How to fix a dripping tap
Your tap may have been dripping for years or just for the last few weeks. You might have ignored the issue because a dripping tap can’t waste that much water, can it? It turns out, it can.
Solving the problem could save you a large amount of water each year, plus you’ll no longer have to listen to that irritating noise. Read on to find out what causes a dripping tap and how to fix the issue.
Why is my tap dripping?
It’s important to determine the potential cause of the dripping before you attempt to fix the problem.
Older taps tend to have rubber washers that are there to prevent dripping, however, over time, these washers can begin to seize, crack and even wear away, allowing water to leak through. Modern taps tend to use ceramic discs instead, as these are more reliable. If your tap has a rubber washer, you could replace it with another rubber washer or install a ceramic cartridge instead. We discuss how to do this later on in the article.
Alternatively, it may be that the tap has a corroded valve seat. This should be located just beneath the tap valve and is there to create a water-tight seal, but it may be ineffective, particularly if the tap is quite old.
If your tap is quite new and has only recently been installed, it may be that some dirt in the system has damaged the seal. This can occur if a system hasn’t been flushed properly before installation. When the dirt is forced through the small exit on the tap, it can cause the cartridge in the device to become chipped.
How to stop a dripping tap
Once you’ve determined why your tap is dripping, it should be much easier to fix the tap and stop the drip. Below, we’ve covered two ways you can fix a leaky tap.
Step 1: Turn off the water supply
The first step is to turn off your home’s water supply. You can do this using the isolator valve or, if your tap doesn’t have one, the stopcock. After you’ve done this, turn the tap on to allow all the water in the pipes to drain. Once the flow has stopped, it’s a good idea to put the plug in the sink to ensure any small components won’t get lost when you begin to dismantle the tap.
Step 2: Remove the handles
Locate the screws that fix the handles to the tap. Depending on your tap there may be one or two of these, and they’re generally positioned underneath the hot and cold caps on the tap handles or under the lever on a mixer tap. Unscrew them to dismantle.
Step 3: Remove the valve cover
Now that the handles are removed, you should be able to see the top of the valve where the handles were. Use an adjustable spanner to remove the valve cover. As you take these pieces apart, lay them out on a flat surface in the order you’ve removed them so that it’s easier to put the tap back together when you’re done.
The next step that you take will depend on whether you’re trying to replace the tap cartridge, tap seat or O-ring. As previously mentioned, the ceramic disc or rubber washer in the tap can crack or wear away, allowing water to seep through and create a drip. In this case, you should follow the instructions for replacing a tap cartridge. If a corroded valve seat is the cause of the drip, then you should follow the instructions for replacing this instead. We’ve also discussed how to replace an O-ring.
Step 4: Replace the tap cartridge or washer
Once you’ve followed our instructions as per the above, you should be able to remove the valve from the tap, as pictured below. You can see that the valve is slightly green, likely because it’s been oxidised by the water. This damage is what could be the cause of a tap that drips water.
The valve should come out of the inside of the tap quite easily. If it’s the ceramic disc that’s been damaged and is causing the leak, it may be better to replace the entire valve. You can do this by inserting a new valve in place of the old one, replacing the valve cover and screwing the handles back on.
In other cases, it may just be the washer that’s allowing the leak. In the image a little further down, this is the small black ring on the far left.
Step 5: Replace the valve seat
Once the tap has been taken apart, you should try to locate the tap seat. If it’s corroded, you’ll be able to see grooves in the metal surface. These are the cause of the tap’s leak. You have two options. You can either use a grinder to make the surface of the seat smooth again or you can replace it entirely. Whichever method you choose will fix the problem.
Once the seat is back in place, put the tap back together again.
Step 6: Replace the O-ring
The O-ring is quite similar to a washer and is usually located at the base of the spout. In the image above, it’s the black ring in the centre of the valve. It can usually be loosened with a screwdriver so it easily slides off the base of the tap. Replace it with a newer O-ring, put it back on the base of the spout, and reassemble your tap.
Step 7: Turn the water back on
No matter which part of your tap you replaced, you can now turn the water supply back on and test your non-dripping tap out.
How much water is wasted by a dripping tap?
We’re going to calculate how much water you could be losing via your leaking tap. This will vary depending on a number of factors, but the calculation will give you a rough estimate.
We’ll say that your tap is dripping approximately every five seconds - this is equivalent to 12 drops of water per minute. Each drip will vary in size but for our calculation, each drip is around a quarter of a millilitre (ml). This means that your tap is letting out three mls of water per minute. In an hour, this could increase to 180 mls and, in a day, to 4,320 mls. This is equal to over two of the largest Coca Cola bottles you can buy.
In one year, a tap that drips approximately every five seconds could waste around 1,451 litres of water. This is equivalent to 18 baths, 121 dishwasher cycles or 241 flushes of the toilet.
This is why it’s so important to follow our above steps to fix a dripping tap and make sure you’re not wasting water.