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.
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?
- Vise grip 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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.