How to fix a dripping tap
Help and advice
If your kitchen or bathroom tap is leaking, then it’s a good idea to get it fixed straightaway.
A leaky tap isn’t just a costly waste of water, it could be an early sign of more significant issues developing with your taps.
In the following article, we’ll explain the common reasons behind leaky taps, how to fix them, and what you can do to avoid similar issues in the future.
What causes leaky taps?
In most cases, a dripping or leaking tap is usually caused by a degraded rubber washer or O-ring that will need to be replaced. This is particularly common in older, more traditional taps that have suffered wear and tear over time. And often, replacing the washer or O-ring is all that’s needed to correct the leak.
Issues with the valve seat (the connection between the tap and the spout) can also cause leaks. This could be from an accumulation of mineral deposits over time or a poor installation of the valve in the first place. It’s sometimes possible to put this right by taking the valve apart, cleaning it and putting it back together again. If you’re still having issues, you may need to fix or replace the valve completely.
You may also find that you have ceramic disk cartridges in your taps and not a traditional valve with a washer and rubber O-rings. If that’s the case, you’ll probably need to replace the cartridges.
And finally, a far less likely, but entirely possible reason for leaking taps is if your water pressure is too high. This can result in water being backed up in the valve, leading to a leak. To fix this, you’ll need to call on the services of a qualified plumber.
How to tell what type of taps you have
A quick and easy way to find this out is to give your tap a turn. If the tap can only rotate a quarter or a half, then it's probably ceramic. If you can turn the tap further than half, then it probably has a rubber washer.
If you have a single-lever mixer tap, it will probably use ceramic discs. The bad news though is that this type of tap usually requires a specific valve replacement, which must be ordered in from your manufacturer.
The tools you’ll need to fix a leaky tap
The following items are required to fix a dripping tap:
- An adjustable spanner
- A flathead and Phillips screwdriver
- Replacement cartridge (if you have ceramic discs)
- Assorted washers and O-rings
- WD-40 or similar lubricant
Step 1: Turn off your water supply
If your taps have a water isolation valve, then you should close the valve (by turning it clockwise) to disable the water supply temporarily. If you don’t have an isolation valve, you can use your house’s stopcock instead.
Once you have closed the water supply remember to run your taps to clear the pipes of water completely. You should also place the plug into the plughole. This will help to prevent any small parts and tools from accidentally falling down the drain as you work.
Step 2: Unscrew your tap
You’ll need to unscrew the tap to gain access to the components inside. The screw is usually located underneath the decorative cap on the top of the tap (with hot and cold symbols on them). To remove the caps, either unscrew them by hand or use the flathead screwdriver to remove them carefully.
Once the cap is free, unscrew the tap. It's possible that the screw will be a little tight due to a build-up of limescale. To get around this, you can try applying a little WD-40, giving it 10 minutes or so to work its magic.
Step 3: Take the tap apart
Once the tap has been unscrewed, carefully remove the head of the tap. You may find that there is also a protective metal cover over the top of the valve, this must also be removed.
Remember to keep each part of the tap nearby in the order that you removed them for easy reassembly later on.
Step 4: How to replace a rubber washer
Use the adjustable spanner to remove the valve carefully. You should then be able to see the washer underneath – most likely held in place by a small nut. Once again, use some lubricant and wait 10 minutes if you find the nut challenging to remove.
Use the flathead screwdriver to remove the washer and replace it with a new one. After that, it’s just a simple case of reversing the above steps to reassemble your tap.
Step 5: How to replace an O-ring
Having removed the tap cover and valve, you'll be able to see the O-ring. It looks very much like a large rubber washer located at the bottom of the valve.
To remove the O-ring, either prise it from the valve using a flat head screwdriver. Or, if it's easier, use the scissors to cut it free. Now all you need to do is pop in the replacement O-ring and reassemble the tap.
Tip: It’s possible that there may be more than one O-ring, so check carefully, as you may need to replace both.
Step 6: How to replace a ceramic cartridge
Ceramic disc taps are quite different from traditional taps. Instead of having valves, washers and O-rings they have a cartridge that contains a pair of ceramic discs.
After popping your tap’s cover off, you’ll be able to use the adjustable spanner to remove the cartridge. Then, all you need to do is insert and tighten your new cartridge. You can now reassemble your tap.
Step 7: How to fix the valve seating
Your valve seat is basically the section that connects the tap with the spout. Over time, this seat can degrade or become corroded with sediment, which could eventually lead to leaks.
When you’re swapping out your washer for a new one (as described in step 4) you should take a good look at the valve seat underneath the washer. If the seating surface has a rough or scratched texture, then it's probably not going to give an effective seal, even with a replacement washer.
If you want to fix this yourself, you could try grinding the surface of the seating until it’s smooth using sandpaper or an appropriate sanding tool. Alternatively, buy a joint washer and seating set from your local DIY or hardware shop.
How to prevent leaky taps in the future
Most of the time a leaky or dripping tap is simply the result of fair wear and tear over time. However, you can extend the life of your taps by trying not to overtighten them after each use. This is why you will find your kitchen tap is more likely to leak, as it’s often the most used.
You should also add limescale remover into your regular cleaning routine to prevent calcium carbonate deposits from building up around your taps. This will help to slow down any degradation of the internal components. Read our helpful guide on how to get rid of damp, mould and limescale at home.