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How to Fix a Leaking Tap

Leaking taps are always a nuisance. Before you call a plumber, see if you can sort it out with this how to guide!


Reading Time: 5 minutes

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Drip. Drip. Drip. There is nothing more infuriating than the slow drip of a leaking tap. Whether last thing at night or first thing in the morning, the steady tapping of water against the basin is guaranteed to increase blood pressure and keep sleep at bay.

But help is at hand – just follow this simple guide, and your hard-earned rest will never again be interrupted by the constant drip of a leaking tap.

Probable Causes of a Leaky Tap

It is commonly believed that a leaky tap is caused by a loose or broken washer. While this is often the case, another serial offender is the seat on which the washer sits, known in the trade as the ‘valve seat’. Unlike the washer, the valve seat is often made of brass, and is therefore susceptible to water erosion. When the tap is off, the water pressure builds up behind the valve seat, carving tiny channels through which the water can escape. Under the washer, out the spout, and into the sink. Drip. Drip. Drip.

If this is the case, changing or tightening the washer will have absolutely no effect on the drip – it is like slamming a door as you leave, but forgetting to lock it.

How to fix a leaking tap

What you will need:

  • A flat-head screwdriver

  • Adjustable wrench/spanner x2

  • Replacement washers and/or valve seat

Firstly, it is crucial that the water supply is temporarily cut off – you want to fix the leaking tap, not flood the house! If the drip is upstairs, open a downstairs tap to allow the water to drain. Next, plug the basin – the nuts and bolts you are going to remove are small and fiddly, and it would be disastrous if one happened to slide down the plughole!

Start by removing the indicator covers – the covering of the tap (usually featuring a red or blue line to indicate hot or cold) should be fairly simple to prise off using a flat-head screwdriver.

Beneath the indicator cover, you should find a screw head – known as the ‘release screw’. Using the appropriate screwdriver, gently turn this screw until it is possible to remove the tap head. If the screw is particularly tight, apply a lubricant, wait around 10 minutes for the lubricant to take effect, and re-attempt.

Hold the spout of the tap steady, using pliers, a wrench or an adjustable spanner, then twist (using another spanner) the spindle until loose.

How to change a washer

Next, remove the spindle completely. At this point, you should have a good view of the washers – both the top washer, an O-ring, and the bottom washer (usually found on traditional taps), which resembles a crushed polo. It is worth replacing both washers – they are fairly cheap to buy, and should be easily available in most hardware stores. Work backwards through the above instructions to reassemble your tap.

Still Leaking?

If the washers are in good condition, or have been tightened to no effect, the valve seat is the likely culprit. If you have a valve seat grinder (a fairly specialist tool, but widely available) grind the valve seat until smooth to the touch, and reassemble. Alternatively, it is possible to replace the valve seat – just make sure you buy the correct size and shape. An incorrectly sized valve seat can – yep, you guessed it – cause the tap to leak!

And there you have it – how to fix a leaky tap in just a few easy steps!

Originally published