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Stem and Washer style faucets

Stem and washer style faucets are being lumped altogether on this site due to the similarities in working on them. They are, however, by no means all the same when it comes to the styles, sizes, lengths and other dimensions. There have been countless companies that have produced these style faucets and very often it is impossible to tell which kind you have and what company made it.

These style faucets were the first type to be put in most homes and were about the only option until fairly recently.

There are a few pieces to the stem style faucets.


Replacing a stem could very well be impossible depending on who made it and when. Finding out this information may also only be known to those with years of experience. The good news is that it is pretty rare that you would ever need to replace a stem. If a stem needs to be replaced, don't be surprised if it's unavailable and that the entire faucet needs to be replaced.

In the picture above, the left stem is just the stem, nothing more. The center stem has the bonnet nut included, plus the jamb nut. The right stem has the bonnet nut, but is of a design that doesn't require a jamb nut.

The jamb nut's purpose is to prevent water from leaking around the stem. Many regular valves in potable water systems use the same principle. Behind the jamb nut, there is graphite packing. It's sort of like a rope coated with pencil graphite that is wrapped around the stem. The jamb nut has a taper to it that compresses the packing against the stem to prevent leaks.

What all 3 stems have in common is the rubber faucet washer at the bottom.


Faucet washers are the most common replacement part for stem style faucets. The good news is that washers are almost always universal. All you have to do is to find the right size. Instead of buying the kit shown here, you should be able to bring the stem into your local supplier to get the right size washers.

One difference to be aware of is that there are two different styles of washers. Flat and Beveled. Flat washers are probably the most common, but there are quite a few beveled washer faucets out there. There are times when you can interchange them, but generally it is not possible. Putting a beveled in place of a flat will restrict water flow considerably. Putting a flat in place of a beveled may not seal correctly or the stem may not extend far enough.

The faucet washers just get screwed to the stem. Sometimes the stem screw deteriorates which will need to be replaced. If it cannot be unscrewed, often you can cut the washer out, leaving enough room to grab the screw with pliers. There is a lot of room for serious problems when it comes to stem style faucets.

Another potential problem is where the washer pushes against, known as the seat. This can be an easy job or a complete disaster. There have been so many seats made throughout the years, each just slightly different than another. Many times, you can't even tell the difference between them with you eyes. There are many different thread sizes available.

In the picture above, you can see six different seats. Some with a square opening in the middle, which requires a special tool, others with a hex head which an allen key can be used. All 6 are completely different and not interchangeable. There are complete seat kits available(like the washer kit above, but chances are that they are not worth you time, money, or aggravation to purchase and deal with. The seats just unscrew out of the faucet and the new seat, if it can be attained, can be screwed into place.

A common problem is that the seat corrodes over time, typically the hot side, and leaves a pitted area on the seat. If this happens, replacing the washer will do no good, or if it does, it will quickly get damaged and not last very long.

Unfortunately, when dealing with a stem style faucet, many things can go wrong. Sometimes a bit of ingenuity can prolong the inevitable, but chances are that the faucet will need to be replaced at some point relatively soon.

Free Online Plumber does not warrant any of the information on this page, in regards to the accuracy or effectiveness of these procedures or this information. Always check and follow all applicable local plumbing codes.
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