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Plumbing: What's The Best Way To Fix A Leaking Faucet?
- Mar 14, 2018 -

I decided to give a simpler version of my longer, more thorough answer which follows, so here goes.

1.  Identify the faucet, and, if possible, whether it is hot or cold that is leaking.  Take pictures.
2.  Gather supplies.  Go to your local hardware, plumbing shop, or wholesale house and tell them the faucet you need to repair by name, description, and photograph.  They can tell you the steps for your particular faucet and warn you if you will need the help of pros.
3.  Gather tools required, usually a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench, a protective piece of cloth or rubber, a pliers, a pick, and a parts tray.
4.  Turn off your water supply to that sink faucet only if possible, if not, to the entire house.(things go wrong with this option, see below).  Plug the drain.
5.  Remove the handle.
6.  Remove the escutcheon and packing nut.
7.  Remove the stem. (Or cartridge, may need to remove a clip with pick.)
8.  Examine the washer, if it rubs off dark on your finger or is noticeably worn, replace it.  Examine the seat, the brass piece down in the bottom that the faucet washer squeezes against.  Any roughness or pitting, replace it.  You will need a specific specialized seat wrench to do this, and there are many types.  You can rent one.  The replacement seat may become difficult to locate, as there are hundreds of different ones.
9.  Re-assemble, remove the aerator from the faucet spout, turn the water on part-way, and test by running the water through your cupped fist to avoid splatter.  If all is well, replace aerator, turn water on fully, enjoy.

ORIGINAL, in-depth answer below:
There are several different styles of faucets, with thousands of variations on the theme.  I will try and break it down for you.

Most two handle faucets , one for hot and one for cold, in older homes dating up until around 1970 were of a type that has a stem attached to the handle, and at the end of that stem is a washer that is held on by a brass screw and pushes against a brass seat to turn off the water.  Bathtub faucets had a third handle and stem sometimes for a diverter for a shower.  

In the seventies, several types of new engineered faucets came on the scene.  Some of these had a metal ball under the handle, some had a cartridge held in by a clip, and some had a cartridge held down by a packing nut.

Wait!  I'm just getting started.

Over the years, hundreds of new patents were developed on faucets, including sensors that automatically turn on the faucet by touching or merely getting in the correct proximity with your filthy hands.  Some, in hospitals and clinics and other special situations, have systems of foot pedals or air operated valving.

So obviously your first task is to identify which type of faucet you have.  Identify where to turn off the water to that faucet.  Hopefully for you DIYers, it is under the sink.  Verify the water is off by operating the leaky valve.  Disassemble the valve(remove handle, outer packing nut or clip or cap, remove the stem, replace the washer or cartridge or seals and springs on the ball-type.  Be very cognizant of minute differences from side to side, as these are very important in reassembly.  

When you shut down your water, you might not get it to come back on, or you may cause a shock wave that dislodges debris, sand, and minerals from inside the water pipes to clog your new cartridge or ruin your new seal, etc.  Most homeowners are incapable of doing one or more of the different types.  Just warning you.

A catalog of faucet parts is a great reference, but usually only plumbers have these.  Funny how that works.

As a general rule of thumb, the older the house the simpler the style is and it should be easier to repair.  But parts may be impossible to locate for the DIYer and plumber alike, some stems and seats are no longer in production.  The newer the house, the harder it is to identify how to disassemble it and what parts to have on hand.  A professional plumber's faucet repair box alone costs several thousand dollars.  And there's no guarantee that kit contains your parts.

A drippy faucet can easily cost $$$ on your water bill.  

My advice is that unless you are really handy, hire it done.  The best fix is complete replacement in many cases.  Faucets of newer designs are far less prone to leakage than older faucets, due to changes in sealing technology over the past century.  Compare the cost of continuous repairs with a one-time replacement.