How to Fix a Leaky 2-Handle Faucet

Sink faucet repaired with 2-handle cartridge

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $15 to $80

Most bathroom faucets that have two handles are cartridge-style faucets. Each faucet handle (hot and cold) has its own cartridge, a valve that turns with the handle to control the flow of water into the faucet spout. If you have a very old two-handle faucet, it may be a compression-type rather than a cartridge. You'll know when you remove the faucet handle, as cartridges are usually plastic and held in place with a metal retaining nut, while compression faucets usually have a metal valve with a flat rubber washer on the bottom.

If your two-handle faucet is leaking, feel the water to determine whether the cold or the hot side is leaking. You need to replace the cartridge on only the side that's leaking. However, it's possible that both sides are leaking and you'll have to replace both cartridges.

Before You Begin

Look under the sink to locate the shutoff valves on the water supply lines for the faucet. Most shutoff valves have a small, football-shaped handle or a lever that rotates. Close the valve for the faucet tap you will be working on by turning the handle clockwise until it stops. If your shutoff valves have levers instead of knobs, rotate the levers until they are perpendicular to the water pipes or tubing (the direction of the water flow).

If your house does not have shutoff valves under the sink, turn off the water supply to the house at the main shutoff valve. Once the water is shut off, open the faucet fully to release any pressure in the water lines and let any water drain out.


Watch Now: How to Repair a Two-Handle Cartridge Faucet

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Flathead and Phillips screwdrivers
  • Allen wrench
  • Pipe wrench or tongue-and-groove pliers


  • Replacement cartridge(s)
  • Plumber's grease


Materials and tools to repair a 2-handle cartridge faucet

The Spruce / Kevin Norris


  1. Remove the Faucet Handle

    Examine the faucet handle to determine how it is installed. Some handles have setscrews on the side or rear. Others have a decorative cap (usually plastic) that conceals a screw that secures the handle. Your faucet may also have a removable lever that unscrews from the handle base to allow easy access to the handle setscrew.

    If your faucet has a decorative cap, pry off the cap with a small flathead screwdriver, then remove the handle screw with a Phillips screwdriver. If your faucet has a setscrew, remove the setscrew with an Allen wrench.

    Pull straight up on the handle to remove it from the faucet body.

    Faucet handles removed from setscrews in sink

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  2. Remove the Retaining Nut

    Loosen the cartridge retaining nut, using a pipe wrench or tongue-and-groove pliers. Unscrew the nut all the way and remove it from the faucet body.

    Note the brass screw at the top of the cartridge, if there is one. Its purpose is to reinforce the cartridge shaft when the faucet body's setscrew is tightened against it. You may need to remove this old screw and reuse it in the new cartridge, as not all replacement cartridges come with a new screw.

    Cartridge retaining nut loosened with tongue-and-groove pliers

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  3. Remove the Old Cartridge

    Note the orientation of the faucet cartridge. You must reinstall the new cartridge in exactly the same way. Most cartridges have one or two tabs that fit into notches on the faucet body. 

    Pull the cartridge straight up to remove it from the faucet body. If necessary, grab the shaft at the top of the cartridge with pliers to pull out the cartridge.

    Old cartridge removed from faucet body

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  4. Buy a New Cartridge

    Bring the old cartridge with you to the hardware store or home center to find an exact replacement. New cartridges typically include new rubber O-rings for the cartridge. If desired, also pick up some plumber's grease for the O-rings. This makes it easier to insert the cartridge into the faucet body and is an especially good idea if the old cartridge was difficult to remove.

    New cartridge with rubber O-ring

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  5. Install the New Cartridge

    Replace the little brass screw in the top of the cartridge shaft, if necessary. If you have plumber's grease, use your finger to apply a small amount to the cartridge's O-rings.

    Insert the new cartridge into the faucet body in the same orientation as the original cartridge, aligning any tabs on the cartridge with the notches on the faucet body. Push the cartridge all the way into the housing.

    New cartridge inserted into faucet body

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  6. Complete the Installation

    Secure the cartridge with the retaining nut, tightening the nut carefully with the wrench or pliers. Do not overtighten. Reinstall the faucet handle and setscrew or Phillips screw as well as the decorative cap, as applicable.

    Turn on the shutoff valve for the water supply to the tap by opening it counterclockwise all the way. Test the faucet for proper operation.

    Faucet handle reinstalled with screwdriver

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  • What is the most common cause of a leaky dripping two-handle faucet?

    Usually it’s just wear and tear that leads to a leaky faucet. Some common culprits are a gasket or O-ring that’s worn out, a broken washer, or a damaged cartridge.

  • How do you replace a double-handled faucet cartridge?

    The key to fixing a leaky two-handle faucet is determining whether the hot or the cold side (or both) is malfunctioning. You’ll replace the cartridge only on that side, saving you time and money.

  • How do I know if my faucet cartridge is bad?

    Water dripping out of the faucet can be a sign that the cartridge is bad. Another telltale sign is difficulty getting the desired water temperature.