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How to Replace a Spigot Washer - Dripping Outside Tap (Bibcock)

Eugene, an avid self-taught DIYer and engineer, has acquired 30 years of experience with power/hand tools, plumbing, electrics and woodwork.

how-to-replace-a-spigot-washer-dripping-outside-tap-bibcock

Leaking Spigot - How to Remedy

Like any other faucet, a spigot has a washer inside which seals and cuts off the flow of water when the spigot is turned off. Eventually after thousands of on/off cycles, this washer wears away, and the result is a dripping spigot. Once the washer is totally worn, the spigot will dribble constantly and its time to replace it.
Fortunately only a couple of tools are needed for this repair and a washer only costs tens of cents. The most tricky and problematic part of the repair is likely to be unscrewing the top of the tap.

Tap mechanism. The black washer part is screwed down onto a seat, shutting off flow.

Tap mechanism. The black washer part is screwed down onto a seat, shutting off flow.

Outside tap or bibcock.

Outside tap or bibcock.

What is a Water Spigot?

Depending on where you live in the world, this valve is known by different names. In the USA, it's commonly referred to as a spigot, bibcock, bib, hose bib, outdoor or garden faucet or silcock. In Britain and Ireland, its usually known as an outdoor or garden tap.

What Tools Are Needed For Repairing a Spigot?

  1. Vise grip locking pliers for holding body of spigot
  2. Wrench (spanner) or alternatively a second vise grips, water pump pliers or pipe wrench (Stilsons) for removing upper body of spigot

Step 1. Identify Where the Water is Coming from on the Spigot

Spigots leak either from the spout itself or from around the spindle (shaft) of the spigot where it enters the packing nut (gland nut). If the latter is the case, it will dribble from this point when turned on.

Step 2. Turn Off the Water

Locate the valve for shutting off water to the spigot and close it. Valves are always shut off by turning the handle, knob or screw clockwise. There are three common types:

  • Gate valve. The wheel must be continuously turned until it goes no further.
  • Ball valve (quadrant valve). Turn the lever 90 degrees clockwise. Usually when the valve is off, the lever is perpendicular to the pipe.
  • Miniature inline ball valve. These are often used to shut off flow to individual appliances. Turn the screw 90 degrees clockwise so it's perpendicular to the pipe.

Turn on the spigot to release any water.

Gate valve - Turn fully clockwise for off

Gate valve - Turn fully clockwise for off

Quadrant or ball valve. This is off when the handle is perpendicular or 90 degrees to the pipe

Quadrant or ball valve. This is off when the handle is perpendicular or 90 degrees to the pipe

Miniature inline valve, which is opened/closed with a screwdriver. Turn so the slot is 90 degrees to the pipe.

Miniature inline valve, which is opened/closed with a screwdriver. Turn so the slot is 90 degrees to the pipe.

Step 2 - Remove the Head of the Spigot

Fixing the spigot washer

Open the spigot a couple of turns. Use the vise grips to hold the valve body of the spigot. A curved jaw vise grips will give a better grip than a plain/straight jawed type. Alternatively hold the body of the spigot with a water pump pliers. If you don't hold the spigot body securely and have to use a large force to undo the upper section or head, its quite possible to rip out the fixing screws and pull the spigot off the wall or timber its mounted on.

You can use either a wrench (spanner), Stilsons (pipe wrench) or water pump pliers to remove the head of the tap. The head is removed counterclockwise.

If the head is stuck fast, and difficult to unscrew, try heating the lower section of the spigot with boiling water. This usually works because it expands the brass body sufficiently to reduce its holding grip. The important thing is to only heat the lower body of the spigot. If you pour boiling water over both parts, the two sections will expand, defeating the purpose.

You can also try tapping the wrench with a light hammer. This can be difficult to do (a third hand would be useful for holding the vise grips, but your belly might suffice!). A second straight jaw vise grips comes in useful if you need to do this.

From left to right - Wrench (spanner), Stilsons (pipe wrench), water pump pliers. Either of these can be used to remove the head of the tap

From left to right - Wrench (spanner), Stilsons (pipe wrench), water pump pliers. Either of these can be used to remove the head of the tap

Remove the head. Ideally you should hold the body also to restrain it, otherwise if a lot of force needs to be used to loosen the head, you can end up ripping the tap off the wall.

Remove the head. Ideally you should hold the body also to restrain it, otherwise if a lot of force needs to be used to loosen the head, you can end up ripping the tap off the wall.

If you can't remove the head, try using hot water. This expands the lower metal body of the spigot and loosens its grip. Pour water on the lower half only, not the head

If you can't remove the head, try using hot water. This expands the lower metal body of the spigot and loosens its grip. Pour water on the lower half only, not the head

Tap gently if the head still remains difficult to remove

Tap gently if the head still remains difficult to remove

A second vise grips comes in useful

A second vise grips comes in useful

Head removed from spigot.

Head removed from spigot.

The washer seals against the rim of the hole inside the spigot (called the valve seat)

The washer seals against the rim of the hole inside the spigot (called the valve seat)

Step 3. Remove the Old Washer

This is often held on with a "mushroom" type projection or lug extending from the "jumper" or flange section. Alternatively a nut is used for retaining the washer.

Worn washer

Worn washer

Worn washer

Worn washer

This flanged piece is called a "jumper" and has a mushroom shaped lug (or nut) at the center to retain the washer

This flanged piece is called a "jumper" and has a mushroom shaped lug (or nut) at the center to retain the washer

Step 4. Fit the New Washer

You will need a 3/4 inch or 20mm diameter washer for a 1/2 inch spigot.
Use your thumbs and nails to push the washer into place.

Push the the new washer on with your thumbs

Push the the new washer on with your thumbs

New washer in place

New washer in place

Step 5. Smear a Little Vaseline on the Threads and Replace the Head

A little Vaseline makes it easier to remove the head the next time.

Smear a little Vaseline on the threads

Smear a little Vaseline on the threads

Water Leaking From the Spindle of a Spigot

Sometimes a spigot may leak from the point where the shaft enters the head. If this is the case, you need to replace the packing nut washer. This is held in place by the packing nut, screwed into the head. Use the same steps above to undo this nut and you should be able to buy a replacement in a plumbers suppliers or good homestore.

If the Tap Still Leaks......

The valve seat may be worn. This is the part inside the spigot which the washer pushes against to cut off flow. This can be reground flat with a valve reseating tool. Now while this option could be considered for faucets on wash basins, baths and sinks which are more difficult and awkward to replace, its not worth buying a tool to regrind an outdoor spigot. These are relatively inexpensive compared to their chrome plated counterparts indoors and easy to replace.

Amazon's Choice for Replacement Bib With Sharkbite Fitting

If you need to replace your garden bibcock, this is Amazon's Choice for an outside faucet with Sharkbite fittings. The 3/4" GHT - 1/2" NPT bibcock can be quickly connected by anyone without plumbing skills because it has a Sharkbite push fitting connector for for use with copper, PEX, CPVC, PE-RT or HDPE plumbing. So no wrenches are required. Just cut the pipe square and push into the Bib. You will also need a double check valve connected inline in the feed pipe to the spigot to prevent dirty water from e.g. a connected hose back flowing into your home supply. This is usually located indoors in the feed pipe.

Hose bib or garden faucet.

Hose bib or garden faucet.

Fixing a Leaking Hose Connection

If your hose has a connection like the one below, the O-ring in the coupler can wear over time.
Remove the old O-ring with a screwdriver. Try to get a new one with the same thickness, although a thicker or smaller diameter one may still work. Push the new ring into place with your thumbs and make sure its fully seated in the groove.

A leaking hose connector is caused by a worn O-ring

A leaking hose connector is caused by a worn O-ring

O-rings become worn and cracked over time, causing leaks

O-rings become worn and cracked over time, causing leaks

O-ring

O-ring

Remove the old O-ring with a screwdriver

Remove the old O-ring with a screwdriver

Care of Hoses During Winter

In winter after you turn off the faucet/spigot/tap, turn the spray nozzle back on and allow water to drain from the hose. You won't get all the water out, but it may leave enough air spaces in the hose for expansion of water to occur and help prevent bursting in severely cold weather. If the spray nozzle is hanging downwards and turned off, water can collect in it and freeze, cracking the fitting. This has happened to me on a couple of occasions. So leave it on for water to drain out. See photo below.

This spray nozzle cracked because it was left turned off in freezing weather

This spray nozzle cracked because it was left turned off in freezing weather

Easy TapSplitter

If you don't want to mess about with spanners, a novel product available on Amazon UK from ABD Tools makes it easy to remove even the most stubborn tab head safely. The "Easy Tapsplitter" tool comes as a kit, and suits all size tap head nuts. See link below:

Easy Tapsplitter

Easy Tapsplitter

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: What size washer do I need for a garden tap?

Answer: Usually a 3/4" / 20mm washer. However, once you remove the top of the tap, you can easily measure the diameter.

Question: How do I get the assembly out of my Spigot washer? I removed the handle and unscrewed it, but the assembly will not come out from outside the spigot.

Answer: If the part that holds the water has separated and stuck inside the spigot, grab it with long nose pliers and you may be able to pull it out.

© 2015 Eugene Brennan

Comments

Josh on April 29, 2020:

Great help thanks! Saved fortune in calling a plumber!

Paula on July 11, 2018:

Thank you for your most helpful and simple guidance.

steve on October 23, 2017:

one of the best visual explanation I have seen thanks

Nigel Tupman on June 04, 2016:

Great pictorial explanation - made the job ten times easier. Top marks!

CB on May 02, 2016:

Brill a great help here in The UK.Thanks !

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on June 01, 2015:

Thanks MG!

MG Seltzer from South Portland, Maine on June 01, 2015:

Thank you. I appreciate the detail and the clear photos. Voted up.

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on May 23, 2015:

Thanks Luke, glad it was of use!

Luke Mccoy from California on May 20, 2015:

Nice pictorial article, it really helped me, I was thinking to call a plumber to stop the dripping out of the spigot, but now I think I can manually do it without any help but first I think I need to buy some washer first. Anyways, thanks for the article I really appreciate the way of doing it.