Repairing a leaky faucet is a very common home plumbing repair. However, because there is a wide variety of faucet types found in the home, even this easy repair can seem a bit daunting. For example, a single-handle faucet may be either a ball-type faucet, a cartridge faucet, or a disc faucet, and the repairs are quite different for each type, even though they look very similar from the outside. And each faucet design may have variations from manufacturer to manufacturer.
This project discusses repairing the special type of washerless faucet known as a ball faucet. A ball faucet has a single handle that controls a special plastic or metal ball inside the faucet body. This ball has chambers or slots in it, along with rubber O-rings and spring-loaded rubber seals. As the lever is moved, the ball's position inside the faucet body controls the flow and mixture of hot and cold water coming out of the faucet. When the handle is operated, there is a distinct feeling of the ball rotating smoothly inside the body of the faucet. It is quite different from the operating "feel" of a single-handle cartridge faucet, in which you can usually feel a cartridge lifting and rotating when the handle is operated.
The ball faucet was brought to market in 1954 by Delta faucet and made popular as a single lever kitchen faucet by Delta Faucet and its DIY brand, Peerless, starting during the 1970s. This type is also popular as a bathroom faucet.
These faucets have no traditional washers that leak, but they do have spring-loaded rubber seals. These faucets may begin to leak when the seals dry out, when the springs weaken, or when the rotating ball becomes cracked or acquires a mineral buildup. Finally, the spout itself has rubber O-rings that can dry out and cause leaking around the base of the faucet.
Repairing Ball-Type Faucets
A ball faucet may leak due to worn internal parts.
- If the faucet leaks from the base around the bottom of the spout, this is usually caused by a worn O-ring at the bottom of the faucet body.
- If the faucet is leaking from the tip of the spout or aerator, then water is not being properly controlled by the lever ball or the spring-loaded rubber seals. In this case, the rubber seals may be worn, the springs may be worn, or the control ball itself may be damaged.
To determine the cause of the leak, you'll need to disassemble the faucet (a very simple job) and visually inspect the parts. For simplicity, you may choose to replace all parts rather than diagnosing the specific reason why the faucet is leaking.
Faucet repair kits are widely available for many different ball faucets and they include everything you will need for the repair. The kits are specific to certain models, so make sure you buy one for your exact make and model. Some kits include the control ball assembly, while others include only the springs, seals, and O-rings. The ball may come in a plastic or brass version; the brass ball versions are a bit more expensive but they last longer.
Most repair kits include O-rings, cams, cam washers, rubber seals, and springs, as well as a helpful little tool that has an Allen wrench on one end and a spanner tool on the other side for tightening the faucet locking ring.
Equipment / Tools
- Allen wrench
- Channel-lock pliers
- Utility knife
- Ball faucet repair kit (specific to faucet model being repaired)
- Replacement control ball (if needed)
- Heatproof plumber's grease
Turn off the Water
Turn off the water supply to the faucet. Usually, the hot- and cold-water shut-off valves will be located under the sink. In the rare case when you cannot find the fixture shut-off valves, you will have to temporarily shut off the main shut-off valve controlling water to the whole house.
Once you've shut off the water, turn on the faucet to make sure the water is off and/or to release any lingering water.
Remove the Faucet Handle
Using the Allen wrench that comes in the repair kit (or another of proper size), loosen the handle by turning the set screw counter-clockwise. Remove the single lever handle. This will expose the faucet top cap.
Tighten the Locking Collar
If the faucet is leaking from the base of the faucet spout, use the special spanner wrench to tighten the locking collar by turning it clockwise. If the leak stops, you can simply put the handle back on the faucet and call it a day. If the leak continues or if the faucet is leaking from the spout, then continue with the next steps.
Remove the Top Cap
Using channel-lock pliers, grip the knurled top cap and turn it counter-clockwise to remove it. (Wrapping masking tape around the upper and lower jaw of the plier can prevent damage to the cap's finish.)
Remove the Ball Assembly
Once the top cap is removed, the cam will be exposed. This is the plastic piece with the lever poking through it. Remove the cam, cam washer, and the ball assembly.
Once removed, inspect the control ball for wear. If it is scored or damaged, replace the ball as part of the repair. Either a plastic or brass ball can be used.
Remove the Valve Seals
Using a small flat-blade screwdriver, reach down and remove the rubber valve seals and springs from the ports in the bottom of the faucet body. Pay attention to how the springs are oriented inside the rubber seals. Normally, the springs are positioned so the narrow end faces down into the rubber seal.
Remove the Faucet Spout
Next, remove the faucet spout by lifting it up and twisting it off; it may require a slight tug to remove.
Remove the O-ring around the base of the faucet body by prying behind it with a screwdriver, or by carefully cutting it with a utility knife. Be careful not to scratch the body of the faucet.
Replace the Spout O-Ring
Take the new O-ring from the repair kit and coat it with heatproof plumber's grease. Place the O-ring over the faucet base and slide it down until it settles into the groove around the faucet body.
Reattach the faucet spout by pressing it back over the O-ring until it is fully seated on the faucet base.
Install New Valve Seals
Install the new valve seals and springs by fitting a spring into each rubber seal and dropping this assembly into its port at the bottom of the faucet body. You may have to finesse them into place with the tip of the screwdriver.
Install the New Ball
Next, install the new control ball by aligning the peg on the ball with the slot on the faucet housing. Then, place the cam washer over the ball and lever, followed by the cam. The cam usually has an alignment lug that fits into a notch in the faucet body. Press the cam fully into place.
Reassemble the Faucet
Install the knurled top cap by threading it onto the faucet body and turning it clockwise with channel-lock pliers until snug. Make sure not to over-tighten, as this can cause the ball to bind and stick within the faucet.
Reattach the single lever handle over the stem of the ball, and secure it by tightening the Allen screw.
Test the Faucet
Turn the water supply on, then operate the faucet to check for leaks. If leaking occurs, it is most commonly because the valve seals are not properly seated in the ports, or because the knurled top cap is not tightened enough.
Editors of Creative Homeowner. Ultimate Guide: Plumbing, 4th Updated Edition. Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017.