Why Does a Faucet Suddenly Become Stiff?

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Over time, the handles on your sink, bathtub, or shower faucet may become stiff, making them hard or 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, which 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.


2 Main Reasons Why a Faucet Suddenly Becomes Stiff

  • The handles of compression-type faucets may become stiff due to hardening of the O-rings caused by age and regular exposure to air and the heat from hot water.
  • Insufficient plumber's grease remains on the O-rings.

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. Ceramic cartridge faucets 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.


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Worn-Out Faucet Seals

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.


Replace the 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. Turn off the water to the faucet before you 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 improvement and plumbing supply stores.

Use Plumber’s Grease

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. You can buy plumber's grease in large containers if you plan to work on several faucets in the near future or in small packets if you need the lubricant for just one faucet.



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