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How to replace a washer and repair a leaking tap

Brett Wise 518 14-May-2019

The annoying drip of a leaky tap cannot only drive you insane, it can also cause an increase in your water bills. Fortunately, it's easy to fix yourself if you can identify the type of tap and get the necessary tools for the job. 

Replacing a busted tap washer in a leaky tap yourself isn't terribly hard. If you know you've got a tap that uses a washer and it's dripping or it's become too hard to turn off, then you may want to replace the washer yourself.

Warning: if you're not 100% confident about what you're doing and how you're doing it, please call a plumber. It will be a lot less expensive to have a professional do it right the first time than repair the damage that may be caused by it being done incorrectly.

Taps with compression washers have been around the longest and are very common in older homes. Compression taps use a washer that is compressed by tightening the tap handle, shutting off the flow of water. Over time, the washer wears out so that the water never shuts off completely. Replacing the washer usually stops the leak.

Tools you will need 

  • Pliers
  • A shifting wrench or set of spanners
  • Small flat-blade screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Replacement stem washer
  • Replacement O-ring (optional)
  • Waterproof plumber's grease

Step 1 - Shut off the water supply to the tap

Look for a small shutoff valve on the water line under the sink. Turn the handle clockwise to close the valve. If there are no shutoff valves under the sink, turn off the water supply to the house at the home's main shut off valve or the water meter. Once the water is shut off, then turn on tap you are working with and let water run out. It helps if you also turn on a tap that is at a lower level.

Step 2 – Plug the drain

Use a sink plug if you have one or a rag to plug the drain. Nothing will ruin your day faster than having a screw or a washer go down the drain.

Step 3 – Remove the tap handle

The handle body is attached to the tap valve stem assembly by a screw concealed under a decorative cap. The cap on older taps is often metal and screws into the handle. To gain access to the screw holding on the handle, grip the cap with pliers and unscrew it. If the cap is plastic, use a small flat-blade screwdriver to pry off the cap. 

Some taps have metal caps that also pry off. The best way to tell, If the metal cap has serrations around the perimeter, it's probably a cap that screws off. If the cap is thin or has a smooth edge, it most likely pries off.

Remove the screw that holds the handle onto the valve stem, using a Phillips screwdriver. Pull the handle straight up to remove it from the stem. If the handle is stuck, you may need to use a compression taps handle puller to remove it. 

Step 4 – Remove the shroud or skirt

If the tap has a metal shroud or skirt you'll need to screw that off too. If it's screwed on ridiculously tightly or sealed on hard with some silicone or some other sealant you might need to use a wide pair of pliers or a wrench to unscrew it.

I recommend putting some gaffer tape around it will help give you extra grip on the smooth chromed surface and wrapping some cloth around the tap to help you to protect it from scratches or damage from your tools. 

Step 5- Remove the tap bonnet

Completely unscrew the body of the tap (i.e. the 'headgear'), as shown. Remove it and place it to one side. You should now be able to see the plastic or brass jumper valve inside the tap. You will need a spanner or shifter for this.

Step 6 - Remove the stem washer

Locate the old washer on the bottom end of the valve assembly, sitting in a valve seat. It will be held in place with a screw, and it will likely be well worn or deformed. Remove the brass screw holding on the washer. Stick a small flat-blade screwdriver into the hole in the washer to pry it out of the valve seat. Clean the end of the washer holder of any deposits or residual rubber so that the new washer sets cleanly into the valve seat.

Step 7 – Replace the washer

Take the old washer with you to the hardware store to find an exact replacement. You may need to buy an assortment of washers, often sold as a 'washer repair kit.' If needed, you can also get a replacement for the rubber O-ring around the valve stem assembly.

Step 8 – Putting it back together

Push the replacement washer into the valve seat and secure the washer with the brass screw. Replace the O-ring, if needed. Coat the outside of the O-ring (old or new) with a thin coating of waterproof plumber's grease. Reassemble the tap by threading the valve stem assembly into the tap body and tightening it securely with pliers. Reinstall the handle and cap. 

Step 9 – Turn on the water

When you have put the tap back together, close the tap completely before turning the mains water back on. When the water is back on, test the tap a few times and check that the leak is completely fixed.

Tap Fixed

If everything was done correctly and there were no other parts within the tap that needed replacing the tap should be fixed and you have stopped the water leak.

But if it all hasn’t gone to plan don’t despair our team of highly qualified technicians at Plumbing Northern Beaches are here to help. We are exerts at tap repairs and replacement, so contact us today and we will have that annoying leaky tap fixed asap.

Brett Wise

Brett Wise

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