Do you have a dripping tap? Here’s how to fix it 

Do you have a dripping tap? Dripping taps are annoyingly common. Here's our guide to fixing it.

Dripping taps are annoyingly common. 

As well as being pretty irritating, a persistently dripping tap wastes water. In fact, a dripping tap wastes between £10 to £120 a month - and as the price of water increases, so does the cost of a dripping tap!

While your gut instinct might be to reach for the phone and call a plumber to fix your dripping tap, it could be straightforward to fix yourself. 

Here’s how to fix a dripping tap. 

Why is my tap dripping?

Taps involve moving parts that naturally exhibit friction with each other during everyday use. Therefore, wear and tear is inevitable. 

While modern taps will feasibly work without maintenance for many, many years, older taps often show signs of protest. If your tap leaks through the spout or around the base of the spout, you should take action. Unfortunately, the tap won’t fix itself - it will probably get worse!

Here are the most common causes of a dripping tap: 

1: Worn washers and o-rings 

Washers and o-rings help form watertight seals inside the tap. 

Unfortunately, these wear over time and need replacing. But luckily, they’re inexpensive and easy to replace. By dissembling the tap, you should be able to identify any worn washers or o-rings and replace them. 

2: Worn seating

If the washers and o-rings aren’t the source of the issue, the seat which the washers press on might be worn itself. Water and minerals can wear the metal itself, causing an uneven surface that fails to seal properly. 

In this scenario, a seating tool can grind and even out the surface. Consider calling a plumber if replacing washers and o-rings fail to fix your dripping tap. 

3: Broken cartridge 

Other parts of the tap cartridge might’ve cracked or broken. If you remove the cartridge and find that it’s cracked, the easiest option is to replace it. 

4: Worn o-ring

Movable kitchen taps also have an o-ring at the base where they connect to the sink. If this o-ring wears, the tap might ooze grey residue from its base, indicating metal-on-metal contact. In this case, you’ll need to replace the large o-ring. 

How to fix the two main types of tap

There are two main types of tap you find in the average UK home: 

  • Traditional taps, also called compression taps. 
  • Ceramic disc taps. 

Traditional taps feature separate arms/wheels for the hot and cold water. Moreover, these arms/wheels turn more than a quarter turn, unlike modern taps. 

Conversely, a ceramic disc tap typically only turns a quarter of a turn, and the flow is considerably more sensitive. They often use the same arm for hot and cold water but can also have individual controls for each. 

silver modern tap over white sink and blue wall
Above: Ceramic disc tap

Before you start

To fix a dripping tap, you’ll need a spanner, screwdriver, o-rings, washers and a replacement cartridge if necessary. If you know what make and model your tap is, you’ll be able to find the cartridge and appropriate rings and washers online. You may not need to replace the entire cartridge. 

Before disassembling the tap, do the following: 

  1. Turn off your water supply under the sink or tap location. If you can’t find the local cut-off, use the mains stopcock, which may be inside your home or outside. 
  2. Once you’ve shut off the water, drain your taps and check the water is definitely turned off. 
  3. Repairing a tap doesn’t require brute force. Don’t over-tighten parts against rings and washers. 

Fixing a traditional tap

Traditional taps, also called compression valve taps, require more than a turn to reach full flow. These older-style taps are most common in bathrooms. 

To diagnose and fix your tap, follow these steps: 

  1. Shut off the water and drain the taps.
  2. Remove the cover. This is often a small cap on the end of the tap’s controls. There should be a screw underneath. 
  3. Remove the screw and gently remove the valve. The following steps will vary depending on your tap. 
  4. You’ll need to loosen the valve, removing the nut that holds the tap washer. 
  5. Ideally, you’re looking for worn o-rings and washers. These are easy to replace. Otherwise, the metal seating around the valve might have eroded. 
  6. The seating is repairable, but you’ll probably need to call a plumber for this unless you fancy your chances DIY.
  7. Replace any and all worn washers and o-rings. You’ll often need to deconstruct what you can and rebuild it with replacement washers and o-rings. 
  8. You can sometimes replace the entire cartridge. You’ll need to measure it correctly to find a valid replacement. 

using screwdriver to fix leaking tap
Above: Tap cover on traditional tap

Fixing a ceramic valve tap 

Newer taps don’t turn much - maybe just a quarter of a turn. The flow is sensitive compared to a traditional tap. These are called ceramic disc valve taps. 

Follow these steps: 

  1. Isolate the water and drain the taps. 
  2. Next, remove the tap head, which may be located under a cover. Plumbers call the cover “headgear”. 
  3. Unscrew the valve cover. 
  4. You should now be able to remove the cartridge. You might be best off replacing the whole thing. Take it to a hardware or plumbing store so they can match it. 
  5. Reassemble with the new cartridge. 

silver wrench tightening silver tap valve to stop it leaking
Above: Valve cover

What if the leak is coming from the bottom of the spout?

Not all taps leak from the spout itself. Your tap might leak at the bottom, where it connects to the sink. This is especially common with kitchen mixer taps. 

The tap might also exude a grey sludge, indicating metal-on-metal contact around the base of the spout. 

In this situation, you’ll need to replace the o-ring. 

Here’s what to do:

  1. First, shut the water off and drain the tap. 
  2. Loosen the tap from under the sink. You should then be able to remove a screw that enables you to pull the tap up from the sink. 
  3. Remove the worn o-ring and clean the tap and sink.
  4. Roll the new o-ring on. 
  5. Replace the spout and tighten the screws. 

When to call a plumber

Dripping taps are often straightforward to fix. If all else fails, you can usually replace the entire cartridge. Leaving a dripping tap will worsen wear and tear, creating a bigger job. 

If you can’t seem to fix the fault with the above guidance, consider booking us at clik2fix.

Most dripping taps are easy to fix - and cheaper than wasting water for months or years! 

If you are worried about your plumbing, see our plumbing cover for year round piece of mind.

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