How to Adjust Faucet Handles

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If you faucet isn't working, it might be due to the faucet handle.
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When something isn't right with a faucet handle, it usually isn't the handle's fault. If the handles are misaligned, it might be because they weren't installed properly. If a handle turns too far, not far enough or in the wrong direction, the faucet valve is usually the culprit. One of the only times the handle really is responsible is when it spins without turning on the water, which usually means that it's stripped and needs to be replaced.

Faucet Handles Not Aligned

When the water is off, the lever handles of cartridge-style faucets should be parallel or perpendicular to the countertop and basically mirror images of each other. If one is askew, the easiest fix is to unscrew the retaining screw, lift the offending handle, set it back so it's parallel and replace the screw. You can only do this in fixed increments, though, so if you need to fine-tune, you can try a trick that works on some faucets, but not all of them:

  1. Turn off the water shutoff valve under the sink.
  2. Unscrew the handle screw and remove the handle.
  3. Loosen the valve retaining nut but don't remove it.
  4. Replace the handle without the screw and try pushing it in the direction you need it to go. There should be enough play between the faucet cartridge and the valve housing to allow for a small adjustment. If it won't move, don't force it.
  5. Pull out the cartridge if you aren't successful, put on the handle and replace the cartridge with the handle in the correct position.
  6. Tighten the valve nut and replace the handle and screw. Don't forget to turn the water back on.

Turns in the Wrong Direction

Cartridge faucet handles turn only through 90 degrees, and the ones on a widespread faucet with handles that install separately from the spout are not interchangeable. If you put the hot handle where the cold should be, neither will turn in the right direction. If your faucet handle turns in the wrong direction, the obvious solution is to change the handles.

You can't make this mistake when the levers are connected to the faucet base, but you can make another one. In this case, when a faucet handle turns in the wrong direction, it isn't the handle that's to blame but the faucet cartridge. The cartridges are directional, so when you purchase a replacement, you should always check whether it's for the hot side or the cold side. If your handle turns in the opposite way it's supposed to, it's the wrong cartridge.

Problems With the Temperature Limiter

When a Moen faucet handle goes beyond the normal stopping point, and the faucet is in the shower, it's usually the temperature limiter that's responsible. It may be worn out or broken. The limiter is called the rotational stop limiter (RSL), according to Terry's Plumbing, and other brands of faucets also have them to prevent the water from getting too hot and scalding someone.

You don't have to turn off the water to adjust the RSL or replace it if it's broken. Just remove the handle and pull off the metal sleeve behind it, if there is one, to reveal a small, plastic, ribbed wheel on the valve stem. Adjust it by turning it in the opposite direction of the handle rotation. If it's difficult to make this adjustment or the RSL is cracked or stripped, replace it.


Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at

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