If you’re getting ready to do any sort of DIY plumbing job, it’s important to use the right materials. There are three main options to choose from: Pipe dope, plumber’s putty, and Teflon tape. Each one is used for a different type of task, and using the wrong option in the wrong situation can have disastrous results.
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Pipe Dope VS Plumber’s Putty VS Teflon Tape
Pipe Dope: What it is (and isn’t) Good for
Pipe dope is a form of thread sealant often used in plumbing, but it is also used to seal the fittings on industrial machinery, hydraulic systems, and other fluid-moving systems. That leads to our first point about pipe dope.
When purchasing pipe dope, you have to make sure you get the variant made for the pipes you’ll be sealing. This is easy to do thanks to standardized labeling. If you’re working with PVC pipes, make sure you get one marked “PVC Safe”. Petroleum-based pipe dope will disintegrate your pipes.
Pipe dope is also a permanent solution to your pipe-fitting needs. It’s designed to go on smoothly, fill the spaces between pipe threads, and then cure as glue or cement would.
This makes it great for when you’re installing permanent pipe replacements or additions. Just make sure you do a dry test run to ensure everything works the way you want it to. Once the pipe dope is cured, it’s not easy to separate your pipes and try again.
This means you should avoid it for temporary fittings or makeshift patches. You’ll likely be unable to remove your temporary work when it comes time to do a proper repair.
Pipe dope also isn’t suitable for drain or fixture installations such as sink drains and faucet attachments. It simply doesn’t create a proper seal since there are no threads on those parts.
In short, pipe dope does many of the things Teflon tape does, but it’s more permanent. Think twice before you slather it on your pipe threads.
Plumber’s Putty: What it is (and isn’t) Good for
Plumber’s putty is another sealant that is used to create water-tight seals between plumbing parts. It’s similar to pipe dope at first glance, but its uses are entirely different.
First and foremost, you don’t have to worry about buying the wrong plumber’s putty. There are no fancy versions that will destroy certain pipes. Plumber’s putty is a simple compound that resembles the Play Dough you probably played with as a kid. Except, it’s gray and slightly more expensive.
Plumber’s putty is used mostly for drain and fixture attachments. When you’re installing a new sink faucet or replacing the drain to match a fresh pipe setup, you’ll notice that those parts aren’t threaded. They just slide into their place fairly loosely. The problem with that is that it causes leaks.
Putty instantly creates a water-tight seal for those sorts of attachments, and it’s easy enough to use that even beginner DIY enthusiasts can get it right. You simply press a layer of plumber’s putty around the edge of the connection, insert the part with a bit of pressure, and wipe away any excess. The putty will immediately seal the connection, and it will harden overtime to keep the part in place.
This compound is not good for joining pipes. It’s thick, and it doesn’t fit between threads very easily. At best, you’ll have to wrestle the pipes together. At its worst, two perfectly matching pipes will no longer match up.
Since plumber’s putty cures, it’s also not a great choice for temporary fixes. You get a bit of wiggle room while it cures, but it gets hard as a rock once that happens.
Plumber’s putty is a bit more circumstantial than Teflon tape or pipe dope, but it fits the bill for jobs that neither of those can handle.
Teflon Tape: What it is (and isn’t) Good for
First, Teflon is a brand name. You can also find this exact type of tape labeled as plumber’s tape, PFTE tape, or thread sealing tape. It comes in two basic varieties: One for water, and one for gas.
Teflon tape is basically the duct tape of the plumbing world. It can be used in most applications, and it’s great for making quick, temporary repairs.
Let’s say you have a leaky pipe that’s old and needs to be replaced, but you can’t do it right away. You can separate the pipes, wrap the threads in tape as directed, and tighten them back up. The seal won’t last forever, but it will buy you time.
You can also use this to test elaborate plumbing jobs before committing to pipe dope. However, most plumbers consider it a must-have for brass fixtures or fixtures that don’t have o-rings on them.
If you want, you can also combine Teflon tape and pipe dope to create extremely reliable seals. You just spread a bit of pipe dope over the tape once it’s wrapped. This is useful for high-pressure fixtures, outdoor applications, and pipes that you can’t afford to spring a leak.
Unfortunately, Teflon tape is not suitable for pipes with wide or very narrow threads. It won’t seal the spaces well.
If you need something for a quick repair job, or you want a quick and easy way to seal threads, Teflon tape is your go-to option. Just don’t rely on it for too many permanent jobs.
Pipe Dope, Plumber’s Putty, or Teflon Tape?
As you can see, none of these options really outclass the others across the board. Each one has a unique purpose. To make it simple, think of it this way. Pipe dope will handle the bulk of your more permanent needs, but it’s not great for temporary stuff. Teflon tape is the opposite. It’s great for quick fixes, but it fails in the long run. Finally, plumbers putty is best for parts that don’t have threads.