I have been a plumber for over 35 years, so I have plenty of experience dealing with leaks and bad hoses.
It happens to everyone at one time or another. You go to fire up the hose and, "Oh, man!" There you are, backing away from an unexpected spray of water. You may also wonder why your water bill is higher than the neighbor's or higher than last month. One place to check is your hose bibb (the outdoor faucet that's treaded to connect to a hose). That's right; they call it a hose bibb.
I have been a plumber since 1982. 30 years! My, how time flies when you're having fun. I have fixed a few hose bibbs in my lifetime and know that the problem can normally be fixed without expensive tools or a plumber. I will do my best to help explain how to do it yourself without a lot of time or money.
How to Locate the Leak and/or Replace the Washer
First, you must determine where the leak is coming from. The leak that most often gets you wet is the simplest to fix. Chances are that one of three things is amiss: Either the hose connection is not secured tight enough, the hose doesn't have a "hose washer," or the old one is decaying.
- The fix is to first turn the faucet off and then try to tighten the connection with your hand. If the connector won't budge, it may require some help with a pair of pliers.
- Gently squeeze the connection with the pliers and turn it to the right. If it begins to move, turn it slowly to the right until it feels snug. Do not try to "muscle" it. Who knows how old the pipes are and you do not want to break the pipe that feeds the hose bibb.
- Turn the handle of the hose bibb on and see if the leak has stopped. If it hasn't, turn the water back off and undo the hose connection, turning to the left.
- Look into the end of the hose connection and see if there is a washer. It is a round ring that is made of rubber or plastic that fits into the hose connection. If all that you see when you look into the hose connector is metal or a ragged piece of rubber that is flat, cracked, or has chips or chunks missing, it is time for a new washer. Your local hardware store or home improvement store should have them. If there is an old washer that needs replacing, use a flathead screwdriver to pry the old one out of the connection. Caution: Do not point the screwdriver towards your body to do this and take care not to stab yourself in your hand!! Hmm? Do you think I'm talking from experience? Please be safe!
- After the old washer is out, look for any chunks of rubber that could be left behind inside the hose connector. These pieces of old rubber can cause the new washer to not seal properly. Once the connector is completely free of the old washer, simply push the new one in with your thumb, making certain it is in, all the way to the metal connector. Screw hose back onto the hose bibb and give a quarter-turn with the pliers to ensure a snug fit. Turn on the water, and you should be in fine shape for several years.
Leaky Packing Nut
The packing nut is the hexagon nut that is located directly behind the handle of the hose bibb. It sometimes drips after you have finished using your hose. These drips can be costly and run up your water bill as it drips all month long. One drip per second for a whole month adds up to be a ton of water and a lot of money.
Signs of a Leaky Packing Nut
If your grass under the hose bibb seems to be growing better than the rest of the yard, it is an indication that you have a leak. This packing nut often drips more water when you are using your hose or are turning the handle on or off. The brass that the valve is made of can become slimy or green right around this nut. This is another indicator of a persistent leak.
How to Fix a Leaky Packing Nut
- If the packing nut is leaking, the first thing to do is to round up an adjustable wrench. That is the wrench with the jaws that move to larger or smaller when you rotate the adjusting screw with your thumb. "Crescent wrench" is a common name but implies a brand name for the adjustable wrench.
- Adjust the jaws of the wrench to match the size of the packing nut. If you wiggle the wrench a bit while you try to adjust it against the packing nut, it will get a tighter fit on the nut. Using the right, tight, left, loose rule from above, see if you can tighten the packing nut, 1/4 or even 1/2 of a turn. Do not try to over tighten. Again, you do not want to break the pipe that feeds your hose bibb. To fix this can be a major undertaking, so, be firm, but don't muscle it.
- After snugging up the nut, go ahead and turn on the water and see whether or not there is any leakage coming from the top of the nut, by the 'stem' of the handle. Chances are good that it will be dry. You can take a piece of sandcloth or a wire brush to clean any green gunk that may have developed. If in a few years you see it turning green again, it is time to inspect for leaks and if so, repeat the process.
What If It's Still Leaking? How to Replace the Packing
- If this process does not take care of the leak, the next step is to head on over to the hardware store and ask the clerk for "packing." Explain your situation, and he or she will gladly sell you some. It probably costs more to drive to the store than for the packing. At least it was the last time I bought it. A small amount can last a long time.
- Next, the water to the house needs to be shut off, either the main line shut off valve at the house or the city main at the meter which is normally at the street. A meter shut off key is the recommended tool to shut off the water but an adjustable wrench and a screwdriver, used in conjunction as a "T" wrench, works. Watch out for ants, spiders, and snakes when the lid of the meter is opened and while you work around the meter.
- Once the water is shut off, open the hose bibb to drain the water from the building.
- While the hose bibb valve is still open, loosen packing nut completely and slide it up the stem, towards the handle. This should give you a view of the stem that enters into the valve. This is the area where the packing goes.
- The packing varies in style from looking like a miniature piece of rope to looking somewhat like string licorice. Wrap the stem with a portion of the packing, enough to fill the hole that is surrounding the stem, where the packing nut goes. The packing needs to be wrapped around the stem in a clockwise manner, so when you put the nut back in place, the nut will tighten the packing and not loosen it.
- Wrap the packing, single strand on the stem and when it looks as if there is enough on the stem to fill the hole, break the packing on the stem, apart from the rest of the packing. There should be a half an inch or so of packing around the stem. Push this packing down the stem and as much into the hole as you can. Use a screwdriver to push it in a bit further. There should be some packing left up on the stem, so when you go to replace the nut, it goes over some of the packing material.
- Now slide the packing nut back down the stem and screw clockwise onto the threads where it originally was. Once the packing nut gets to "squishing" the packing, turn the faucet handle half-way closed. After snugging the packing nut, turn the handle completely closed and tighten packing nut once more. Snug, but remember, don't bully it.
- Open the hose bibb completely and turn water back on to the building. Let the water run for 3-4 minutes or until burping stops. Air gets into the pipes when drained, and it is best to bleed lines until the air is out. Also, when opening and shutting valves that don't get used very often, corrosive debris comes loose and needs to be bled from the system so that it doesn't land in faucets or valves, causing additional headaches.
- After the system is purged, shut off hose bibb and inspect. This should take care of any leakage at the packing nut. Also, in a few years, if it does start to leak, there is enough packing behind the nut to where step #1 will be sufficient, many times over. Just tighten the nut a bit, and you're good to go.
Changing the Hose Bibb Washer/Cup
- If your hose bibb just plain leaks and water is just dripping or running out of the faucet, the steps taken above to shut off the water to the building must be taken.
- After the water is off and the access water is drained from the house, the faucet handle needs to be removed. A screwdriver [Phillips or flat-head] is normally the tool. At times you may encounter a hexagon nut that will need a nut driver, socket, or adjustable wrench. These screws and nuts have been in all kinds of weather, so some WD40 may be needed to loosen and remove handle. Also once the screw or nut is out of the way the handle itself can be a bit of a pain. Channel-locks, wiggled back and forth normally takes care of it. Sometimes the handle is just simply rotten and crumbles off. If this happens, your hose bibb not only gets fixed but it gets dressed up with a new handle also.
- After the handle is removed, take the packing nut completely off and the with a larger adjustable wrench on the Bonnet nut, remove it. Again these things have been out in the elements. WD, and you may possibly need a pipe wrench or channel-locks, holding the body of the hose bibb while you remove the bonnet nut. Do not twist or bend the pipe that is in the wall while performing this procedure. If you must, put things back together and let the Wd40 or whatever you are using to loosen things up, to sit overnight. You really do not want to break that pipe. Patience can save you a nightmare. One more day may do the trick.
- Once the bonnet is off, the handle [stem] will screw out. You will find at the end of the stem, a metal "cup" and inside that cup is a washer. The washer is held in by a stainless steel screw. At times these,[cup and screw] are in good shape and do not need replacing, other times they do. Be prepared for a trip to the hardware store. Nothing here to put you out of house and home, five bucks, maybe. Take the cup and washer and match them up for size at the store. Grease these and the screw before installing. Also, grease the threads of the bonnet and the packing nut. A bit of grease under the handle where it seats and in the hole where the screw goes will save whoever takes it apart the next time, [probably not you] a headache.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 W.R. Shinn
Theo107 on May 11, 2016:
Needed to 'brush-up' on fixing a packing nut leak, this site was just the ticket. Thanks!
Jim on March 19, 2014:
Just what I was looking for, thanks!
Lorin on June 13, 2013:
Very helpful!! Thanks so much!
Auzy on May 19, 2012:
Jus read about packing, helped a lot! Thanks
G. Mark on April 13, 2012:
Instructions too verbose.
W.R. Shinn (author) on January 22, 2012:
256 visitors to this page. Has it helped? W.R. Shinn