How to fix a dripping tap – stop a leak in your tap handle or spout

Know how to fix a dripping tap by replacing the washer, O-ring or other mechanism for a mixer, monobloc or modern tap type.

How to fix a dripping tap
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Everyone should know how to fix a dripping tap at home. Because, not only is that dripping noise one of the most irritating sounds known to all who walk this earth. But, if your kitchen or bathroom tap is leaking from the spout or handle, it's also a complete waste of water and money.

Whether it's a mixer tap, monobloc or pillar tap that you're working with, this is one of the easiest home fixes to identify and DIY yourself. Learn how to repair a leaky tap quickly, before you have to fork out for a plumber with our step-by-step below – complete with some pro tips from the experts of the plumbing world.

You will need:

What type of tap do you have?

Before attempting to use these steps to fix a leaky tap, first identify the type of tap you are working with as this may help you work out what the problem is. 

Most household kitchen and bathroom sinks will have one of the following types of taps: a mixer tap from which you can control the water temperature using both handles for hot and cold, a traditional pillar tap which has two separate taps (one for hot and one for cold) or a monobloc tap where you control the temperature and the flow of water through one lever.

What causes a tap to drip?

Generally speaking, if a tap handle is leaking it will be the O-ring that needs replacing and if it's the spout, it's the washer. 

Different types of tap usually leak for different reasons. If you have a traditional tap, the main cause of a leak is usually that the washer, sometimes known as an O-ring or the rubber seal, needs replacing. 

Ray Brosnan of Brosnan Property Management says 'Leaky faucets can be an absolute nightmare, the constant dripping would send anyone insane, but what causes it? There are a few different reasons, generally however it’s down to the O ring. You’ve got a stem screw which holds down the handle of the faucet, this has a small disc attached to it called the O Ring and over time this can become loose or even just wear out, this will cause dripping near the handle. To fix this, just replace the O ring, you can buy these in any good hardware store and it is a very simple job.'

Aleksandar Pecev, bathroom maintenance, DIY enthusiast and founder of Smartlydwelling.com adds, 'Most of the time, the reason seals or washers perish is because of old age and sustained use. This is known as wear and tear and is perfectly normal for an item that is often used and is subjected to extreme temperatures. Luckily there is an easy fix, so all you need to do is to replace washers with new ones, replace old seals with newer models (or use plumbers tape to reseal them) or tighten any loose connectors that you might have between the supply.'

For a modern/monobloc tap, it might be a case of a damaged ceramic cartridge. And, you can replace both yourself by following the steps below.

Note: High water pressure could also be the root cause. If the water pressure in your home is too high, this will cause problems with the water flow in the pipes and prevent water from flowing efficiently from tap to tap, and water will start to get backed up. Since it has nowhere else to go, it drips out of tap spouts or handles. This is a problem for plumbers to tackle however as they will be able to fix it quickly and easily.

1. Identify where the leak is coming from

Pecev recommends starting here, 'If you have a dripping faucet, then it's pretty clear cut where the leak is coming from, and that is out of the waterspout. If you have pooling water around your faucet, then it might mean that your leak is situated around the joints or hinges. If you have a leak under your sink, then the likelihood is that there is a problem with your supply lines or your waste pipe.'

You then want to know which part to replace for your tap type. You can usually tell what mechanism and tap valve you're working with by how much you can turn the tap handle. A full turn usually indicates a traditional rubber washer. A quarter rotation usually means a ceramic disk type found in modern and/or monobloc taps. Check your manual if you are able to and unsure.

  • Traditional taps: Run with a compression valve and usually use rubber washers.
  • Modern taps: Run with ceramic disks/cartridges.
  • Monobloc taps: Run similarly to other modern taps but with specially designed ceramic disks/cartridges for single taps.

2. Turn off your water

Before you fix your leaky tap, you must turn off the water at the supply. To do this you will need to find the stopcock or the isolation valves, which are usually situated underneath the sink. Most sinks will have two valves, one for hot water and one for cold. We would recommend turning off both while you work, even if it's only one tap that is leaking. Do this by turning the valves until you can't turn anymore. Then run the taps until no more water comes out, this will help release pressure from the pipes. 

'Turn the water off at the stopcock under the sink or by your water meter in the road/under your house. Once your water is off, run the tap for a minute or two to make sure that the system is empty.' Adds Percev.

3. Take the tap apart

This step will differ depending on what model of tap you have, but before you do anything, put a plug in the sink so nothing important ends up down the drain. 

Now, what you are looking for is a screw that will allow you to remove the tap. In some models this is located under the hot and cold caps which you can remove by hand or pop off with a slotted screwdriver, if you are stopping a leak in a monobloc tap, the screw can often be found underneath the temperature indicator button. 

Once you have removed the screw, take off the tap head; you might have to remove a cover, too, until you see the brass valve. To make things easier to put back together, lay out the pieces you have removed in the order you took them off. 

Brosnan recommends to 'Grab a screwdriver and pop the cap off your faucet to expose the stem screw that we mentioned earlier, unscrew it and then grasp the handle and pull it straight up. You might need to remove any decorative caps you’ve got on there too. Then, place a pliers or a wrench around the bottom of the valve and twist it counter clockwise to loosen it from the faucet body. Pull upwards on the base if it seems stuck in order to dislodge the valve and the O-Rings.'

'Depending on where your leak is, take the faucet apart. This might mean removing it from your countertop, or it might simply be that you need to take the water spout off. If you suspect your leak is underneath your sink, then detach the supply lines. If you are of a nervous disposition or you haven't performed this sort of task before, then feel free to take photos or make notes of how the faucet came apart.' Adds Percev.

4. How to replace the washer 

This is where the steps will differ depending on the type of tap you have and the type of repair you need to make. If you have a traditional tap, keep reading to learn how to replace the washer or O-ring, if you have a monobloc lever tap, skip to step six to learn how to replace the ceramic disk.

For a traditional tap, use an adjustable spanner to grip the brass valve and turn until it feels loose enough to be able to remove with your hand. Then unscrew and remove the washer, check if it looks damaged or worn and replace it with a new one (you might be able to get away with just cleaning it). Screw the valve back on and put your tap back together the way you took it apart.

5. How to replace the O-ring

The O-ring looks like a slightly bigger washer and is situated at the base of the spout. You can use a flat-head screwdriver to remove it, or if you know it definitely needs replacing, you can use scissors to snip it off. Replace the O-ring and put your tap back together the same way you took it apart. 

6. How to replace the ceramic disc cartridge 

For a monobloc tap, remove the brass valve (also know at the ceramic disk cartridge) in the same way, using an adjustable spanner and twisting into until it feels loose enough to remove by hand. Then screw in your new cartridge and put back your tap in the same order as you took it apart. 

7. Turn your water back on 

Just turn the isolation valve back on to get your water running again. 

Drip no more! 

Hebe Hatton
Hebe Hatton

Hebe joined the Real Homes team in early 2018 as Staff Writer. As a renter, she is always looking for creative ways to make her flat feel like home. She loves boho and 70's style and is a big fan of Instagram as a source of interiors inspiration.

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