What is a Compression Faucet and Why Would it Leak?

There are two basic types of faucets out there: those with washers and those without. Compression faucets are the basic washer-type faucets that have been around since indoor plumbing became available.

A compression faucet is usually found in laundry room wash basins, but can also be found in bathrooms and kitchens, especially if they are older fixtures or if you live outside of North America.

Compression faucets, which have two separate handles for hot and cold water, are the least expensive type of faucets on the market, but they are also most likely to leak and require maintenance.

In a compression faucet, a washer or seal opens and closes against the valve seat at the base of the stem to open or restrict water flow through the faucet body when you turn each handle. This sounds very technical, but it all boils down to the fact that a worn or damaged washer or seal inside the handle will cause water to leak when the taps are shut off.

Do You Have a Compression Faucet or a Cartridge Faucet?

Unfortunately, a double-handle cartridge faucet will look almost identical to a compression washer faucet and so having two taps isn’t always the way to know if that’s what you have.

Compression Faucet Leaking from Spout.
A compression faucet leaking from the spout.

The best way to tell the difference is actually by how the handles feel when you use them.

Compression faucets close the water flow by tightening down (compressing) a washer. Cartridge faucets, on the other hand, have a smooth, consistent action. A cartridge faucet turns off without added pressure being required as with a compression faucet.

If you’re really unsure, you can go ahead and ask a plumber, or if you’re adventurous, you can continue to start the repair and see if the insides look like they do in the compression faucet diagram above, or in the diagram on our leaking cartridge faucet repair guide.

Tools Needed to Fix a Leaking Compression Faucet

Materials Needed to Fix a Leaking Compression Faucet

How to Fix Your Leaky Faucet

Parts of a Compression Faucet: Compression Faucet Diagram

Here’s a diagram that outlines the many parts of a compression faucet, which you’ll want to keep handy when taking yours apart and putting it back together. You can grab a PDF version of this diagram along with a step-by-step checklist to help you repair your leaky compression faucet here.

compression faucet diagram

In addition to keeping this diagram handy, a good practice is to have a towel next to the sink when you are disassembling the faucet. Lay each part on the towel as you remove it, placing it in order so that when it’s time to reassemble the faucet you can work backward and know the order with which to put each piece back.

The First Step in Repairing a Leaky Faucet: Turn Off the Water!

No matter what type of plumbing repair you’re performing, or what type of leak you’re fixing, the first step is always to begin by turning off the water. When fixing a sink faucet, you may be able to do so at the shut-off valves under the sink, or, if you have no valve under your sink, at your home’s main shut-off valve, which is most likely in your basement near the front of the house.

After you turn off the water supply, turn on the faucet to “bleed the pipes” of water and you’re ready to begin your repair in earnest.

Fixing Handle Leaks

If your compression faucet is leaking from the handle, you’ll first want to try tightening or replacing the packing nut. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to replace the packing, which will be a washer, O-ring, or in some cases twine, that is wound around the compression stem.

Again, keep the diagram above handy, and when disassembling parts lay them out onto a towel in the order that you remove them so that you know what order to reassemble pieces in. Never forget to turn the water supply off before attempting any repairs, and to open both the hot and cold water taps to allow the water to drain out of the faucet.

Fixing Spout Leaks

Repairing a leaky compression faucet most often involves replacing a washer. If you have water leaking from the spout of your compression faucet you’ll need to replace a washer or a corroded valve seat.

The hardest part about changing a washer in a leaking compression faucet is finding the right replacement washer. If you don’t have an extra washer, take the old one with you to the hardware store to make sure you can find a match. Of course, an experienced plumber will have several common washers on hand, and will how to source a replacement if it’s not one plumbers normally keep in stock; so if you find yourself frustrated in the plumbing aisle, remember that you can always call a plumber to help.

To fix a broken washer in a compression faucet, you must remove the handle itself and replace the washer or seal. 

Here is a fantastic video by Dummies.com showing how to replace a washer in your faucet handle:

As you’ll be reminded of in the video, the first step in replacing a washer is to turn off the shut-off valve for the fixture and open both the hot and cold faucets to allow any residual water to escape.

Next, you’ll need to take off the faucet handle, loosen and remove the packing nut, remove the stem, and replace the worn part with another one. This is also an opportunity to lubricate the threads of the stem with silicone grease before reassembling the handle and turning the fixture valve back on.

If the Repair Isn’t Going as Expected

If you have any doubts about any step in the faucet repair you’re attempting, even with our free step-by-step checklist and diagram for compression faucets, it’s probably best to stop and call a professional plumber.

There could be nothing worse than a small leak turning into significant water damage that requires significant repairs.

One last time, grab a free diagram and checklist of the steps to repair a leaking two-handle compression faucet here.

thewriteDuffy

At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.