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Plumber’s Putty or Silicone: Difference and How To Use Them

Everyone loves a comfortable home. But, keeping a home nice, neat, and safe for the people who live in it takes some work and diligence. One of the areas that require a watchful eye is plumbing. Pipes and plumbing need to stay dry so that water does not leak, settle, and cause mold and mildew in the home.

Collecting mold and mildew is dangerous and can cause many health issues. So, if you don’t want to breathe in the stuff, make sure you seal pipes and sinks with Plumber’s Putty or silicone.

Plumber's Putty or Silicone

In A Nutshell

Plumber’s putty is perfect for making things water-tight and can be more temporary. It’s odorless, colorless, and non-toxic. Silicone is a more permanent fix because it dries. Use it with caution because it is toxic.

What is Plumber’s Putty?

How To Use Plumber’s Putty

Have you ever wondered what was in a plumber’s tool belt? Well, all sorts of things and plumber’s putty is a must in every plumber’s artillery. 

Plumber’s putty is an elastic-like substance used to make a watertight seal around pipes, sinks, and drains. The clay-like substance fills spaces, like under a flange. 

This putty never dries, making it ideal for jobs that require a temporary seal. It’s also helpful for installing new faucets, supporting sink baskets, and more.

Plumber’s putty consists of a dry, powdery substance and oil. The most common combination is linseed oil and powdered clay. Fish oil and limestone are other substances sometimes used to make putty.

What is Silicone?

Silicone is a synthetic polymer consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Silicone works well with non-plumbing-related applications and to seal cracks. 

Although it works on pipes in the home, it serves a different purpose. It is most commonly known for being water resistant, so you can use it when waterproofing something. But silicone is also dirt and air resistant and a mildew sealant.

Because of its ability to resist air, silicone works well to weatherize homes in the winter. It is perfect for sealing windows and central air conditioning units.  

What are the Differences?

Both plumber’s putty and silicone are known to be sealants, but these two products are not always interchangeable. There are some significant differences between the two, which we will discuss below:

Plumber’s Putty

  • Non-toxic
  • Odorless and colorless
  • No exposure to the sun
  • Made from oils and clays
  • Doesn’t dry


  • Toxic
  • Many light colors
  • Dimethyl siloxane protects it from the sun
  • Made from synthetic polymers
  • Dries

As you can see, these two products act differently. Never make the mistake of using them interchangeably. Take the time to educate yourself and use the right product for the things you need to repair or maintain in your home, office, or job. Making the wrong choice, you may find yourself unsealed.

Which One is Best to Use?

So, which product do you use, plumber’s putty or silicone? The answer to that depends on what you would treat with either one of the products.

When to Use Plumber’s Putty

This putty works for drains, sinks, toilets, faucets, and water pipes. It prevents water from leaking from these areas. 

Plumber’s putty is soft and pliable, so if these places need maintenance again in the future, it is easy to pull up the putty. Though it does not dry, you get a tight seal between two things to prevent leaks.

When to Use Silicone

Silicone is unique. It is waterproof, has a sealant, and has an adhesive. When applied to a surface, it dries and becomes hard. 

Silicone prevents leakages and weatherizes places in your home, like windows and cracks. It is suitable for indoor and outdoor use because UV rays do not damage it. Silicone is also perfect on wood items. Because plumber’s putty is non-stick, it is ineffective on wooden products.

When to Use Silicone

What are the Pros and Cons of Each?

Each one of these compounds has its pros and cons. Because of their unique properties, there are things that each can or cannot do under certain circumstances. 

Pros of Plumber’s Putty

The number one benefit of plumber’s putty is that it is easy to apply. Maneuvering putty to fit pipes snuggly is simple because it is soft, squishy, and moldable. 

Further, since it doesn’t dry, don’t sweat it if you apply it awkwardly the first time. You can just remove it and reapply. Even after years of sealing, putty is easy to remove.

Cons of Plumber’s Putty

The plumber’s putty does not seal cracks or hold broken pieces together. It does not stick to any surface regardless of the material of that surface. Therefore, gravity can cause a plumber’s putty to come apart. 

Plumber’s putty is best for small jobs. It can’t seal large spaces.

Pros of Silicone

Silicone is versatile and sticks to many materials. Because of its adhesive property, silicone works well in large areas. It sticks to surfaces and dries quickly. 

Even better, silicone does not crack, making it an excellent choice to repair cracks and form a waterproof seal. Silicone is durable and has a long shelf-life.

Cons of Silicone

Silicone dries quickly, so using it quickly and placing it correctly the first time is required. It is hard to remove after it has started drying. It usually takes scraping it with a sharp object to remove it.

How to Use Plumber’s Putty or Silicone?

As with any substance, apply it according to instructions. This will ensure that whether you use putty or silicone, it will do the job you set out to do. The application of each one of these compounds is different. Make sure you know the difference before starting. 

These products are cousins, but they are not twins. Know the difference.

Applying Plumber’s Putty

The plumber’s putty is soft and shapeable. Before you start working with the putty, prejudge the length and width of the two pieces that need sealing. 

Take a section of putty into your hands, and begin rolling it back and forth in your palms, forming a long rope. 

After rolling the proper size rope, place the putty on the area that you need to seal. Press the parts together and watch the magic. 

Those once old, leaky pipes will be sealed shut.

A couple of words of caution, do not make the putty flat before connecting the two pieces that you need to seal. This may prevent them from sealing. 

It is best to press the two pieces together to form the seal. If the piece of putty you are working with is too short, do not pull another piece to add to it. It is better to start over and grab a large portion. 

Leakage can occur at the spot where the two sections meet, and depending on where the leak is. You may not realize there is leakage until there is already water damage.

Applying Silicone

Tradetiler Tip: How to apply Silicone with Professional Results

Does the area already have some old silicone in place? If the spot in question has old silicone, it is crucial that you remove it before applying new. Because silicone gets very hard, you will have to use something like a screwdriver to remove it. 

Make sure that the surface is free of any old silicone and dirt. After that, strip the surface of grease or other substances by rubbing the area with turpentine.

Silicone usually comes in a bottle with an applicator tip. Place the bottle in a caulking gun, snap it into place, then cut the tip off of the applicator. 

Press the applicator and run it across the surface to seal it. Be careful not to use too much. A light strip of silicone goes a long way.

Applying Silicone

Once you place the silicone, smooth it out with your fingertips. To prevent the silicone from sticking to your hands, dip your finger in a soapy solution of water and lightly press until everything is smooth.


Let’s take a look at some common questions regarding plumber’s putty and silicone:

Which is better, silicone or plumber’s putty?

The answer to this question depends on the usage. As a rule of thumb, use plumber’s putty for, you guessed it, plumbing. So this putty is good for sinks, faucets, and drains. Silicone is for larger surface areas, to fill cracks and gaps, and for secure holding.

Can you use a plumber’s putty on a washing machine?

You can use a plumber’s putty in place of the rubber washer. Make sure you press the pieces together so that the putty seals.

Can you use silicone for plumbing?

The short answer is yes. But, you must make sure that you use pure silicone. Do not mix it with latex.

How long does a plumber’s putty last?

Putty lasts around 15 years. After that, replace it. Because putty is not an adhesive, it is easy to remove and replace with new putty.

Can a plumber’s putty be used underwater?

No, it cannot because it is not a bonding agent. If you place plumber’s putty underwater, it will lose its sealant properties and be useless. 

Are there limitations in using silicone?

Yes, there are limitations. Silicone is toxic, so you cannot use it in closed-in places without proper ventilation and protection. It also needs moisture to fully cure.

Can silicone be applied at any temperature?

Almost. Temperature tolerance is one of the reasons to choose silicone for inside and outside use. Silicone can stand temperatures between -25C and 120F. The actual compound works better when it is at room temperature, though.

Can you apply new silicone on top of the old silicone?

This plan is not a good one, friend. A new silicone layer will bond to an old application, but it won’t be as strong as applying a new coat on a clean surface.

Does silicone expire?

Yes, it does. It has a shelf life of approximately a year. If you have silicone that has been on the shelf for a while, test it before applying it. 

If the silicone is hard in the tube, it is useless. If you can still remove the silicone from the tube, squeeze some out and see if it will start skinning over. If it does not skin over within 15-20 minutes, you can’t use it.

How long does it take silicone to cure?

It takes 24 hours.

As you can see, when maintaining your home and making sure it is safe for you and your family, you have two products that can seal, repair, and waterproof your home. The only decision is which is best to use: plumber’s putty or silicone.

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