Why Does a Faucet Suddenly Become Stiff?

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Stiffness in a faucet involves the rubber seals wearing out.
Image Credit: Kristen Prahl/iStock/GettyImages

Over time, the handles on your sink, bathtub or shower faucet may become stiff, making them hard or even next to impossible to turn. If you have a stiff faucet handle that you can't turn, using the faucet becomes unnecessarily difficult. If the faucet is old, you may need to replace the faucet. However, if the faucet is still in relatively good shape, you can often replace certain internal faucet parts. This will restore the faucet to its normal operating condition. Oftentimes, the problem relates to worn faucet seals. If this is the case, you just need to replace the faucet seals.


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Stiff faucet handles occur when the internal parts of the faucet become worn. Replace internal parts, such as O-ring seals, and you'll have a faucet that works like brand new.

Ceramic Cartridges vs. O-rings

Faucets that use ceramic cartridges do not become stiff versus a compression faucet that eventually does. Compression faucets use O-rings to create a watertight seal inside the faucet. As you twist the faucet's handles, the turning of the valve stem increases or decreases the flow of water through the faucet. Faucets with ceramic cartridges use rubber seats that sit at the openings between the faucet's ceramic cartridge and the body of the faucet, keeping the water from leaking through the connection and out the spout.

Seals Wear With Time

The rubber O-rings inside your faucet wear out from age, exposure to air and exposure to heat from the hot water flowing through the faucet. As the faucet's seals wear out, the faucet does not turn as easily, since the hardened O-rings create an increased amount of friction inside the faucet. If left inside the faucet, the aging O-rings will make turning the faucet's handles increasingly difficult and can also lead to leaks inside the faucet.


Replacing Faucet Seals

Once the seals in your faucet have worn out to the point you can no longer turn the handles easily, you must replace them with new seals. You must turn off the water to the faucet before you can take apart the handles to access the seals, which you can do using either the water valve handles found under the sink or in an access panel on the wall behind the shower or tub faucet. You may also use the house's main shutoff valve. Once you remove the faucet handles' retaining screws and pull off the handles, you must remove the valve stem or cartridge.


Installing a new stem or cartridge requires you take the old one to the store so you can find a perfect match. After getting the correct parts, you can reassemble the faucet's parts. You can find faucet seal parts at Home Depot, Walmart and Amazon.

Plumber’s Grease for O-Rings

Using plumber's grease on the new O-rings when you replace the old ones will help the rubber last longer and lengthen the amount of time that passes before you must service the faucet again. Home improvement and plumbing supply stores sell plumber's grease in either large containers if you plan to work on several faucets in the near future or in small packets if you need plumber's grease for just one faucet.