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Problems with taps and sinks

Leaking tap

It’s important to fix a leaking tap as the drips can eventually damage the sink or bath.

No water from a tap

  • Turn on the cold kitchen tap (or any cold tap if you have a direct system). If there’s no water, check to see if the main stop valve is open. This controls water entering your home and it’s often under the kitchen sink, under the stairs or in a garage. If it’s open, call your water supplier
  • If a cold tap isn’t working, check the cold-water storage cistern (usually in the loft). If it’s empty, check if the ball valve is jammed. It may need dismantling and cleaning, or you may need a new one
  • If there is no water flow when you hold open the valve, your rising main is blocked. The rising main is an external pipe that rises from the ground to supply mains water. In winter, the most likely cause of blockage is ice
  • If the cold water cistern is full but there’s no flow from the bathroom taps, there’s an airlock or blockage in the supply pipe from the cold water or hot water cistern. Attach a length of hosepipe from a working direct feed tap to the affected tap. Turn both taps on and leave for a few minutes before turning the air locked tap off first. The pressure will force the air back out of the pipe

Fix a spluttering tap or one that isn’t flowing

If a tap is still spluttering or not flowing after you’ve drained and refilled your system this is usually because of trapped air. Attach a garden hosepipe to the kitchen cold tap (or any tap if you have a direct system) and the other end to the affected tap. Turn both taps on and leave for a few minutes. The mains pressure should force the air out of the system but you may have to repeat it a few times

Clearing a blocked sink

Grease build-up and food particles can cause water to drain slowly from your sink or not at all. If it isn’t draining at all, there’s a complete blockage so follow these steps:

  • Partially fill the sink with water, wedge a damp cloth into the overflow (prevents pressure loss) and place a plunger over the plughole. Pump up and down a few times then release and see if the water drains. Repeat a few more times if necessary
  • If the first step doesn’t work, use a chemical drain cleaner. Follow the instructions carefully as these are toxic
  • If the sink is still blocked, you’ll need to remove the waste trap. Put a bucket underneath to catch spills and unscrew the trap. Empty the contents into the bucket and replace the trap


Avoid over-tightening so it’s not difficult to unscrew in the future and you don’t damage the seal. If nothing is blocking the waste trap, the blockage may be further along the waste pipe, so use a drain probe to clear the blockage

How to turn off the water in your home

You need to find the internal stop valve (also known as the stop tap or stopcock). This controls all water flow into your home and is usually found under the kitchen sink. It can also be in a utility cupboard, the garage or under the stairs.

Check the valve works every now and again

As they’re not used very much, they can seize up which could cause problems in an emergency. Turning the valve clockwise will close it, stopping the water flow. Turning it back will restart the flow. Always turn it slowly and avoid over-tightening it.

Finding your external stop valve

It’s often located near the boundary of your property under a small CD-sized cover. If you have a water meter, it’s often in the same place. Not all properties have their own stop valve and older homes and flats often have communal ones.

The external stop tap belongs to your local water supplier and you may need permission to operate it, even in an emergency. Not all water suppliers will give permission to use the external stop tap and if you operate it and cause damage, you may be liable for repairs.

Avoid plumbing costs by keeping seals in good condition

Look out for gaps, mould and degradation on bath and shower seals. Leaks not spotted in these areas can cause significant damage that can affect other rooms (and lead to a large plumbing bill). Replace sealant every three years (or earlier if you spot any concerns) to avoid these issues.

If you suspect a leak

A higher than expected water bill may suggest a leak. Check for leaks by doing the following:

  • Turn off all the taps and make sure there is no water being used in the house
  • Write down the meter reading
  • Wait a few hours, making sure no water is used, and take another reading. If it’s higher, there may be a leak in your home
  • If you don’t have a meter, it’s best to call a plumber if you’re worried about the leak

If you find a leak

Act quickly! Turn off the electricity at the main power switch and the water supply at the main stop valve. Put containers down to catch the water if possible, then either call a plumber or fix the problem yourself if you feel completely confident in doing so.

Water pouring from ceiling

Turn off the electricity at the main power switch and the water supply at the main stop valve immediately. Put containers down to catch the water and turn on all the taps, then flush the toilets to drain the pipes and cold water cistern. Now investigate the problem and decide if you need to call a plumber or whether you can fix the issue yourself.