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What is Plumber Putty and When Do You Use It?

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Plumber putty is a clay-like substance used to seal areas of a sink that may be exposed to water but will have no water pressure applied to them. Because it repels water, plumber putty is most frequently used to seal the upper portion of a drain--called a 'basket drain'--to the sink. Most new faucets come with a plastic or rubber seal to be placed between the base of the faucet and the sink, but it is possible to use plumber's putty in place of this separate piece. Each material will perform the same function in preventing water leakage and seeping.

How to Use Plumber Putty

In using plumber's putty to seal a basket drain in place, a person should first roll a piece of putty into a narrow 'snake.' Then the snake can be formed into a ring that matches the circumference of the sink's drain. The ring is then set into place on the basket drain, and the drain is pressed gently into place. Putty will be squeezed out around the drain and can simply be wiped away with a damp rag.

Applying plumber's putty to a faucet requires basically the same procedure. An appropriate amount of putty should be applied to the bottom of the faucet fixture before it is set into place on the sink. After all water lines have been correctly assembled, the excess putty can be wiped away.

In most cases, plumber putty will no longer be visible once the job is complete.

When Not to Use Plumber Putty

Sometimes, plumber putty is confused with other plumbing materials and is used in improper applications. Plumber putty should never be used in situations where water pressure will be applied later.

Do not use plumber putty to:

  • Seal the joints between metal or plastic threaded pipes. (Use Teflon tape instead.)
  • Attempt to cement together plastic pipes that do not have threads. (Use PVC primer and cement instead.)
  • Seal the space between a sink and the wall or its vanity. (Use silicone caulk instead.)

On plastic sinks, plumber putty can weaken the plastic which may eventually cause minor leaks or a rupture in the sink. Plumber putty should also be avoided if working with sinks made of granite, marble, synthetic marble, or other very porous materials. Ingredients in plumber putty can leach into these surfaces and create a yellow stain that cannot be removed.

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