What Causes a Faucet to Drip?

The incessant drip… drip… drip… coming from your kitchen faucet can be incredibly irritating. The repetitive noise with no end in sight is enough to drive us crazy. But why do faucets drip? What causes it? And more importantly, how do you fix it? Let’s find out.

Common Causes Behind a Dripping Faucet

Leaky, drippy faucets are a common problem for many homeowners. Here are a few of the most common causes behind this issue:

Damaged Cartridge

A damaged cartridge is one of the most common culprits behind a dripping faucet. The cartridge is responsible for controlling the flow of water to the spout, so if it becomes damaged, the faucet will drip, even when the handles are in the OFF position.

To fix this problem, you’ll need to replace the cartridge(s). If you have a two-handled faucet, you may need to replace both if the problem persists. We recommend buying your replacement cartridge from the manufacturer that makes your faucet, as generic parts can cause issues.

You’ll need to remove the handle and lift out the cartridge, paying attention to its orientation, then replace it with the new one.

Faulty O-Rings

In your faucet, there are a couple of rubber O-rings that are designed to hold the handle firmly in place. When these O-rings become loose, worn-out, damaged, or unseated, water can wiggle through the gaps, causing the leak.

You’ll need to disassemble the faucet and inspect the O-rings for damage to remedy the leak. If you find damaged parts, replace them with the same size O-rings.

Worn Out Washers

The washers in a faucet sit against the valve seat, which is responsible for connecting the faucet and the spout. After years of constant use, friction can wear the washers in your faucet down, preventing them from doing their job correctly. Alternatively, improperly sized or installed washers can cause the same issue.

To stop the leak, you’ll need to inspect the washer for damage and signs of wear, replacing it as needed. If you’re unsure whether the size is correct, refer to your owner’s manual for guidance. Additionally, ensure the washer is seated properly before reassembling the faucet.


Rusty Faucet

Sometimes, the problem is as simple as corrosion or mineral deposits in the spout’s aerator. At the end of the fixture in most faucets, there’s a small screen responsible for adding air to the faucet. Over time, minerals from the water can build up behind the screen, creating a chalky, white mess on the aerator.

Alternatively, the aerator may become rusty due to high humidity or prolonged water exposure. When the screen becomes partially or completely blocked, you might notice that water continues to drip after the faucet shuts off, but not for long. This happens because a few water droplets get stuck behind the aerator on top of the corrosion or mineral deposits.

Once you turn the water off, those droplets eventually make their way out, creating the illusion of a leaky faucet. In actuality, the faucet isn’t leaking, but the water stuck in the spout is meandering out.

Correcting this problem is easy. It starts with you removing the aerator from the faucet spout. Sometimes, you can simply unscrew the aerator with a few simple twists. However, if your faucet aerator is recessed, you’ll likely need the special tool that came with your faucet to unthread it.

If your faucet has a spray head with a non-removable aerator, skip the removal process and simply soak the entire spray head in the following solution.

Once you remove the aerator, if you can, pour water and white vinegar into a bowl. Use a 1:1 ratio – if you use ½ cup of water, use ½ cup of vinegar. Soak the aerator or spray head in the solution for a few hours or overnight.

Remove the aerator from the bowl the following day and rinse it with fresh water. Use an old toothbrush dipped in the solution to remove any residual gunk. Reattach the aerator and test it for drip-free operation.

Deteriorated Valve Seat

If there’s a steady drip coming from the spout of your faucet, the valve seat might be the culprit. The valve seat sits between the faucet and the spout, connecting the two in the assembly. Water can slip by when the valve seat deteriorates, allowing a steady drip, even when the tap is off.

The deterioration can result from various things, although sediment buildup or corrosion is the most common. You’ll need to disassemble the faucet following the manufacturer’s instructions to fix it. You’ll need to take off the handle, remove the inner valve stem or cartridge, inspect the internal parts, and replace worn-out and damaged ones.

You can find replacement parts at your local home improvement store or online at the manufacturer’s website.

How do I Stop a Dripping Faucet?

You’ll need to determine the root cause to prevent a faucet from incessantly dripping. This process often requires some troubleshooting, as it’s not quite as simple as one catch-all solution.

We recommend starting with corrosion as a potential suspect, as this is the easiest method to deal with. Then, work your way into the faucet, disassembling and examining all components for damage or signs of wear. If you find worn-out parts, replace them and see if that remedies the problem.

If you’re unsure how to disassemble your faucet, check our guides for a leaky kitchen faucet or a bathroom faucet leaking from the base. We also have brand-specific guides, like our Moen MotionSense guide or the Price Pfister guide.

Alternatively, check the manufacturer’s website for the owner’s manual and installation guide specific to your faucet. You can usually find this on the faucet listing on sites like Home Depot and Lowes under the “Product Documents” section.

Remember to turn off the faucet’s water supply before you start. Do this by turning the shut-off valves beneath the sink into the OFF position. If you don’t have shut-off valves beneath your sink, you’ll likely need to turn the water off at the main water shut-off valve.

If you’ve tried troubleshooting the issue but can’t pinpoint the reason behind the drip, we recommend consulting an experienced plumber.

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