“Hi Norma! I am hoping you can help me with a leaky faucet (major leak). It is in the tub and the faucet handle does not have a vanity cap with a screw under it nor is there a screw anywhere else. I cannot figure out how to get the handle off. It is an old faucet, probably original to the building (1937 prewar Brooklyn building). Thanks for your help!” – WYSK Reader Lori Z

NV: Hi Lori Z! Thanks for your question and tweeting me pix! Sounds like you’re feeling kinda “screwed” over this no-screw handle, but you’re not… at least not because the faucet handle is screwless. Let me explain…

Rightly so, Lori, you need to get the handle out of the way so you can access the guts of the faucet in order to fix the leak. After shutting off the water to the tub at the shut-off valve, removing the handle is always the first step in a faucet leak repair, and almost always, there’s a small screw securing the handle that’s hiding under a vanity cap or is a tiny inconspicuous setscrew. However, your faucet is so super vintage it’s screw-less! (I conferred with cousin Sal back in Brooklyn who deals with 50+year old plumbing on a regular basis). Because of its age, I know it’s a stem or compression type faucet. FYI there are basically 2 different types of faucets, compression and washer-less, and knowing which one you have will determine how it’s repaired.


Liquid Wrench penetrating-oil

On your faucet there is a nut directly behind the handle that needs to be unscrewed, THAT is what will release the handle! But here’s where you may get, well, screwed… because the faucet is a SO OLD, nut and parts are likely so corroded, perhaps even “frozen” together, it may be next to impossible to take it apart. And if that’s the case, it’s time to call in a pro.

Now, I’m not saying this to discourage, but to let you know what you’re up against so you can be prepared! If I were you, I would try to fix it… if you get stuck, you can always make that call.

First step in taking apart pretty much anything metal that’s stuck due to corrosion, rust, or built up mineral deposits, is to spray it down with a product that will loosen it up… and have patience as it soaks in to work its magic. Liquid Wrench® is very effective. Spray all around the back of the handle. Go have a drink…

After you let the Liquid Wrench® penetrate according to the instructions, here’s what to do to remove the handle:

  • Prepare to use two wrenches and tape the jaws with electrical tape not to mar the faucet finish.
  • Use one wrench to hold back the handle. Put the other wrench around the nut, with the handle to the right, and crank down, turning the nut clock-wise.
  • Once the nut is loosened, unscrew it completely, and remove the handle, then the nut.
  • Now for the escutcheon (the bell shaped housing that goes against the tile), there’s a little screw at the bottom of it, once unscrewed, it will slide off.

Okay, handle’s off! Now you can finally get to that leak!

BUT WAIT… do you know how to repair or replace a compression faucet? In case you (or any of our other readers) don’t, I’ve got the step by step below.

Before we get to that Lori, there’s one more thing. Because your faucet is so old, I would see about replacing the entire stem as opposed to parts (washer, O-ring, etc.). Last tip, and this goes for any difficult pluming project, once you’ve removed the parts bring them to a plumbing supply store close to your home – they will likely have the specific parts you need because of like plumbing installed in the area.

How To Repair A Compression Faucet

  1. With the water shut off from the shut-off valves remove the handles. To do this you must locate a screw that is usually hidden beneath a decorative cap. Gently pry the cap off with a metal nail-file or flathead screwdriver. With the screw exposed unscrew it and lift off the handle. PS – If there’s no screw, see the steps I just ran through above for Lori.
  2. Now locate the packing or retaining nut. With tongue and groove pliers or an adjustable wrench, turning counter-clockwise, unscrew the retaining nut and put it to the side.
  3. bath socket wrenchWith the valve-stem now exposed, pop the handle back on the stem, and use it to easily unscrew the valve assembly up and out of the valve chamber.  If the valve is set deep in the wall, you may need a bath socket wrench to remove it (see photo).
  4. On the bottom of the valve stem you’ll see that the washer is screwed in place by a single brass screw. It will likely be split and corroded. It may have even broken off and is sitting in the valve chamber. It’s best to take the entire assembly to the plumbing store for the correct washer replacement.
  5. In addition to new washers you should examine the valve seat. Run your finger along it to see if there are bumps that would prevent a sight seal. If there are imperfections it must be corrected by either replacing or redressing the valve seat – which will depend on the type of seat you have.
  6. The replaceable valve seat will have a hex or slotted shape in its center. You’ll need a valve-seat wrench to unscrew it. Insert the wrench and unscrew the valve seat. Bring it to the store for replacement.
  7. The fixed-type valve seat will have a simple round hole in it. You’ll need a seat-dresser tool to resurface the seat. Insert the seat-dresser into the chamber and give it a few spins to “dress” the seat. Do so until the seat looks shiny. Be sure to wipe away the metal shavings with a rag once it’s dressed.
  8. With steel wool or a scrubber, clean the valve stem.
  9. Screw on the new washer, being sure that it’s snug, but not deformed.
  10. Hand screw the valve stem back into the chamber then reinstall the retaining nut with pliers or a wrench.
  11. Pop the handles back on, but don’t screw them on yet. Turn the water back on and make sure nothing is leaking. Screw on the handles, snap on the caps and you’re done!

On a final note, there are dozens of different types of compression-faucets (all faucets, for that matter), so variations in the repair steps are pretty much a given. Feel free to contact me should you run into any questions!

Good luck on the repair, Lori, and let us know how it goes! Happy fixing!

Norma sig

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Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.