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The Ultimate Guide To Plumber's Putty - Plumb University

The Ultimate Guide To Plumber’s Putty

by Trevor Woods | Last Updated: October 22, 2020

Looking to create a water-tight seal around the sinks, drains, and faucets in your home? Plumber’s putty is probably the product you’re searching for. It’s flexible and made to seal plumbing gaps whenever necessary, enabling you to achieve a 100% water-proof seal with just a dab and smudge! 

What Is Plumber’s Putty Used For?

Usually, this product is used when a plumbing fixture (like a faucet) is being changed or installed for the first time, but you may also need to pick up some plumber’s putty if you’re repairing a damaged seal. In general, putty is a good choice if you’re looking to create a watertight seal, but it’s also 100% reversible! This is a DIY dream because if you change your mind down the road, you can simply scrape the putty off and have a clean slate.

The typical type of plumber’s putty remains pliable over time and is usually used by placing some of it around the base of a sink, drain, or so on in order to seal the gap. You then just clean up the excess and the job is done. When done right, the seal is watertight and should look nice and clean to the eye.

So, without further ado, let’s get into all the information you need to know about plumber’s putty and how to use it!

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01/30/2023 02:19 am GMT

What Is Plumber’s Putty Made From?

There’s no one single manufacturer of plumber’s putty. Like most products you’ll find in the hardware store, countless brands have taken a chance at making a concoction that gets the job done.

So, ingredients tend to vary between one manufacturer and the next. However, at its core, standard clay is almost always the primary ingredient in a plumber’s putty

A plumber’s putty may also contain other additives, especially talc, limestone, linseed oil, or perhaps a fish oil blend. These components come together to help color the clay, alter its consistency, or otherwise aid the pliability and water-tightness you need out of a plumber’s putty

How To Use Plumber’s Putty

Using plumber’s putty is work that seems more like play! It’s not hard at all to use putty since it stays pliable throughout the process. However, you will need to use both of your hands in order to apply it to whatever fixture you’re working with. 

Tools And Materials Needed

How To

1. Clean Up

Clean up both surfaces that are going to make contact with the putty. You want to make sure these surfaces are completely free of dirt and dust, removing any potential debris from the installation or project you were just working on. 

If you’re doing a DIY job and trying to repair a gap that’s developed where plumber’s putty or a seal should be, make sure you remove all of the old seal and clean up the area so you have a clean slate to work with.

2. Grab Some Putty

Use your fingers to scoop out some putty from the tub, about the size of a small cherry tomato, and begin gently rolling it around in your palms. 

Your hands are warm and that warmth is what’s going to help make the plumber’s putty more pliable. The soft force you’re applying is also going to help, so spend a couple of minutes working it in your hands before you start trying to apply it to anything.

If you get any stuck on your hands, the residue will easily wash off with soap and water later.

3. Roll Out Your Putty

Now comes the fun part! Pretend you are going to make a snake out of Play-Doh. By rolling the plumbers putty between your palms it will slowly create a continuous rope of putty.

Try to keep your snake made of putty a consistent diameter. If you mess up and squash your poor putty-snake, simply roll it back into a ball and start over. 

The diameter of your snake will depend on the size of the gap you want to fill. Make sure that the rope of putty is slightly larger than this space. Don’t worry, the extra putty will ooze out when you tighten things down.

4. Lay Out Your Putty Rope

Lay your putty rope around the plumbing part you want to seal. Starting at any point, make a continuous putty loop around to your starting point. 

If your putty snake is too short, start over and add a little more plumbers putty from your tub. You don’t want any gaps, splices, or cracks in your putty rope that could create a leak.

Tear off any excess putty rope once you are done putting your plumber’s putty in place.   

5. Press The Putty In Place

Next, you want to gently press the plumber’s putty into place. You don’t want to squish or deform the putty, but use enough force so that putty doesn’t slide off during installation.

6. Install The Plumbing Part

Now you can install the plumbing part as required. As you tighten up your plumbing connections, excess plumbers putty will start to squeeze out from around the edges. 

This is a good thing! It’s a sign that you used enough putty to seal your plumbing connection.

You can wipe up any extra putty with your finger or carefully use a plastic putty knife. If this excess putty is clean and free of debris you can squash it back into your putty tub to use again later. Done!

Can You Put New Plumber’s Putty Over Old Putty?

No, we recommend always starting with a fresh bead of plumber’s putty applied directly to a clean and dry surface.

How To Remove Old Plumber’s Putty

If you are looking at removing some old plumbers putty, you’re in luck! Because plumbers putty is not an adhesive it comes off quickly and easy!

Once all the plumbing connections and fasteners are loose simply apply some pressure on the joint to break up the old putty. If the putty seems to be bonded and you are struggling to break the connection free add some heat. A few minutes with a hairdryer or heat gun will soften up the old plumbers putty.

The remaining putty can be removed with your fingers or gently with a plastic putty knife. Be careful not to scratch any delicate plumbing finishes. 

You may notice some residue or a film of linseed oil left behind from the old plumbers putty. This can typically be removed by washing it away with soap and water. For stubborn oily residue, you can try a soft cleaning rag with paint thinner or mineral spirits.

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01/30/2023 05:11 am GMT

Can You Use Too Much Plumber’s Putty?

Most projects don’t require a whole lot of putty, but go ahead and eyeball the amount. Any excess you apply can be wiped away with ease, so you won’t risk issues if you apply too much by accident, but it will add an extra cleaning time to the process if you go overboard! 

Fortunately, any excess that you do remove can just be put back into the container you took it out of. There’s no need to throw it out unless it has debris or something else in it. 

How Soon Can You Use The Sink After Applying Plumbers Putty?

The fact is, plumber’s putty is extremely easy to work with thanks to its naturally smooth, waterproof nature. You don’t need to wait a certain amount of time after applying the putty to start using whatever fixture you applied it to. It’s ready to go instantly! No drying or curing time required.

How Long Does Plumber’s Putty Last?

Great news, plumber’s putty can last for years. We’ve seen tubs of putty that were still pliable after 15 years! But on average you can expect your putty to last between 10-15 years before it needs to be replaced.

Storing Your Putty

If you’re a homeowner completing a DIY project or someone who’s only going to need plumber’s putty on occasion, you might be taken aback by the large canisters it generally comes in. 

Not to fear! Plumber’s putty stores very well. If you have any leftover putty after completing your project, just keep it in the tub it originally came in and make sure the lid is firmly closed

You can stick it in your storage cabinet or garage until you need it again, but ideally, it will be kept best between 35 and 120°F. 

Can You Revive Old Plumber’s Putty?

We have seen all sorts of tricks to bring hardened plumber’s putty back to life. Microwaving, adding linseed oil, and compressing it with extreme force can help but we wouldn’t recommend it

A new container of plumber’s putty is far less expensive than a plumbing leak caused by expired putty.

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01/30/2023 12:27 am GMT

Can You Paint Plumber’s Putty?

Sorry Picasso, because plumber’s putty doesn’t dry out there is still moisture on the surface of the putty. Acrylic paints don’t bond to damp surfaces and they could trap moisture and cause mold in certain plumbing situations, yikes! 

Plumber’s putty is designed to be installed to fill gaps not visible to the eye so you may want to use a different sealant if it needs to be pretty.

Where Should Plumber’s Putty Be Used?

There’s no doubt that plumber’s putty is one of the most versatile plumbing products you could keep in your toolbox. It’s been proven through decades of professional use as the best choice for sinks, faucets, drains — you name it!

You might think that silicone caulk is a good fit for such projects as it does offer a reliable, air-tight, and water-tight seal. However, there are certain cases where putty is a better choice.

If you just need a water-tight seal, plumber’s putty is going to offer that with no dry time and no messy cleanup if you ever go to remove it. Meanwhile, caulk requires careful application, a long curing window before you can start using the fixture, and it’s going to have to be scraped off once it dries.

Of course, caulk is the best choice if you happen to be seeking 100% airtightness or if you’re dealing with pressurized water, which could work the putty out of place over time. We will cover the putty versus caulk debate in more detail later.

Where Not To Use Plumber’s Putty

While plumber’s putty is perfect for making waterproof seals, there are many jobs where you shouldn’t reach for your trusty putty.  

Porous Materials

Porous surfaces like granite or marble are slightly permeable and allow outside liquids past the surface. Plumber’s putty could stain delicate surfaces like these so you may want to opt for caulk in these circumstances.

Stain-free formulas of plumber’s putty do exist if you need work with porous materials.

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01/30/2023 07:44 am GMT

Plastic Pipes

Plumber’s putty is frequently used to seal up drain assemblies, so why can’t you use it on plastic pipes like ABS and PVC? The short answer is putty can degrade plastic materials and cause leaks.

Most manufacturers make putty with petroleum. This added oil keeps the putty pliable and water-resistant but over time it can cause plastic plumbing materials to break down.

Rigid plastics like ABS and PVC will slowly become brittle and if they are under tension, like a threaded drain connection, they can crack. So save yourself from water damage and avoid applying plumbers putty to plastic pieces!

Can You Use Plumber’s Putty With A Rubber Gasket?

Did your drain assembly come with a rubber or foam gasket? Then don’t swap it in exchange for some plumber’s putty. More and more plumbing manufacturers are switching to plastic materials and are supplying their own gaskets. 

And when plumbing parts don’t come with a gasket, manufacturers may recommend using silicone caulk instead. Remember, plumbers putty and plastic don’t play nice together so when in doubt, follow the directions for your drain assembly

Can You Use Plumber’s Putty Underwater?

Plumber’s putty will never make a great late-night infomercial product like Flex Seal. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is incredible! But putty won’t work underwater because it doesn’t bond like glue.

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01/30/2023 12:26 am GMT

Plumber’s putty is meant to fill gaps and doesn’t stick to any surfaces so it could get washed away underwater. Whoops!

Can You Use Plumbers Putty To Stop Leaks?

Plumbing emergencies call for immediate action! But plumber’s putty won’t stop leaks. Putty is not an adhesive and cannot withstand the force from a plumbing leak. 

Putty is not meant for pressure applications like stopping leaks or sealing threaded connections. The putty will be pushed out of the way and allow the leak to pass through.

Plumber’s putty is best used when you are trying to seal gaps around pipe joints that don’t have threads. If you are sealing a pipe that does have threads, you will want to opt for Teflon tape instead to make sure those threads are sealed in a water-tight manner.  

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01/30/2023 11:40 am GMT

Plumbers Putty Or Silicone Caulk?

You already know that caulk is the better choice if you want to avoid staining certain surfaces (like marble, granite, or plastic), if you want a water-proof seal, or if you’re dealing with plastic parts.

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01/30/2023 12:25 am GMT

However, it’s important to know when to use which product, which is why it’s worth a further comparison between plumber’s putty and silicone caulk.

Advantages Of Plumber’s Putty

Disadvantages Of Plumber’s Putty

Advantages Of Silicone Caulk

Disadvantages Of Silicone Caulk

So which is right for you? If you are looking for a simple sealant that’s as much fun as Play-Doh, choose plumber’s putty. If you are working on porous or plastic materials, silicone caulk is a great alternative to putty.

Other suitable substitutes for putty include rubber or foam gaskets and marine-grade adhesives if you need serious bonding strength. 

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01/30/2023 12:26 am GMT

Conclusion

Plumbers get all the fun! Plumber’s putty is like playing their own version of Play-Doh. Waterproof and easy-to-use make plumber’s putty the ideal product for many of your plumbing needs. Sealing drains, pipes, and fixtures have never been such a good time! 

Happy Plumbing!

Trevor Woods is the founder of Plumb University® and he started in the plumbing and construction industry in 1997. Since then, his mission is to make plumbing repair and maintenance easy for everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people with their plumbing installation, care, and troubleshooting.