Faucet vs. Tap: Understanding the Differences

Faucet vs. Tap

Are you using a faucet or a tap when you turn on the water at your sink to brush your teeth, wash your hands, or clean dishes? They’re the same thing, right?

While many English speakers utilize each term interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing, there are a few differences between the two.

Key Points:

  • Faucets and taps are often used interchangeably by English speakers, but they have slight differences.
  • Taps control the flow of water on/off and are typically simpler in design than faucets which regulate water temperature and flow rate.
  • In US English, the word “faucet” is more common, while in British English, the term “tap” is mostly used.

In general, a faucet features a complex design enabling water flow, temperature, and rate regulation, while a tap is a simpler apparatus allowing water flow regulation. In the following sections, we’ll explain this more, so stick around to learn more!

What Is A Faucet?

According to its dictionary definition in North America, a faucet is “a fixture for drawing or regulating the flow of liquid, especially from a pipe.”

In the U.S., most people use the word “faucet” in reference to the apparatus in their kitchens and bathrooms that provides water. In American English, “faucet” commonly refers to a fixture controlling water flow from a pipe.

So, when most Americans consider the word “faucet,” they usually think of the plumbing fixture sitting behind the sinks in their kitchens or bathrooms. The apparatus usually features an arched spout and one or two handles that allow users to regulate water flow through the fixture.

The fixture includes standard components, including cartridges, aerators, valves, washers, and O-rings. The handles come in various types, such as ball, disc, cartridge, and compression.

Aside from the essential components, faucets usually feature a metal base material enrobed in a finish like chrome, bronze, stainless steel, or nickel. Faucets come in hundreds of sizes, styles, and designs, such as high-arcs, low-arcs, widespread handles, centerset designs, and much more.

Why Is A Faucet Called A Tap?

In some cases, you might hear the faucet referred to as a tap. While this isn’t overly common in the U.S., it isn’t unheard of. In British English, faucets are called taps. Today, the terms technically refer to the same thing, but there can be some variation based on your location.

What Is A Tap?

According to its dictionary definition, a “tap” is “a plug for a hole (as in a cask)” or “a device consisting of a spout and valve attached to the end of a pipe to control the flow of a liquid.”

As mentioned, “tap” is a common term in British English. While the two are interchangeable in most cases, you’ll likely hear faucets referred to as taps in British English.

The term “tap” is derived from the Old English word “teppa,” which was a peg used to stop the flow of ale from a cask. So, in essence, a tap controls the flow of a liquid from a water line.

Taps usually allow movement between “off” and “on” positions, allowing the user to control the flow of water. These fixtures typically feature much simpler designs, allowing basic control over whether the water actively flows or not.

In American English regional dialects, a “tap” is usually a basic lever that can be turned up or down (or rotated to an “on” position) to open or close a stopper. This allows the user to control the flow of water.

So, What Is The Difference Between A Tap and Faucet?

FeatureFaucetTap
DefinitionA fixture for drawing or regulating the flow of liquid, especially from a pipe.A device consisting of a spout and valve attached to the end of a pipe to control the flow of a liquid.
LocationTypically found in bathrooms and kitchens, attached to sinks, bathtubs, and showers.Commonly found in outdoor spaces such as yards, gardens, and parks.
DesignComplex design regulating water flow, temperature, and rate.Simple design allowing basic control over whether the water actively flows or not.
OperationRegulate water flow, temperature, and rate.Only allows users to turn the water on and off.
Language usageMore common in US English.More common in British English.

The primary difference between a tap and a faucet is the design. In today’s day and age, many folks use the terms interchangeably, but technically, there is a difference between the two. A tap generally refers to a simple valve or stopper controlling the water flow.

On the other hand, a faucet typically refers to a more complex design regulating water flow. With a faucet, users can control different aspects of the water flow, such as the temperature or flow rate. Conversely, a tap only allows users to turn the water on and off, so controlling temperature and flow rates isn’t an option.

Taps are usually found on water tanks and various drink dispensers, like kegs and coolers. For example, consider those massive 5-10 gallon coolers common at sports practices and games. They usually feature a tap at the bottom. There’s a little button that dispenses the liquid inside, but users can’t control the temperature of the liquid. Instead, the tap solely functions as a way to dispense the liquid inside.

Or, consider the fixture sitting behind your sink that many folks call a faucet. These fixtures usually feature one or two handles, a spout, and numerous internal components to aid in the function of the apparatus. The handle(s) usually allows users to control the water flow, temperature, and flow rate, so the device features a much more complex design than its simpler comrade.

So, while you might hear these two used interchangeably, there is a difference.

Can You Use Tap And Faucet Interchangeably?

For the most part, using the words “tap” and “faucet” interchangeably shouldn’t cause any issues. While you might get a funny look from an individual who speaks British English when you use the word “faucet” (or from someone who speaks American English when you use the word “tap”), most folks recognize both words as the same thing.

So, if you call your tap a faucet or vice versa, it’s usually not a problem. But, building on our earlier example, you probably wouldn’t call the taps on a cooler or keg a faucet. On the other hand, most folks wouldn’t bat an eye if you called your faucet a tap. So, it depends.