How to Loosen a Stuck Faucet Stem

Making a minor repair or replacing a part on a faucet is much easier than it used to be.

Thanks to modern ingenuity, we can easily fix a leak or replace something like a shower faucet cartridge without breaking a sweat.

But things don’t always go smoothly, especially with older hardware. Sometimes those stubborn bolts won’t budge no matter how hard you try.

As they say, where there is a will, there is a way, and plumbers have a few tricks of the trade they use to deal with situations like this. Before you give up and call a professional, try out these techniques to remove a stuck faucet nut.

Why Does it Happen?

Have you ever noticed red rust stains at the bottom of your sink or a chalky green substance on your water fixtures? Water leaves behind highly corrosive materials like calcium, iron, and magnesium that can block your pipes.

Not only that, over time, corrosion will damage your plumbing – and a badly corroded faucet handle will be hard for anyone to take apart. Ideally, you will be able to tap the faucet loose, but you will have to take more drastic measures if not.

Follow The Steps Below to Loosen a Stuck Faucet Stem

First Take Apart the Faucet

It’s easy enough to figure out how to take a faucet apart on your own, but it’s a good idea to look at the installation manual before you start. Even though faucets have standard design elements, each manufacturer is a little bit different. 

Some things you need are:

  • Pliers (channel locks, needle-nosed, vice grips)
  • Screwdriver
  • Box wrench
  • Allen wrench
  • Core puller (faucet stem removal tool)
  • Lubricant like WD40
  • Drill and drill bits
  • ½ inch screw extractor

Remember that plumbing is about planning ahead. If the first method doesn’t work, proceed to the next until you have removed the cartridge. To get started, take apart the assembly to gain access to the cartridge as follows:

  1. Shut off the water – find the hot and cold shut-off valves and make sure they are in the off position. The valve should be at a 90° angle to the direction of the pipe.
  2. Disassemble the handle – now, to get to the cartridge; you’ll need to take the handle off. The assembly will depend on the make and model of your faucet. Consult the manufacturer or look it up online.
    1. Typically, the handle will be held down by a bolt. Locate the screw holding the handle in. Use a screwdriver, an Allen wrench, or a combination of both to loosen the handle.
    2. Try to pull it out with pliers.

Remove a Stuck Faucet Nut with a Faucet Stem Removal Tool

Having the proper tools may make all the difference. A core puller is a special tool made just for this job. If you don’t have a replacement, it is a relatively inexpensive item you can find online or at your local department store. 

After you have exposed the cartridge:

  1. Insert the core removal tool onto the cartridge.
  2. Pull it out. Always use slow and steady pressure.
  3. If it isn’t moving, try twisting it back and forth to get it started.
  4. If it still doesn’t work, try increasing your leverage. You can do this by making longer levers.

The problem with these tools is that they don’t work if the cartridge is really stuck. You’d be lucky if that worked on an older faucet. An old rusty stem that has been stuck for years may even break off after you try to remove it with a cartridge puller.

How do You Lubricate a Faucet Stem?

One of the best ways to loosen a rusty bolt is with lubrication. Once rust has reached the threads of the fastener, it can be impossible to move. A lubricant like WD-40 can do more than stop squeaks; it’s excellent at dissolving rust.

After you have exposed the cartridge:

  1. Use WD-40 on the stuck faucet. Spray the lubricant so that it completely penetrates as much of the valve stem and cartridge as possible.
  2. Let it sit for several minutes, then try to remove the cartridge.

Worse-Case Scenario – Use a Screw Extractor

If all else fails, this method will be sure to get it loose. You will need to make your own faucet stem removal tool to get a better grip.

After you have exposed the cartridge:

  1. Drill a ½ tap (screw extractor) into the center of the cartridge.
  2. Now use pliers to turn the cartridge until it comes out slowly.
  3. If it’s not moving, increase your leverage. You can do this in a couple of different ways. Try putting a block of wood flat on the surface of the shower in between you and the cartridge. Use it to slowly pry the cartridge out of the valve seat.

1 thought on “How to Loosen a Stuck Faucet Stem”

  1. Ok, what does “Drill a ½ tap (screw extractor) into the center of the cartridge” mean?
    Is that 1/2″ drill bit or a pilot bit for a 1/2″ screw extractor.


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