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How to Fix a Dripping Tap: The Step-by-Step Guide

How to Fix a Dripping Tap
(Image credit: Emma Downer)

Learning how to fix a dripping tap can be achieved with just a few tools and some basic DIY skills. It's also a job that can be done quickly without incurring expensive labour costs or replacing the taps entirely.

A dripping tap can be a real annoyance for homeowners, if not just for the monotonous sound then certainly for the increased costs on your water bill. It’s important to get it fixed and fortunately, it’s not a difficult problem to solve, whether you're taking it on as part of a kitchen or bathroom design project, or a standalone DIY job. 

If you want to know where to start, this is your step-by-step guide covering what you need to know about how to fix a dripping tap. 

How to Fix a Dripping Tap: Tools List

You'll need the following tools and materials in order to fix a dripping tap.

Tools

  • Adjustable spanner
  • Adjustable pliers
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Crosshead screwdriver or allen key
  • Sharp edged tool

Materials

  • Washers
  • Cartridge
  • Cloth
  • Solvent

tools to fix a dripping tap

(Image credit: Emma Downer)

Preparation

Taps come in all shapes and sizes, though their basic make-up consists of the same core components. You might have two separate taps for hot and cold or just one combined unit, known as a mixer tap. 

Here are two examples, a traditional bathroom pillar tap and a modern kitchen mixer tap:

Traditional bathroom pillar tap

traditional bathroom pillar tap

(Image credit: Emma Downer)

Modern kitchen mixer tap

modern kitchen mixer tap

(Image credit: Emma Downer)

The washer or cartridge inside of the tap is the most common cause of tap dripping, especially when it drips from the spout. Depending on the design of the tap it may be possible to replace just a washer, or a washer and a cartridge, or just a cartridge.

Step One: Isolate the Water

The quickest way to turn off the water is via the isolation value located on the pipework connected to the taps. Sometimes the valves come with their own plastic handle to turn, but more commonly you will need a flathead screwdriver to make the quarter turn from vertical to horizontal to switch off the flow.

If you cannot locate an isolating valve you can turn off the water to the whole property via the stopcock, which is often located under the kitchen sink or outside the property under a cover on the drive or path.

Run the tap to check the water has stopped. There may be some excess water in the pipes that will drain.

isolating the water

(Image credit: Emma Downer)

Step Two: Remove The Cap

TOP TIP

You may find that your tap handle is quite tight on and takes some convincing to remove – you can use a solvent product like WD-40 to loosen it.

Locate the cap on the handle of the tap. It will either unscrew or you’ll be able to pop it off using a flat sharp-edged tool.

Inside there will be a screw. Use a screwdriver or allen key to remove it depending on the type of screw. You’ll then be able to pull the tap handle off.

removing the cap

(Image credit: Emma Downer)

Step Three: Locate The Washer or Cartridge

Unscrew the decorative cover by hand, if one exists, and then use the grips to hold the tap in place whilst loosening the retaining nut with a spanner. 

If you need to use the spanner or grips on any of the shiny finished parts of the tap then try using some scrap cloth to grip the tap, to avoid scratching its surface.

If you have a traditional pillar tap you can remove the entire stem of the tap via the retaining nut to access the washer inside.

locating the washer or cartridge

(Image credit: Emma Downer)

Step Four: Replace With a New Washer or Cartridge

Replace with a new washer or cartridge and complete the same steps in reverse to fix the tap back together again. Turn the water supply back on to check that your drip has gone. 

Cartridges come in lots of shapes and sizes so make sure to pick up the right one for your tap. You could take the old one into the shop with you for an exact match, for example, or search for the model number online. 

FAQs

What causes a tap to drip?

Washers can naturally wear down over time. To improve longevity, avoid overtightening your tap. When a tap is overtightened, it increases the wear on the washers requiring the tap to be turned off ever tighter each time, eventually resulting in dripping.

Is it safe to leave a dripping tap?

Sometimes the drips can travel down the tap instead of landing in the sink or bath and this can cause damage to the worksurfaces, to anything stored below the taps and even rot the flooring, woodwork or the joists or foundations if left untreated for a long period of time.

Can a dripping tap get worse?

Yes, it can often get worse over time as a washer degrades. Not only is a dripping tap costly for your water bill it can also cause staining; when water drips in the same place repeatedly the mineral deposits in the water can stain the ceramic.

Emma is a UK-based DIY educator and director of the social media brand ''DIY With Emma'' whose primary mission is to help more people get into DIY through sharing DIY Hacks, How-to's, and Follow-Along projects.