When a bathroom or kitchen tap starts dripping, what starts off as a minor annoyance can quickly turn into a costly, property-damaging problem if you leave it too long.
However, fixing a leaking tap is one of those easy, basic skills every homeowner should know how to do, just like bleeding a radiator. This guide will show you how to fix a leaking tap in a simple, step-by-step fashion, whether that’s a traditional tap, a mixer tap or a tap with ceramic discs.
Once you’ve learnt how easy it is to make a leak repair and stop a dripping tap, for more of our step-by-step guides check out our article on common water leaks in the home and how to fix them.
What you’ll need
Get all your tools together in one place then you won’t need to leave the scene of the repair. You’ll need the following tools:
- Adjustable spanner
- Flathead and cross-head screwdrivers
- Replacement cartridge or assorted washers and O-rings
Top tips before you start:
- Always turn off your water supply before you start any plumbing work. Once the water is off, run the taps to drain the water and release pressure in your pipes
- Before you start disassembling your tap, put the plug in the plughole so you don’t accidentally lose any small parts down there
- Spanners and screwdrivers have been known to easily scratch chrome taps, so whenever you can, use a soft cloth or some masking tape to cover and protect the finish of your gleaming hardware
- Don’t over-tighten a washer or valve when reassembling, as this may damage or cause excess stress on the joint
Fixing a traditional tap
A traditional tap is also known as a compression valve tap. If you’ve got separate hot and cold taps and they turn much more than a quarter to get to full flow, you’ve got compression valve taps. Here are the steps for fixing a dripping compression valve tap:
1. Isolate the water with a screwdriver
If you have an isolation valve for your sink (usually found on the pipes underneath or close to the sink), use your screwdriver to turn it off. If you can’t find one, turn your water off at the stopcock (usually under your kitchen sink). Now run the tap until there’s no more water left.
2. Check that no water comes out of the taps
Your taps need to be completely drained before you can take apart the dripping tap.
3. Take off the tap cover
There are different types of tap cover or cap. What you need to find is the screw underneath it. If you have decorative hot and cold caps on top of the tap, check under those, or under the hot and cold indicator on single lever taps. You can usually unscrew these caps by hand, or pop them off gently with a flathead screwdriver. Some need an Allen key.
4. Take off the tap handle and dismantle the valve
Now you should be able to see the screw at the top of the tap head holding the tap together. You’ll need to loosen it completely to get inside the valve and make repairs.
There are different types of compression tap valve covers (the part that turns). You could have a traditional one with a spindle at the top and the valve cover underneath, or the valve cover might have grips for you to turn. In both cases you dismantle the tap head as follows:
- Unscrew the top screw with a crosshead screwdriver
- Use an adjustable spanner to loosen the valve inside then remove it
- Remove the nut that holds the washer in place
- Hold the valve steady in an adjustable spanner and use a screwdriver to remove the screw that holds the washer in place.
Top tip: Lay all your bits and pieces out on the side of the sink or on a towel, in the order that you took them off, so it’s easy to reassemble your tap once you’ve fixed it.
5. Run your finger inside the tap to check the seating
Often when your tap is dripping, the problem is actually the tap seat, which the washer sits on when the tap is closed. When it’s in good health it creates the seal that closes the tap and stops water running. You can tell when it’s damaged by normal wear and tear, because 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, which produces a flat, smooth seat for the washer to sit on and seal the flow of water.
- Buying a seat insert kit that adds a new piece that forms a new seal
If the tap seat was in fact eroded and you’ve carried out one of those two fixes, try putting your tap back together, turning your water back on and testing the drip – you may find it was the seat and not the washer that was the issue.
6. Check and replace your tap washer
Now you’ve checked or dealt with the tap valve seat, check the washer for wear and tear and replace if needed.
7. Re-assemble your tap, turn on your water and check for drips
With the seat and the washer checked and/or fixed, you should be home and dry.
Fixing a ceramic disc tap
Some modern taps turn only a quarter of the way and these ones often use a ceramic disc inside the valve.
Top tip: It’s best to remove these and take them to a plumbing merchant or DIY store to ensure you can purchase a like-for-like replacement – there are many different types! Now follow the steps below and you’ll be fixing ceramic disc taps like a pro.
- Isolate the water with a screwdriver
Using a screwdriver, turn off your isolation valve if you have one, this is usually found on the pipes underneath or close to the sink. If you can’t find one, turn your water off at the stopcock (usually under your kitchen sink). Now run the tap until there’s no more water left.
- Check that no water comes out of the taps
Your taps need to be completely drained before you can take apart the dripping tap. Now remember to put the plug in the sink to stop any parts falling down the plughole while you work.
- Remove the tap head
There are thousands of different styles of ceramic disc taps. But all will have removable tops, or ‘headgear’, as plumbers call it. Check around the headgear for ways in – in our video example we had to unscrew the handle to get to a small opening for an Allen key, which you must unscrew to take off the top. In other taps the top of it unscrews or lifts off, or you can pop it off gently with a flathead screwdriver.
- Unscrew the inside screw. Either a crosshead screwdriver will do the job – or an Allen key like we did
- Lift off the headgear, or unscrew the valve cover. Once that’s done you can lift off the entire headgear, or unscrew the valve cover, depending on the style of your tap. If it’s stiff, wrap some masking tape or a soft cloth around it so you minimise damage, and use an adjustable spanner to help unscrew it.
- Use an adjustable spanner to unscrew the hexagonal nut at the neck of the valve.This might also be stiff, so 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.
- Remove the entire ceramic disc valve (or sometimes it’s called a cartridge). If it looks cracked or worn, you’ll need to replace it. These come left or right-handed, so bear it in mind when you get the replacement.
- Secure the valve and put the tap back together in reverse order.
How to stop a leaking spout
Mixer taps have moveable spouts that can drip or leak from the bottom. If this happens, it’s likely to be your O-ring that needs replacing at the bottom of the spout, rather than a mixer tap washer replacement job.
1.Use a box spanner to loosen the nut that holds the tap to the sink from below.
2.Twist the tap around to give you better access, then use a screwdriver to remove the grub screw.
3.Lift the spout out to give you access to the O-ring, which is the rubber ring at the base of the spout.
4.Use a flathead screwdriver to loosen the O-ring and slide it off, or just snip it off with a pair of scissors.
5.Roll the replacement O-ring into position.
6.To replace the spout, line up the marker on the spout with the groove in the tap body and slot the spout back into position. Secure the tap in place by re-tightening the grub screw and the nut underneath the sink.
When to call the professionals
If you’ve followed our step by step guides and are still experiencing a problem with leaking taps or pipes, our professional plumbing engineers are on hand. Get in touch with HomeServe today to see how we can help.
Q. Is it normal for a tap to drip?
A leaking or dripping tap is a fairly common problem potentially caused by a worn out washer. It can often be easily fixed yourself by replacing the washer, for example. Follow our guide for step-by-step instructions that vary depending on the type of tap you have to avoid listening to that constant dripping!
Q. Is a dripping tap dangerous?
Although not immediately dangerous, if left unfixed a dripping tap can cause water to pool leading to the growth of harmful mould. There is also the potential for water damage to the surrounding floorboards and cabinets making them weaken and rot alongside stress on the plumbing system.
Q. Will a dripping tap get worse?
A dripping tap can get worse over time, and can cause more issues and become a more costly repair, especially if you’re continuing to use the tap. It’s best to fix your leaking tap as soon as you can.
Q. Is a dripping tap an emergency?
If the water is only dripping, and is contained to flow down your sink and not cause any immediate danger it is not classed as a plumbing emergency. If you’re unable to fix the leaking tap yourself, you can always call on a professional plumber to repair it for you.
Q. How much water does a dripping tap waste?
If you tap drips every second, you could be wasting approximately four litres of water a day. That’s almost enough to fill a bath! You can see how a dripping tap could be costly over time if left unchecked.