Taps – we all have them and they are something that we take for granted but what happens when they break, or do you need to get the head off for any other reason? Have you ever tried to remove the tap head that is stuck and just will not budge? Twisting, yanking, and prying but still, nothing happens, and the tap head won’t come off. What do you do? Call a plumber or try even harder? In this article, we are going to look at what you can do in this situation and cover other things like why tap heads get stuck in the first place and how to remove tap heads.
What is a Tap Head?
The tap head is the threaded part of a tap that controls how fast or slow the water flows – the handle to me and you! The tap head is locked down by tightening the nut or packing washer which can make removal of the tap head difficult when it becomes stuck. A broken or stuck thread on this means you may have to replace your whole tap setup but there are things you can do before calling in a plumber.
Why Do Tap Heads Get Stuck?
Tap heads get stuck because the nut becomes jammed. This is often caused by a build-up of dirt or scale, rust, or calcium deposits in hard water. Tap heads can also get stuck when the grub screw becomes corroded, and the threads have become smooth. Tap heads that are stuck can be a real pain, especially for a novice that does not know how to get them off.
In most cases, the tap head can be removed although unfortunately there are instances where the whole unit will have to be removed and disposed of.
How to Remove a Tap Head
As we have mentioned, removing a tap head can be a tricky task due to wear and tear, corrosion, or another factor but ultimately, you should be able to do it.
What You Need
What you will need will depend on the type of tap. There are so many different types of taps and so many different ways to remove a tap head that what you will need for yours may vary. In most cases, aside from a little elbow grease, you will need:
- Adjustable Spanner
- Cloth/ Rag
- Allen Key
- Screwdriver (often a flathead)
- Circlip Pliers
- Strap Wrench
Step 1 – Turn off the Water
Yes, this should go without saying but you never know. The water can usually be turned off by closing an isolation valve underneath the sink. If your tap does not have an isolation valve, you may need to shut off the mains water. Again, the mains water will usually have an isolation valve located in the home somewhere but if not, there will be a stopcock outside.
Once the water is turned off, open the taps to drain any water that is left in the system and then put the plug in the sink.
Step 2 – Locate the Grub Screw
A grub screw is a small fitting found on the head of most taps and is what holds the tap head together to prevent the handle from coming off in your hand every time you turn it.
How to Locate the Grub Screw on a Tap Head
On some taps, the grub screw is very obvious and is located on the outside of the tap but locating the grub screw on some taps can be a little more difficult. Many taps have been designed so the grub screw is out of sight to give the tap a smooth and more aesthetic appeal. One of the more common locations to find the grub screw is hidden behind a small cap. Many single taps will have red or blue caps or have caps marked with a ‘C’ or ‘H’ whereas some mixer taps will have a small cap that is half red/ half blue.
These caps are not just indicators of which tap discharges which temperature water, these caps will often pop out or unscrew to reveal a grub screw behind which can be undone with an Allen key. Grub screws can be so well hidden that they are often the reason the tap head won’t come off in the first place – or it does not have a grub screw at all.
Note: Removing the small-cap and the grub screw is the reason we put the plug into the sink in step 1 – losing them is a real pain.
How to Remove Tap Head with No Screw
Some taps do not have a screw as such and therefore making the method of removing the tap head a little more obscure. If you have been unable to locate the grub screw, the next place to check is under the head itself – this is most common with Victorian crosshead-style taps. Open the tap up as far as it will go and then look directly at the opening under the crosshead. Located inside is a nut that can be reached with some circlip pliers. This is a tricky little job but once this is undone, the tap head should just lift away.
Another place to get at the inside of a tap with no grub screw is by the base. Occasionally, the base of the tap will unscrew and lift up revealing a nut, so the internal workings of the tap can be reached and maintained.
Step 3 – Remove the Tap Head
Once you have found and removed the grub screw, it is time to remove the tap head. This should now just screw off or lift away depending on the design, but this is also the part that can be stuck tight due to corrosion or a build-up of something else.
A few of the things you can try are listed here:
If the tap head won’t come off, the first thing I would try is to give it a few gentle taps with a hammer. You will want to cover the taps with a cloth or rag to prevent any damage or chipping of the chrome. Just tap it, don’t overdo it!
If gently tapping the tap with a hammer has not yielded any result, the next thing I would try would be to try and force it by hand using some grips. Again, cover the tap with a cloth or rag and do your best to get a good grip and see if you are able to twist it loose.
A strap wrench is not a common tool in most households, but if you have one, this is a great idea. It works in much the same fashion as trying to use the grips, but the tool has a strap that can tighten around the tap head.
WD40 can be another idea to try although this method typically takes up quite a bit of time and is probably the least successful.
This is another tool that most people will not have access to and that is a blowtorch. Applying heat can make the tap expand and loosen the build-up so the tap head can be removed.
Note: Using a blowtorch is not suitable for any taps that are chrome-plated or plated of any kind!
Remove the Whole Tap
If you are still struggling with this tap-head, the next job is a little more involved and means getting under the sink to remove the whole tap. Once you have removed the tap, you can try the various methods above again or even give it a good soak in washing-up liquid but if these methods are still unsuccessful, you may have to admit defeat and purchase new taps.
Tap heads becoming stuck is an extremely common occurrence and can happen very quickly in just a few months. Taps that are aged are almost definitely likely to be stuck especially in hard water areas. There are a few things you can do if your tap head won’t come off. First, remember to have a good look for the grub screw, many people overlook this and resort to other means which inevitably causes damage. Next, try some of the other things that we have suggested but if all else fails, a nice new set of taps will not hurt.
Plumbing Wizard Tips
“Remember to put the plug in. You will thank me later!”
“When using a hammer, a few gentle taps from North, South, East, and West should be enough – do not overdo it!”
“Have a good look for the grub screw, in most cases, it is there but just well hidden!”
“When using your tools, remember to cover any taps with a cloth to prevent scratching them!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Do all taps fit all sinks?
No, not all taps fit all sinks. Taps come in different sizes and shapes to fit different sink configurations. You need to find a tap that is the right size and shape for your sink so that it will fit snugly and be securely attached. If you try to use a tap that is the wrong size or shape for your sink, it may leak.
Why do taps seize?
One of the most common reasons for taps seizing is calcification and corrosion from hard water and mineral deposits. Although all taps can/ do seize, this can be a particular problem in areas with extremely hard water.
Do I need to turn the water off to fix a tap?
You do not need to turn off the mains water as long as you are able to isolate the tap in question from underneath. If there is no isolation valve, you will need to turn off the mains water.
What tools do I need to remove a tap head?
To remove a tap head, you will need an allen key or a flathead screwdriver. If the set screw is particularly tight, you may also need a pair of pliers to help loosen it.
Can I remove a tap head without turning off the water?
No, the water to the tap in question will need turning off. This can usually be done by turning the isolation valve under the sink. If you can find the isolation valve, the mains water will need to be turned off.
The set screw on my tap head is threaded, what can I do?
If the set screw is stripped, it may be difficult to remove the tap head. You can try using a pair of pliers to grip the screw and turn it anticlockwise. If this does not work, you may need to replace the entire tap.
Lee Pearce is not just a master plumber; he’s a veritable Plumbing Wizard. With over 30 years of experience in the trenches of pipes and drains, Lee has become the go-to sage for DIY plumbing, saving homeowners thousands in potential call-out charges. As the founder of Plumbing Wizard, he’s dedicated to demystifying the complexities of home plumbing, offering easy-to-follow advice that stands the test of time and pressure. His online blog is a treasure trove of tips, tricks, and tutorials that empower everyday individuals to take charge of their home’s plumbing health. Lee’s practical wisdom is not just about fixing leaks; it’s about imparting confidence and self-reliance. When he’s not writing or elbow-deep in a plumbing project, Lee is passionate about educating the next generation of DIYers, ensuring that practical skills are passed down and preserved.