Sputtering faucets are often attributed to air in the pipes and ignored. If your faucet sputters only now and then, this is probably true and is harmless. Aerators and other devices are used to reduce water usage and these sometimes get clogged and cause sputters as well, but persistent, continuous sputtering may indicate more serious issues in your plumbing or your water heater.
The aerator on the tip of your faucet filters the tap water and as a result, bits of debris such as dirt and sediment can collect behind it and clog the aerator over time. This results in sputtering when you turn the faucet on. The amount of debris coming through your pipes may increase occasionally due to water main breaks or material dislodging from plumbing joints. Cleaning out the aerator monthly can prevent sputtering in most cases. Most aerators can be removed by turning them counterclockwise. Once removed, clear away debris with soapy water, rinse the aerator and replace it on your faucet.
When cleaning the aerator doesn't fix the sputtering, then you may have a problem with your faucet's valve cartridge. The process to removing the valve cartridge may be different, as designs vary between manufacturers. Refer to your owner's manual to determine how to remove your valve cartridge from the faucet assembly and then replace it with a new one. Because valve cartridges can appear similar, take your old one with you to the hardware or home improvement store to ensure you have the right replacement.
Air in the Lines
Sputtering accompanied by cloudy, but not colored water often indicates air in your water pipes. This is caused by air bubbles in the water and occurs in the winter because of extremely cold temperatures, or during periods of high demand, such as summer heat waves, where the water is moving at high volumes to accommodate demand. It may also be the result of silt stirred up by hydrant maintenance. If you fill a glass with water and the water clears first at the bottom of the glass, you have air in your water lines. This may cause temporary sputtering at the faucet. Flushing your cold water taps can help alleviate the problem. If the sputtering is in more than one faucet, you may have a break or damage to the plumbing coming into your home. Often this indicates a breakage in the main water supply lines. Contact your local water utility to have the meter and main lines inspected.
Sputtering from hot and cold water taps that occurs even when you've replaced valve cartridges and cleaned aerators may be a good reason to call a plumber. Typically a water heater operates safely and because of the safety devices that must be installed by the manufacturer, it rarely poses a risk to homeowners. However, a sputtering faucet can sometimes indicate that your hot water heater is overheating. This can result in the tank exploding if not immediately repaired.
Renee Miller began writing professionally in 2008, contributing to websites and the "Community Press" newspaper. She is co-founder of On Fiction Writing, a website for writers. Miller holds a diploma in social services from Clarke College in Belleville, Ontario.