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Pin Point Leaks:

Toilets: Determine if your toilet has a leak by putting food coloring in the tank. Wait 10 minutes or so, and if the color shows up in the bowl, you have a leak. You can check for several things:

Toilet tank diagram

  • The flapper valve (2), called a "pig nose", may need replacement. This is the rubber flap that closes over the drain from the tank to the bowl. Flappers should be replaced every 3-5 years as they become misshaped and are prone to leak. FOR 1.6 GALLONS PER FLUSH TOILETS: Replacement flaps are not generic. Contact the manufacturer or a plumbing store to get the flap made for your toilet. If the flap does not appear worn, run you finger around the rim of the "seat" (3) - the top of the drain hole. Sometimes this becomes corroded or encrusted with minerals. Lightly sand the deposits off the seat with emery paper. If the flap still does not close properly, make sure the wire or chain (4) attached to it is long enough, or excess chain isn't catching on anything.
  • Sprinkle a small amount of baby powder on top of the water in the tank. If you see it moving toward the overflow tube (5), it means that your tank doesn't know it's full and water is continually being added- and wasted down the overflow tube. Gently bend down the metal arm (6) on the float ball (7). This makes the ball lower and will turn off the valve before the tank gets too full. If that doesn't work you may need to replace the ball shut-off valve (8).
  • Check that the float ball doesn't have water in it. If it does, unscrew the ball from the arm and replace it with a new one.
  • Some toilets have a ballcock assembly (10) instead of a float ball. A malfunctioning ballcock valve will sound like your toilet is whistling, whining or won't shut off.

Hardware or plumbing stores carry replacement parts and can give you toilet repair advice.

Sinks: A slow drip can waste 15-20 gallons of clean, drinkable water per day, a fast one 2202 gallons each month! If the hot water faucet drips, not only will water be wasted, but energy too. Fixing drips can be easy- often the culprit is a worn washer. However, if you don't feel comfortable with fixing it yourself- contact a reputable plumber.

For standard mixing valve assemblies:

Tools: A flat head and phillips head screwdriver(s), adjustable wrench and a box of assorted washers.

Sink faucet diagram

Step 1: Shut off the water supply to both the faucets. You will find the valves underneath the sink. Turn the faucets on to let the water drain.

Washerless faucet diagramStep 2: If you do not see a screw on top of the faucet handle, pop off the decorative plastic button by slipping the flat blade screwdriver under it - you will uncover the screw. Unscrew the screw and pull or pry the handle off the stem. It may be stuck as minerals corrode the stem. Be gentle but persistent, but never bang the handle free as you can damage the inner workings.

Step 3: By removing the handle, you will have exposed the stem. Fit your wrench snugly around the large hexagonal packing nut and loosen it. Finish unscrewing it with your fingers until the whole stem lifts out of the faucet.

Step 4 : On the bottom of the stem you will see a rubber washer held in place by a screw. Unscrew it and replace the washer with a new one of the same size. You may be able to see numbers such as 00 or 1/4 on the washer to help you find the right size. Tightly screw on the screw.

Step 5: Rub a little petroleum jelly on the threads of the stem. Screw the stem back in place and tighten it with your wrench. Put the handle back on, screw it in and snap the plastic button back on if it has one. Turn the water supply on and you should have a drip free faucet!

If you have a washerless faucet, take it apart as described above, and remove the entire diaphragm after unscrewing the stem nut. Take the assembly to the hardware store to get a matching repair kit. Replace all the faulty parts and reassemble the faucet.

Outside Hose Bibs:

Turn off the water to the outside faucet- it may be at the meter, or it may be at a main valve shut off to the house.

Unfortunately, many outside faucets are not made to have their washers replaced. However, you may be able to pack the stem. Contact your hardware store and ask. If you can't, you will have to replace the whole faucet. Unscrew the faucet from the pipe and replace the faucet with a new one.


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Cochise County Cooperative Extension
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Last Reviewed and Updated: March 6, 2013
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