What Is a Faucet Aerator? Purpose and How It Looks

A handy little part on the end of the faucet

Silver faucet with a flow of running water and exposed aerator

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

If you've ever unscrewed the end of a kitchen or bathroom faucet—or felt inside with your finger—you might have discovered the faucet aerator. A faucet aerator looks like a small end piece for the faucet with a mesh screen disk. Find out the aerator's many valuable purposes and why you usually don't want a faucet without an aerator.

What Is a Faucet Aerator?

A faucet aerator is a small, round device that you can screw onto the tip of your faucet to create a more consistent, splash-free stream of water. Aerators usually create a mixture of water and air, making the stream smoother. A standard faucet aerator will limit the water flow to 1.8 or 2.2 GPM (gallons per minute) on average, though this number can vary.

How Do I Know if My Faucet Has an Aerator?

Faucet aerators first entered homes in the late 1940s as add-on devices that would reduce splashing and help water taste better by introducing oxygen. Today, faucet aerators are standard components on nearly all kitchen and bathroom sinks. However, you can also purchase separate faucet aerators and install them on faucets that are lacking or have broken aerators.

As the faucet aerator usually comes assembled, it only needs to be screwed onto the end of the faucet. So if there's already something screwed onto the end of your faucet and it has a mesh disk, you have an aerator. Some aerators also have a disk with a hole in the center to act as a flow restrictor, allowing you to save water.

What Is a Faucet Aerator's Purpose?

Removing the aerator and tapping it out upside-down might release some grit or scale. While an aerator does filter sediment, this is not its main purpose. Rather, a faucet aerator improves the flow of water and helps it feel softer by introducing small bubbles. It also:

  • Creates a wider stream of water
  • Lessens water splashing in the basin
  • Helps save water by making flow more productive
  • Can additionally save water when a flow-restrictor aerator is installed
  • Can activate soap faster due to the small water bubbles, saving both soap and water
  • Gives drinking water a lighter, fresher taste

An aerator is not necessary and can even be counterproductive on some exterior faucets (such as for garden hoses), shower and bathtub faucets, or clothes washer water supply faucets. In those cases, you don't need the lighter water stream that the aerator provides.

How to Replace a Faucet Aerator

Faucet aerators range in cost but often can be found for less than $10. If you need to replace your aerator, you can do so with only two simple tools: pliers and a towel. Tongue-and-groove pliers (Channellock is one such brand) are the best type for this project. The towel should be small because you will be using it as a protective device when applying the pliers to the faucet aerator.

  1. Clean the Faucet

    With the towel, clean the inside thread of the faucet.

    Blue towel cleaning inside of faucet aerator

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Check the Aerator

    Ensure that the aerator is fully assembled. A faucet aerator must have the washer in place to prevent leakage.

    Fully assembled faucet aerator held in hand

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Position the Aerator

    Place the aerator into the end of the faucet until the threads catch.

    Aerator placed on end of faucet threads

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. Screw on the Aerator

    Manually screw the aerator clockwise firmly into the faucet.

    Turning aerator clockwise to screw to faucet

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  5. Tighten the Faucet Aerator

    Wrap the towel around the faucet aerator, and tighten with the wrench.

    Faucet wrapped with blue towel and aerator tightened with wrench

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  6. Test the Faucet

    Turn the water on full volume to test.


    If water comes out around the aerator, it might not be tight enough. But avoid tightening the aerator too much, or you risk stripping the threads on both the faucet and aerator.

    Faucet running with flowing water to test aerator

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

How to Clean a Faucet Aerator

How often you clean your faucet aerator depends on how much debris is in your pipes and water. If your water flow suddenly seems slow, check to see whether the aerator needs cleaning. And even if your water flow is satisfactory, you should clean the aerator at least twice a year to maintain water freshness. Here's how:

  1. Close the sink stopper to avoid losing parts down the drain.
  2. Remove the faucet aerator, and place it on a clean towel.
  3. Take the aerator apart if possible.
  4. Soak the aerator in white vinegar (or CLR) for an hour.
  5. Remove the vinegar, and rinse with fresh water.
  6. Replace the aerator on the faucet, and turn on the water to test.
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  1. Best Management Practice #7: Faucets and Showerheads. U.S. Department of Energy.

  2. Spring-Flo Faucet Aerator. The Mattatuck Museum.