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How to Repair a Dripping Tap

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Sometimes a tap can break very suddenly, but often, it’s a steady deterioration.  When you’re done washing a load of dishes, you might find that your tap doesn’t seal as much as it should – resulting in a slow, but steady, dripping. 

While it might not seem like much of a problem, these drips can over time amount to a significant amount of wasted water (not to mention how annoying the dripping noise itself can be). It makes sense, then, to address problems as soon as they appear.

black and white close up picture of tap

How much water does a dripping tap waste?

Before we examine how we might fix a dripping tap, let’s first consider how much water is being wasted. You might do this by simply leaving a bowl underneath the drip before you go out to work for the day. Using some basic maths, however, we can see that even the most minor of drips is one worth fixing.

If we estimate that each drip is roughly a tenth of a millilitre, and that it drips every minute or so, then we find that six millilitres per hour is being wasted. That’s 144 millilitres per day, which is more than fifty-two litres per year. If we consider that many taps drip not once every minute, but every few seconds, this figure can easily swell into the hundreds, or even thousands of litres.

What tools might I need?

Before trying to fix the drip, you’ll need to assemble a few key items:

Screwdriver –  for removing and replacing screws.  Depending on the screws you encounter, you’ll need either a flat-head or Philips-head screwdriver. 

Spanner – this is to remove the bolts you’ll find underneath and on top of the basin.  Make sure you get an adjustable spanner.

Replacements – depending on the sort of tap you’re fixing, you’ll need either rubber washers, or a replacement ceramic cartridge. Rubber washers are likelier culprits for a dripping tap, as they tend to fail before the tap itself needs replacing. You might not know in advance which sort of washer you need, so it’s worth taking the cartridge down to your local hardware shop and finding an exact match before proceeding.

How do I fix the leak?

fixing a leaky tap

Restrict the water supply

The first thing to do before getting started is to identify whether your tap comes with an isolation valve – a device which allows you to restrict water flow to the tap while you’re working on it, and prevents an unwelcome spring of water from spraying across your kitchen or bathroom. Turn this off, and then drain the water from the pipe on the other side of the valve by turning the tap on.

If your tap doesn’t come with an isolation valve, you’ll need to switch off the water for the entire house via the stopcock. Once you’ve done this, drain the water from the pipes by turning your taps on until they run dry.

Plug the sink

You don’t want the little components you’re going to fish out of the tap to fall down the plughole.  Therefore, plug the sink before going any further. Don’t skip this step - you might regret it!

Unscrew the tap

The next step is to disassemble the tap in search of the parts that need replacing. This location of the relevant piece will depend on the sort of tap you’re disassembling. In traditional taps (the sort which come in pairs), you’ll need to unscrew the top of the tap and then the cover, spindle, and two sets of washers. This might require the use of a spanner – though, on the other hand, it might not.

For larger ‘monobloc’ style taps (the sort which come in a single unit with a large spout) you’ll need to track down the ‘grub’ screw and remove it before you’ll be able to disassemble the tap. It’s usually underneath the hot/cold indicator.

Unscrew the spindle

In order to avoid twisting the pipes underneath the tap and potentially damaging them, you’ll want to hold onto the tap with one hand as you unscrew the spindle with your adjustable screwdriver. 

Once you’ve removed the spindle, you’ll find two rubber washers on the top and bottom. Remove these and replace them. If you don’t have replacements ready, take the spindle to your local hardware shop and find an exact match. The rubber washers aren’t expensive, so you might want to replace both while you’re there.

Reassemble the tap

Once you’ve gotten your replacements fitted, simply follow the instructions in reverse order, putting everything back the way you found it and turning the isolation valve back to normal. Once you’re done, you should have a fully-functional tap again!

Why is my kitchen tap stiff?

If you’re struggling to turn your kitchen tap, then the body comprising the cylinder or ceramic cartridge might be jammed. The best approach is to simply replace the offending component – they’re not very expensive, especially relative to the cost of an entirely new tap.

Why is my kitchen tap loose?

If your tap is wobbling when you turn it, the chances are high that the nut underneath the basin has come loose. Using a basin wrench (a special sort of spanner designed to reach up into cramped spaces), reach up the back of your basin and tighten the nut. Your tap should stop moving.