how to fix a dripping tap

Learn 4 Ways How to Fix a Dripping Tap

Are you sick of that annoying dripping tap? Don’t want to pay a plumber to do something so simple? Learn how to fix a dripping tap from an everyday plumber.

I have been plumbing for over ten years and I have replaced and repaired many dripping taps. Before you think about replacing the tap, try these dripping tap repairs. If it’s an old and worn tap, you might be better off replacing it.

How to Fix a Dripping Tap – The 4 Ways

Here are the ways that I use to fix a dripping tap –

  • Replace the tap washer – This can only be done on full-turn taps, which I don’t do very often.
  • Replace the tap cartridge – The most common and easiest way to fix a dripping tap.
  • Clean the ceramic tap cartridge – The hardest way, which is hardly ever done.
  • Clean the Tap Seat with Tap Reseating Tool – For when changing the cartridge doesn’t work.

How to Change a Washer on a Tap

Knowing how to change a washer on a tap might help to fix your dripping tap. If you have a full-turn tap, where you have to turn the tap many times for the water to come out at full rate, then your tap has a rubber washer.

This washer can be changed, but you have to have the exact same size washer. Different taps have different size washers, but sometimes you can’t find the right size. This type of full-turn tap cartridge can be on a mixer tap or separate hot and cold taps.

You will be better off changing the tap cartridges in most cases. Full-turn tap cartridges come with brand-new tap washers fitted. A pair of tap cartridges or valves are fairly cheap. Buying a tap washer kit is more expensive than a pair of tap cartridges.

So, unless you’re a plumber who already has the exact washers lying about, or you can get some very cheaply and easily, then changing a washer on a tap is not worth the hassle and expense of trying to find the right ones.

Also, the tap cartridge has to come out anyway. You might as well replace them both at the same time, as the old ones will probably be a bit worse for wear. They always come in pairs in most places.

Replacing Tap Washer

If you have the correct size washer, then you will need to remove the tap cartridge to replace the washer by removing the tap handle first and then the cartridge (see below for how to remove a tap cartridge).

how to replace a mixer tap cartridge
Full turn tap cartridge with rubber washer removed from a mixer tap

Once this is removed, you should see the old black washer on the bottom of the brass cartridge, unless it’s disappeared, which can happen. Remove this old washer by pulling it off the cartridge or out of the tap if it’s stuck in there.

You might need to scrape off old bits of rubber stuck on the brass with a small screwdriver. Then fit the new washer straight on, it should be a tight fit. Then, screw the cartridge back into the tap and tighten it up with your spanner and refit the handle.

Turn the water back on and open and close the tap to see if replacing the washer has fixed your dripping tap.

How to Remove a Tap Cartridge

To remove a tap cartridge on a mixer tap or single tap, the first thing to do is turn off the water supply to the tap. You might have isolating valves on the pipe under the tap, if so you can turn these off with a flat head screwdriver in most cases.

If you don’t have any, or they are broken, then you will need to turn the water off to the full house at the main stopcock. These are normally found under the kitchen sink, but could be anywhere really.

Quarter turn and full turn tap cartridges look pretty much the same on the outside and use the same process to remove them. The only real difference is quarter turn taps use ceramic discs to stop the water, and full-turn valves use rubber washers.

You need to remove the lever handle or head on the tap to remove the tap cartridge. Do this by removing the screw in the centre of the tap head. This screw is normally covered by a cap that is screwed or clipped on.

You should unscrew the cap or use a very small flat head screwdriver to get it out. Once you have the cover off, you will need to remove the screw in the centre of the tap cartridge.

Removing the handle can be very difficult sometimes. It should come off given enough upward force after removing the screw. Just try not to damage the rest of the tap with tools when holding it in place.

Then, you can use an adjustable spanner to turn the tap cartridge anti-clockwise until it comes all the way out. If you can’t get an adjustable spanner onto the cartridge, then you might need to use a deep socket and ratchet.

how to remove a tap cartridge
Ceramic quarter turn tap cartridge removed from a mixer tap

Single Lever Tap Cartridge Replacement

A single lever tap might be on a kitchen tap or basin tap. They are very common on kitchen taps now, and replacing the single lever tap cartridge will save you from having to replace the kitchen tap.

Changing basin taps and kitchen taps are the same processes because underneath they are virtually identical on all single lever taps.

The cartridges are totally different from mixer taps with two levers. You will need to remove a grub screw that is keeping the level handle attached to the tap. This screw is sometimes covered with a little plastic cap.

You will need a small Allen key to loosen the grub screw, normally 2.5 mm. These can be hard to find and remove but stick at it, as the handle has to come off. Once the grub screw is loosened, no need to remove it, pull the handle up and off the tap.

On some single lever mixer taps, you have to unscrew parts of the handle to remove it, not an actual screw. It might be one unscrewing part, or it might be multiple unscrewing parts, but that handle has to come off!

Once the handle is removed, there is normally a metal or plastic shroud that needs to be unscrewed to remove. The single lever tap cartridge, normally blue plastic or grey, can be lifted out.

single lever tap cartridge replacement
Single lever tap cartridge

A new single lever tap cartridge can now be fitted. Then refit the shroud and lever and test the tap to see if you have fixed your dripping tap.

How to Clean Ceramic Tap Cartridges

Cleaning the ceramic tap cartridges is definitely the most difficult way to learn how to fix a dripping tap. But, sometimes, it is your only option if you don’t want to fit a new tap.

To clean the tap cartridges, you will need to remove them and strip them down. Quarter turn tap cartridges use ceramic discs to stop the water instead of rubber washers. These ceramic discs can get covered in dirt and limescale.

You need to remove the ceramic discs and clean them the best you can. Once you have these ceramic tap cartridges separated, you should scrub them clean and refit them and check for drips. I always squirt a small amount of silicone spray lubricant against the cleaned ceramic discs.

This is a very fiddly and frustrating way to fix a dripping tap, which is not worth doing in most situations. But it is possible if needed, and I only tend to do it if I’m on a job where I have to order the new cartridges online. If I have some on the van, or They have them in stock at a nearby shop, I will just replace them.

How to Fix a Dripping Outside Tap

The best way to fix a dripping outside tap is to replace the tap. Outside taps are cheap, so it’s pointless messing around with cartridges and washers so you should just get a new outside tap fitted. But, most outside taps are full-turn taps, so it is possible to replace the rubber washer if you want.

Replacing the Outside Tap Washer

To replace the dripping outside tap washer, turn the water supply to the outside tap off, then turn the large nut below the handle with an adjustable spanner anti-clockwise until the tap cartridge and handle are out.

Pull the old washer off and replace the washer with one the exact same size, refit the cartridge and turn the water back on.

Replacing the Outside Tap

Without a doubt, the best and easiest way to fix a dripping outside tap is to fit a new outside tap. The tap will be screwed into a wall plate attached to the wall, which is easily removed. Turn off the water supply and turn the full tap anti-clockwise.

You should be able to do this with your hands, but if not use an adjustable spanner. Then put lots of PTFE tape around the threads on the new outside tap and screw it into the old wall plate on the wall. Turn the water back on and test the tap.

dripping outside tap
Outside tap with PTFE on threads next to wall plate

How to Use a Tap Reseating Tool

A tap reseating tool might just save the day when trying to fix a dripping tap. This rarely comes out of my tool draw, but it has saved me having to replace the full tap a couple of times over the years.

If you have replaced the tap cartridge and it is still dripping, then the seat of the tap where the cartridge sits inside must be damaged or full of limescale. You can use a tap reseating tool to grind the seat flat again.

To use a tap reseating tool, you have to remove the tap cartridge and screw the tool into the tap using the correct size connector on the tool. Then start grinding away.

How to Fix a Dripping Tap FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What Causes a Tap to Drip?

What causes a tap to drip depends on the type of tap cartridge that the tap has. A full-turn tap cartridge has a rubber washer, and rubber washes usually cause a tap to drip by the tap being overtightened when turning it off and crushing and damaging the washer.

Lever quarter turn taps use ceramic discs, and these cause a tap to drip by becoming dirty or full of limescale.

The tap itself could also cause a tap to drip. The tap seat inside the tap that the cartridge sits on can become damaged or have a build-up of limescale over time.

How Easy is it to Fix a Dripping Tap?

Fixing a dripping tap can be very easy, but it can also be very hard. It all depends on what needs to be done to stop the dripping.

Most of the time in my experience, replacing the tap cartridges is very easy and this is by far the most common way to fix a dripping tap.

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