Although taps are in frequent use, they rarely need maintenance. But if one starts to leak don’t ignore it. Leaking taps are not only annoying and wasteful, but also, if they are hot taps, expensive — you’ve paid to heat the water going down the drain.

Tap is a device for controlling the flow of water at an outlet point, and is opened and closed by turning a handle. This may be a ‘tee’ or ‘capstan’ type (so called because of the shape) fitted onto a spindle rising from the body of the tap. Or it may be a ‘shrouded head’, covering all of the upper part of the tap.

Turning the handle clockwise forces a jumper unit down onto a valve seating in the waterway of the tap and stops the flow of water. Because metal against metal doesn’t make a very tight seal, a synthetic rubber disc — a washer — is attached to the base of the jumper so that it beds firmly onto the seating.

Turning the handle anti-clockwise raises the jumper from the seating and allows water to flow. An exception to this is the Supatap where the nozzle is rotated to control the flow. When you open a tap water pressure will also force water round the jumper unit and, unless there is some way of preventing it, this would escape from round the spindle. To get round this problem some taps have ‘0’ ring seals fitted to the spindle while older taps have greased wool packed tightly in a gland around the spindle. More modern taps have rubber tube for packing.

Mixers work in exactly the same way as ordinary taps except that they have only one

Spout that combines the flow of water from the hot and cold supplies. On kitchen mixers particularly this spout can be swivelled so that it can be pushed to one side to give better access to the sink or can supply a double sink.

When a tap starts to leak, there’s a strong temptation either to ignore it or to try to stop it by closing it as tightly as you can. Such action is invariably ineffective and could lead to the valve seating being permanently damaged.

Where leaks occur

Basically there are three places a tap can leak: at the spout, in which case the washer and perhaps the seating will need looking at; at the spindle when the tap is turned on, which means either the packing in the gland or the ‘O’ ring has failed; or at the swivel point at the spout of a mixer tap, which means that the ‘0’ ring is at fault. All these repairs are easy to deal with. But first you must know the type of tap and the terminology related to it.

How washers are replaced

This is the basic type of tap design and provides a good example of the procedure to follow when replacing a washer. These taps are commonly used for the hot and cold water supply over the kitchen sink and in this position they are probably the most frequently used taps in the house. It’s quite likely that sooner or later the washers will need replacing. To do this you’ll first have to turn off the water supply either at the mains or, if you’re lucky, at isolating stop-valves under the sink which when shut cut off the supply either to the hot or cold tap without affecting the rest of the system. Turn on the tap fully so it is drained before you start work.

Usually with a pillar tap the spindle rises out of a dome-like easy-clean cover, which you should be able to unscrew by hand. If this proves too difficult, you can use a wrench, but pad the jaws thoroughly with rag to avoid damaging the finish on plated taps.

With the tap turned on fully you can then raise the cover sufficiently to slip the jaws of a wrench under it to grip the ‘flats’ of the headgear — the main body of the tap which has a nut-shaped section to it. If you can’t do this you’ll need to take off the tap handle and easy-clean cover. First you’ll have to remove the tiny grub-screw in the side of the handle which can then be lifted off. If this proves difficult a good tip is to open the tap fully, unscrew, then raise the easy-clean cover and place pieces of wood (a spring-loaded clothes peg will do) between the bottom of the easy-clean cover and the body of the tap. By turning the tap handle as if you were trying to close it the upward pressure on the easy-clean cover will force it off the spindle. However, you then have to replace it over the spindle just sufficiently to enable you to turn the tap on. When this is done take it off again and remove the easy-clean cover. While you are doing all this make sure you hold the tap steady. If the headgear is stiff and the entire tap turns you could damage the part of the sink into which the tap fits.

You can now put the headgear to one side. You should be able to see the jumper, with the washer attached, resting on the valve seating within the body of the tap (though sometimes it gets stuck and lifts out with the headgear). Often the washer is held in position on the jumper by a tiny nut which has to be undone with pliers before the washer can be replaced. This may be easier said than done, and rather than waste time attempting the all-but-impossible, it’s probably better to fit a new washer and jumper complete rather than just renewing the washer. Once this has been done the tap can be reassembled, and as you do this smear the screw threads with petroleum jelly.

This is basically a pillar tap where the spindle is totally enclosed by an easy-clean cover that also acts as a handle to turn the tap on and off. Some shrouded heads are made of plastic and care is therefore needed when using wrenches. But the mystery of this tap is how to get to the inside — and methods vary with the make of tap.

Some shrouded heads can simply be pulled off, perhaps after opening the tap fully and then giving another half turn. Some are secured by a tiny grub-screw in the side. But the commonest method of attaching the head is by a screw beneath the plastic ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ indicator. Prise the plastic bit off with a small screwdriver to reveal the retaining screw (normally a cross-headed screw). When the shrouded head has been removed you’ll find that you can unscrew the headgear to reach the interior of the tap in the same way as with an ordinary pillar tap. Rewashering can then be done in the same way.

If the jumper is not resting on the valve seating in the body of the tap, but is ‘pegged’ into the headgear so that it can be turned round and round but can’t be withdrawn, it’s slightly more of a problem to remove the washer-retaining nut. The easiest way is to fasten the jumper plate in a vice (although pliers will do) and turn the nut with a spanner. Some penetrating oil will help to free the thread. If after this you still can’t loosen the nut, a good tip is to slip the blade of a screwdriver between the plate of the jumper and the tap headgear and lever it to break the pegging. A new jumper and washer can then be fitted complete, although the stem should be ‘burred’ or roughened with a file to give an ‘interference fit’ when it is slipped into the headgear.

These taps are treated in exactly the same way as a conventional pillar tap. You might find with a garden tap that there’s no easy-clean cover, so the headgear is already exposed.


Bib taps have a tee-shaped or capstan handle and a horizontal inlet.

Pillar taps have a vertical inlet, can be made of metal or plastic with capstan or elbow-action handles or shrouded head. Made to fit holes in sinks, basins and baths.

Supataps are a patented pillar tap. The water control is on the nozzle and a washer can be changed without turning off the supply.

Mixers are pillar units in which hot and cold water meet and come out through a central spout.

– kitchen mixers have a divider in the spout – a regulation to stop mains (cold) and stored water (hot) mixing in one plumbing fitting.

– bath mixers can have a shower attachment to divert mixed water up to a sprinkler.


– thin screwdriver is useful for prising off clipped on coverings, separating washer from jumper, removing ‘O’ rings, grub-screws.

– cross-headed screwdriver might be needed for retaining-screw on some shrouded or mixer taps.

– adjustable wrench or spanner is needed to remove the headgear. »»

I ‘O’ rings that look worn may also cause leaks. Choose the same size so they fit snugly.

Changing the washer on this type of tap can be carried out in minutes, without the need to cut off the water supply first. Before you begin, check that you have a replacement Supatap washer and jumper unit. Once you’ve undone the retaining nut at the top of the nozzle you have to open up the tap fully — and then keep on turning. At first the flow will increase, but then, just before the nozzle comes off in your hand, a check-valve inside the tap will fall into position and stop the flow. You can separate the antisplash device, (containing the washer and jumper unit) from the nozzle by turning it upside down and tapping the nozzle on a hard surface — not a ceramic sink or basin. The washer and jumper unit then need to be prised from the anti-splash device — you can use a knife blade or the edge of a coin to do this. A new washer and jumper unit can then be snapped in. When reassembling the tap it’s necessary to remember that the nozzle has a left-hand thread and so has to be turned anti-clockwise to tighten it.


Check out the problem first. Washers may be worn or disintegrating. Replace with 12mm (’/sin) or 18mm (%in) synthetic rubber washers, available from hardware stores. A good tip for a temporary repair is to reverse the old washer.

Valve seating is damaged if rough and uneven. You can:.

• use a domed, not a flat, washer.

– fit a washer and seating set which covers up the damage

– buy or hire a reseating tool to grind the damaged seat smooth


– If you can’t undo the nut holding the washer to the jumper, buy an all-in-one jumper and HP washer set.

– If a metal easy-clean cover is stuck pour very hot water over it. It should then unscrew.

– After repairing a tap, leave the water to run gently for 15 minutes to remove any air trapped in the pipes. —

Repairing a poor seating

Sometimes a tap will continue to drip although you’ve changed the washer. This is usually because the valve seating has become scored and damaged by grit from the mains, so the washer can’t make a watertight connection.

You can use a reseating tool to put the problem right. This entails removing the headgear after the water has been turned off, inserting the tool into the body of the tap and turning it to cut a new seating. It won’t be worthwhile buying one of these tools for what is a once-in-a-lifetime job, but you may be able to hire one from a tool hire company.

An alternative method, and certainly one that’s a lot easier, is to use a nylon ‘washer and seating set’. Again with the water supply off, the headgear and the washer and jumper are removed from the tap end and the nylon liner is placed in position over the seating. The jumper and washer are then inserted into the headgear, which is screwed back onto the tap. The tap handle is then turned to the off position. This action will force the liner into and over the old seating to give a watertight joint.

You can’t, of course, use one of these sets to reseat a Supatap. However, the makers (Deltaflow Ltd) will supply a reseating tool on request, but these taps very rarely need reseating.

You can also use a domed washer to cure a poor seating. It increases the surface area in contact with the waterway and so effectively cuts off the flow when the tap is turned off even though the top of the valve seating may not be smooth.

Repacking a gland

This is necessary when you turn the tap on and water bubbles up the spindle towards the handle. At the same time the tap can be turned on and off far too easily — you might even be able to spin the handle with a flick of the fingers. This fault is a common cause of water hammer — heavy thudding following the closure of a tap or float-valve — that can result in damage to the plumbing system.

Leakage up the spindle is most likely to occur in rather old fashioned — but still very common — taps in which the spindle passes through a gland or ‘stuffing box’ filled with greased wool. It’s inevitable that water containing detergent will be splashed onto the tap and this may result in the grease being washed out of the gland. The leakage can also be created if you run a garden or washing machine hose from the tap.

Fortunately, to make a repair you don’t have to cut off the water supply to the tap, but you must be able to get at the gland-adjusting nut. This is the first nut through which the spindle passes.

Giving the gland-adjusting nut about half a turn may be enough to stop the leakage up the spindle, but eventually all the adjustment available will be taken up and you’ll then have to repack the gland. When the gland-adjusting nut has been unscrewed and removed, the old gland packing material can be taken out and replaced with knitting wool saturated with petroleum jelly. The wool is wound round the spindle and packed down tightly before the gland-adjusting nut is put back and tightened until the tap handle can be turned fairly easily but without any leaks occurring.

Replacing an ‘O’ ring

Many modern taps have ‘O’ ring seals instead of a packed gland or stuffing box. If an ‘O’ ring fails the remedy is simply to undo the gland-adjusting nut, pick out the old ‘0’ ring and replace it with a new one. Leaks from taps with this fitting are rare. ‘0’ rings are also found at the swivel point of many mixer taps and if a leak occurs here you have to remove the spout to make the change – but this is usually only held with a grub-screw.

Older Supataps aren’t fitted with an ‘0’ ring seal but if water leaks from the top of the nozzle you can fit a ring round the valve casing. Modern Supataps have an ‘O’ ring already fitted and if it needs replacing, it’s a simple matter of slipping it off and pushing on another — but choose one that fits snugly and doesn’t move about. If this doesn’t cure the leak you’ll have to replace the anti-splash device which could have become worn.

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