Over time, limescale build up can affect your tap cartridges to the point where they start to develop faults in the form of leaks, poor water flow and even seize closed.
Cleaning tap cartridges is extremely simple and generally should be undertaken once a year to avoid excessive limescale build up. This will extend their lifespan and avoid costly replacements, particularly on older taps that may no longer be available.
1. Turn Off the Water Supply
First, you need to find your stop tap and turn off the supply. In some rooms you may have a stop tap linked directly to that room, isolating it from the rest of the building. Commonly though your stop tap will be below your kitchen sink, or at the point where the water supply enters the property, just inside the building. You can trace your water pipes back down to this point if you’re unsure and have some exposed piping. It will likely be a small brass tap handle that is part of the piping.
2. Expose the Cartridge
With the water turned off, you can safely start to disassemble your tap without risk of flooding the room. The first step is to remove the tap handle itself. On many taps there will be a small grub screw located in a hard to see part of the tap handle, often under a little cover cap to hide the hole on the rear of the handle. You just need to loosen this grub screw (but don’t remove it so it doesn’t get lost!) and then the tap handle will pull off with some firm pressure.
The other type of fixing is in taps with a round handle. The cap on the top face of the handle should lift off. In both types you may need to get a thin blade or screwdriver and very gently lever the edge of the cap until it pops free. Underneath you’ll find a screw which fixes the handle directly onto the cartridge, simply remove this screw and firmly pull the handle free of the cartridge.
In both of these methods you may find that on one edge of the cover cap there is a little cut out which will allow you to insert a thin screwdriver to pry it off. You can often lift the cap a fraction of a millimetre with a fingernail which is enough to identify this edge and then use a screwdriver to lift it the rest of the way off.
There are other styles of tap handles with different mechanisms for disassembly. In those instances please see the manual for the particular tap.
Removing the Cartridge
Once you’ve removed the handle you should have the cartridge exposed. Some cartridges will simply pull out, but most will need to be unscrewed. You will need an adjustable wrench or an appropriately sized spanner to fit the head of the cartridge and then simply unscrew it. They will unscrew counter clockwise like most typical threads but if there is a particularly bad limescale build up it might need some persuasion. You can use some white vinegar or limescale remover (which we’ll use to clean the cartridge once it’s removed) and let it soak for a little while to dissolve some of the limescale.
The best way to do this is to make a 1:1 solution of water and white vinegar and then soak a cloth in it. Wrap this cloth around the cartridge and ensure the solution soaks down into it. Leave it for 25 minutes or so and then try again with the wrench.
Once you have managed to remove the cartridge, ensure that no other loose components like O-rings have been left in the body of the tap. If they have, take these out gently (use some tweezers if you need the reach) and fit them back into the cartridge.
Cleaning the Cartridge
Grab yourself a small watertight container, something like a takeaway pot is ideal. Add a 1:1 solution of white vinegar and water and then simply submerge your cartridges. Leave it for 10 minutes to start with and take a toothbrush and rub at any limescale you find. If it’s not coming away easily then simply soak it in the solution for a little longer!
Once you’re happy with the amount of limescale removed, use a cloth to rub any loose debris and then you’re all done with the cleaning!
Reassembling your tap couldn’t be easier. Simply do all of the previous steps in reverse! Reinsert your now-clean cartridge, and gently screw it in by hand until it’s reasonably tight, and then fully tighten with your wrench/spanner. For cartridges that have rubber O-rings around them you don’t want to over-tighten them, so just until you start to feel some tough resistance. For other cartridges without O-rings you will want to tighten as much as you can as they rely on pressure between the components to stay water tight.
Before you add the tap handles back on, you should turn your water back on to ensure your tap is not leaking. If water is flowing out of the spout, simply twist the cartridge to ensure it closes fully, and opens fully to flow again. If water is weeping out around the cartridge in the tap then it is likely not tight enough, gently tighten until it stops weeping.
It’s important to be careful during these steps to make sure you don’t cross-thread the cartridge so just go slowly with each step and tighten the cartridge up slowly.
Once you’re confident the tap is working properly without leaks, you can put your handles back on, tighten the screws, put the caps back on and you’re done!