How to Remove a Faucet Aerator

Cleaning the aerator from deposits. The girl hand washes a dirty limestone aerator with water
PAVEL IARUNICHEV / Getty Images
Overview
  • Total Time: 10 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

When the water pressure at a single faucet is very low, the solution is often remarkably simple. At the end of the faucet spout, there is usually a screw-on screen fitting, known as the aerator. Many people do not even know this fitting is there and often call a plumber to make a repair that is extremely easy.

The Function of the Aerator

The purpose of the aerator is to break up the solid stream of water and add air to the water flow—a function that can reduce water usage by as much as 30 percent. When faucet aerators get clogged with grit or mineral buildup, they need to be cleaned to restore proper water flow. This is a common problem in areas where there is a heavy mineral content in the water supply.

In most cases, a simple cleaning of the aerator will do the trick, though sometimes you may need to replace the aerator fitting. In either case, you will need to first remove the aerator. Usually, the aerator is screwed on hand-tight and can simply be unscrewed and removed quite easily. In other cases, though, the buildup of mineral deposits may freeze up the aerator and make it hard to remove. Heat and/or penetrating oil can help.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Tongue-and-groove pliers
  • Rag or masking tape
  • Hair dryer (as needed)

Materials

  • Penetrating oil (as needed)

Instructions

  1. Attempt to Remove by Hand

    Start by trying to unscrew the aerator from the spout by hand. Most faucet aerators have been threaded on by hand, and often you can unscrew it the same way. Make sure to dry off both the faucet and your hands first in order to get a good grip. 

  2. Move to Pliers

    If removing by hand does not work, the next step is to try pliers. If the aerator is in good condition and you want to reuse it, wrap a rag or masking tape around the aerator to protect the metal surface against scratches before gripping it with the pliers. A small pair of tongue-and-groove pliers works best for this. 

    Grip the aerator between the jaws of the pliers, taking care to keep the jaws only on the aerator, not the faucet spout. Turn the aerator counter-clockwise (as viewed upward from below the spout) to unscrew it from the spout. If this does not work, try moving the pliers a quarter-turn around the aerator, and try unscrewing the aerator from the new position. Moving to different positions can gradually loosen a stubborn aerator. Take care not to grip the aerator too tightly, because the metal is soft and will bend easily, making your job even harder.

    Aerators are commonly considered to be "reverse-threaded," but in reality, it's just your perspective. When viewed from underneath the faucet, where the aerator is screwed in, the threading is normal: right-tighty, lefty-loosey. When viewed from above, the threading appears to be reversed.

  3. Heat the Aerator

    Gentle heat applied to the aerator using a hairdryer may slightly expand the metal and make it possible to loosen it with pliers. Even a lit match held near the aerator may loosen the metal. Apply heat in moderation, though, as it is easy to melt any plastic parts or rubber washers if the aerator is overheated. Cheaper faucets may actually use a plastic screw-on aerator—never use heat on plastic parts.

  4. Apply Penetrating Oil

    If heat also fails, try spraying penetrating oil (such as WD-40 or a similar product) on the threads and let it sit for a few minutes before trying again with pliers. Wipe off oil from the surface of the aerator before trying to unscrew it, because oil makes the metal slippery.

Cleaning and Reinstalling the Aerator

The metal screen on the aerator may be clogged with grit or mineral deposits, which can be cleaned off by hand or by poking the openings of the metal screen with a pin or needle. If the screen is rusted, it should be replaced. If the parts are clogged with lime mineral deposits, soak them overnight in vinegar or use a commercial lime-remover product, such as Lime-Away.

When installing or reinstalling the aerator, screw it on just hand-tight at first. Test the faucet, and if water leaks around the aerator, then tighten the aerator just a bit further with pliers, making sure to use a rag or masking tape to protect the metal surface.