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How to Loosen a Stuck Faucet Stem: 4 Easy Steps

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Conventional wisdom tells us that plumbing work, such as how to loosen a stuck faucet stem, is difficult and should be left to professionals. But faucets have changed – so have tools and know-how.

It’s now easy to get faucet maintenance instructions online and have a go yourself, but it’s best to acquire the tools and understand the process first – read on for more information.

Why Do Kitchen Faucets Get Stuck?

If you’ve noticed the faucet in your kitchen or bathroom has become hard to turn, it could be down to the cartridge inside or mineral deposits. A sticky faucet can be awkward and inconvenient; it prevents you from carrying out daily tasks efficiently and can waste water with leaks when you’re away from home.

If mineral deposits are causing the faucet to stick, you will have to remove the faucet and clean the deposits inside. To perform this task, you will need some special tools and equipment. However, the job is not too difficult and can be carried out successfully by an amateur, meaning you save money on a plumber.

The task is a little more complicated when the cartridge is causing the faucet to stick. A faucet cartridge is a small metal device inside the faucet that controls the water flow. These pieces have a shelf life, but they can also become jammed with mineral deposits.

Tools You’ll Need to Remove a Stuck Faucet Stem

  • Slot screwdriver – a slot screwdriver is used to turn the screw holding the faucet handle together; you should see the screw after you remove the faucet cap. A slot screwdriver is also useful for this task!
  • Phillips screwdriver – In the rare case that the screw holding the handle together is a Phillips screw, you will require a Phillips screwdriver. Don’t remove it with a slot tool, as it can damage the screw.
  • Spray lubricant – Spray lubricant can be acquired at any hardware store; it helps lubricate the part if it has become corroded due to water leaks and mineral buildups. It’s best to be prepared.
  • Rag – A rag can be useful for wiping off residual mineral deposits to assess the extent of the issues. It can also be used to wipe away rust and clean the faucet as you work.
  • Hammer – If the faucet is rusted inside, you may need a hammer to loosen it from its stuck position. Always use a rubber hammer or a block of wood to protect the faucet from any damage.
  • Penetrating oil – Penetrating oil is an effective replacement for lubricant; use this to lubricate the space between the handle and valve stem to help unstick the faucet. Wait a few minutes, then turn.
  • Scrap wood -If the faucet is completely stuck, you probably have some corrosion and will need a hammer to loosen it. To avoid damaging the finish of the faucet, hammer a piece of wood instead of directly hitting the faucet.
  • Faucet puller – Imagine a corkscrew for a wine bottle; this is much the same as a faucet puller. The shaft goes through the center of the valve body, and the arms clip onto the base, lifting the valve stem.

Instructions for Removing a Stuck Faucet Stem

Fixing a stuck faucet stem does not require a professional plumber; you can do it yourself. That said, following some clear instructions is always recommended to prevent you from leaving the task half-completed or failing entirely.

It may be helpful to have our guide on the different parts of a faucet pulled up.

1. Shut off the water supply

The first thing to do is to shut off the water supply under the sink cabinet.

The water supply shut-off levers are usually located beneath the sink or on the boiler in the basement. For this task turning the handles under the sink should be sufficient, but feel free to shut off the mains water as well. To shut off the water supply, open the cupboards and locate the handles, then turn them clockwise.

2. Disassemble the faucet handles

To clean the faucet from mineral buildups, you first have to disassemble the faucet handle; the good news is this sounds more complicated than it is. If you have a standard faucet, you probably have a hot and cold handle; these handles have screws in the center and a decorative cap on top.

The first thing you have to do is take off the decorative caps, so they don’t get damaged; you can do this with a slot screwdriver or a special tool designed for the job.

Next, you must undo the screw in the center of the handle with a screwdriver and some oil if necessary.

3. Use a dedicated faucet stem removal tool

If you’re feeling a bit shy about using the screw extractor, there are alternatives. A dedicated faucet stem removal tool is specially designed to remove a stuck faucet stem with minimal effort, eliminating the need for screwdrivers and lubricant. You can buy this screw extractor online or in a hardware store.

The faucet stem removal tool is designed like a corkscrew for wine bottles, and it works exactly the same way. It has a central shaft with folding arms and legs for vice grips. Open the arms out and clip the legs onto the base, insert the shaft into the entire valve assembly and press the arms down.

4. Pull out the cartridge

Last but not least, it’s time to remove the cartridge to be cleaned or replaced. Most faucet handle cartridges can be found inside the handle of the faucet after you have removed the decorative cap. The cartridge is a white cylindrical object with a brass top; remove any rubber seals or springs you find.

The job of a faucet cartridge is to control the water flow from the mains into the faucet; some of them have a plastic valve assembly that wears out, while others have one made from porcelain. However, if your cartridge is clogged up, it’s worth replacing it either way. A new cartridge can be bought online.

How to Remove a Stuck Faucet Nut

If your faucet is stuck, chances are there are some mineral deposits or some rust which can cause significant issues when you attempt to remove the faucet to repair or replace it. You can unstick the faucet nut with the correct faucet stem removal tool to prevent damage to the shell.

First, clean the nut with a rag, then apply some lubricant to loosen the stuck faucet nut. Then, test the toughness of it with an Allen wrench – any movement is a good sign. However, if the nut is rusty, you will probably require a hammer – use a center punch on the packing nut and hit it with a hammer.

How to Remove a Stuck Faucet Head

While you are re-conditioning your kitchen or bathroom faucet, it makes sense to de-scale the faucet head as well; this is often clogged up with mineral deposits and might even be black.

If the faucet head is stuck on, you will have to use a pair of pliers to remove it. Lubricate the stuck faucet head first if possible.

The faucet head loosens anti-clockwise, and clockwise to tighten the faucet; if you can’t turn it by hand, use the pliers and turn it a quarter of a turn, then use your hand to turn it the rest of the way.

The faucet head is fragile and might crack or damage if you apply too much pressure – once removed, clean the faucet thoroughly.

How to Lubricate a Faucet Stem

Sometimes some lubrication is required to remove the faucet’s stem successfully; this is especially true if the faucet handle is rusted on or has significant mineral deposits. Using lubricant or oil makes removing the valve stem with the wrench or pliers easier – you can buy this kind of lubricant online.

After you remove the decorative cap and unscrew the handle, you will see the valve stem; this will be made of either brass, plastic, or a combination of both. Apply some of the lubricant to the stuck stem base before using the vice grips and an Allen wrench to twist the valve stem from its position.

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