January 27, 2015

The Crash Course In How To Change A Tap Washer

a dripping tap

The Crash Course In How To Change A Tap Washer

Plumbing, a bit like car trouble, can fill most of us with a sense of dread as we feel our wallets wince at the thought of heading once more into this no man’s land. A land full of buzzwords and technical speak which is no doubt designed to leave us feeling more than a little clueless.

Plumber No1:“Yeah well, the problem is you’ve got a faulty diaphragm there mate and that’s the reason you’ve got water coming down your walls!” Plumber No2:“I reckon your float valve has been passing for years and no one has ever noticed, but don’t worry it’s not a big job, it will only take us two or three days to put right, then you can get your decorator in and patch things up from there.”

That snippet of a conversation is enough to make your spine tingle. Why, oh why, didn’t I pay more attention when Grandad was trying to show me the basics all those years back?

grandad talking to boy

So, what’s the answer? Well for the brave amongst you this article shall attempt to dispel some of the fears to do with plumbing. I mean… how hard can it be, right?


Probably worth stating at this juncture that should you choose to read any further or heaven forbid, be crazy enough to actually follow up on the advice in this light hearted article, YOU DO SO ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK, WE TAKE NO RESPONSIBILTY FOR YOU TURNING YOUR BEDROOM INTO A DUCK POND.

OK then, that said, here we go…

Small Beginnings

There is no great mystery here, it’s only water. Yes of course gallons and gallons of the stuff unexpectedly arriving in your living room can cause issues for your carpets and furnishings, not to mention possibly scaring the bejeezus out of the cat, but with a little prior planning and some, ahem, sage advice, this should never happen.

cartoon of water flooding through a door

We are going to start small, OK? And focus on changing a traditional tap washer; you can take on changing the entire bathroom suite by yourself once your confidence has grown.

N.B. Because of the many variations of taps and also the many different ways that each house was originally plumbed we need to narrow the field a little. If your own tap or your home’s plumbing set up is different to the ones chosen for this example then you will need to contact us, to get this advice tweaked to meet your own individual plumbing situation.

N.B. (yes another one, you can’t be too safe) In this example the tap is a traditional one that has a penny washer inside, quarter turn taps or ones with ceramic cartridges are different and not covered by this example. And the house in question has a combination (combi) boiler supplying the heating and hot water, and there is mains pressure water supplying all the cold taps. In other words, the water in this house is supplied by mains pressure to all hot and cold outlets.


Tools you will need to undertake this task

A flat bladed screwdriver

A smaller/precision flat bladed screwdriver (not vital but will make getting the washer out easier)

An adjustable spanner

A firm grip

It’s also likely you’ll need a Phillips screwdriver, but this is tap dependant.

And a replacement tap (penny) washer

It is also advisable to have read and understood ALL the instructions before commencing.



  1. Isolate the water supply. Either by turning off your internal stop tap or if you don’t have one, isolate via your external stop tap.
  2. Check you have isolated the water supply. You do this by turning on some taps, the tap you are going to work on is a good place to start, let’s use the kitchen tap for this example. If the water is running as usual something is not right, so check you haven’t turned off your neighbour’s water by mistake and begin again. If you’ve correctly isolated the water, it will be down to a dribble and stop pretty quickly (if it doesn’t, repeat points 1 & 2 again until it does).
  3. Once the water is turned off, recognise that just because you have effectively isolated the supply of water (Go You, by the way) this will not have taken all of the water out of the pipe work. Meaning, that if someone was upstairs and they turned on a tap, the water in the pipe work between that tap and the kitchen tap will then come out of the kitchen tap. We have Sir Isaac Newton to thank for observing this little law. So make sure no one else is going to be turning on taps/shower etc. anywhere else in the property before you go any further. Or if you prefer, you could go around opening all outlets (taps, showers etc) and ‘purge’ all the water out of the system yourself, but this is an unnecessary waste of time and water if you have control over preventing these extra outlets from being opened whilst you are working on the broken kitchen tap.
  4. With the water isolated and checked as being off, you can then confidently begin dismantling your tap to get to the faulty washer inside. There will be some variations here also, depending on the type of tap.

Final pre-work checks

[If you were of a mind to, you could possibly check the paperwork that came with the tap. Or look on the manufacturer’s website and try and get diagrams of your model of tap to see how they put it together, failing that you could just wing it.]
Most taps of this type will have a retaining screw holding the tap head (handle) on to the body of the tap; this screw is usually hidden beneath a cover of some kind. The cover is often either a red or blue disc, maybe even discs or buttons with hot and cold written on them, or possibly just a little plastic cover (grommet type thing), but before you attempt to remove that cover or disc, STOP!

stainless steel kitchen sink waste hole

    1. Put the plug in the sink, you don’t want to drop your little retaining screw down the plughole and then have to dismantle your sink waste to retrieve it, as you’ll be on your own for that task!

Let the plumbing commence

  1. With the plug now firmly in place, gently ease out the disc or little plastic grommet screw cover and put safely to one side. Some may unscrew anti-clockwise rather than just pop out.
  2. Then undo the retaining screw and also place safely to one side.
  3. Ease the head of the tap (the handle) away from the body; you should hold the body of the tap as you do this to stop it moving as this can take a bit of wiggling.
  4. Next there will be a shroud (or flange) covering the inner workings of your tap, this also needs to come off. Many of them can simply pull straight off, but in some cases they might need unscrewing (anti-clockwise) which would see you using the adjustable spanner to get it free. Again hold the body of the tap firmly as you do this.
  5. Once the head and shroud are removed you will see two remaining pieces, the body and the innards (known as the tap cartridge or tap valve). You now need to remove the tap cartridge from the body, which will again require the adjustable spanner and a firm hold on the body of the tap to stop it moving whilst you undo the cartridge, unscrewing anti-clockwise once more.
  6. When the cartridge has been removed you will see the washer on the underside, again retained by either another little screw or possibly a small nut. If this is not what you see, put the whole thing back together, call a professional and deny all knowledge.
  7. Remove the small screw or nut and place safely to the side for now.
  8. Get the smallest flat bladed screwdriver and gently ease the current washer out of its slot in the tap cartridge. At this point it is worth inspecting the current washer, as in comparison to the new one it will often look worn or degraded.
  9. Once the now old washer is out, compare it to the new washer. All being well they are going to be the same size, give or take a bit of degradation to the old one. If they are, great, place the new washer in place and put back the retaining screw or nut that you removed moments before.
  10. Worth saying here that if for some reason the size of the replacement washer is different from the size of the old one, you have two options. Either you could head to the local plumbing suppliers, old washer in hand and seek a matching replacement. Or, failing that, put the old one back in place. If you are doing this it is worth turning it over before you put it back. As hopefully the unused side is in better condition and just this simple act may get you some considerable further use out of it before your problem reoccurs further down the track.
  11. When either the new washer or the old one (turned upside down) are back in place and the retaining screw/nut is back on, the tap cartridge can be replaced into the body of the tap. Again, hold the body as you use the adjustable spanner to tighten back up, only this time tightening clockwise.
  12. Next, replace the shroud, then the tap head, followed by the retaining screw, followed by the covering disc/plastic grommet.
  13. Now for the moment of truth…
  14. First turn off any taps that you turned on, including checking the one you have been working on is off.
  15. You can then turn the water supply back on and return quickly to the tap you have been working on to check no water is coming from anywhere unexpected.
  16. All good? Great, turn on the tap and let the air splutter out to allow supply of water to return. You can then turn your newly re-washered tap off and check again for any leaks on the area you’ve worked on.

If there are any leaks, turn the water back off, backtrack and tighten accordingly.

Leak Free? Congratulations, never knew you had it in you, huh?

Problems? See disclaimer in bold above.

Brief – A light hearted blog post on the very basics of plumbing. Required key words – tap valves, ceramic cartridges.

Article length needed = 1600+ Actual word count: 1742 words.