Repairments and renovations are inevitable for any homeowner, whether it’s a leaky tub in your bathroom, toilet, faucet, shower, or another drain.
When it comes to fixing these issues, there are generally two different sealants to choose from – plumbers putty and silicone.
But both products aren’t the same, so the big question is what’s the difference between plumbers putty and silicone, and which of these two materials should you use for your respective home improvement projects.
Plumber’s putty and silicone contain different ingredients like linseed oil, fish oil, and synthetic polymers, which play a pivotal role in the time it takes for the product to dry on the surface it is applied on.
So, without further ado, here’s a detailed guide on the key differences between plumber’s putty and silicone, and which one to use to fix drainage pipes, plastic pipes, and other things in your home.
What is Plumbers Putty?
Plumber’s putty is one of the basic tools you’ll find in any plumber’s arsenal. It’s a malleable, clay-like compound that is designed to create a watertight seal around pipe joints, drainage pipes, bathtub drains, edges of sink drains, other drain connections and leakages through holes.
If you’ve found a bead of clay-like material when you’ve removed an old faucet fixture, then great chances are that it’s old, dried plumber’s putty.
Plumber’s putty has been used by plumbers for years in many exposed areas and situations where silicone caulk is used today, yet is still a preferred option in many situations.
The biggest reason plumbers prefer plumber’s putty is because it remains soft for a long period of time, therefore can be easily modified after first application.
Given that this soft sealing material isn’t an adhesive and can be modified, you can easily remove a kitchen sink drain or any other type of fixture that was sealed previously with plumber’s putty.
Even though plumber’s putty is easy to wipe away after installation, it can stain porous materials such as marble, granite, quartz and sandstone.
What is Plumber’s Putty Made of?
The ingredients in plumber’s putty vary but commonly include a combination of high-calcite lime and linseed oil, talc, limestone, and powdered clay.
Plumber’s putty isn’t toxic on its own, but since there are different blends available in the market, certain ingredients like crystalline silica may make the respective product toxic.
In regard to color, this Play-Doh-like substance is white, but isn’t visible from the outside of the plumbing fixture once installed correctly.
Advantages of Plumber’s Putty
- Quick drying time
- Stays soft and pliable and doesn’t dry out
- Easy to apply and very forgiving during application
- Cheap and readily available
- Easy to remove and clean up
Disadvantages of Plumber’s Putty
- Is an eyesore if applied in visible areas
- Has no adhesive strengths and doesn’t bond to surfaces
- Can’t be used on plastic pipes and for pressurized plumbing projects
Ideal Applications for Plumber’s Putty
There are several kinds of projects plumber’s putty is suited for such as pop-up drains, installation of faucets, and sinks. This is why plumber’s putty is often dubbed as “sink drain putty”, as it helps with only certain plumbing issues.
It is a practical option for stopping small leaks, but doesn’t work well for all issues such as sealing pipes with high water pressure. Plumber’s putty can be applied before you install a basket drain (upper part of the drain), and similarly to a faucet.
How to Apply Plumber’s Putty?
Plumber’s putty is sold in small plastic tubs and is an expensive 100% water-proof material that is always shaped by hand before being applied to the bathroom fixtures, bathroom fittings, and other kinds of surfaces.
There are two things to keep in mind when applying plumber’s putty-a clean surface and the importance of heat.
It’s highly important to clean the surface because dirt, debris and undesirable particulates can leave holes and cause leaks over time. You can clean the surface to avoid these simple issues with a damp wet rag and then a clean cloth.
1. Make a putty rope.
First things first, you don’t need a putty knife for the task, but simply roll a ball of putty from the tub back and forth in your hands just like you would when making a snake out of Play-Doh. You can make the putty rope as long as you want, but make sure it is consistent in diameter, and is slightly larger than the gap you need to fill.
2. Lay the putty rope
When placing the putty rope, start at any point you want to seal, and keep going around the part until you come back to the starting point. If there’s any excess putty rope after returning to the starting point, you can tear the remaining easily.
3. Press the putty rope into place
You need to be gentle while pressing the plumber’s putty to avoid deforming it. Pressing the putty rope into place is only to prevent it from coming loose when you turn the part upside down.
4. Install the part
Press the part with the putty into its mating part, and install as needed. You may notice some putty squeezing out of the edges when you tighten the part, which you can simply wipe with your finger. Read my related article on how long does plumbers putty take to dry?
What is Silicone Sealant?
Silicone caulking is not a sealant with similarities with the chemical element silicon. It is one of the best joint sealants available, and can also be used as a waterproofing agent around fixtures and structures around the interior and exterior of a building.
Speaking of fixtures, one of the best uses for silicone is sealing under plumbing fixtures such as bathtubs, showers, sinks and toilets. It bonds well with almost all kinds of materials, including ceramic, plastic, metal, glass and wood.
Silicone caulk is truly versatile in that, apart from preventing water from seeping below, the fixtures can also be used to weatherproof a house around windows, doors and other exterior penetrations to minimize drafts and energy leaks.
What is Silicone Made Of?
Silica is the primary ingredient in silicone, a common form of sand found in quartz. Silicone is a water resistant polymer that has a siloxane bond with organic compounds.
It’s typically clear in color, but can also be off-white color or colored, including light shades to match the surrounding decor or area.
Advantages of Silicone
- Can withstand high and low temperatures
- Highly durable and great choice of sealant for tight seals
- Excellent water repelling material
- Unmatched versatility, elasticity and flexibility
- Good aesthetic finish
Disadvantages of Silicone
- Dry time is fairly long
- Cannot be painted
- Produces irritating or potentially harmful fumes as it is installed
- Lower tear and abrasion resistance
Ideal Applications for Silicone Sealant
Silicone is a versatile tried-and-true plumbing sealant, making it a great choice for several applications. It is used as a waterproofing agent in kitchen and bathroom applications, roofing and plumbing applications, refrigerating units, and in the automotive, aviation and construction industries.
How to Apply Silicone?
From fixing a kitchen sink drain, drain with water leak, leaky showers to sealing doors, silicone can do it all. It is also the easiest and quickest to apply, but before getting started, you need to clean the surface where it will be applied.
There are lots of different ways to apply sealant, but most people use a sealant gun for a mess-free project. After you apply the sealant, smooth it out with your finger or a sealant smoothening tool. Lastly, let the sealant dry according to the drying time listed on the product label.
Plumber’s Putty vs. Silicone – Differences Explained
Both plumber’s putty and silicone do the same thing, that is sealing cracks and provide water-tight seals, but there are some differences when it comes to their chemical composition.
Plumber’s putty is a bit more flexible given its ingredients such as fish oil, limestone and talc. In addition, it can easily seal cracked surfaces and drains, and you can even remove it just as easily.
Contrarily, silicone is more like a rubbery material/elastic material. Therefore, it has more elasticity. It is also denser, so it won’t peel off and can only be removed with scraping tools.
Silicone contains both organic and inorganic compounds, hence it takes longer to dry than plumbers putty. Plumber’s putty consists of both clay and oils, so it doesn’t really dry out, at least for a very long period of time.
Plus, you don’t have to wait for the putty to dry, as long as you’ve fixed it properly in place. It works as soon as it’s applied and when you put the two parts together.
There are, however, a few ways you can dry silicone faster, including using a blow-dryer for 5 – 10 minutes or adding a fan.
Plumber’s putty is removable after applications, making it a better choice for certain applications such as pipes, drains and fixtures that you may need to remove at a later time.
And remember that although plumber’t putty creates a watertight seal, it cannot be used as an adhesive or glue, so you cannot use it for any light or heavy water pressure connections such as on the thread of pipes or any gasketed fittings.
When it comes to adhesives, silicone is a fantastic product that dries into a hard form. This makes it useful for a wider range of applications, including weatherproofing, waterproofing, cables, vehicles and electronics.
Both plumber’s putty and silicone work well when it comes to exposure to water, but the rubbery texture of silicone caulking gives it unsurpassed waterproofing abilities.
Plumber’s putty also offers great water resistance in certain situations such as creating a waterproof seal in joints and drainage pipes and not high, extra pressure pipes and applications.
Odor and Color
Putty is available in only one color-white, and not in any other colors, This shouldn’t really matter because when properly installed, plumbers putty is not visible.
Silicone caulk is available in 23 different colors, so you can place it in any hole or area without it sticking out like a sore thumb.
In terms of odor, putty doesn’t emit any odor, but silicone does have a distinct foul odor, which why it’s recommended that you open the doors and windows during and for a few hours after application.
Putty tends to last longer than silicone when applied in certain areas. Silicone caulk tends to lose its flexibility as it dries and hardens, but on a brighter note, it does make a better choice if you want to hold two things together.
Plumber Putty vs Silicone – Which One Should You Go For?
Choosing between plumber’s putty and silicone boils down to the application. If you’re looking to seal leaks and connect fittings, then go with plumbers putty. But if you need a secure hold, stronger waterproofing, better weatherproofing and for small and large surfaces, silicone caulk should be your go-to choice.
Silicone shouldn’t be used if you need flexibility, in small areas or if you’re going to remove the fixtures in the future.
Plumbers putty vs silicone sealant – which one is better? Well, plumber’s putty works well to create watertight seals and can be used to seal sink drains, fix leaks under your bathroom sink and to prevent leaks in other areas, but not for sealing wooden boats and other materials.
Although putty offers great sealant qualities and is non-toxic, it doesn’t possess any adhesive strength so can mostly only be used to prevent leaks in a sink drain, pipes fittings, and not to fill gaps and spaces.
Silicone works well on most types of surfaces including porous surfaces, and can be used for a variety of different applications including weatherproofing and waterproofing (prevents leaks).
However, silicone caulk, once applied, cannot be easily removed, so it’s not a good choice for temporary installations. Adding to this, silicone dries slower than plumbers putty, which really isn’t a downside but is something to consider when deciding between plumbers putty vs silicone caulk.