Scott Cam demonstrated how easy it is to change the washer on a leaky household tap. (Note: In some parts of Australia it is illegal to change tap washers – you must call in a licensed plumber to do the job. Check with the water supply authority in your own state.)
There are three places from which a tap can leak:
from the tap washer through the spout where the spindle screws into the head around the body washer
Tools and materials
The tools and materials used to change a washer are available from hardware or plumbing supply stores.
Adjustable spanner to fit tap nut Valve or tap washer Body washer O-ring Silicon lubricant or Vaseline Needle nose pliers
1. Turn the water off at the mains: this stops all water flowing into your house. If you live in a house the tap and water meter will probably be out on the street or in your front yard adjacent to the street. If you live in a flat or townhouse the mains tap will probably be inside, for example in the bathroom or laundry. Turn on a tap in or around the house to make sure that the water has stopped running. (If the water has not stopped running, it will be necessary to call a licensed plumber). If the mains tap has not been used for years, you may need a pair of multigrips to help turn it off. (Scott’s tip: You need to know where the mains tap is to be able to turn the water off in an emergency. If you don’t know, even if you don’t need to change a washer, find out now!)
2. Undo the head nut: once the mains water has been shut off, undo the head nut on the leaking tap.
3. Replace the washers: you could just replace the tap washer, but it is a good idea to replace all three washers at once. These are:
The large washer around the head nut which is called the body washer (usually orange). This should lift off quite easily. The O-ring on the spindle. To change this you need to fully close the tap until the O-ring appears. Then with a pair of needle nose pliers (or a screwdriver or a sharp knife), prise or cut off. The new O-ring should simply stretch and roll on to the spindle. Thirdly, replace the tap washer. It may simply slide out of the spindle or stay sitting in the body of the tap, in which case you will need a pair of small pliers to pick the washer out.
4. Reassemble: first make sure the spindle and the threaded areas are lubricated with a silicon lubricant or Vaseline.
5. Turn the mains back on: once the tap is reassembled, open it half way and then turn the mains back on. When turning the tap off after the washer has been replaced, use only gentle finger pressure. Over-tightening causes a lot of damage to the tap seat. A tap should only be tightened until the water flow ceases, no further. (Note: If the tap is still leaking after you have replaced the washer, it means the seat is “pitted” and you will need a plumber to regrind the seat.)
The majority of inside taps take 12mm (1/2″) washers, while outside taps (garden taps) take 3/4″ (18mm). Washers cost around $2-$2.50 each. The most popular washer (used by most plumbers) is a heavy duty one suitable for hot and cold taps, with a copper base and a yellow top (Delaware valve) – approx. $2.45 each. This same type of washer is good for outside garden taps – 18mm costs about $2.50 each.
If you have very old taps, take the worn-out washer to the hardware or plumbers’ supply store so that you get the right washer for your tap.