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The Faucet Aerator. How to clean or replace it.

Ever notice how the water pressure in your house seems perfectly fine except for one faucet? Have you ever had a faucet work perfectly one day and then slow down to a trickle the next? These are common plumbing problems that are easy to solve.

Low water pressure in a single faucet is most often due to a clogged aerator. Over time, sediment builds up in your pipes. The aerator filters out the debris by design. However, as the sediment collects, the aerator becomes clogged and water has a more difficult time making its way through the blockage.  

A typical faucet aerator is made up of a flow restrictor, a screen, and mounting rings. Most often, it's not the screen that becomes clogged, but rather the flow restrictor. The flow restrictor is a small plastic disc with tiny holes that fits inside the aerator. Its purpose is to restrict the flow of water, thus ensuring a steady, controlled flow and conserving water. The use of flow restrictors in faucets saves millions of gallons of water in the U.S. each year water that otherwise would be wasted as it flows unrestricted down the drain. Flow restrictors also regulate the stream of the water as you'll see in the photos below.

The photos below illustrate a typical bathroom faucet with limited water flow and the steps needed to clean or replace the faucet aerator.

Very important update to this page, I was looking on line at another plumbers post Mr. Sylvan Tieger, Master Plumber in New York city, on clogged aerators.

 He pointed out, a clogged aerator is a sign of other problems with your plumbing system, that could cause serious problems and may create a very dangerous situation. among other things, The same debris that clogs the aerator may clog the water heater relief valve, preventing it from doing it's job, this could cause your water heater to blow up.

The debris in the aerator is a symptom of a bigger problem and you should have a real Master plumber come out and inspect your plumbing system to be sure you don't have a serious problem.

Let's turn on the bathroom faucet and view its water flow.

Click on any image to see a full page image With text

The water is flowing. However, the water pressure appears to be quite low based on the poor water flow. This is a classic indication of a clogged aerator.

 

The aerator is located at the tip of the faucet. It is screwed into place which means removal is a simple matter of unscrewing it. While many aerators can easily be unscrewed by hand, others are more stubborn and may require a little extra help. If your aerator won't budge by hand, gently use a wrench to grasp and loosen it.

While aerator designs can vary slightly, this photo shows the internal parts of a typical faucet aerator. This aerator assembly consists of the ring-like housing, a screen, the flow restrictor, and a washer.

 

While we have the aerator disassembled, let's look at each of its parts in greater detail. Here's the water flow restrictor. Notice the small holes? Flow restrictors, like aerators, come in different designs. In general, they're disc-like with small holes.

 

Here's a photo of the flow restrictor when viewed from the side. Because the flow restrictor tends to collect the most sediment, this is the piece that needs to be cleaned thoroughly to improve the faucet's flow. In some cases, all you'll need to do is rinse the debris off flow restrictor. You may need to use a soft brush to remove the sediment. For difficult-to-remove buildup, soak the flow restrictor in a cup of white vinegar which will dissolve the minerals.

Cleaning or replacing a faucet aerator is one of the easiest do-it-yourself plumbing tasks. If you find that you must clean your home's aerators frequently, you may have larger problems on your hands than the occasional clog. If so, installing a whole house sediment filter may be necessary.   

This photo shows the aerator screen. While you may notice some sediment in the screen, the screen itself isn't likely the problem and shouldn't need to be cleaned. Remember, it's the flow restrictor that's usually the main problem. A quick rinse in water should be sufficient for removing any debris in the screen.

Since we have the aerator off the faucet, now's a good time to look at how water flows without the flow restrictor. In this photo, the aerator has been installed without the flow restrictor. Notice how the water splashes out?

 

This photo shows how water flows without any aerator in place at all. Like the previous image, the water splashes all over the sink. Even worse, it splashes out of the sink and onto the floor. These two photos illustrate just how important that tiny plastic disc is in controlling the flow of water. Not only does it help conserve water, it also controls the water's flow.

During this aerator cleaning process, we made a common, yet preventable mistake. We failed to cover the drain hole in the sink. According to Murphy's Law, if anything can go wrong, it will. In this case, the flow restrictor fell and slid straight down the drain! Notice the shiny package containing a brand new aerator? Because of this avoidable mistake, we had to go down to the hardware store and buy a new aerator. Though the replacement cost less than $5 with tax, it did require a special trip and who wants to spend money fixing a dumb mistake? Avoid this problem when you clean your aerators by covering the drain hole with a washcloth.

If your faucet's existing aerator is beyond repair, or if you lost a part as we did, buying a replacement aerator won't break the bank. Faucet aerators tend to be universal, making it easy to find a replacement that will work with your sink. That said, tuck your old aerator in your pocket and take it to the hardware store with you to make sure that you select a comparable replacement.

Whether you're reinstalling your now-clean aerator or a brand new one, the installation is as simple as screwing the assembled aerator onto the end of the faucet. Simply slide it into position and screw it in. This photo shows the completed installation with water flowing freely and under the control of a clean, unclogged flow restrictor.

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