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Stem Faucets: Pros, Cons, Expert Insights

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Stem faucets have been a part of home design for centuries and are hugely popular. 

There are four types of internal faucet mechanisms: Stem/Cartridge, Ball, Disc, and Compression.

These are four different internal parts that control the flow of water from the faucet. Some of these work better than others!

I’ve just installed a stem faucet in our home, and did a lot of research before installing it. I’ll do a deep dive on what stem faucets are, the different types, and the pros and cons of stem faucets.

Let’s get into it!

what is a stem faucet

What are Stem Faucets?

A stem, also referred to as a compression faucet, is an internal component typically found in residential and commercial tapware. It controls both the flow and amount of water that comes out of your faucet.

You can’t actually tell if a faucet is a stem faucet from the outside because it’s an internal component. 

How do they work? 

Inside your faucet, the stem moves up and down. This then controls the amount of water being released. 

By rotating the handle in either direction, the water can be either compressed or released, and this controls the amount of water that is let out. 

Pros and Cons of Stem Faucets


  • Durability – Stem faucets are known for their durability, as they have fewer moving parts than other faucets. They are made of solid brass, plastic, or ceramic, and can withstand high water pressure.
  • Affordability – Stem faucets are generally less expensive than other types, making them an affordable option for homeowners on a budget.
  • Easy to Repair – Stem faucets are easy to repair, as they have simple mechanisms that can be easily fixed with essential plumbing tools.


  • Prone to Leaks – Stem faucets can leak, especially if the rubber washers become worn or damaged.
  • Not Water Efficient – Stem faucets are less water-efficient than other faucets, requiring a higher water pressure.
  • Difficult to Turn – Due to the difficulty of turning stem faucets, children and people with arthritis or hand-related conditions may find it extra challenging to use these types of faucets.

If you find your faucet getting stuck, you can try spraying WD-40 up your faucet!

Stem vs. Cartridge: What’s the Difference?

A stem will be used in double-handed faucets where you have a handle for hot water and a separate one for cold water. A cartridge is used in single handle faucets to control hot and cold water through just one handle. It can be repaired quite easily. However, a broken or leaking cartridge should be replaced, not repaired.

Although they may look the same, faucets can actually be quite different! 

Generally speaking, a stem is what you’ll typically find in dual-handle faucets. You’ll be able to control the water flow yourself with these. 

stem (left) next to cartridge (right)

Cartridges are thermostatic — which means that they can control the pressure and temperature single-handedly. 

This means that a cartridge faucet can provide more temperature accuracy than stem faucets, which need a temperature limiter to do the same job.

3 Types of Stem Faucets

1. Seat-and-washer stem faucets

A seat-and-washer stem faucet – the most cost-effective you can purchase – is generally identifiable by its two distinct handles for hot and cold water. 

These faucets are designed to work by using a compression stem

This is a type of screw with a washer attached to its end, which presses against the valve seat and helps to regulate water output. 

2. Diaphragm stem faucets

A diaphragm is another type of two-handle stem faucet that (instead of a washer) uses a diaphragm to regulate water output. 

These are generally constructed from either silicone or rubber, which have a tendency to degrade and morph over an extended period of time.

3. Cartridge stem faucets

Often paired with shower and kitchen mixers, a cartridge stem uses the movement of a cartridge to control flow and regulate water temperature all at once. 

Cartridge stems are considered exceptionally durable and simple to replace, making them a low-maintenance and budget-friendly choice.

cartridge faucet

How to Repair and Maintain Maintenance of Stem Faucets

All faucets should be maintained and repaired regularly. It’s especially important for a stem faucet to ensure that it’s functioning correctly and efficiently. 

By following these 4 handy tips, you’ll be able to keep your stem faucet in good condition, as well as repair it if the need arises.

1. Clean the faucet

Regularly clean your faucet with a soft cloth and mild soap. This will remove any dirt or debris that’s built up. Keeping it clean will maintain your faucet flow rates.

2. Replace the washers

If your faucet leaks, the rubber washers will likely have become worn or damaged. To fix the issue, replace the washers with new ones.

3. Tighten the packing nut

The nut is directly under the faucet’s handle. If the faucet leaks from the handle, tighten the packing nut with a wrench.

4. Replace the stem

If the faucet is still leaking after replacing the washers and tightening the packing nut, you may need to replace the entire stem.


Frequently Asked Questions on Stem Faucets 

Can stem faucets be repaired easily?

Yes, stem faucets are easy to repair. With the necessary tools and correct parts, you can save money by fixing it yourself.

How do you know when it’s time to replace a stem faucet?

If your stem faucet is not functioning properly and is leaking or difficult to turn, it may be a sign that it is time to replace it. Additionally, if the current faucet is outdated, it may be time to replace it with a newer model. 

What should I look for when choosing a stem faucet?

When selecting a stem faucet for your home, you should look for one crafted with either ceramic or brass. Also, consider its design and finish so that you can match it with the other hardware in your home.

How do I maintain a stem faucet to keep it working correctly?

To maintain your stem faucet, there are a few easy steps you need to do regularly: 1) Make sure to clean it and 2) Check and replace washers, and tighten the packing nut as required 

If there’s a leak or it’s stiff to turn, consider replacing the stem.

Are stem faucets more expensive than other types of faucets?

Stem faucets are generally considered to be a much more economical choice, especially when compared to other types! Just make sure you keep up your general care and maintenance on it.

The Bottom Line 

When selecting a faucet for your bathroom or kitchen, there are a variety of factors that you should take into account.

From aesthetics and trusted faucet brands to style — it’s a lot to think about!

If you’re looking for a design that’s classic, inexpensive, and as durable as it is straightforward, then I’d recommend a stem faucet. It’s a classic for a reason, after all!

Photo of author

Richmond Howard

Richmond Howard started My Plumbing DIY in 2022 to help people solve all their home plumbing issues. He and his wife have been problem solving DIY issues all around their fixer-upper house they bought in 2018. His goal is to build My Plumbing DIY into the one stop shop for home plumbing needs so that people can save money and time.

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