How to Fix a Leaky Outdoor Faucet

by Michael Franco
Dripping Faucet

For being such a small item, an outdoor faucet can be a big plus for any homeowner. It helps you keep plants and lawns watered, gives you a handy way to hose off your car and makes clean-up from a variety of home improvement projects a breeze.

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However, when your outdoor water spigot starts to leak, it can become an important home improvement project in and of itself. Taking care of it quickly can not only help you save water, but it can prevent damage to your home, because a small leak can quickly lead to soggy soil that can cause issues with your foundation.

Fortunately, most leaky outdoor faucets can be handled in under an hour with the most basic tools. Here’s a step-by-step repair guide.

Step 1: Determine the Source

The first step in finding out why your outdoor water faucet is leaking is to figure out exactly where it is leaking from. If water seems to gather around the base of the handle, your fix might be an easy one. Just behind the handle, you'll see a large packing nut. Use a large adjustable wrench to turn this nut gently in a clockwise direction. That might be all it takes to stop the water drip.

You don't want to use too much force to accomplish this; just use enough to snug the nut back into place in case it has become loose over time. If this fix doesn't work — or if the water is coming out of the spout — you'll need to disassemble the faucet.

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Step 2: Faucet Disassembly

Before taking your outdoor faucet apart, make sure to turn off the water that supplies it. You'll usually find the shutoff valve or knob inside your home somewhere behind the location of the outdoor assembly. Turn this knob in a clockwise direction to stop the flow of water. If you can't find an easy way to shut it off, then you'll want to turn the water off to your house by using the main shutoff. This is often found inside your crawl space or basement, or it may be located at the water meter located near your property's border with the street.

Next, head back outside and open the handle on your outdoor spigot by turning it counterclockwise. This will release any leftover water in the line.

Using a screwdriver, remove the screw in the center of the handle and pull the handle off.

This will give you easy access to the packing nut you might have tried to tighten in the earlier step. Using your adjustable wrench, turn this nut counterclockwise to loosen it. Once loose, simply slide out the valve assembly, also called a valve stem.

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Step 3: Watch the Washers

One of the more common issues with leaky outdoor faucets is faulty washers. Depending on the type of valve assembly you have, you may find a washer at the top and bottom of the valve stem. If either looks thin, cracked or otherwise worn, it's a good indication that you've found the culprit. Because they are easy to replace, you might as well take care of both of them while you have the valve stem out.

To remove the washer at the top of the valve stem, continue turning the packing nut counterclockwise to remove it completely. Then, pop out the washer using a flathead screwdriver or needle-nosed pliers.

To remove the washer at the bottom of the stem, remove the screw holding it in place and pop it off.

In both cases, it's best to take the old washers (or the entire valve assembly) to the plumbing supply or hardware store when buying replacements so that you are sure to get the correct fit. Put the new washer or washers in place, secure the corresponding screw and nut, slide the valve stem back into the faucet and tighten both the packing nut and the screw that holds the handle in place. Then, turn the water back on at the indoor shutoff valve or at the water meter and test the faucet.

If all went well, and the home improvement gods were on your side, your leak should now be a thing of the past. If it's not, it might be time to call in a plumber to assess the situation.

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