small improvements: swapping the tap handles.

January 26, 2021
small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

The kitchen in our apartment is sunny and bright. There’s a window to throw open, a vintage stove to cherish, a dishwasher to be eternally grateful for along with the very good fortune of having food on our table and a roof over head. Gratitude notwithstanding, there’s also a list of thirty or so things that might be classified as “needing attention” especially if you’re the kind of person who pays attention to these things, which, you know, I am.

small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

Until very recently, one of the items on that list was the acrylic sink knobs and a simple swap has made all the difference. The new metal handles are not fancy but they do disappear into the background of the stainless steel sink and the kitchen more generally. More importantly, they feel a whole lot better. Excuse my persnicketiness, but the hand-feel of an acrylic knob, in all its oily slickness and many creviced surface leaves so much to be desired. A metal handle does not display condensation or black sludge from beneath its clear acrylic cap. An improvement!

small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

Beyond that, swapping out the plastic sink knobs for metal handles means that our kitchen sink faucet can be turned on or off with a knuckle or a wrist or some other part of my hand that has not recently plucked a slippery egg yolk off the floor. Gone are the days of trying to turn a plastic knob with the palms of two hands, while my fingers drip with toddler slime.

small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

These handles might not be the touch-free tap handle of every germaphobe’s dreams and they’re certainly not the stuff of state of the art kitchen design, but they are a very simple hardware store fix that just generally makes kitchening more pleasant, whether you’re in a rental kitchen or otherwise

So, in no particular order, a few notes and tips for tackling this particular small improvement:

small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

What to look for:

If you’re planning to swap the handles of a generic kitchen faucet, search for “universal fit” sink faucet handles. These are not fancy handles and you’ll find that there are MANY acrylic options in this category. (Lest anyone reading think that acrylic knobs are a vestige of kitchen decor of times past, let me assure you there is no shortage in the current market.) I chose the simplest metal lever handles I could find that didn’t look like they belonged in a hospital.

What to expect:

+ Cost: Each metal faucet handle is sold separately and a pair costs a bit more than double the cost of the equivalent acrylic set. That said, for me the ~$30 investment into the thing I touch more than anything else in the kitchen makes the price feel more than worth it.

+ Tools: You do not have to be a professional plumber to tackle this project. You’re not switching out plumbing parts or replacing the whole faucet. You don’t even need to shut off the water. What you do need is the new handles and the accompanying hardware in addition to a flat-head screw driver (or similar thin, flat tool) for prying the top of your existing faucet and a phillip’s head driver to unscrew the handle from the stem. Your replacement handle should come with a set screw and wrench and any specific directions you might need to follow.

+ Time: This is largely considered a cosmetic fix and you should be able to finish it in under 15 minutes.

small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

Step 1: Pop the acrylic cap off the plastic knob with a flat head screwdriver and remove the screw.

Step 2: Admire the bare faucet handle stem and clean away any sludge (there will be sludge).

small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

Step 3: Place the provided adapter over the stem and tighten the set screw onto the stem with an allen wrench.

Step 4: Place the new handle over top of the adapter and screw into the same place where you unscrewed the first handle. (Cap the top with the provided cover; shown two photos up.)

small improvements | swap your sink handles | reading my tea leaves

That’s all folks! What do you think? Have you replaced faucet handles before? Ready to give it a try? I’m here for questions and general cheerleading!

Other things:

+ Our dish brushes are all from local shop, Salter House.

+ They’re hanging from an iron hook from Fog Linen.

+ Lately I’ve been keeping my soap on this ceramic tray from Bloomist.

This post includes several affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links.

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  • Reply Kim M January 26, 2021 at 3:20 pm

    Bravo for incrementalism 😉

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 26, 2021 at 3:32 pm

      INCH BY INCH!!!

  • Reply April January 26, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    What a great improvement! I love the idea of improving one small thing and having a huge impact on your space’s functionality and aesthetics. A good reminder that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to making improvements.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 27, 2021 at 8:03 am

      Totally agreed! Don’t wait for the full renovation that might never come—just fix the most irksome things now!

  • Reply Lucille January 26, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    I like your can do attitude. I have one other tip for any sink related work. Put the plug in. This may not be a problem with US outlets (I couldn’t see yours) but it is all too easy to lose a screw down the plug hole.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 27, 2021 at 8:04 am

      Good advice!

  • Reply M January 26, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    What is that doodad attached to your faucet?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 26, 2021 at 7:12 pm

      It’s another hardware store classic—an aerator! Most modern faucets have these included, but this is an after-market swivel variety! Fancy! (Not really!) They reduce the flow of water, prevent splashing, and the swivel means you can redirect the water flow. This was here when we moved in, but now of course I’m curious to know what kind of subtle upgrades might be possible!

  • Reply riye January 26, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    That looks much better–the plastic ones looked like they should be in a bathroom. 🙂 I changed the faucet in my kitchen sink and it does make a big difference. As you said–the new fixture blends in to the rest of the kitchen. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Jessica January 26, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    We recently made some upgrades to our kitchen and my most fav upgrade so far is a new faucet that you tap to turn on. A revelation! No more gunking up the crevices of the knob, just a tap with my wrist or the back of my hand and it’s on and off! The little things… =)

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 26, 2021 at 8:31 pm

      A turbo-charged improvement!

  • Reply Coreen January 27, 2021 at 7:43 am

    Love this! In my first post-college apartment I took a half-day to remove the hardware from my refrigerator doors to switch the direction they opened and it made such a big difference in our little kitchen. And I felt so accomplished! The seemingly little changes can be so important and satisfying. Going to have to file away this knowledge that faucet handles can be swapped fairly easily!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 27, 2021 at 7:59 am

      Yes! This is such a good example of the power small improvements! Truly, more often than not, these things are actually *designed* for better functionality than we even realize!

  • Reply Meg January 27, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Would you mind sharing a link to the tray you are keeping soap on at the moment? Thank you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 27, 2021 at 12:14 pm

      Hi there! My tray was a gift from Bloomist last year, made by ceramacist Tracie Hervy!

  • Reply Thora January 27, 2021 at 12:44 pm

    The no-acrylic looks (and functions) so much better! When we bought our house over a year and a half ago in the first week a loose shower handle, that was ceramic and chrome, fell off and the the ceramic broke. We thought it was going to be a big fix that would require replacing everything in the shower hardware, and so just used the other bathroom’s shower (luckily many of our kids still take baths!). Finally after a year (!) of not using that shower we did some research and realized in five minutes online that it is actually part of a universal system and we could buy an individual knob at the hardware store for $19. I like the vintage look of the ceramic and chrome anyway and so we bought it, and ten minutes later had a functioning shower again. It was a good reminder to me that often the changes that I might dread or put off or think that they would be too much bother or money really are not necessarily so.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 27, 2021 at 1:07 pm

      yes! totally agreed!

  • Reply Rae January 27, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    I am so enjoying this Simple Improvements series! Hurrah and thank you.

  • Reply Ramona January 28, 2021 at 2:29 pm

    Not saying you’re anywhere near this age….but I’ve read that that type of faucet handle (and door handles) is best for seniors. So a very good investment all-around.

  • Reply Emmanuelle Rivière January 30, 2021 at 12:14 am

    Fantastic! I’ve been depressed by my decaying, cap-less acrylic faucets (in the bathroom) for ages, as I didn’t know you don’t need to shut off the water to change them (my apartment is a half-apartment, so the main water pipe is connected to my neighbor’s in mysterious ways that even the landlord is not sure about).

    Wow… I am certainly going to investigate this! Thank you so much for sharing the how-to process, with pictures. :o)

  • Reply Susan January 31, 2021 at 5:28 pm

    You inspired me to look around my new rental and find something small that might make a difference. I decided to upgrade all of the switch plates and I can’t believe what a difference it made! Thank you so much for the inspiration!!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 1, 2021 at 8:57 am

      ah! i’m so glad!

      • Reply Judith Gourdie February 5, 2021 at 4:00 pm

        Just curious if you’d share links for your soap containers? I’m struggling finding plain ones that aren’t garbage quality. Thank you.


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