What is an Aerator?

Love is like a faucet, it turns off and on.

Billie Holiday

They Have Been Around Awhile

You mostly likely have aerators on all the faucets in your home depending on the age of your faucets.  They have been around since the 1940's and were originally introduced as an add-on device to eliminate splashing and improve the taste of tap water by infusing air into the stream.

Many homeowners will remove an aerator if they are experiencing a reduction in flow or pressure from a faucet. Although this may temporarily fix the problem it will in most cases double the amount of water you use.

What is an Aerator?

Simple put an aerator is a three-piece fitting (housing, insert & washer) that screws to the end of a faucet.  It introduces air into the water creating a non-splashing, even water stream that saves water and lowers your utility bill. Additionally, aerators are embedded into many low flow showerheads and bathtub spouts as well.


  • Reduces water consumption
  • Lowers energy use
  • Eliminates splashing
  • Increases perceived water pressure
  • Provides filtration of sediments

Reduces Water Consumption

By introducing air into the water stream an aerator takes the solid stream of water being fed to your faucet and breaks it apart into multiple smaller streams. It does this by forcing the solid stream of water through a mesh insert that incorporating air into the stream thus restricting the amount of water allowed through the faucet. 

Installing a 1.0-gallon per minute (gpm) aerator can save as much as 15 gallons a day. of water per day

Depending on the aerators it can reduce water flow rate from 2.2 to 1.0, or as little as 0.5 gallons of water per minute. By installing a 1.0-gallon per minute (gpm) aerator can save as much as 15 gallons a day. of water per day.

Lowers Energy Use

Besides reducing you water consumption aerators also lower the amount of electricity or gas you use. When you turn on the hot water you make a demand upon your hot water heater to produce hot water which consumes a lot of electricity/gas to do so. With a properly function aerator installed you use less water therefor less fuel thus lowering your utility bills.

Eliminates Splashing

To see how well an aerator improves a stream of water all you need to do is unscrew the aerator from the end of your faucet and turn the water on.  You will be met with a wiggly uneven flow that blasts from the faucet. So, not only does the aerator reduce the amount of water you consume it creates a uniform flow of water that is easier to use.

Increases Perceived Water Pressure

Ok so what do I mean by the ‘perceived’ water pressure? Well even though there isn’t more water being fed to your faucet, but it feels like there is. 


An aerator creates a zone of high pressure behind the aerator and forces the water through the mesh increasing the velocity of the water stream.

Think of it like when you put your thumb over the end of a garden house. When the water is allowed to run unrestricted the stream doesn’t fall far from the end of the hose.  However, when you place your thumb over the end of the hose you restrict the flow but increase the velocity and then you can shoot the stream several feet across your yard. 

Provides Filtration of Sediments

Depending on your water source it is likely there are small bits of sediment (dirt & sand) in your water. The aerator works as a tiny filter catching that sediment keeping you water free of those deposits. If an aerator is cleaned occasionally the sediment will build up and restrict water flow.

How to Clean an Aerator

Cleaning an aerator is simple and can be done by almost anyone.

  • Pro Tip: Before starting make sure to cover the drain with a stopper or washcloth to prevent any dropped pieces from going down the drain.
  • Unscrew the aerator from the end of your faucet. Looking downward onto the aerator you should be able to turn it clockwise (lefty loosey, righty tighty) with your hand until it comes free from the faucet. If you find that you can’t loosen the aerator by hand then you will need a pair of channel-lock pliers to do so. Take care to protect the aerator by wrapping the pliers with a little bit of painter’s tape and do not squeeze the pliers with too much force or you will damage the aerator.
  • Check the inside of the faucet for larger debris that may be blocking water flow. Since it’s impossible to get your head under the faucet to look up into it, a simple trick is to use the camera on your phone to take a picture of it. You can then use a small screwdriver to loosen and remove any stuck chunks of debris. Be sure to run the water to make sure you flush any remaining debris.
  • Next, disassemble the aerator and use a toothpick or large needle to remove any debris blocking the holes of the meshed assembly.
  • To remove sediment scale, and build up soak the disassembled aerator in vinegar for 24 hours. Then scrub the aerator parts with a small brush to remove any remaining build up.
  • Now reassemble the aerator and screw it back on to the end of the faucet. You should be able to tighten it by hand, again looking downward onto the aerator turn it counterclockwise (lefty loosey, righty tighty) with your hand until it fits snuggly in place. If the aerator was difficult to remove, you will want to scrub the threads on the end the faucet to clear of any debris.
  • Finally turn the water on to check for leaks and flow. If it does leak, simply use a pair of channel lock pliers to tighten it using the same precautions you used to loosen it.

Selecting the Correct Aerator

Although aerators are simple devices if you get the wrong one it won’t fit your faucet so here is what you need to know to select the right one.

Male Threads vs Female Threads

Your faucet has threads either on the outside or inside of it. 

If the threads on the faucet are on the outside then you need a female aerator.

If the threads on the faucet are on the inside then you need a male aerator.


Once you've figured out if you need a male or female aerator, you'll next want to determine the size of aerator you need.

The easiest way to figure out which sized aerator you need is to use coins, specifically a quarter, a nickel, and a dime. Place the coin over your existing aerator and if it matched the size of the coin that is the size aerator you need.  I have indicated below which coin matches which aerator.

  • Regular (Quarter): 15/16" male threaded or 55/64" female threaded
  • Junior (Nickel): 13/16" male threaded or 3/4" female threaded.
  • Tom Thumb®(Dime): Metric-size is M18x1 male threaded or M16x1 female threaded.


There are a plethora of aerators to choose from which you can check out here. Also, there a few different options of aerators available to choose from if you would like one other than the fixed single outlet type.

Diverter: This style of aerator has a small hose attachment on the side of the aerator that is designed to have a water filter to giving the faucet double duty.

Swivel: These types of aerators do exactly what you think they do, they swivel.  This allows you to direct the stream of water without needing to move the entire faucet spout.

One Final Thing

There are two other kinds of faucets to be aware of that are NOT aerator style so be careful when purchasing.

  • Spray aerators: These styles of faucets create a tiny shower configuration that produces a non-splashing stream, and they are typically found in public restrooms.
  • Laminar flow: Produce a solid clear, non-splashing, stream that is often used in high flow applications.

Go Take a Look

I will admit that in the middle of writing this article I decided to take a picture of the aerators in my house as examples. I discovered that my bathroom sinks aerator had been removed and I remembered that I was the culprit that removed it. I rarely turn the water on full in the bathroom sink and the fall from the faucet to the basin is short, so it was easy to miss.

 Please check the faucets in your house even though you may assume they all have aerators because someone may have removed them and forgot to reinstall them.  D'oh!