Prep Like a Pro to Replace a Bathroom Faucet

Want to replace a bathroom faucet? It seems pretty straightforward. At least the videos and most how-to articles make it seem simple. But rarely is it trouble-free.

For example, the space you have to work in is a lot smaller than you see in videos. They’re usually shot on a workbench. Naturally that space is good for the camera. And lighting is great on a video. Not so in reality.

The so-called “old” bathroom faucet used in the demo is often mounted on wood or some material on top of the table. That faucet might look a bit tarnished to project an aged look, but it isn’t really old. 

Replace bathroom faucet

To Replace a Bathroom Faucet in the Real World? It’s Not Like the Videos

The biggest differences in reality? The space is small. It’s nearly always up against a wall in a dark tiny corner … and usually have to insert your upper body inside a toddler-sized cabinet.

Moreover, removing the existing faucet (and handles if they are separate) is the toughest part.

Removing the Old Bathroom Faucet is Toughest Part

First, an old bathroom faucet has had soap and water splashed on it for fifteen or twenty years so it isn’t simply tarnished. An old faucet often is practically welded onto the sink with mineral deposits. (Find out how to virtually eliminate mineral deposits and lengthen the life of faucets and other water appliances with water treatment systems.)

Bathroom faucet in Fallbrook looks welded on with mineral deposits

This bathroom faucet looks welded on with mineral deposits. It’s the original faucet installed in the house over 20 years ago in Fallbrook. If the homeowner had installed a water softener, mineral deposits would not build up. It takes time to remove that faucet without damaging the surroundings. The sink is also in a tight area in the corner of the bathroom. Then there’s the cabinet below. Yes, somehow you need to inch your upper body inside that cubby-hole of a cabinet while lying on your back. And then the fun begins! Those screws and nuts holding down the faucet and handles are bound to be rusted in place.

The space you have to work in — it’s nothing like a spacious workbench with great lighting. And you don’t get much stand-up time either. You’re usually laying on your back looking up inside a dark cubby hole beneath the sink.  Your shoulders are scrunched up, your neck torqued to one side, trying to remove aged and usually rusted nuts and bolts.

I’m not complaining. Just trying to explain the challenges of the real-world environment when changing out an old bathroom faucet with a new faucet. 

Know What You’ll Be Needing to Get Into Before Committing to Replace the Bathroom Faucet on Your Own

Small bathroom cabinet need to crawl inside

Can you squeeze your upper body inside this typical bathroom sink cabinet roughly 2 ft by 1.5 ft? Then inch your head all the way into the back wall and torque it to the side to look up at the mounting screws?


Most “how-to” Articles Gloss Over Real-World Bathroom Faucet Replacement Issues

Having replaced a several hundred bathroom faucets over the past 30 plus years, I’ve learned a few things. I’m going to share the ones I believe most other blogs and videos gloss over or completely leave out.

Avoid Key Costly Errors When You Replace a Bathroom Faucet

When I say “costly” I’m not just describing immediate financial costs. Costs include wasted time when you don’t adequately prepare and costs in terms of frustrations that leads to stress. Actually, time, as the saying goes is money too. And stress can cut years from your life. I rank that as a high cost.

So since saving you money and reducing your stress are my key goals (read more here under “Affordable Plumber” heading) those are the primary areas I’ll cover here.

My primary objective is to point out the stumbling blocks most DIYers run into that cause frustrations and problems and how to you can avoid them. I know because many DIYers call me when they run into those blocks and need help. And that’s what I’m here for, to help you! So please keep my number handy if you get hung up at some point.

When I come to help, you get a bonus hands-on lesson in how to replace a faucet like a plumber. Then if you want to replace another faucet, another bathroom’s faucet faucet for example, you’ll be able to do it like a pro. (Or to know you don’t want to tackle it yourself.)

Here is a look at the common components of bathroom faucets & hardware.

Install a Bathroom Faucet look at hardware components

Critical Steps Before Removing Your Old Bathroom Faucet

  • Know where your main water shut off valve is located and how to shut it off in an emergency. Make sure everyone in your home knows too. (read more on how to find and turn off your home’s main water valve). If your faucet’s stop valves were to break off or not function, you will need to quickly shut off the water at this main water shut off valve.
  • Inspect your faucet’s dedicated stop valves (also known as shut-off valves). They’re usually either straight or angled knobs made of metal that protrude a few inches inside the cabinet. 
  • These stop valves are critical because they’re used to shut off the water to only that faucet (or other water fixture) without needing to turn off the main water to the entire building. So if the stop valves are old, you’ll need to replace them before removing the old faucet. If they need to be replaced, add them to your shopping list.

Stop Valves are Vital – Inspect Them Before Replacing your Bathroom Faucet

stop valves for bathroom faucet inside bathroom cabinet

Stop valves are critical. These are inside the bathroom cabinet below the faucet. If they’re old, replace them BEFORE trying to turn them off. These stop valves are more than 20 years old.

Replacing faucet on pedestal bathroom sink

Replacing a faucet on a pedestal bathroom sink is a bit easier. You have more space and can more easily get to the stop valves. However, you still need to access the nuts and bolts holding the faucet and handles in place. Getting your head and hands in place is still tricky, especially if they’re old and rusted on.


How to Choose a Replacement Stop Valve

If you’re concerned about your old stop valves, replace them BEORE removing your old faucet.

  • When you go to the hardware store, be sure to purchase only REAL braided stainless steel supply lines – NOT the poly material that’s been woven to look like stainless steel.  
  • I recommend choosing an old-style multi-turn type of stop valve. The quarter turn stop valves were the latest and greatest some years back, but over time we learned that after about five years, they often break. After that time when you try to turn them off, the shaft breaks off and water pours out. 

So again, turn off the main water supply if it looks like you’ve got one of those old quarter-turn stop valves. And keep it off before replacing it with a new stop valve.


Choosing Your Replacement Faucet

Here are the three basic styles of bathroom faucets:

3 basic types of bathroom faucets
  • Take photos of your current bathroom faucet and measurements of where the holes in the sink are located. Use those photos and measurement to guide you when go to buy a replacement faucet. You’ll be more likely to choose one that fits the first time. Select the faucet that has openings that align with those already in your sink or counter top. It should have the same number of spaces that fits your space and your needs. If your old sink or countertop has an extra space your new faucet doesn’t need, however, you can usually purchase a hole cover of the same material as the faucet.
  • Buy the highest-quality faucet within your budget. Higher quality will last longer and be less likely to leak. Most high-quality faucets come with a lifetime warranty (for the original buyer). And look for the “Water-Sense” label, showing it’s certified by the EPA to help save water.

Assemble the Tools Needed to Replace the Old Faucet With the New Faucet

  • You may want to delay shopping until you have all the necessary tools to replace your kitchen faucet. I’ve listed them here.
  • protective eye wear
  • a basic wrench
  • a Basin wrench (I prefer Ridgid brand)
  • channel locks
  • adjustable end wrench
  • screwdrivers
  • a small cut-off saw
  • set of Allen wrenches
  • needle-nose pliers
  • long-handled Phillips head screw driver
  • plumbers putty
  • pipe dope
  • WD-40
  • bowls
  • towels
  • flashlight
  • masking tape

If Stop Valves are Old and Need Replacement, Here’s How to Do It

After your shopping trip to the hardware store, find your new stop valves – if you decided you need to replace them. (Of course, if your old ones work great, keep them and skip this step.)

Before attempting to remove the old stop valves, turn off the main shut-off valve to your house . When it comes to water, you don’t want to take any chances.

Most of the calls I get to help a distressed homeowner are because of these old angle stops. Most folks just get stuck and can’t get the old angle stops removed. And believe me, they can be a real challenge to remove.

A trick to removing old stop valves

Here’s a tip I learned years ago by accident. Most stop valves are attached with a compression fitting which consists of a nut and a feral. The feral resembles a wedding band that slides over the pipe between the nut and the stop valve. The nut on a compression fitting is not really a heavy duty part of the stop valve.

When you take a wrench and put pressure on it, the harder you push, the more it squeezes that nut against the valve. It makes it seem like it’s so tight that it will never come off.

But here’s the trick. Don’t use the crescent wrench. Instead, use a pair of channel locks and put the teeth of the channel locks on the points of the nut. That way you can turn the nut without squeezing it. Most of the time you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to remove that way.

If that doesn’t work, a little bit of heat from a torch should do the trick. Sometimes, though, it will need to be cut off. If so, after cutting it off solder a small piece of copper onto it to extend it out. Be sure to always use pipe dope on the threads. Even though compression fittings don’t require it, the dope makes the nut slide and turn more easily if it’s lubricated. It will also help you to seal the new stuff onto the old feral ring.

Ready to Remove the Old Bathroom Faucet

Protect your eyes with eye goggles

ALWAYS wear eye protection before starting to remove the old faucet. Your eyes will be directly below your work in a direct path. Rust from old nuts and screws will fall directly onto your face and eyes.

The challenge now is to remove the old faucet without damaging the sink and its surroundings. Sometimes even plumbers need to get creative. And this is a challenge most how-to articles and videos gloss over.

Old faucets are usually difficult to remove. Nuts and bolts are often rusted on, and the faucet fixture itself may be virtually welded on with years of mineral deposits.

If your bathroom countertop is natural stone, be cautious with WD40 or any other oil based lubricant. eep in mind that as you try to loosen up rusty and gummed up nuts and screws, be cautious with WD40 These products will permanently stain these natural surfaces. 

Do not use oil-based lubricants to loosen nuts and bolts or mineral deposits if your bathroom counter top or other surroundings is natural stone or concrete. Oil-based lubricants will permanently stain natural surfaces and be difficult to remove from concrete countertops.

Instead, use plain water. Water works as a lubricant.

Remove nuts, bolts and hoses from the old faucet

  • After removing the nuts, pry off the retaining bracket that holds the faucet in place.
  • 1Remove all the old faucet’s parts from the base.
  • Turn the water supply line nuts counter clockwise until they come out. Wrap them in a towel and rest them inside a bowl to collect any remaining water.
  • After removing the old components and faucet, clean off any residue on the surface with soapy water and a blade.
  • And anything with threads should be greased up a bit so everything spins freely and easily. It also makes it less prone to freezing up for the next repair job.  

Now You’re Ready to Follow the New Faucet Manufacturer’s Instructions

Here are a few very basic instructions to installing your new faucet. Think of them as added tips to the manufacturer’s instructions – not instead of the manufacturers’s instructions.

  • A tip that’s rarely included in instructions for installing your new faucet: When installing any faucets or accessories by yourself, it’s helpful to have some tape to hold things down from the top while you work below. 

Install the Gasket – the rubber or plastic piece

It sits between the bottom of the faucet and the sink to help seal the faucet in place and prevent leaks. Some of them snap in. So just make sure it snaps in securely.

In case your new faucet didn’t come with a gasket, just use plumbers putty. Spread a thin layer of it on the area before placing the faucet on the sink.

Wrap Threads with Plumbers Tape

Anything with threads — wrap them. Plumbers tape is like a lubricant to create a better seal. When you wrap the end of the faucet that connects to the water supply hose, make sure the tape doesn’t go past the end of the faucet.

Attach Each Water Supply Hose to the End of the Faucet

First, tighten each nut BY HAND. Then use a basin wrench to turn each nut clockwise a quarter turn. Next, reattach the hoses to the water supply by hand at first before tightening the nuts with an adjustable wrench.

But BEFORE you commit to a DIY project like this one, please ask yourself a few questions:

Why do you want to do it yourself? Is it to save money?

Most of us want to save money. So that may be the first reason that comes to mind. If so, you might want to think it through a bit more. First, how much, if any, will you really save? For example:

  • Do you have the right tools and supplies on hand or will you need to buy them?
  • Do you have “a bad back” or other ailments that might require chiropractic or physical therapy from laying on your back and maneuvering in awkward positions? Or even cause you to miss your real work?

Call me to get a free phone quote.

I guarantee you the best price. Yes, we really are the most affordable high-quality plumber in the area. And I guarantee my workmanship for ten years. Read here for other reasons to choose us.

Do you have the temperament to take on a DIY project that’s likely to be frustrating?

If this if your first DIY home project, it’s likely to be quite a challenge. Is your spouse, partner, children or other family members available to help hand you tools while you’re on your back? Are you easily frustrated? Do you take frustrations out on others? If loved ones nearby cover their ears or leave the room whenever you attempt a DIY project, that’s a clue.

Do you have the time to do it yourself?

Time is the one resource we can never recoup. Whatever time it takes you to complete this project is time away from other activities or memories you can be making.

Is whatever money you might save by doing it yourself worth time away from family, friends, fun? For myself, time with family is dear to me and one of my core values. That’s why I’ve chosen to not have a 24 hour service business.

Do you want to do it yourself because you enjoy tackling a challenge?

Hey, I get it! As a kid helping in my dad’s plumbing business, I enjoyed solving problems and helping people. Tackling a challenge and helping people at the same time made me feel like a hero!

So if you enjoy the challenge, are not easily frustrated, have a good back and the time to do it without sacrificing other more important activities — go for it!

I hope the tips I’ve included above help you avoid the common stumbling blocks I’ve mentioned.

But if you do get stuck, remember, you can always call me! Well, not always. You can always call me during normal business hours.

If you plan to do it yourself, do it during normal business hours.

That way, you’ll have a plumber there to help without an added after-hours fee.

I hope you’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the best plumber for you to call. If you need more reasons, read this section.

When you call me, you’ll have the added benefit of watching and learning as I go through the process of replacing your old kitchen faucet with your new faucet.

If You Are Replacing a Bathroom Faucet in Fallbrook, Temecula, Oceanside or Vista and need help … We’re here for you!

Call us for any plumbing service. Here’s where you’ll find a list of our most common plumbing services.

Why choose us? Read more about the benefits to you here.

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