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What should I do if my tap is dripping?

 A dripping tap is always an unwelcome occurrence. The annoying noise can quickly become considerably disruptive. Even if the tap only sends one drop of water down the plughole at a time, across an entire day this can easily add up to 5 litres or more of unnecessary additional water consumption.

This guide explains why taps drip and provides some tips to prevent it from happening.

How does a tap work?

To ensure that water can reach the top floor of a multi-storey building and flow out of the tap with sufficient force, there is a certain water pressure in the pipes for fresh water. As such, every tap must be designed to account for the predominant pressure in the pipes and the temperature of the water. The tap must also close the pipeline completely when the water is not running. To this end, a valve disc is installed in the tap system. It closes the pipeline and only allows water to flow through if the valve, or the tap, is open.

Why does a tap drip in the first place?

It’s usually little things that cause the tap to leak and drip, and these can often be resolved without the help of a plumber. The issue is usually the rubber seals – limescale can form on them over time or they may become leaky due to material wear. These seals or O-rings can be replaced quickly and easily.

In modern single lever mixers, the built-in cartridge inside the tap may also be the cause of the dripping tap. With many models, this can be removed and either descaled or completely replaced in order to stop the dripping.

Repairing a dripping tap – How-to guide

In this step-by-step guide, we explain how to stop the dripping and how to get your tap sealed again.

First things first, turn off the water

Whether the dripping tap is in the bathroom, kitchen or basement, the water must first be turned off and the pipes drained before you replace or clean the valve. To do this for bathroom and kitchen sinks, you need to turn off the angle valve underneath the basin. The water pipes for the bath or shower are often connected to a separate, larger stopcock.

If the stopcock is not located in your apartment, you will have to shut off the entire water supply to your apartment. The valve generally tends to be located in the cellar and should be appropriately labelled, with a tag for example. If the labelling is unclear and you can’t be sure which stopcock is the right one, contact the caretaker or your landlord.

Before continuing with any further work, check that there really is no more water pressure in the pipes for cold or hot water. To do this, turn on the tap fully. If the supply is shut off, only the water left in the pipes will come out, and the stream will dry up within a few seconds. If the water pressure remains constant, then the corresponding stop valve is not yet closed.

To protect the ceramic and the tap components from scratches when repairing the valve, pay attention to the following tip: lay a towel in the basin or bath. This protects any delicate parts and surfaces while also preventing any small parts from slipping down the drain.

Dripping in a twin lever tap

Does your sink have two taps – one for cold and one for hot water? These so-called twin lever taps are easier to repair, because unscrewing or removing the individual taps is usually straightforward.

Turn on both taps fully so that any water left in the pipes can run out. If your taps have protective covers, remove these first but take note of their positioning to avoid mixing them up when refitting them later.

Then, using a screwdriver, loosen the screw fixing the handle and remove the handle. The valve is located underneath the handle, and can be unscrewed using a spanner or pipe wrench. When doing so, you should cover the tap with a towel or soft cloth to protect it from scratches. The actual rubber seal, or washer, is located beneath the valve. On some models, this disc is secured with an additional small nut.

Carefully lever out the seal using a flat screwdriver, to have a better look at the disc under plenty of light. If the disc is covered in limescale or other dirt, you simply need to soak it in a bowl of vinegar for a few hours or overnight before rinsing it in warm running water. However, if the disc is damaged or porous, it needs to be replaced with a suitable new disc.

Rub the valve and the screw threads of the handles with tap grease before refitting them. This will make future dismantling easier for you (or someone else) and will protect the material from corrosion.

Now place the clean or replacement valve disc on the lower end of the valve and re-secure it with the nut, before refitting the valve and carefully tightening it. Finally, reattach the tap handles and screw them back in.

Dripping in a single lever tap

In single lever taps, it is a concealed cartridge with ceramic discs that ensures the tap remains watertight. Ceramic is considerably more durable and robust than a rubber seal, so with these taps, limescale is usually the cause of the dripping.

After shutting off the water supply, loosen the covered screws on the front or back of the tap to remove the handle. The cartridge is located beneath the handle and a pipe wrench should be used to carefully unscrew it for cleaning. Place a thin cloth over the handle to prevent damaging its surfaces with the wrench.

Place the removed cartridge into a container with vinegar and leave it to soak for a few hours or overnight to dissolve any deposits. Afterwards, thoroughly rinse everything with water before refitting and tightening the cartridge.

One final top tip

If you aren’t confident in carrying out the repairs yourself, contact a tradesman to do the work professionally. But until then, you can at least resolve the annoying dripping noise yourself: Simply tie some string around the dripping tap. The end of the string should reach the bottom of the washbasin. The water droplets will then run down the string, reaching the washbasin and the drain without making any more noise.