Faucet aerators turn a gushing river of water into a manageable stream. They also accumulate whatever is in the water, from bits of scale to even lead. In some areas, the advice is to change the aerators in your sink faucets yearly. Do you really need to do this? In specific cases, yes, it's a good idea, but not everyone needs to change them. For many people, cleaning the aerators suffices.
If you live in an old building with lead pipes or in a city where some of the water mains may contain lead, then changing the aerators yearly is a good idea. You need to clean them as well, but that doesn't guarantee that you've removed all lead residue. The city of Philadelphia, for example, urges residents to change faucet aerators yearly due to lead pipes in the city.
Clean Them Before Changing Them
If you're not in a region or building where lead is a concern, then cleaning aerators is usually enough. Although, after a few years, the inserts may be old enough to warrant changing. To clean them, you just have to remove the housing and the aerator (the procedure varies by faucet type, and the manufacturer should have instructions), rinse them, soak them in a little white vinegar, and then brush out scale and other debris with a soft toothbrush that you have not actually used for brushing your teeth. Rinse everything afterward to ensure there's no vinegar residue, and then reinstall the aerator.
Remember to Wash the Housing
The housing – that part of the faucet that you see – needs to be cleaned, too. Scale can build up quickly, especially if you have hard water. Soak the housing in white vinegar for a bit and wipe off the scale; you can also use a commercial scale and lime remover, but you'll need to rinse the housing thoroughly before reinstalling it. You don't want that chemical remover left on the housing where water comes into contact with it.
The Rubber Washer Might Need Changing
One of the parts of an aerator assembly is a rubber washer. This can deteriorate rather quickly, so even if the aerator insert looks fine, you might have to replace the rubber washer more often. If you see the washer and it looks frayed, change it.
Look for Low-Flow if You Do Change Them
If you decide to change the aerator in your faucet, make sure you look for a low-flow aerator. Your city and state will have laws regarding the maximum flow allowed; however, you might want to look for lower-flow aerators if your state has high maximums.
If the aerator is stuck, or you're still not sure you want to do this yourself, call a plumber. This is a quick job, but it's easy to damage the faucet housing if you're not careful. If you're not feeling good about doing this yourself, a plumber will gladly handle it for you. Contact local plumbing services to learn more.