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How to repair a dripping tap

Man Fixing Tap

A dripping bathroom or kitchen tap might start out as a minor inconvenience but it’s surprising how quickly it can become a costly, property-damaging problem. However, a leaking tap is usually easy to fix, and doing so yourself will save you both time and money having to call out a plumber. This step-by-step guide will show you how.

Before you start... 

1. Gather all your tools together

You’ll need an adjustable spanner, flathead and cross-head screwdrivers, scissors and a replacement cartridge or assorted washers and O-rings.

2. Turn off the water

Before you start any plumbing work, turn off your water supply. Then run off any excess water through the pipes.

3. Put the plug in

Before you start disassembling your tap, put the plug in the plughole so you don’t accidentally lose any small parts down there.

4. Cover your taps

Protect the finish of your taps by covering with a soft cloth or masking tape where you can.

5. Take care when reassembling

Don’t over-tighten a washer or valve when reassembling, as this may damage or cause excess stress on the joint.

Types of taps

There are generally two types of tap valves: compression valve taps and ceramic disc valve taps.

Traditional compression valve taps

need a full turn or more to reach maximum power and use rubber washers. These washers sit at the base of the valve and form a seal to stop water flow. Drips occur when the washer starts to wear away.

Two Taps Running

Ceramic disc valve taps

Such as modern mixer taps - reach maximum power after half a turn or less and use ceramic discs instead of washers.

A Tap Running

Fixing a compression valve tap

1. Remove the cap

If your tap has a cap or cover then carefully remove it to access the screw inside. Unscrew to remove the handle itself, then unscrew the rest of the valve cover.

Cap Off Tap

2. Remove the valve

Use an adjustable spanner to loosen the valve, then remove it.

Remove Tap Valve

3. Remove the nut and screw

Remove the nut that holds the washer in place, then hold the valve steady with an adjustable spanner and use a screwdriver to remove the screw that holds the washer in place.

Remove Nut And Screw

4. Check the seating

The tap seat is what the washer sits on when the tap is closed. If it’s damaged there will be small canals eroded into the metal of the seat. You can fix this by using a seat grinder tool to grind the rest of the seat down to the level of these canals or by buying a seat insert kit that adds a new piece to form a new seal

Checking Tap Seating

5. Test the drip

Once you’ve fixed the tap seat, try putting your tap back together and testing the drip. If the drip has gone then the washer wasn’t the issue.

Testing Tap Drip

6. Check the washer

Check the washer for wear and tear and replace if needed.

Checking Tap Washer

7. Reassemble the tap

Once you’ve done this, screw the valve, valve cover and tap handle back into place, and re-fit the handle cap.

Reassembled Tap

Fixing a ceramic disc valve tap

1. Remove the tap head

There are many different styles of ceramic disc taps but all will have removable tops, or ‘headgear’. Check around the headgear for ways in – you may need an Allen key. In other taps the top of it unscrews or lifts off, or you can pop it off gently with a flathead screwdriver.

Removing Tap Head

2. Unscrew the inside screw and lift off the headgear (or unscrew the valve cover) 

Using either a crosshead screwdriver or an Allen key, unscrew the inside screw. Once that’s done, you can lift the entire headgear off, or use an adjustable spanner to the loose and remove the valve.  

Unscrewing Valve Cover

3. Unscrew the hexagonal nut at the neck of the valve

Use an adjustable spanner and if the nut is stiff, grab the body of the tap or spout with your other hand for leverage and to make sure it doesn’t turn – otherwise you could damage the pipework underneath.

Removing Nut On Valve

4. Remove the entire ceramic disc valve (or cartridge)

Check the ceramic disc valve for damage or grime, and clean or replace the valve. Then secure the valve and handle cap back into position.

Removing Ceramic Disc Valve

Stopping a leaking spout

If your mixer tap is dripping from its moveable spout, it’s likely to be the O-ring at the bottom of the spout – rather than the washer – that needs replacing. Here’s how to replace it:

1. Loosen the nut

Accessing the tap from below the sink, use a box spanner to loosen the nut that secures the tap to the sink.

Man Under Sink

2. Remove the grub screw

Twist the tap round so it’s facing you, then use a screwdriver to remove the small grub screw.

Removing Grub Screw

3. Access the O-ring

Lift the spout so you can access the O-ring, which is the rubber ring at the base of the spout.

Accessing O Ring

4. Remove and replace the O-ring

Carefully remove the O-ring using a screwdriver then roll the replacement O-ring into position.

Removing O Ring

5. Replace the spout

Line up the marker on the spout with the groove in the tap body, and slot the spout back into position.

Man Fixing Tap

6. Secure in place

Secure the tap in place by re-tightening the grub screw and the nut underneath the sink.

Man Under Sink