How to fix a leaking tap – self help guide

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The steady dripping noise of a leaking tap is enough to get on anyone’s nerves – often resulting in screwing the tap so tightly it’s impossible to turn on next time, not to mention the gradual culmination of wasted water.

A dripping or leaking tap usually means that a new washer is needed, but it can also be caused by a damaged valve seating. Follow the steps below to see if your leaking tap can be fixed without calling in the experts.

Replacing the washer

Step One

Turn off the water supply to the taps, either at the mains or at the service valves under the taps. Turn the tap fully on and make sure you put the plug in the plughole to prevent any small parts falling down the pipe

Step Two

Using a flat headed screwdriver, Unscrew or lever off the cover of a non-rising spindle tap to find the retaining screw. Remove the screw and head of the tap, and put them in a safe place.

(Alternatively, if you have a rising spindle tap, remove the index disc located in the centre of the handle and remove the retaining screw to release the handle.)

Step Three

Undo the larger headgear nut with a spanner, being careful not to force the nut. If you find this difficult because it is stiff, brace the tap body by hand or with a pipe wrench wrapped in a cloth. This will prevent the tap from moving and damaging the pipework attached to it, which could cause

Step Four

If the nut is still refusing to budge, you can apply some penetrating oil around the joint, give it some time to soak in, then try again. You may have to apply the oil several times.

Step Five

Prise off the washer with a screwdriver. If there is a small nut holding it in place, unscrew it with a spanner and apply more oil if it is stiff before removing the washer.

Step Six 

Fit the new washer, and make sure you grease the threads on the base of the tap before reassembling. You can buy a special silicone gel from a plumbers merchants, but Vaseline makes a suitable alternative.

Repairing the valve seating

When you renew the washer, it’s worth checking the valve seat inside the body of the tap. If it’s rough or marked, the seal between the washer and seat will not be effective and will still let water by – even with a new washer.

The easiest way to repair this is with a combine washer and seating set, available at most hardware stores. This contains a plastic seat part, which fits into the valve seat, and a washer and jumper valve unit that will fit into the body of the tap.

Be aware that it may take a few days of using the tap before the seating will give a completely watertight seal.

Curing a leak

If the leak is coming from the body of the tap, it may indicate faulty glands or O-ring seal. This can be caused by a variety of things, for example soapy water from wet hands may have run down the spindle and washed the grease out of the gland that helps create a watertight joint round the spindle. Also, if the tap is used with a garden hose, back pressure from the hose connection can weaken the gland. Most modern taps have O-ring seals instead of glands which do not often need replacing, but it is possible for them to become worn.

Step One 

It is not necessary to turn the water supply off for this, but make sure you turn the tap off. Undo the small screw that secures the capstan handle and put it in a safe place, then remove the handle. Without a screw the handle should just pull off.

Step Two 

Remove the bell-shaped cover of the whole tap to expose the gland nut, which will be the highest nut on the spindle. Tighten the nut about half a turn with a spanner.

Step Three

Temporarily slip the handle back on to turn the tap on, then check whether there is still a leak from the spindle. If there is not, turn the gland nut another quarter turn and reassemble the tap. Be careful not to overtighten the gland as this will make it hard to turn the tap on.

Step Four

If the gland continues to leak, continue to adjust the nut. If the gland continues leaking after you have adjusted it as far as possible, then you will need to repack the gland.

Step Five

Use a spanner to remove the gland nut and take it out, then remove the old packing with something small and sharp. Replace it with packing string or PTFE tape stretched into a thin string, available from a plumber’s merchant. Replace the gland nut and reassemble the tap, then turn it on to test.

Hopefully the steps above will enable you to fix your leaking tap yourself, however there are many different varieties of taps available now, and the methods listed above are not suitable for all. If your leak still isn’t fixed, it may be time to call a plumber.

West Country Plumbing and Heating only offer the above as an informative guide and cannot be held responsible for any damage or injuries caused. For more information about safety, please contact your appliance manufacturer.

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