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How to: Loosen a Plumbing Nut

How to: Loosen a Plumbing Nut

There are many DIY jobs that are best left to the professionals, but if you have fairly good problem solving skills and an average toolkit, you may be able to replace a broken or leaking tap relatively easily.

Once you have prepared yourself, got the equipment that you need, and set aside the time to do the job, there are few things more frustrating than falling at the first hurdle: undoing the nuts. After all, unscrewing a nut is supposed to be the easy bit, right? Well, not necessarily. Based on the fact that those nuts have probably been in place for years, they may not be as easy to unscrew as you might first think. In fact, for amateur plumbers, a tight nut could be all it takes to derail those DIY plans.

Before you call a professional, take a few minutes to regroup. There are a few tricks of the trade that you could try to get those nuts moving.

  1. Clean it up. Your plumbing is subjected to a whole range of stressors, so it is understandable that it may not look great. If your joins have rust or streaks on them, use a scourer or wire brush to get rid of the worst of it, then wipe it down with a clean cloth. Once it is clean, apply a lubricating oil and wait for it to sink in; the longer you leave it, the better.
  2. Give it a tap. A little bit of movement may be all that is needed to get your connection loose enough to undo. Try a short, sharp tap with a hammer; this could help to disrupt the connection between the bolt and nut.
  3. Tighten it up. Yes, you read right. It may seem counterintuitive but a nut that has been in place for a long time will benefit from any kind of movement, even if it is in the wrong direction. Using the right sized spanner or an adjustable wrench, tighten the nut a little, then give it a wriggle before trying to loosen it again (remember righty tighty, lefty loosey!).
  4. Turn on the heat. Heat makes metal expand, so applying a little heat to the nut could make it expand enough to loosen. Try a syringe of hot water, a hot water bottle or heat pad. If you need something a little stronger, a blow dryer, heat gun or blow torch could do the trick. Make sure that you try to turn the nut when it is still warm (wear gloves!) and don’t use a naked flame near anything flammable.

If you try all of the above and you still can’t undo a nut, then you probably need to find an alternative solution. This could involve cutting through the thread of the nut or shortening the pipe. Doing simple plumbing yourself could save you money, but it could end up being a false economy as the cost of fixing your failed attempt may well exceed the cost of getting a professional in the first place. So, before you start taking things apart, have a good look at the set up and make sure you are 100% confident.

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