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How to Turn Off the Water to Your House or a Single Fixture

Always turn off the electricity before working with wires, breakers, or receptacles. This is a longer safety disclaimer sentence

If you need to work on a faucet or fixture, or shut off the water to your entire house, this article will show you how. Includes how to turn off the water supply to individual fixtures such as sinks, shower, or tub, or to the whole house. 

When a home’s water supply system leaks or a repair to one of the plumbing fixtures is needed, you’ll have to shut off the water. It’s best to do this at the valve that’s closest to the problem. That way, the rest of the house will still have a functioning water supply.

How to Shut Off Water to Plumbing Fixtures

The water-using fixtures and appliances in most homes built since the 1950s have a shut-off valve that allows you to stop the water supply at the fixture without shutting off the water to the entire house.

If you need to work on a faucet, shower, or tub that isn’t served by a shut-off valve, you may need to shut off the water to the entire house in order to work on it.


Shut Off the Water to a Sink Faucet

  1. Look for a two chrome-plated or plastic stop valves under the sink, usually at the back of the cabinet. These are connected to the water supply tubes that serve the faucet—one for cold, and the other for hot. The cold is usually on the right-hand side.
  2. To work on a single-handle faucet, you will need to turn off both. Turn the valves clockwise.
Man's hand turning off the water supply valve under a sink LightWaveMedia / Shutterstock.com

Shut off water to a sink faucet by turning the small valve beneath them clockwise.


Turn Off the Water to a Toilet

Drawing showing the location of a toilet's water supply valve and tube©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Toilet Stop Valve

  1. A toilet just has a single cold-water valve, called a “stop valve.”
  2. Locate the “stop valve” and shut it off by turning the handle clockwise, just like the standard valves on a faucet.
  3. If the valve is too difficult to turn by hand, try wearing a work glove, or grip the handle with a pair of slip-joint pliers.

Browse slip-joint pliers on Amazon.

Note: Newer types of stop valves have a small lever that you twist a quarter turn clockwise to turn off the water.

Turn Off the Cold Water Supply to a Water Heater

To shut off a water heater, turn off the cold water valve above the water heater. This may be a lever or a regular circular-handle valve.

Diagram of a water heater's parts, including the location of the cold water valve above the appliance© HomeTips.com

Water heater supply valve shuts off the cold water that is delivered to the water heater.

If it is a lever, pull it 90 degrees from its open position. If it is a circular valve, turn it clockwise until it is closed.

Hand demonstrating the location of a lever valve above a water heater© Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Lever valve controls supply to this water heater. Note the red main supply valve in the background.


Turn Off the Water to a Washing Machine

To shut off the water supply to a washing machine:

  1. Locate the valve. Many washers are served by two valves that look like outdoor hose valves—one for hot and the other for cold. Hot is usually on the left. They work just like outdoor valves.
  2. Turn off the valve behind the machine clockwise.
  3. Some washers have simple lever-style washing machine shutoff valves like the one shown here. Just pull the lever down, as indicated, to shut off the water to both hot and cold.
Movement direction of a washing machine lever water valve©HomeTips

Lever shuts off the water supply with this type of washing machine valve.


Turn Off Water to the Entire House

If you don’t find a shutoff valve near a fixture, you can shut off the valve that controls the flow of water to the entire house, normally located near where the cold water pipe enters (the valve will be outside in warm climates, inside in cold climates).

Water supply pipe configuration, including the main water shutoff valve©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

The house’s water shutoff valve is usually located just outside (or, in climates where freezing is a problem—inside) an exterior wall. Be sure the house’s water shutoff valve is completely open.

In some cases, the valve is located on a pipe right before the water heater and may have a red handle. To turn it off, rotate the handle clockwise.

Shut Off Water to the Whole Property

To turn off the water to your house and the rest of your property (including outdoor sprinkler systems, hose faucets, and so forth), look for the main valve just to the house side of your water meter. This is normally out by the street, often in a concrete box just below ground level.

Internal diagram of a house's main shutoff valve, and location of water meter© Don Vandervort, HomeTips

The main water shutoff valve us usually located near the water meter. This should shut off water to your entire property.


Once you locate the valve handle, turn it clockwise until it stops. If it is frozen in position, put a few drops of lubricating oil around the valve stem and wear a work glove to turn the handle or, if necessary, turn it with the help of a pipe wrench.

This valve should always be completely open or completely closed—never used half open to control the amount of flow into the house. It isn’t designed to be left partially open.

Featured Resource: Get a Local Plumbing Pro

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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  1. Is it aa good idea to shut off water main in my home overnight to protect pipes from freezing from a frigid night coming tonight and early am

    • Gary, unless you drain all pipes that run through unheated areas, shutting off the main isn’t going to help prevent freezing—though it could prevent pipes that otherwise would be under pressure from bursting. Allowing faucets connected to vulnerable pipes to drool water does the same thing. Check out this guide on preventing pipes from freezing: http://goo.gl/7FwQmr

  2. I have a VERY old type shut off valve that is in the basement, right before the meter.(line that comes into house) It has a “T” shaped flange coming out of the top of the valve and is oriented with the flow. There is a flat flange with a hole in it at the base of the “T” flange, so that when the valve is in the off position, you can put a lock on it. This valve will not budge. Is there something I can put on this valve to loosen it up? I am afraid to put too much torque on it. Any suggestions?

  3. Where does the water supply come from for an outside toilet. The pipes are old. I’ve turned off the stopcock, but the pin hole is below this, the cistern is now empty. Do I have to turn off anything inside the house or outside the property to stop the leak enough to repair the pinhole leak?


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