How to use plumber's putty - male hand applying Oatey plumbers putty to metal part

How to Use Plumber’s Putty (It’s as Easy as Play-Doh!)

There’s a good reason why every plumber has plumber’s putty in his or her tool bag — it’s extremely versatile. As a homeowner, you should too.

What many people don’t know about plumber’s putty is that it has so many uses. You can use it to fix leaky faucets or as an adhesive for tiles in your bathroom. In this article, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about how to use plumber’s putty on your home repairs.

What is Plumber’s Putty?

Plumber’s putty is a type of soft-set, pliable rubber for watertight seals in faucets and drains. It is also used to seal cracks that would otherwise cause leaks.

Because it’s not an adhesive (like silicone), it won’t stick to the parts you use it on. That’s an important feature. Why? In certain applications, like a common faucet drain, you want to be able to remove the drain easily for future repairs or replacements.

For example, it doesn’t crack separate, crumble, harden or shrink. Therefore, it can be used to set bowls, fixtures, faucets, sink frames, and strainers.

It is commonly sold in small, inexpensive plastic tubs. But it also comes in caulking tubes or, for small projects, in stick-like shapes.

How to use plumber's putty - tub of Oatey plumbers putty and label
Here’s a popular brand of plumber’s putty. Read the label carefully. It provides great information on how you can use it correctly and what you can use it on.

How Does Plumber’s Putty Work?

Plumber’s putty adheres to any surface and expands like a sponge when it absorbs water. The expansion creates an airtight seal, which stops and prevents leaks in your pipes, sinks, drains, and toilets.

The best way to understand how plumbers use this material for plumbing repairs is by looking at its chemical properties. Plumbers will mix two parts elastomer with one part solvent (oil). This creates a jelly-like substance which hardens as it dries.

PRO TIP: Do not use putty to “caulk” around the bottom of a toilet. The material is not designed to hold weight. Instead, use silicone for those types of heavy applications.

How to Use Plumber’s Putty

Watch the video above on how to use plumber’s putty or watch it here on our YouTube channel. Below you will find written directions on how to handle a job with plumber’s putty.

Follow these steps to create a watertight seal:

1. Clean Surface

Make sure the metal surface is fully cleaned. That means removing any previously used putty, tape, or adhesives. New metal surfaces (like a completely new faucet drain system) probably won’t require this cleaning, but it never hurts to check for and remove any dirt and debris.

2. Warm Your Hands

This might sound like an odd second step. However, plumber’s putty is more effective when it is warmed up. So, get those mitts near some heat before you move on to the next step.

3. Make a Putty Rope

Take a scoop of putty and roll it between your palms until it changes its shape into a rope (or snake).

You’ll want to roll it to the length and diameter you need to sufficiently cover the area you want to seal. Don’t be shy about using more plumber’s putty than you think you’ll need. You can always remove the excess.

4. Place the Putty Rope

Loop the putty rope around the area of the pipe that you want to seal. Start the putty rope at one end of the pipe and loop it around until it meets up with where you started.

5. Press into Place

Gently but firmly press against the plumber’s putty. This will remove excess air bubbles from where it attaches to the surface and creates a more watertight seal. It also prevents the putty from falling off when you turn the part over.

6. Replace the Part

Install the part or assembly as needed.

As the part gets screwed in and tightened, you’ll see putty get squeezed out of the fixture. Remove the excess with your fingers and make it look nice and smooth. The process is similar to smoothing down a bead of silicone from a caulk gun.

7. Put Excess Putty Back in Tub

You’re done! All you must do now is clean up and place any of the excess putty back into its container for the next job. If you seal the tub, it will remain pliable for about two years if correctly sealed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to use plumbers putty - questions and answers
Can I still use my plumber’s putty if it dries out?

No. It needs to be soft and pliable to create a watertight seal.

Is plumber’s putty toxic?

It has the potential to be harmful if inhaled for a prolonged amount of time. But DIYers with occasional or moderate use will have no adverse health issues. If your eyes make contact with the putty, they may be irritated temporarily.

How long does plumber’s putty last?

Approximately two years if stored correctly in a sealed tub or airtight container.

Can you use plumber’s putty on plastic parts?

No, you do not want to use plumber’s putty on plastic materials. The putty will eventually wear away the plastic and cause leaking problems down the road.

How much does plumber’s putty cost?

Approximately $3-$10 for a small tub which should have enough putty to handle at least a few projects.

Can dried plumber’s putty be removed?

Yes, scrape it off with a tool like a putty knife. Then wash with soap and water. Repeat this process as necessary to remove all the old putty and any residue.

What’s the difference between plumber’s putty and silicone?

Both create watertight seals. However, silicone is an adhesive, which means it bonds to the surface it is applied to. Plumber’s putty is a soft-set compound which gets pressed onto a surface but doesn’t bond with it.

What is the difference between stain-free and regular plumber’s putty?

Stain-free plumber’s putty is oil-free and therefore will not create stains on granite, marble, quartz, sandstone, Corian®, or any natural surface that is porous. Regular putty is oil-based and best used with metal parts, such as your faucet drain.

Similar Resources

How to Use Plumber’s Tape (Teflon Tape)

Final Thoughts

As you can see, plumber’s putty is a great sealant to have in your DIY toolkit. It’s cheap to buy, easy to apply, creates a watertight seal on metal parts, and easy to remove.

Just remember to use it only on metal, never plastic. And make sure you only use the stain-free variety if you’re using it in areas that have porous materials like marble or granite.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) for help with any of your faucet and drain repairs, replacements, or installations.

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbingdrain, or water damage problem, including excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even holidays.

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