The most common DIY solutions when fixing plumbing issues such as a leaky tub or sink involve plumber’s putty or silicone. However, when should you use one over the other? In this article, we will answer these questions and help explain the differences between plumbers putty vs silicone so that you can feel confident about which product to use.
There are many similarities between these two plumbing compounds, but some key differences are also. For example, sealing pipe joints is not something you want to take any chances on, as water leaks can cause significant damage in your kitchen or bathroom.
What is Plumber’s Putty?
Plumber’s putty is a traditional option for sealing leaky fixtures, especially where pipes or drains affix to other fixtures such as the toilet, shower, or faucet. Plumber’s putty is very malleable with a squishy texture that makes it easy to form around pipes. This makes applying it very easy.
Plumber’s putty is a soft sealing material mainly composed of linseed oil and clay. Other materials commonly used are talc, fish oil, and limestone. As the name implies, many plumbers keep it as a staple in their toolbox. This sealant can be used for a wide variety of purposes and forms a firm seal that is water-resistant and helps prevents leaks.
The putty does not harden, so you can easily do so if you need to remove it to change out a faucet or other such task. This product comes in small plastic tubs and is easy to apply, even if it is your first time tackling such a project.
What is Silicone?
Silicone caulk is another type of commonly used sealant. This material is adhesive and hardens after it is applied. Silicone will bond with the surrounding materials to produce a tight seal. This is great for preventing leaks and minor repairs, such as a small crack in a pipe. The waterproof seal provided by silicone caulk is undoubtedly an advantage of this product. It will dry hard and will not crack.
Differences and Similarities
Both silicone and plumber’s putty are sealing compounds that will produce a watertight fit for sink strainers, the undersides of fittings, pop-up drains, and showers. However, the two products are made differently. Plumber’s putty is made of oils and clays, while silicone is made of synthetic polymers.
As a result, the plumber’s putty is malleable and a clay-like substance. In addition, the product is petroleum-based, which means it may stain porous materials like granite, sandstone, or quartz.
On the other hand, silicone is made from a rubbery substance and is very adaptable and elastic. In addition, silicone’s chemical composition is made of synthetic polymers. These composition differences mean that there are different applications and durability of the products. For example, plumber’s putty prevents leaks, whereas silicone waterproofs and weatherproofs.
While both products can last over ten years, their function is different. Plumber’s putty is not adhesive, so you cannot fix cracks with this product. However, silicone caulk can stand up to temperature changes which add to its versatility. It also endures UV light to be exposed to sunlight without turning yellow or breaking down.
Silicone is made of inorganic compounds, so it does not crack once the silicone dries. Plumber’s putty does not dry, but silicone will dry in 24 hours. It works best if you did not expose it to the sun.
Plumber’s putty is non-toxic, whereas silicone is toxic because of its petroleum. There are no color options with plumber’s putty, but silicone caulk comes in various shades. If you are worried about the smell, there are differences between the two products. Plumber’s putty is odorless. Silicone has vinegar or acidic smell for the first few days.
Benefits of Plumber’s Putty
One nice benefit of plumber’s putty is the ability to mold the material to the shape you want easily. In addition, the material is soft and almost a rubbery substance which allows it to be shaped and manipulated multiple times to fit onto the plumbing fixtures properly.
The soft material also allows for the easy repositioning of the product until you get it just right. In addition, putty offers the ability to pull the product off and reapply it until it is just the way you want it. Finally, plumber’s putty is also easy to remove. So if you decide you want to change out your faucet in a few years, you can easily remove the putty.
Drawbacks of Plumber’s Putty
Plumber’s putty does not stick to a surface. It can be more challenging to get the putty to stay in place if gravity is working against you. Additionally, it’s not adhesive. This means that you should not try to fix a crack with it. It is also not suitable for holding pieces together. Finally, plumber’s putty can’t be used over a large area.
Benefits of Silicone
Silicone caulk will help create a waterproof seal that will prevent leaks. Wooden boats are often sealed with silicone, showing that you can use it for a larger area. Silicone is also adhesive, which means that it can fill an area if there is a split and seal it off.
Once dried, silicone becomes hard and rarely breaks or cracks. However, silicone is more difficult to remove than plumber’s putty, which can be a positive or a negative depending on your perspective.
Drawbacks of Silicone
Because silicone is adhesive and becomes hard once dried, it requires precise application and is much more difficult to remove. If you opt to replace a faucet, for example, that has silicone caulk around it, you will have to scrape off all the silicone using a scraping tool.
Silicone requires being accurate the first time you apply it. If your placement is off, it is not easy to move it around. Instead, you will likely have to scrape it off and start over. In addition, the hardness of this product means that modifying its placement or shaping it around the fixtures is more of a challenge.
Related: Can you caulk over old caulk
Making the Decision for Your Project
When you decide whether to use plumber’s putty or silicone for your plumbing projects, several essential elements are to consider. First, there are similarities between plumber’s putty and silicone, but there are also notable differences.
Different materials endure UV rays differently. If the area is exposed to UV rays, it is better to use silicone caulk.
The level of water resistance is important, mainly since both products can serve as water sealants. Silicone’s texture is rubbery and gel-like. This makes for watertight solid seals.
Silicone will maintain its functionality for approximately twenty years. In addition, because of the material’s rigidity, silicone can provide excellent protection against moisture exposure.
Plumber’s putty is waterproof. It typically lasts for ten years or more and is better suited for drainage pipes or joint sealants, especially if the water pressure is consistent.
The chemical compositions affect the drying time of the products. There are silicone options made of organic compounds as well as options that are made with inorganic compounds. Silicone has synthetic polymers consisting of both silicone and oxygen, making joined C-Si bonds.
For this reason, silicone must dry after it is applied. Typically it will dry in about 24 hours, but it may take up to 72 hours to dry depending on the temperature and humidity levels.
Plumber’s putty does not require any drying time. This is partly due to its composition of oils and clays with an expandable texture. In addition, its versatility and flexibility mean that it does not require drying, which would make it more difficult to reposition.
Plumber’s putty does not harden, but silicone does. This means that the silicone will likely last longer but is more difficult to remove should the need arise. Plumber’s putty is also not suited for use in a large area. Trying to spread it too thin will affect the durability of the product.
While you can buy either item for a similar price, the difference is in the quantity you receive. The silicone will come in a tube that is several ounces in size, while plumber’s putty will be a multi-pound tub for about the same cost.
Location of Use
If you are trying to seal the area around a faucet or a drain, you can easily apply plumber’s putty. It stays soft for a long time and is easy to remove and remold. However, plumber’s putty should not be used as a pipe seal. It is also not appropriate to use it as a pipe joint sealant.
Rather, it is best to use it for the drain basket, sink fixtures, bathtub drain, sink drain, or the faucet fixture basket.
To avoid water intrusion, you can use silicone around pipes or faucets to seal wooden ships, cracks on exposed areas, or other cracks. However, silicone should not be used if you want to paint the surface.
Silicone is best used across pipes or to bind things together such as between the edge of the sink and the countertop.
Plumbers Putty vs Silicone: Which one should I choose?
If you want to seal sink drains or bathroom fittings to avoid water leaks, you will need to apply either plumber’s putty or silicone to the drain pipes and plumbing fixture. These products are designed to form a seal that prevents leaking.
Plumber’s putty should be used in locations where pipes and drains connect to tubs, showers, toilets, or faucets. This malleable product is soft, squishy, and easy to manipulate into the shape needed to adhere to the plumbing. In addition, the putty is designed to help hold different pieces together.
Plumber’s putty will not dry out and create a hard form, even after an extended period of time. This allows for it to be easily repaired or replaced. In addition, the way the putty works, you can just pull it off and remold it to reapply if necessary. This is especially beneficial if you plan to replace fixtures down the road.
If you need to secure pop-up drains, the undersides of fittings, or sink strainers, using plumber’s putty is the best option.
How to Apply the Selected Product
If you have decided that using plumber’s putty is the optimal choice, you will need to buy a tub from your local hardware store and prepare your project. It is easy to apply plumber’s putty successfully. Using your fingers, scoop out a small amount of putty. Next, roll it in your palms to shape it like a rope or a snake.
Now you are ready to apply it to the plumbing fixture. First, drape the rope-like putty over the entire area you are trying to seal. Then press down on the putty to flatten it onto the fixture. You do not need to press down extra hard. You can use a putty knife to remove excess putty.
If you notice that you misapplied the putty, you can pull it off and readjust it before reapplying the material. However, it is essential to remember that plumber’s putty is not designed to cover large areas. It is also unsuitable for use on plastic pipes, metal joints, or threaded pipes.
They sell silicone in a tube, and you should be able to use it with a caulk gun. This makes the application process easier and more precise. This is important because you can’t easily remove it once applied.
Start by cleaning and prepping the surface before you apply the silicone. After placing the silicone tube into the caulk gun, cut a 45-degree angle hole in the tip so that the silicone can come out.
Silicone can be used to waterproof a variety of surfaces and is compatible with wood, metal, granite, and plastic. Its power is on display when silicone is used for sealing wooden boats. However, avoid using silicone to support weight-bearing pieces. Silicone can be used for a larger area than plumber’s putty and forms a waterproof seal to prevent leaks. Silicone is also an adhesive that can repair breaks or cracks and dries hard.
If you misapply the silicone or later need to remove it, you will need a scraping tool because it hardens, making the silicone caulking not easily removable. To prevent this, you should aim for proper placement of it the first time so that your application is exact. If you do have to scrape it off, you will need to reapply the silicone caulk as it is not reusable after it dries.
The hardness of the silicone also means that it is more difficult to shape after it is applied. In addition, silicone sealant cannot be covered with paint, so you want to ensure that the application is aesthetically pleasing. This is especially important since it often leaves stains when removed.
Plumbers putty vs silicone FAQ
Should I use silicone or plumbers putty for shower drain?
Whether to use plumber’s putty or silicone for a shower drain depends on where you are trying to apply the product. If you want to seal the drain itself, you should use plumber’s putty as it will make a waterproof seal with wet surfaces. However, if you are aiming to seal the drainpipe, you should use silicone.
Can you use silicone to seal a sink drain?
Yes, you can use silicone to seal a sink drain. Either plumber’s putty or silicone will work, but they each work differently. For example, plumber’s putty is better suited for flanges and sealing drain bodies, whereas silicone is better for sealing edges.
Should I use plumbers putty on sink drain?
Plumbers putty is better if you want to seal the drain bodies or a flange.
Why plumbers putty fails?
After a while, the plumber’s putty may become brittle and crack, negatively affecting the seal it formed and allowing water to pass through.