How to Fix a Leaking Bathtub Faucet

Bathtub faucet

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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 20 - 40 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to $25

A leaking bathtub faucet isn't just annoying—it can be a major waste of water. A bathtub faucet that drips every three seconds will lose nearly 700 gallons of water per year. The good thing is that you can learn how to fix a leaking bathtub faucet, even if you think you don't have any plumbing skills.

Before You Begin

Whether the bathtub faucet is double- or single-handled, select parts can be replaced instead of installing a completely new faucet assembly.

Double-Handled Bathtub Faucet

On the back of the faucet stem assembly is a rubber washer that contacts a metal faucet seat when closed.

If there is a leak, most likely the rubber washer is cracked, corroded, or heavily compressed. Any of these conditions mean that the washer can no longer hold back the water. Replacing the rubber washer will fix most leaks.

Single-Handled Bathtub Faucet

Behind the bathtub's single-handle faucet is a valve cartridge: a single unit made of plastic, metal, and rubber that controls the water flow.

When there is a bathtub faucet leak, the entire valve cartridge or its rubber O-rings may be worn out or corroded. Valve cartridges generally cannot be fixed. Instead, they are meant to be substituted with a new valve cartridge specific to the faucet brand and model.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Two-Handle Faucet

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Flashlight
  • Seat wrench
  • Towel

Single-Handle Faucet

  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Allen wrench set
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Cartridge puller tool
  • Towel

Materials

Two-Handle Faucet

  • 1 rubber flat faucet washer and screw kit, assortment
  • 2 replacement faucet seats

Single-Handle Faucet

  • 1 replacement valve cartridge

Instructions

How to Fix a Leaking Two-Handle Bathtub Faucet

  1. Identify the Leaking Faucet

    With your hand, feel the leaking water. If the water is hot or warm, the leak is isolated with the hot faucet. If the water is cold, the leak is on the right side.

    If the leak is very slow, you may not be able to differentiate between a hot or cold leak. So, you may need to fix both faucets.

  2. Shut Off the Water

    Find the home's main water shut-off valve and turn it completely off. In the bathroom, open the bathtub faucets to relieve water pressure and let water drain out.

    Place a towel over the drain to prevent small items from falling down the drain.

  3. Remove the Cap on the Handle

    Use a small flathead screwdriver or a butter knife to pry off the plastic or metal cap that covers the faucet handle screw. Lay the cap aside.

  4. Remove the Handle

    With the Phillips head screwdriver, remove the screw inside the faucet handle. With the screw completely loosened, pull the handle straight out to remove it. The screw might still be inside the handle, but it will come out when you remove the handle.

  5. Remove the Escutcheon

    Remove the escutcheon. You may be able to do this by hand, simply by pulling the escutcheon straight out or unscrewing it. Or you may need to remove a small set screw on the side of the escutcheon with a Phillips head screwdriver.

    What Is an Escutcheon?

    A plumbing escutcheon is a decorative metal or plastic trim piece that covers pipe openings.

  6. Remove the Stem Assembly

    Use the adjustable wrench to unscrew the brass nut that holds the stem assembly in place. Once the nut has been removed, pull the stem assembly out.

  7. Remove the Rubber Washer

    Look at the back of the stem assembly. With the Phillips head screwdriver, unscrew the set screw that holds the rubber washer in place. Discard the washer.

  8. Replace the Rubber Washer

    Clean the back of the stem assembly with a rag. Fit the replacement rubber washer into the assembly. Use a new screw if one is included with the kit. If not, clean off the old screw and re-insert it.

  9. Inspect the Faucet Seat

    With a flashlight, inspect the brass faucet seat for damage. This conical-shaped part should not be nicked, corroded, or worn away. If it is, it must be replaced.

  10. Replace the Faucet Seat

    With the seat wrench, unscrew the faucet seat and remove it. Fit the replacement faucet seat on the seat wrench and screw it into place. Be careful not to drop either the old or new seat in the wall behind the shower.

  11. Reassemble Bathtub Faucet

    Reassemble the bathroom faucet. Fit the stem assembly back in place, securing it with the brass nut. Replace the escutcheon. Slide the faucet handle back onto the stem. Screw the faucet into place. Finish by snapping the cap cover into place.

    Turn the faucet off. Turn on the water main. Test the faucet for leaks by turning it on for a few seconds, then shutting it off.

How to Fix a Leaking Single-Handle Bathtub Faucet

  1. Shut Off the Water

    Locate the home's main water shut-off valve. Turn the handle clockwise or the knife-style handle rightward to shut down the water to the house, including the bathtub.

    In the bathroom, open the bathtub faucet to release the remaining water. Cover the drain to prevent items from falling into the drain.

  2. Remove the Faucet Handle

    To remove a round plastic single-handle faucet, you may need to first pop off a plastic cover in order to access the screw. Do this by prying the cover off with a flathead screwdriver. Pull the handle off.

    Single-handle faucets that are lever-shaped instead of round usually have a recessed Allen screw near the base of the lever. Use the Allen wrench set to unscrew and remove the screw. Slide the handle off.

  3. Remove the Escutcheon

    Remove the escutcheon (the large, round trim plate) by unscrewing the set screws with the Phillips head screwdriver.

    Tip

    The hole in the bathtub/shower surround should be several inches in diameter: large enough to allow you to remove the valve cartridge. If not, you'll need to cut away the surround with an oscillating multi-tool or hacksaw to gain access. Do not cut the hole larger than the diameter of the escutcheon plate.

  4. Remove the Retainer Clip

    With the needle-nose pliers, grip the top of the U-shaped wire retainer clip and lift it straight up to remove it. Be careful not to drop the clip behind the shower wall.

  5. Remove the Cartridge

    Take note of the position of the cartridge. With the needle-nose pliers or regular pliers, grasp the end of the cartridge and pull it straight out. If the cartridge is difficult to move, use a cartridge puller tool.

  6. Install the New Cartridge

    By hand, push the new cartridge into place in the same position as the previous cartridge. Replace the retainer clip.

  7. Check for Leaks

    Slowly turn on the main water valve. Check the faucet area for leaks. Use the flashlight to look behind the surround wall as leaks may originate back there, too.

  8. Reassemble the Faucet

    Screw the faucet escutcheon back into place. Replace the faucet handle.

3 Quick Solutions That Quiet a Leaking Bathtub Faucet

The best solution is always to fix the leaking bathtub faucet. But at 3 am, you won't be fixing anything—you just need to stop the plinking sound. What can you do quickly?

  • Soap: Stop up the bathtub drain and fill the tub with several inches of water. Squirt in a generous amount of dish soap and gently mix it in. Researchers have found that changing the surface tension of a water surface stops the sound of water dripping.
  • Sock: Secure a long sock or bathrobe tie to the faucet to create a pathway for the water to slowly descend to the drain.
  • Sponge: A sponge or towel under the bathtub faucet will deaden the sound. You'll still hear the dripping but it will be quieter.

When to Call a Professional

Call a plumber to replace the entire faucet assembly if the repairs do not stop the leaking faucet. You may also want to call a plumber if access to the single-handle valve cartridge is hampered by the surround wall.

FAQ
  • What if the shower sometimes leaks instead of the bathtub faucet?

    The shower and bathtub water supply functions are connected. If the shower leaks, it's because the diverter lever has been switched to shower mode. Fixing the bathtub leak will also fix the shower leak.

  • Do bathtubs have shut-off valves?

    Sinks and toilets have localized shut-off valves but bathtubs generally do not. Most plumbing codes do not require shut-off valves located near the bathtub. Plus, unlike sinks or toilets, there is no convenient place to hide the shut-off valves.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Water Drip Calculator. USGS / U.S. Department of Interior

  2. What causes the sound of a dripping tap – and how do you stop it? University of Cambridge