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Hello there! So, you’ve got yourself a little plumbing task, and you’ve heard about this magic substance called plumber’s putty. Well, you’re in luck. Plumber’s putty is one of those must-haves for a lot of basic plumbing work. Let’s break it down.

What is Plumber’s Putty?

Plumber’s putty is a soft, malleable compound that’s used to create water-tight seals around faucets, drains, and other plumbing parts. Think of it as playdough but for your pipes. It’s water-resistant, which means it’s perfect for preventing leaks in wet areas.

Related Article: How To Use Plumbers Tape?

How Does Plumber’s Putty Work?

how to use plumbers putty instructions
  1. Composition: At its core, plumber’s putty is a blend of clays, talc, and some oils. The clays and talc give it a solid structure, while the oils keep it malleable. Think of it like bread dough: the flour gives it structure, while the water and oil keep it from being just a pile of powder.

  2. Adhesive but Not Glue: Plumber’s putty sticks to things, but it doesn’t harden or bond like glue or cement. This means you can shape it, place it, and even remove it if needed. It’s kind of like how you can mold playdough into a shape, and it holds, but you can still reshape it.

  3. Water Resistance: The oils in the putty make it inherently resistant to water. So, when you seal something with it, water doesn’t penetrate. Imagine it as a raincoat for your fixtures – the water just slides off!

How It Seals the Deal

plumber's putty on faucet

Creating Barriers: When you place and press plumbers’ putty between two objects, like a sink and a drain, it fills any gaps or imperfections between them. Because of its dough-like consistency, it’s able to flow into tiny nooks and crannies, ensuring a watertight seal.

Adapting to Pressure: Here’s where it gets even cooler. When you tighten a fixture (like screwing in a drain), the putty gets compressed. It’ll ooze out a little, adapting to the pressure, and ensuring that it’s filling every possible space where water might try to escape.

Lifespan and Maintenance

While plumbers’ putty is fabulous, it isn’t forever. Over a long time (we’re talking years), the oils in the putty can dry out, and it might not seal as effectively. That’s why occasionally checking and maintaining fixtures is a good idea. But hey, if you ever need to replace it, the good news is that it’s a straightforward process!

When to Use It

Generally, plumber’s putty is used:

  1. Sealing fixtures: Like when installing a new faucet or replacing an old one.

  2. Sink drains: Particularly the part where the drain joins the sink.

  3. Other areas where you’d want a watertight seal but might need to remove the part later.

Here’s How to Use Plumber’s Putty:

Clean your sink drain before applying plumber's putty
  1. Prepare the Surface: Before you start, make sure the surface is clean. Remove any old sealant or putty and ensure the area is dry. If you find old dried plumber’s putty, make sure to remove that as well.

  2. Knead the Putty: Scoop out a bit of putty, and roll it in your hands. You want to warm it up a bit, making it more pliable. Aim for a smooth consistency, kind of like cookie dough.

  3. Shape It: Depending on your need, shape the putty into a long rope or a flat circle. This isn’t an art class, but you want it to fit where you’re placing it.

  4. Place the Putty: Press the putty onto the surface where you need the seal. If it’s around a faucet base, for instance, press the putty around the bottom.

  5. Install the Fixture: Once the putty is in place, go ahead and install the fixture or drain. Tighten it down, and you’ll notice some putty oozes out. That’s a good sign—it means you have a complete seal.

  6. Clean Up: Using a putty knife or even just your finger, remove the excess putty that’s squeezed out. It’s easy to remove, and you’ll want to do this before it dries out.

A Few Tips to Remember:

Old regular plumber's putty
  • Shelf Life: If your plumber’s putty has been sitting around for a while, check its consistency. If it’s too hard or crumbly, it’s time for a new one.

  • Storage: Store in a cool, dry place. Keeping it sealed in its container helps maintain its consistency.

  • Compatibility: Always check if the putty is safe to use on plastic or porous surfaces. Some putties can stain certain materials.

Plumber’s putty vs. Silicone

Plumber's Silicone

Plumber’s putty and silicone serve different purposes in for different plumbing fixtures. Plumber’s putty is a malleable substance primarily used to create water-tight seals around fixtures and drains during installation. It remains soft over time, allowing for easy adjustments or removal. Silicone, on the other hand, is a type of sealant that cures to a rubbery consistency. It’s ideal for areas that need a permanent, flexible, and waterproof seal, such as sealing gaps between a bathtub and tiles. While both are excellent sealants, your choice depends on whether you need a temporary, adjustable seal or a long-lasting, watertight bond.

Plumber’s Putty vs. Caulk

Plumber’s putty and caulk are both used to seal, but they’re applied in distinct scenarios. Plumber’s putty, as its name suggests, is popular in plumbing installations for sealing fixtures like sink drains, ensuring a watertight seal that can be easily broken if adjustments are needed. Caulk, typically made from latex or silicone caulk, is more versatile and is used to fill gaps in various areas of the home, including windows, doors, and bathtubs. Once applied, caulk dries and adheres firmly, creating a long-lasting seal that can protect against moisture, drafts, and pests. Your decision between the two will hinge on the nature of your project and the kind of seal you’re aiming for.

Where to apply plumber’s putty?

Sink Drains: One of the most common applications. When installing or replacing a sink drain, a ring of putty is often placed around the base of the drain before it’s pressed into the sink. This ensures a watertight seal.

Where to apply plumber's putty to prevent leaks

Faucets: When installing a faucet onto a sink or a countertop, plumbers’ putty can be used to seal the base, preventing any water that splashes onto the countertop from seeping under the faucet.

Bathtub Drains: Similar to sink drains, putty can be used to seal the area where the drain meets the base of the tub.

Toilet Bolts: Plumber’s putty can be applied around the base of the bolts that secure a toilet to the floor, ensuring no water escapes around them.

Toilet Bolts

Slip Joint Connections: While not as common, putty can sometimes be used on the outer areas of slip joint connections on pipes under sinks or behind toilets.

Valve Assemblies: When attaching valves to sinks or other fixtures, a bit of putty might be used to ensure a tight fit and prevent any water from escaping.

It’s important to note where not to use plumber’s putty: on porous materials like granite or marble (as it might stain them), on plastic (as certain formulas might degrade the plastic over time), and on pipes that are under pressure. Always consult the putty’s label or a trusted plumbing expert when in doubt.

Valve Assembly

How long does plumbers’ putty take to dry?

Plumber’s putty is unique in that it doesn’t “dry” in the traditional sense. Its purpose is to remain pliable to ensure a water-tight seal. Over an extended period, potentially years, the oils in the putty may gradually evaporate, causing it to harden somewhat, but unlike sealants like caulk or silicone, plumber’s putty is designed to maintain its malleable consistency for a long time after its application.

Can plumbers’ putty be used to seal pressure pipes?

Plumbers’ putty is not suitable for sealing pressure pipes. Its primary role is to create watertight seals in areas with no significant water pressure, like under faucets or around sink drains. For pressure pipes, other materials and compounds, such as Teflon tape or pipe joint compound, are recommended to ensure a secure and leak-free connection.

And there you have it! While plumber’s putty might seem like a humble compound, it’s an essential tool in achieving those watertight seals that keep our homes leak-free. Remember, though, that not all plumbing tasks are DIY-friendly. If you’re ever unsure, give your friendly affordable plumbing OKC (that’s us, Chase The Plumber!) a shout. We’re always here to help our wonderful Oklahoma community. Happy plumbing!

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