What Is Plumbers Putty, Where To Use It & How It Works


Most, if not all of us have had the chance to play with play-doh growing up. This squishy, doughy substance intrigued us and felt good in our hands. It even looked tasty.

As we got older, we stopped playing with it and our interests changed. We started going to college, getting jobs and have redefined what the word “play” means.

Now of days, we have to deal with grown up things, including the plumbing in our own home. The once used child substance got replaced with a more bleak looking substance that’s now not intended for play; plumbers putty.

Where does plumbers putty get used and what is it? Putty is a doughy substance that is used to create a water tight seal in drains. This has been used for many years by plumbers and can be found in sink and tub drains.

There is a very good reason this has been the trusted material among plumbers for many reasons. To learn more about why it is still used today over other sealants along with some other great information, continue reading!

What Is Plumbers Putty?

Some really old & dirty putty I had lying around

Plumbers putty is commonly made from powdered clay and linseed oil and as the name suggests is a putty. You can find this at just about any home hardware store from the big box stores down to the smaller ma and pa shops.

Picking up a container of this product is relatively cheap and can be as cheap as 5$.

This putty is something that is commonly found inside of a plumbers tool bag, and something that has been revolving in my own tool bag for years.

What Is Plumbers Putty Used For?

This is a great substance as it can be used for a broad range of different things, both plumbing and non-plumbing related.

It’s intended purpose however is to create a water tight seal in your sink and tub drains.

More specifically however in the connection between pop-up drains and sink or underneath your sinks strainer.

The great thing about this material is how it can be installed and hidden out of eye sight.

The putty is a soft, pliable material, much like play-doh and can squeeze between sink and fitting to create a seal.

Once the fitting has been tightened down adequately enough, the remaining putty that pushes out can easily be removed with the use of a single finger.

Is Plumbers Putty A Sealant?

By far, this is going to be the most commonly found material to create that water tight seal.

If you didn’t have putty (or equivalent) the connection between the fitting and sink or tub would simply not be enough to stop water from passing through.

You may not even realize, that even though it’s such a small nook of space, it can still allow a significant amount of water to pass by.

Porcelain, ceramic, steel, cast iron among other materials are all commonly used for tubs and sinks. Pair that with a steel or plastic fitting and you just can’t form a good enough seal.

This could be dangerous, especially in a tub where constant use of this fixture would result in major water damage over time. Such damage could cause floor rot, ceilings to cave in and potential for tubs to fall through the floor, much like the movies.

Since you can’t visually see anything happening until it’s too late, it’s no wonder putty has been used as often as it has.

The pliability that it offers allows that nook in between fitting and sink or tub to get filled up. Putty is placed under neath the lip of the drain fitting, and will get screwed together from below.

The result will be a malleable enough material that can allow the space in between two rigid surfaces to get filled adequately.

Other Areas Plumbers Putty Can Be Used

Some less commonly thought of places that you can use this putty in an effective way are places like beneath a faucet.

When you are making the connection between where the faucet sits on the sink, you can have putty applied to prevent water from dripping below into your cupboard space.

Since water likes to spray as it hits dishes, hands and the sink, a common place it likes to go is back towards the faucet.

Having that seal just allows the water to stay on the surface of the counter.

Another place it can be used that you had no idea is actually just above your shower handle, behind the plate.

If you have plumbers putty sitting on the top portion of the valve, squeezed behind the plate, it can allow a water tight seal from any water that has splashed against the shower wall and may want to drop in.

Because the plate of the shower can’t create a perfect seal with the wall, having putty squished in will fill the gaps.

You don’t want water to get in behind the shower valve, because it will lead to a hole in the wall where the valve has been placed and can drip down onto the floor inside of the wall.

Plumbers Putty Or Silicone?

I actually do have another blog post that covers what the best sealant is, but I thought it would be valuable to go over it here in the post as well.

I have seen both of these items used effectively to create seals in sinks, and have worked with plumbers who have sworn by both.

Putty

My personal preference however will always be to use putty for sink drains and here’s why.

The main benefit to putty is that it allows you to mold and bend and apply it with little effort and can last virtually forever. It is also good if you need to replace your sink, drains or tub in the future.

Contrary to popular belief, there is also no “setting” time to putty as it will be effective the second it gets installed.

This substance is so easy to work with you can literally just peel it off with your hands and dispose of it. Theoretically you could reuse it, but I personally would just replace it.

Can you use putty if it is cold? Putty, much like an elastic band will need heat added to it to make it pliable. You simply have to scoop it out of the container (which may take some effort) and then roll it around in your hand, while squishing it.

Silicone

With silicone however, from day 1 you are dealing with a messy product. Silicone is one of those products that if you are a clumsy dumbo like myself, you are just getting this stuff everywhere.

If it gets onto your hands, then everything you touch will get silicone all over it. It falls apart from the silicone holster and could fall onto the floor.

Even worse than the potential mess you can make upon installation, it’s much much harder to remove afterwards. You usually need some sort of sharp knife to cut through the dried adhesive and could cost you more time and energy than needed.

Silicone also usually takes up to 24 hours and sometimes longer to fully set. This could mean going without a tub or sink for that length of time.

Where Plumbers Putty Should Not Be Used

While it is a great product to have in your arsenal, with many great places to use it, there are some places where it just doesn’t make sense.

Anywhere that has threads, you should stick to plumbers tape instead. When threading two fittings together, space is more of a commodity.

Something bigger and clunkier, such as the putty just won’t be effect at filling the slots.

With tape, when you cover the threads of a fitting, you can easily slide fittings over top to create a seal. With putty, as you turn the fitting, the putty will just end up turning with it and bunching up. You probably won’t even fully be able to turn the fitting because of it.

Portions of a p-trap already come with washers that prevent water from leaking out when installed. Drains that should be glued together, should stick to just glue for their adhesion.

Putty works great for sink drain fittings because the putty never actually comes in contact with the inside of the drain, but rather squeezes outwards. This means you will never get clumps of the material inside of your pipes that can lead to clogs occurring.

Where To Find Plumbers Putty

You can find putty for a very low price by clicking here (link to Amazon).

resources:

https://www.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-properly-use-plumbers-putty

https://www.thespruce.com/plumbers-putty-2718686

Tyler Takacs

My name is Tyler, I live in Ontario Canada and enjoy learning about common plumbing issues in the household. I have spent just over three years in the trades as a plumbers apprentice, but am now onto a less physical job. I still enjoy studying and learning about my own house's plumbing as well as finding ways to help others with their issues.

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