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.
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?
- Vise grips locking pliers for holding body of spigot
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Questions & Answers
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