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

Updated on February 6, 2018
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Eugene, an avid self-taught DIYer and Engineer, has acquired 30 years of experience with power/hand tools, plumbing, electrics and woodwork.

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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.

Source

A Spigot - What's That?

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 grips 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 - Turn Off the Water

Locate the gate valve or quadrant (ball) valve for cutting of water to the spigot and turn it off. Turn on the spigot to release any water.

Gate valve - Turn fully clockwise for off
Gate valve - Turn fully clockwise for off | Source
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 | Source

Step 2 - Remove the Head of the Spigot

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 | Source
Remove the head
Remove the head | Source
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 | Source
Tap gently if the head still remains difficult to remove
Tap gently if the head still remains difficult to remove | Source
A second vise grips comes in useful
A second vise grips comes in useful | Source
Head removed from spigot.
Head removed from spigot. | Source
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) | Source

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 | Source
Worn washer
Worn washer | Source
This flanged piece is called a "jumper" and has a mushroom shaped lug at the center to retain the washer
This flanged piece is called a "jumper" and has a mushroom shaped lug at the center to retain the washer | Source

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 | Source
New washer in place
New washer in place | Source

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 | Source

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.

Fixing a Leaking Hose Connection

If your hose leaks from where its screwed onto the spigot, the O-ring in the coupler connection is worn.
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 | Source
O-rings become worn and cracked over time, causing leaks
O-rings become worn and cracked over time, causing leaks | Source
O-ring
O-ring | Source
Remove the old O-ring with a screwdriver
Remove the old O-ring with a screwdriver | Source

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 | Source

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 | Source

Questions & Answers

  • 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.

    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.

  • What size washer do I need for a garden tap?

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

© 2015 Eugene Brennan

Comments

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    • profile image

      Paula 

      5 months ago

      Thank you for your most helpful and simple guidance.

    • profile image

      steve 

      13 months ago

      one of the best visual explanation I have seen thanks

    • profile image

      Nigel Tupman 

      2 years ago

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

    • profile image

      CB 

      2 years ago

      Brill a great help here in The UK.Thanks !

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      3 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks MG!

    • MG Seltzer profile image

      MG Seltzer 

      3 years ago from South Portland, Maine

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

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      3 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Luke, glad it was of use!

    • Luke Mccoy profile image

      Luke Mccoy 

      3 years ago from California

      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.

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