Looking after my home: Anybody can change a tap washer

(even Warren Heggarty, who wrote this from his own experience) 

washers

You can save a couple of hundred dollars by learning how to change a tap washer. It is not hard to do, and does not require any unusual tools. It helps if you have someone to show you, or if you can watch one of the many you tube instruction videos (see below). 

Taps usually leak because the tap washer becomes worn, squashed or split, allowing water to force its way through. This will eventually cost you big money by adding to your water bill. You could get a plumber, but that will cost at least $100 for a ten minute job. 

To change a tap washer you will need to buy some new washers. They cost a couple of dollars each, from a hardware, from Bunnings, or even from a $2 shop. Indoor taps are usually 12mm, outdoor taps are larger, often 15 or 19mm. Make sure you get the right size. 

To see how it is done, you can watch you tube videos. It is best to watch an Australian video, because there are subtle differences between countries. 

This short video shows a tap that comes horizontally out of the wall.  

www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYHq4Jh2-3Q

This video shows a tap which sits vertically in a basin. It also goes more in depth, looking at all the different parts of the tap and all the different problems that can develop. 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=13SbhjVR71M

You will need an adjustable wrench, so handy for many jobs about the home. The wrench is most useful for undoing the hexagonal nut that holds the tap spindle in place. The tap washer fits into the bottom of the spindle unit (or the back of it if it is horizontal). Also, a screwdriver will come in handy if you need to prize off the tap lock button. 

There are so many different designs of taps and tap fittings you may feel daunted by the prospect of pulling it apart, but rest assured that most taps, deep down are just the same old standard spindle unit with different casing. 

The spindle unit has three types of washer. At the bottom is the tap washer itself. It looks like a flat (or domed) circle with a short  stick in the centre, known as a jumper. Technically, only the soft rubber or plastic part is a washer, but let’s not get too technical. (See six tap washers in the picture far, left). 

Further up we have the fibre washer (usually red) which are illustrated third from left,  and there are usually two O-rings (usually black). Six of them are shown in the picture, second from left.

A screwdriver, and/or pointy nose pliers will also come in handy if you need to prize off or screw open a tap lock. This is necessary if you have a decorative handle. Pointy nose pliers are useful for picking the old washer out of the seat of the tap. Sometimes they get stuck. 

Some tips for changing washers

  • Turn the water off at the mains first
  • Take your time and don’t panic
  • Once the mains tap is off, make sure you turn the tap on full before unscrewing it, so the remaining water can drain out. 
  • Put a plug in the sink so you don’t drop anything down the plug hole
  • If the parts look grotty, give them a wipe with steel wool. 
  • Give moving parts a rub with special tap lubricant that you can buy in tap fixing kits such as the one in the yellow sachet in the picture.
  • Learn the names for the parts of a tap: e.g.. tap lock, spindle, flange or bonnet… not all taps have all the parts and it helps to know the words when you go shopping. 

Big hardware stores like Bunnings have lots of helpful hints on their web sites. Plus you can also ask the staff who will be only too happy to help you if there’s a sale in it!

If all else fails, get a plumber. It will cost you though, so get your money’s worth by observing carefully what the plumber does and by asking lots of questions. 

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