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Plumbing is an important part of our homes. We rely on it to provide us with hot water, cold water and so much more. For most people, it’s common to face leaking issues or fittings of a sink, toilet, shower, or bathtub.
And it’s not feasible to call in a plumber every time something like this happens. So it’s important to know some tips and tricks when working on your own plumbing skills at home. But in order to do that, you’ll need the right tools for the job.
This means knowing which kind of putty or sealant is best suited for the project. The most popular options are plumber’s putty and silicone.
What is the difference between plumber’s putty vs silicone? This article will help you understand which one is better for what situation, when you should choose one over the other, and how they both compare side by side.
What is Plumber’s Putty?
Plumber’s putty is one of the oldest DIY solutions to sealing leaks on your plumbing fixtures. It’s made from various materials such as fish oil, limestone, and talc elements that give it better flexibility.
It’s easy to use, inexpensive, and readily available in hardware stores. This sealant is commonly used by plumbers to seal pipes, including those that supply water to sinks and run along the base of the tap.
Plumber’s putty is a very effective water-tight repair for small leaks and also prevents any leakage through cracks.
If you aren’t sure which plumber’s putty to buy, check out this article in which we’ve handpicked the best plumber’s putty available in the market.
What is Silicone?
Silicone is a transparent gel-like compound used for strengthening the edges of plumbing accessories joining together or filling up the sealing gaps between two surfaces. It’s one of the alternatives to plumber’s putty.
Silicone is a 100% waterproof sealant that doesn’t turn pale over time. It’s easy to apply on windows, kitchen, bath, gutters, and automobiles, but mostly used in plumbing maintenance.
Furthermore, it doesn’t turn yellow, shrink, or crack in any type of condition. It’s flexible and can expand and contract with temperature changes without breaking or wearing out.
And since it comes in a variety of types (acrylic, siliconized acrylic, and others) it can be used for a range of applications.
Plumber’s Putty vs Silicone: Key Differences
Now that you know what each product is, there are a few key differences you should be aware of when deciding which one to use.
When it comes to offering several decades of protection, plumber’s putty is significantly better.
Since it’s made from natural materials, plumber’s putty can expand and contract with temperature changes. A thin layer of putty applied to a joint won’t crack or break off when exposed to extreme temperatures.
Moreover, plumber’s putty stays in place for a long time and does not need to be reapplied often.
On the other hand, silicone caulk tends to last one or two decades as a max since they are harder and either break or wear down with time.
Silicone caulks need to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis.
The areas where it has been applied must be kept dry and free of dirt, dust, and other contaminants that can cause the sealant to break down prematurely.
Once silicone breaks down, you have to reapply it or replace it altogether.
In contrast, plumber’s putty doesn’t require any special care or maintenance. Once it is applied, it does the job and lasts for years without any issues.
What’s more, plumber’s putty gives you the flexibility to apply and re-apply as much as you need. Since it doesn’t become hard or break, you can remove all of it, reshape, and start over again.
Plumber’s putty is much easier and faster to apply than silicone caulking.
Putty is a malleable paste that can be applied in thin layers and then shaped into the desired form.
This makes it ideal for new DIY enthusiasts since you get results quickly without having to worry about perfecting your skills or technique.
Silicone caulking, on the other hand, is difficult to shape and apply in thin layers. It’s more suited for professional applications where a perfect seal is required and it works better on larger areas.
Besides that, silicone dries up faster so if you need a quick sealant, it’s a more practical solution.
Pros of Plumber’s Putty
Easy to use and apply
The best thing about plumber’s putty is that it’s easy to apply and you don’t need any prior experience.
Since it comes in the form of a paste, you can easily shape it into the desired form. It’s also non-toxic and doesn’t release any harmful fumes so you can use it without any safety concerns.
In addition, plumber’s putty is relatively inexpensive, easy to find in any hardware store or online, and comes with a long shelf life.
Easy to mold and re-position
Another advantage of plumber’s putty is that it’s easy to mold and re-position. If you make a mistake or want to change the shape, you can simply remove it, reshape it, and apply again.
This feature makes it a better choice for beginners who are still learning the ropes.
Reapply as much as needed
Plumber’s putty can be removed and re-applied as much as needed without damaging the surface. It doesn’t lose its stickiness or become brittle so you can use it multiple times without any issues.
This makes it a more economical option in the long run. Plus, it is also waterproof so any sealant applied to surfaces like tiles or bathroom fixtures won’t disintegrate with time.
Easy to remove after several years
Plumber’s putty doesn’t dry up and become hard like silicone caulk and can be removed without any damage to the surface after several years of use.
This makes re-applying an easy job since you don’t have to worry about removing or damaging the previous seal.
What’s more, you can simply wash away the old putty using water instead of having to scrape it off with a blade.
When it comes to choosing a long-term sealant, plumber’s putty is definitely the way to go.
Apart from being easy to use and remove, plumber’s putty is also a very durable sealant.
It can withstand high and low temperatures without becoming brittle or breaking and is resistant to most household chemicals.
This means that it can be used in a variety of applications and is perfect for both indoor and outdoor use.
Cons of Plumber’s Putty
Doesn’t stick to some surface types
Plumber’s putty is non-adhesive which makes it unsuitable for surfaces like glass or plastic where other sealants are required.
Also, it’d be challenging to apply plumber’s putty in a location where gravity is working against you.
Not an adhesive
Since plumber’s putty is not an adhesive sealant, it cannot be used to bond two surfaces together.
If you’re looking for a sealant that can create a water-tight bond or want to fix cracks or hold pieces together then plumber’s putty is not the right choice.
Can’t be used for large areas
Plumber’s putty isn’t designed to be used for larger areas and is more suited for smaller repairs.
Pros of Silicone
Keeps things secure
Silicone caulking is a great choice if you need a flexible and adhesive sealant. It sticks to most surfaces, is water-resistant, and can even be used as a weather barrier for windows or doors.
Thus it’s the best option if you want something that will keep things secure.
Besides sealing your household items, silicone caulk is also suitable for waterproofing items like boats and bathtubs.
It makes a great choice if you want to stop leaks in places like your outdoor shower or garden hose connection.
Can be used over a large area
Silicone caulk can be used over a large area and is perfect for repairing cracks, filling in gaps, and covering up surface irregularities.
This makes it a great choice for larger projects where other sealants might not be suitable.
Can be used as an adhesive
Since silicone caulking is adhesive it can be used as an adhesive to bond two surfaces together.
This makes it a great option for vertical applications like tiles or bathroom fixtures where you might want to use adhesive sealant instead of plumber’s putty.
Hardens when it dries out
Silicone becomes so hard after it dries that you hardly notice it fracture or break.
This gives it a longer life span and makes it a good choice for areas that are prone to high wear and tear.
Since silicone dries quickly it allows you to apply it in a single layer without any air bubbles.
It also prevents the sealant from being diluted by water or other household liquids.
Works well with acrylic or ceramic surfaces
Silicone caulking is also compatible with acrylic or ceramic surfaces and will not cause any damage to these materials.
Cons of Silicone
A scraping tool is needed to remove it
Silicone is not easy to remove since it’s hard and needs a tool like a putty knife or scraper to scrape it off the surface.
If you ever have to replace a faucet, for example, the silicone will need to be scraped away completely and then replaced.
Needs more precise placement
Silicone caulk is not only difficult to remove but also requires more precise placement. You need to place it properly the first time you use it as it’s not possible to remove and reuse it.
This makes it unsuitable for DIY projects where the sealant might have to be adjusted or redone after you’ve applied it.
Doesn’t last like plumber’s putty
Although silicone caulking has a longer life span than plumber’s putty, it still doesn’t last as long as the putty.
This means that you’ll have to replace it more often which can be costly in the long run.
Difficult to shape and modify
Silicone isn’t easy to shape or modify either but it is still agile enough. You can shape it in any way you want before applying but once it hardens, it’s difficult to modify.
Plumber’s Putty Installation
Step 1: Clean the Surface
If you just opened the plumber’s putty jar and are ready to apply it to your sink or faucet then hold your horses. You have to make sure that the surface is ready for the putty, which in most cases is not. Don’t be surprised if you find the pipe, faucet, or drain a bit rusty and dirty.
Clean the surface before the plumber’s putty application in order to remove the debris from the surface. Sometimes, it’s the old layer of putty that gets buried if it’s not properly removed.
Step 2: Knead the Putty for Rolling
There is no rocket science in applying putty, but you have to follow the steps. Once the surface is cleaned, take a chunk of putty from the jar and roll it between your palms to make it pliable for application.
Keep rolling it until it looks like a thin putty rope that is soft and smooth in texture. After kneading and rolling the putty, it is ready to be applied.
Step 3: Apply the Rolled Putty
All you need is to grab the thin rope of the plumber’s putty and press it into the ring which should be similar to the size of the pipe or faucet fixture’s bottom.
It’s also important to press the putty against the pipe or faucet so that there is no air in it, and the putty properly sits around the fitting. If the putty doesn’t sit firmly, it won’t make a watertight seal.
Step 4: Put the Plumbing Fixture Back On
As soon as you’re done with the putty application, you can put the part back on the plumbing fixture. However, it’s good to wait half an hour before you turn on the water.
Besides making a waterproof seal, proper assembling is crucial to minimizing plumbing problems. Try to make sure that that fixture is tightly screwed in.
Step 5: Wipe Off the Excess Putty That Comes Out
It is normal for excess putty to seep out a little bit. All you need is to wipe off the excess putty once you’re done with the assembly. If you don’t remove the excess putty, it might get hardened after a while and won’t look good on your plumbing fixture.
Silicone Caulk Installation
If you opt for silicone caulk to apply on your sink drain, then follow the steps mentioned below:
Step 1: Clean the Area
You don’t want to bury debris underneath the silicone. Just take a cloth or paper towel and clean the surface before applying the silicone.
Step 2: Put a Layer of Silicone
Apply a layer of the silicone caulk around the sink drain opening as well as around the sink flange. You don’t want to go overboard with the silicone application. Just use it in the normal amount.
Step 3: Install the Plumbing Equipment
Once you have applied the sealant on a sink drain pipe or flange, just put them back together. Push it down strongly so that it gets a firm seal.
Step 4: Remove the Excess Silicone
Just like putty, the silicone may squeeze out once you firmly fit the flange or sink drain pipe. Don’t worry about the excess silicone- just wipe it off.
Plumber’s Putty vs Silicone: Final Verdict
As you’ve probably guessed by now, there’s no clear winner when it comes to plumber’s putty vs silicone.
Plumber’s putty is a great choice if the area of application is small or if you are an amateur at DIY projects. Since it can be easily removed and reused, it’s perfect for those quick fixes that don’t require too much precision.
On the other hand, silicone caulk is a better option for larger areas or if you need something that dries up faster. It can also be used as an adhesive which makes it ideal for bonding surfaces together.
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