Leaking water taps is a common problem in most households. As a result, there is a lot of water wastage which sometimes leaves the washbasins or bathroom floors wet. Most water leaks are simple to fix and can be done without calling a plumber.
Difficulty level: Easy, if you have the necessary tools
Time required: About 10 minutes
1. Pipe wrench
4. Large towel to absorb water
5. Rubber or PVC washers
6. PVC or fiber O-ring
7. Teflon pipe seal tape or vaseline or silicone grease
The adjustable pipe wrench could cost around $10 at a hardware store, a screwdriver for about $2 and the pliers for about $5. Rubber or PVC washers and O-rings are generally sold in packages of 10 costing about $1 at plumbing supply stores.
1. If there is a main inlet valve to your house, turn that off to stop all water supply to the house. This valve is usually located in the front lawn area near the water meter. In apartment blocks, you may not have an inlet valve separate for your apartment. Taps fitted to wash basins usually have an inlet valve fitted below. That could serve the purpose of turning off water supply to the leaking tap.
2. Once you have turned off the main inlet valve, open the tap to drain water from the pipes. If you do not have a main inlet valve, or a wash basin valve to isolate the leaking tap, proceed to step 3.
3. The tap operating handle is now to be removed. This handle is fixed to the tap with a screw that is usually located under the hot or cold marking button on the tap. The button is push fit into the handle and can be pried off. Remove the screw with the screwdriver and take the handle off.
In some designs, the tap handle is also push fit and may not need the screwdriver. In other designs, the screw could be on the side of the handle.
4. Once the handle is removed, the tap spindle is exposed. The spindle assembly is threaded into the base of the tap. This spindle needs to be removed using the pipe wrench. The base of the spindle has flattened edges to accommodate the pipe wrench. Tighten the pipe wrench jaws on the flattened edge and turn anti-clockwise to loosen the spindle. Do not take the spindle assembly off if you have not turned off water supply to the tap. Cover the tap with the towel and reach under it to thread the spindle out. The towel helps keep the water spout from the open tap under check.
If you have turned off the water supply to the tap under repair, you don’t need the towel.
5. At the base of the spindle is the rubber or PVC washer that needs to be replaced to stop the leakage. The damaged washer will come off with hand pressure. Occasionally, you may need to use the pliers to pull it off. Push on the new washer to the spindle stem.
The spindle also has a PVC or fiber O-ring at the place where the spindle assembly seats on the tap base. This usually does not get damaged but check to see if that too needs replacement.
Apply a layer of pipe sealant tape or grease to the threaded surface of the spindle.
6. Reach under the towel (if in place over the tap), and thread the spindle assembly into the base of the tap. Tighten with fingers.
7. Remove the water soaked towel. Tighten the spindle with the pipe wrench.
8. Turn the water back on. The leakage should have stopped.
9. Refix the handle to the tap using the screwdriver and replace the buttons over the screw head.
Frequently asked questions
Q1: If I don’t have a pipe wrench, can I use the pliers to loosen the spindle?
A: The pliers would not be able to grip the spindle and you could cause damage to the spindle or injury to yourself from the pliers slipping off.
Q2: When a shower head drips, can the same process be used?
A: Yes, shower head taps are similar except that the tap and the spindle are horizontal.
If you do not have a main inlet valve that you can turn off, it would be worthwhile to keep a spare spindle to attend to leaking taps. Most tap spindles are interchangeable even if the tap external appearance differs. This would cut down the time needed for washer replacement and reduce the amount of water to be soaked up by the towel.
Things to watch out for
When removing or refitting the threaded spindle, apply only moderate pressure on the pipe wrench. Applying too much pressure could cause damage to the spindle threads and the whole tap may need replacement.